It’s customary here at my Gilded Palace of Sin to begin reviews with a quotation from my favourite lyric on the record – something erudite, something sleazy, something amusing; basically so you gullible reader types associate it with me and I become, in your mortal eyes, funnier, sleazier and umm, eruditer. So here we go:
Dumm, Dum, De Dumm-umm
That was from my almost favourite one here, maybe try this one? it really speaks to me.
Din, Din, Din, Din, Din, Din, Din, Din
As I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you the former was John Carpenter’s ‘Assault On Precinct 13 (Main Theme)’ and the latter was his ‘The Fog’. Now maybe you’ll think I’m soundtrackier than I really am.
One lunchtime back in June last year I swooped on two John Carpenter 12″s I spotted at the mighty Probe Records in Liverpool. They were an expensive impulse buy* but I didn’t stand much of a chance of resisting them. Firstly, I had been subjected to a relentless campaign of sustained bullying by a certain Midwestern gentleman about horror soundtracks in general and John Carpenter specifically, I thought if I bought them he might just leave me be**. Secondly, they were all shiny and lovely – no, seriously the fact that they were beautifully designed with foil covers with subtle little pictures picked out in relief on them played a big part here, no need to mention that the cardboard sleeves are thick enough to stop a dum-dummed slug from a .357 Magnum. Thirdly, I’d wanted these soundtrack tunes for years and this seemed a great way to snaffle them all in one go. Fourthly, I do just quite like buying records. Fifthly, there was no fifthly.
So that’s how I came to be clutching these two beauties:
Halloween / Escape From New York
Assault On Precinct 13 / The Fog
I may have only sort of noticed yesterday that these aren’t the original recorded versions, but re-recordings done by Carpenter and the musicians he used for his Lost Themes LP. Having, carried out extensive research*^ they do not sound much different to my ears, the new recordings are sharper and clearer, a little punchier in the top notes but that is all. It seems a natural step to have re-recorded them with this line-up and the clarity is good.
My very favourite track here is ‘The Fog’, that’s despite my never having actually seen the film, just clips from it. It isn’t wildly different from a slowed down version of ‘Halloween’ but there is genuinely something haunting and slightly crystalline about it, especially the slower middle section right before it gets ominous-er. I am also fond of the fact that it ends on an unresolved, creepy note (or two), rather than a contrived big ending. I really must see the film some time.
The other half of the single is ‘Assault On Precinct 13’, which is the theme tune I can remember having the biggest effect on me as a teen. The film was on, one night at 1am when I’d just got back from my Saturday job waiting tables, too hyped to go to bed I gave it a go. I remember comparatively little about the film from then, but I remember loving the powerful and almost ugly synth chords used early on in the movie. The theme has worn well too, still sounding powerful and menacing with an overarching high melody almost striving for something higher and better on top. There’s something alluringly primitive about the drum machine sound too.
Funnily enough I didn’t remember too much about the music from seeing the film ‘Halloween’, although granted I was mostly fixated on P.J Soles but it’s another doozy. Okay, so it steals a fair amount from ‘Tubular Bells’^ but who’s counting? it’s rather like ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ but more so – the tinkling bits are faster, the deeper sinister bits come with 20% extra ominousness. There is a beguiling simplicity about the whole track. No wonder it was so well effectively sampled by Ice-T on, the brilliant, ‘The Tower’ and Silver Bullet ‘Bring Forth The Guillotine’, one slowing ‘Halloween’ down to make it more menacing, the other upping its pitch.
Last of all is ‘Escape From New York’, which is slow and stately compared to the other three, sonically it is a more widescreen affair. It is my least favourite theme of the four here and the one that sounds the most generic and the least idiosyncratically like John Carpenter too. Like the film it does a good enough job but that’s it.
I am very glad I bought these records, despite the fact they’re appallingly difficult to photograph – not helped by the fact I kept the shrinkwrap on them. Made quickly on a shoestring, using cheap technology I think they’re a remarkable addition to the world of soundtracks, not in spite of but precisely because of those very limitations. If only they’d been cheaper!
PS. How cool is Carpenter live?!
*particularly as I see both are worth well less than I paid for them, thanks Discogs!
**no such luck, my purchase of, the excellent, Slasher Film Festival Strategy Psychic Shield mere months later speaks for itself.
*^playing 10 seconds of each version back to back on Youtube before getting bored and looking at a cute video of a hedgehog, I like hedgehogs a lot.
^fair enough given how astonishing it was in The Exorcist.