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Written By:

Nick Spacek

The music of the Halloween franchise is as iconic as that of any other series, and arguably the most impressive when listened to as a whole. Composed and performed by John Carpenter for the original 1978 film, then Carpenter and Alan Howarth Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch, and then Howarth alone for the fourth and fifth installments, these five recordings spanning 11 years represent not only an evolution in composition and tone, but one which shows just how much music one person could make with electronics.

The first two releases in Death Waltz’s reissue series aren’t particularly different from past editions, although the mono version of the original score, with the audio taken from 35mm stem tracks, then sequenced, mixed, and mastered by Alan Howarth, may represent the new definitive version of Carpenter’s score. There are a couple more tracks, and those which were already extant on previous releases have been given their full time to run and breathe.

Ironically, it may cause the listener to have shortness of breath, as they drone on for so long that, absent dialogue over them, one begins to wonder if the record’s begun to skip. Halloween II, however, is a straight remaster and reissue of the original score from 1981. It is interesting to note that, while it concludes with the Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman”, as did the original film and soundtrack, it doesn’t actually seem to credit the girl group nor its songwriter Pat Ballard.

The third film, Season of the Witch, is expanded beyond Death Waltz’s original 2012 reissue, featuring far more tracks, including every iteration of the Silver Shamrock commercial jingle, as well as an alternate mix of the opening titles and “Chariots of Pumpkins” as one single track, which is absolutely fantastic. The LP is crammed with music, and while the titles have been changed from the 25th anniversary compact disc release, it appears that most of the music from that album is here as well.

By the time the listener drops the needle on the LP for the fourth film, The Return of Michael Myers, a certain level of exhaustion has set in. While Season of the Witch benefits greatly from the fact that the iconic theme doesn’t repeat to near the same level as the first two films, there are certain musical motifs of which Carpenter is fond. A certain level of syncopation, a level of pacing – call it what one will, but three albums in a row makes it abundantly clear.

Therefore, when Howarth gets the chance to really play around in the sandbox which Carpenter set up, it’s terribly refreshing to have these concepts aired out and given a fresh coat of paint. Even when that theme makes an appearance, as in “In the Street”, there’s a sense of vibrancy to it that, while not funky per se, definitely has an elevated bounce.

It’s a counterpoint to the fact that Howarth uses the piano tones and synthesized strings which defined the first two films, but works in martial drums and an overall more orchestral feel, despite sticking to synthesizers himself. “Upstairs” is felt almost more than it’s heard, so deeply resonant it is.

As J. Blake Fichera points out in his liner notes for the fifth movie, it’s The Revenge of Michael Myers where the composer “managed to create music that remains so absolutely true to the spirit of Carpenter’s genius, and yet so beautifully ‘Howarth'”. Howarth himself describes it “like making a new suit, but using the same cloth as last time”.

Howarth really goes all out for film number five: crazed drumming on “The Shape Rises Again”, guitar on “Child of Evil Must Die” and “Victim #1”, and of course the crazed knife slashes on the title theme, all demonstrate the sheer versatility of that piano riff and minor chords.

The packaging on all of these releases is absolutely stellar. Four of the five LPs come in gatefold jackets, and Halloween 4 and 5 both feature liner notes from Fichera, who’s best known for his book, Scored to Death, which features interviews on horror film composition with some of the genre’s greatest composers – including Carpenter and Howarth, so he knows well of what he speaks.

The artwork on everything – from the LP jackets to inner gatefolds to the box which houses all five LPs looks like it’s straight off a movie poster, and while it’s all by different artists, it’s of a sort, meaning that everything looks like it was designed to go together, right down to the fact that there’s art on the inside of the box itself, looking like it’s been lined with old newspaper clippings about the Shape’s reign of terror.

What’s especially excellent is that, much like the third film, the packaging for the score of Season of the Witch is so different from the other four releases in this package. Whereas the original score, as well as those for the second, fourth, and fifth films all come in gatefold sleeves with cover art and obi strips, the third gets novelty packaging, artwork which hearkens straight back to Silver Shamrock Novelties, and even a game with instructions. It’s absolutely delightful.

And, of course, the remastering process by James Plotkin has rendered these scores the best they’ve ever sounded. Granted, few people have likely ever heard The Revenge of Michael Myers on vinyl before, except some lucky German souls who were around in 1989, but even the original – of which there have been several represses, including one from Death Waltz’s parent company, Mondo, a couple of years back – sounds like a brand new record.

Take this set for a spin alongside the score for this year’s David Gordon Green film, and it stands up sonically. It’s a lot of music to take in, but it’s arguably one of the finest collections of horror scores one will find.


Nick Spacek

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