If one’s ever needed an introduction to the music of John Carpenter, the Horror Master’s latest release on Sacred Bones Records is as fine a collection as exists. Entitled Anthology (Movie Themes 1974-1998), this new album consists of newly-recorded versions of the title themes to many of Carpenter’s best-known movies.
Per Sacred Bones, “Each theme has been newly recorded with the same collaborators that Carpenter worked with on his hit Lost Themes studio albums: his son, Cody Carpenter, and godson, Daniel Davies.” It’s a continuation of the Classic Themes Redux releases the label put out in 2016, which consisted of two singles: one with Halloween and Escape from New York, and another with Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog.
In addition to those four themes, Anthology goes even deeper, with music from not only big favorites such as The Thing (as composed by Ennio Morricone) and Big Trouble in Little China, but also Vampires and Starman (as composed by Jack Nitzsche), and presents them in a manner which takes the original compositions and transforms them into big, robust recordings.
Carpenter’s film scores are what Lou Thomas, writing for the BFI, describes as “ immediate and atmospheric,” but they’re also pretty minimalist. The versions on Anthology are absolutely massive: for example, the version of Escape from New York is just as solid at its core, but its synthy form has been added to with guitars and drums, and amped up to sound like it should be blasting out of the speakers at an arena concert.
Anthology is a little over-produced at points, resulting in Prince of Darkness’ synths being rendered cheesily overmuch in the forefront. The same’s true for Starman, as well, although it does make for a stronger version of the Christine theme, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The benefits outweigh the negatives, however.
The guitars and drums are really what make Anthology worth picking up and giving a listen, even for those who already own Carpenter’s entire discography. The tracks which featured somewhat anemically-recorded guitar tracks in their original forms -- such as In the Mouth of Madness or Big Trouble in Little China’s “Pork Chop Express” -- now rock fairly hard, and even Vampires’ “Santiago” sounds more like the Ry Cooder outtake of which it’s always been reminiscent.
The vinyl LP release is also offered as a deluxe edition, which includes a bonus 7-inch, featuring the themes to Children of the Damned and Body Bags. There’s a selection of color options, although the version we’ve acquired is on a colorway dubbed “The Fog Over Antonio Bay,” which is a blue and white swirl, and rather lovely. The jacket has the title die-cut into the cover, which allows the printed inner sleeve to peak through, making for a very excellent package.
AUDIO REVIEW: ANTHOLOGY (MOVIE THEMES 1974-1998) (2017) / COMPOSED & PERFORMED BY JOHN CARPENTER / RELEASED BY SACRED BONES RECORDS / AVAILABLE NOW