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John Carpenter - Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998 album review

Album Review

Legendary director-composer reanimates his oldies.

When it comes to the world of movies, we’re all correctly wary of remakes. Too often a Hollywood cash-grab means our cherished memories are replaced by a blaring, pointmissing cover version. Arch frightfest director John Carpenter will be as aware of this pattern as anybody. Which makes it particularly strange, or bold, that he’s recorded new versions of his own classic movie themes, from the unforgettable Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween to the less iconic Vampires and In The Mouth Of Madness. Clearly he enjoyed working with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies (son of former Kink Dave) on the recent Lost Themes albums, and has further tours as a musician imminent. Yet these are not lost themes – they’re mostly well known and beloved.

Do these reworkings increase or diminish the eerie charms of the originals? For the most part, the project just entails a scrub-up. From his debut Dark Star to the quivering, implied spookiness of The Fog, the timbre and tension that you remember are still there. He also interprets Ennio Morricone’s atypical theme for The Thing and Jack Nitzsche’s more romantic Starman. Perhaps, though, everything sounds a little too clean.

Sure, his innovative, minimalist synth work was always pristine, allowing its repetitions to unnerve you and get you glancing anxiously over your shoulder. And maybe it’s a trick of the mind that has your reviewer thinking the originals felt grainier, somehow more… scratched. However, something about these versions feels just a little bit too clinical and computerised, as if the technology is the master of the human rather than the other way around. Let’s not be too picky, though. With this collection we can relax in a way that Carpenter’s films never allowed you to, and the evocative enigma survives. As a man who was ahead of his peers in embracing electronic sounds, he has the right to modernise and update as he sees – or hears – fit.

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