31 Days spooky, day 24: 'Halloween Theme - Main Title' by John Carpenter

Do horror movie themes get more iconic than 'Halloween Theme - Main Title' by John Carpenter?

John Carpenter Performs 'Release The Bats' Halloween Show At The Troxy
John Carpenter Performs 'Release The Bats' Halloween Show At The Troxy / Jim Dyson/GettyImages

"Halloween Theme - Main Title" is an iconic piece of music composed by John Carpenter for the 1978 horror film Halloween. John Carpenter not only directed the film but also composed the film's music, including the main theme, which absolutely has that good ol' feeling of All Hallows' Eve. Though it's accurate enough to credit John Carpenter with genius-level intelligence for tackling all those different jobs, it was also due to Halloween being a relatively low-budget film. John Carpenter made the music partly to keep the production costs low.

Interestingly enough, that's something else Halloween has in common with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho"(in addition to having Janet Leigh's daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, as the "survivor girl"); both projects let poverty act as the proverbial mother of invention.

As Music Professor Neil Lerner explains: "[Like] Halloween, there's a budgetary explanation for the Psycho score...It was originally planned to be an episode of Alfred Hitchcock’s TV show and not a feature film. So the budget was much lower; Herrmann didn't have as much money to pay for a large orchestra. He could only pay for strings. And that's probably why the Psycho score is written only for string instruments."

'Halloween Theme - Main Title' builds suspense and tension and rarely lets go

The music plays a crucial role in creating the suspense and tension that is a hallmark of the Halloween franchise and gives the original film its sense of a “grand opening,” and an occasional creep motif throughout. The main title theme is a relatively simple yet highly effective piece of music, primarily played on a piano-like synth with a few other noticeable electronic elements. It consists of a haunting and repetitive piano melody and dark synth bassline that is instantly recognizable and synonymous with the Halloween season. (To be fair, one may be tempted to compare it to The Exorcist theme, whatever one's preference.)

The theme is minimalist in its approach, but it is incredibly effective in setting the mood and creating a sense of impending danger. In a way, then, this approach represents one of the key old school concepts of many horror films: Less is more. Sure, sometimes one might say "more is more," but a good musical score is still often one of the key components of what makes a movie scarier and more compelling. Here the music serves to build tension and anticipation, and it perfectly complements the film's atmosphere of dread and fear.

Tension and (the anticipation of) release

As Wes Craven so brilliantly put it: “Horror films don't create fear. They release it.” The repetitive, rhythmic pattern of the piano melody adds to the feeling of unease and impending doom, and the whole piece seems to have a "groove" or "beat." The theme is known for its ability to evoke a sense of foreboding and anxiety, and it has been widely praised for its contribution to the film's success.

Over the years, John Carpenter's "Halloween Theme - Main Title" has become an iconic piece of horror music and is often associated with the Halloween holiday. It has been used in various adaptations and sequels in the "Halloween" film series (for right or for wrong), contributing to its enduring popularity. The theme has also been covered and remixed by numerous artists (including this interpretation by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross) and has become a staple of the horror genre's musical legacy.

Check out the original and just try pretending it's not iconic. You can't!

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