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The Top 5 John Carpenter Movie Themes: Halloween, Escape From New York, More

May 26, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween

The Top 5 John Carpenter Movie Themes


As I said back when I did my list of the Top John Carpenter Movie Villains, John Carpenter is my favorite movie maker hands down. And one of the big reasons Carpenter is king in my book is his movies always have killer music, and more often than not Carpenter is directly responsible for creating that music, either on his own or in collaboration with someone. And, usually, the best part of that reality is the themes he creates. Opening title theme, end credits theme, perhaps a theme that appears in the middle of the movie, they’re all great in their own ways. But which ones are the best? Which Carpenter themes kick so much ass that you want to hear them simply as music? I thought about it, went through all of his movie’s themes, and I came up with a Top 5 list.

And so, without any further what have you, here are my Top 5 John Carpenter Movie Themes.

Honorable Mentions

”Kick Ass” from Ghosts of Mars: This song plays over the end credits and was performed by Buckethead and the heavy metal band Anthrax (Carpenter composed the song). It is six minutes of heavy metal bliss. Fits the movie perfectly and is a great way to end the movie.

”Christine Attacks” (aka “Plymouth Fury”) from Christine: I didn’t really like this theme until I heard Carpenter’s band play it live. The version that appears in the movie is cool, but that live version is the shit.

”Coming to LA” from They Live: This is the opening theme in the movie, where we see Roddy Piper’s John Nada character walking into Los Angeles. This was a collaboration with frequent musical partner Alan Howarth. The theme sets the tone for both the Nada character and the movie.

5- Theme from In the Mouth of Madness: This is the music that plays over the opening credits and then plays again, in a longer version, over the end credits and was performed by Carpenter, Dave Davies, and Jim Lang. This is probably the most rocking theme in a Carpenter movie (some people have compared it to a Metallica song. I believe Carpenter used a Metallica song as a temp track while putting the movie together/testing it. Was it “Enter Sandman”?) and it sets up the movie brilliantly. While it kicks ass, it’s also kind of creepy and weird, just like the movie. And when you hear the longer version over the end credits and there’s that lull in the song, when it slows down and then builds to its explosive conclusion, holy shit. I’m shocked that rock bands/metal bands the world over don’t do cover versions of this. That’s how much it rocks.

4- Main Title theme from Escape from New York: This was Carpenter’s first collaboration with Howarth. You know going in that Escape from New York is an action thriller but, oddly, the theme that plays over the opening titles doesn’t really let on that the movie is an action movie. Shouldn’t the music be faster/more intense? Shouldn’t it be livelier? That’s what Carpenter did with Shirley Walker for Escape from LA. But EFNY has always been more about mood than action, and the theme that Carpenter and Howarth put together is perfect for that kind of movie. It’s somber, dystopian, and kind of depressing (but in a good movie watching way). You will hear this theme and start humming it to yourself right after.

3- Padre’s Wood from Vampires: This is the theme that plays over the end credits and is performed by Carpenter and The Texas Toadlickers, which, I believe, was like a studio band that Carpenter put together for the movie. This theme kicks in right after Jack Crow (James Woods) jokes around with Father Adam (Tim Guinee) as they prepare to go inside the old prison and kill more vampires. It’s a longer, more up tempo, more badass version of the “Slayers” theme that plays at the beginning of the movie as Crow’s team gets ready to enter the vampire nest. “Padre’s Wood” is bluesy, driving, and makes you understand, just in case you didn’t figure out while actually watching the movie, that Vampires is a western. The song is also oddly optimistic and sends the crowd home with a smile on their face because the vampire slayers, especially Jack Crow, know how to kick ass and joke about it at the same time. That’s cool. God, I love this theme.

2- Main Theme from Halloween : This is, of course, the theme that plays over the opening credits and is the song that, when you hear it, you think of Michael Myers/The Shape, the white mask, Jamie Lee Curtis, etc. You think of dread and suspense. And, in a weird way, you think of a good time at the movies. This is another Carpenter theme that, right after you hear it, you start humming it. It’s that catchy and that infectious. This theme is also one of those themes that people recognize without even having seen the movie. It personifies the season of Halloween and trick or treating and all that. It’s a masterwork that was only meant to add something to the movie (the movie didn’t work without the music).

1- Opening theme from Assault on Precinct 13: The first time I heard this theme was on a Carpenter compilation CD. There were like 3 or 4 versions of the theme on that CD, and while those versions of the theme were good they were not the original version of the theme. That original version, which is louder and deeper, hits you so hard the first time you hear it, and it infects you. You can’t get it out of your head. You start humming it while you watch the movie. And when you hear it playing over the opening titles you don’t really know what kind of movie you’re about to watch. A horror movie? A thriller? An action movie? It’s all three of those things, expertly crafted. And the theme, again, just hits you so hard. Simple, direct, and hard hitting.


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