NO HORROR FILM is complete without a quality soundtrack. It doesn't matter if a studio has dumped millions into buckets of blood, CGI, or buxom screamers: It all amounts to nothing without a haunting score.
When it comes to tingling spines, Alan Howarth is the man to turn to. He's been composing music for films, primarily horror, since the early 1980s—his throbbing, synth-driven work appears in the Halloween series, while his collaborations with John Carpenter define Escape From New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live. On Wed Oct 1, when the Hollywood shows a 35mm print of 1982's Halloween III, Howarth will be in attendance—and will perform after the film.
"A well-crafted soundtrack really makes a horror film go," Howarth tells me. "In a horror movie, a lot of times nothing is going on. We're standing in a hallway, or we're in an empty street looking around for the bad guy. It's the music that tells you something bad is going to happen."
According to Howarth, Carpenter believed a strong soundtrack was a necessity. Initial test screenings of the original Halloween had no music—and were not received well. Only when Carpenter's iconic, looming death waltz was added did Halloween became a classic.
"John Carpenter used to tell me the way he saw it as a director was that music was the director's velvet glove," says Howarth. "It's how he [can] touch people without them knowing they're being touched."
Classic horror movie soundtracks and scores have been experiencing a rise in popularity: Labels like Death Waltz are re-issuing vinyl (including some of Howarth's work), Dario Argento collaborators Goblin are touring, and old vinyl is going for big money. Howarth revels in the resurgence.
"It's the good stuff! It's like old coins," he says. "The old coins were made out of silver, and now with the new coins there's no real silver and they're all kinda hollow. These are the movies that established the genre."