Spooky Soundtracks: Prince of Darkness
It’s finally October, a month best known for bloodshed, candy stuffed with razor blades, and scaring all of the little kids on the block shitless. As we inch ever closer to All Hallows’ Evening your resident mustache bear thought it would be fun to go through some of his favorite horror movie scores. Wear a costume, pass out treats, don’t blow out any jack-o-lanterns, check your candy, and hold on to your butts: It’s Spooky Soundtrack time.
I was initially having some trouble deciding on what soundtrack to use for this post. There is an absolute ton of amazing music that serves as the backdrop to scenes of fright and carnage, not to mention quite a variety. Synthy thrillers, eerie prog rock suites, jazzy odes to cannibalism…all have served in some form or fashion. It wasn’t until last night that it dawned on me that there is really only one score that I can use to kick this off properly, and that is the score to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.
Prince of Darkness is something of a forgotten gem in Carpenter’s catalog, though it’s easy to see why in a career that boasts The Thing, Halloween and Escape From New York. Perhaps the story, a tale of scientists analyzing a cylinder of green liquid in a church basement that turns out to be Lucifer, was just a bit too batshit insane for people to comprehend or enjoy. Typing out a one sentence descriptor like that just now I can’t say I necessarily blame them. Uninhibited by such silly things as goo Satan, I popped my new copy into the player and prepared myself for a strange journey. Little did I know that such a fantastic soundtrack would accompany a movie where Alice Cooper kills a man with a bicycle.
John Carpenter is a little different from other horror directors in regards to his use of music. Where other directors are sparse with their soundtracks, opting only to use it to heighten tense moments and leaving the rest to wallow in silence, Carpenter marries his music to every aspect of his films. His score acts as the blood of the movie, constantly pulsing and giving life to scenes that might otherwise drag or feel dull. Even when characters are talking there are faint hints of music in the background that help to set the scene or further the sense of unease. Perhaps the best example of this symbiosis between score and film is the opening credits sequence. We’re very quickly introduced to a variety of characters who proceed to set up the story sans dialogue. Instead we are given thumping stop/start synth bass backed by otherworldly keys and pretty piano line. The whole thing is a perfectly paced slow burn that manages to hypnotize while driving through you like a bottom heavy freight train.
Realizing how golden that opening track is, Carpenter keeps with the same general theme throughout the movie. The piano line works its way into numerous other number in some variation, be it slowed down or warped. Though it may sometimes ease up in order to breathe or to perhaps offer the cast space to do their thing, the synth is at it’s absolute best when its in constant motion, acting as a conveyor belt to move everything forward. When it is absolutely rolling you get the feeling that there are greater forces at work, that something sinister is just below the surface biding its time. It’s really quite stunning.
Prince of Darkness, while suddenly becoming one of my favorite flicks, has given me a new found appreciation of Carpenter’s musical work. The film itself certainly isn’t for everyone. Its first half is fairly slow, the merger of religion and science may be a bit much for some, and it’s pretty much just flat out weird. The soundtrack, however, is worth every minute of your time. It obviously doesn’t have quite the same impact as it does within the context of the film but that shouldn’t stop you from listening if you’re turned off by the movie. I, for one, plan on revisiting his other films (Well, not all of them) to enjoy his musical integration and hope he can satisfy me with even more fat, synthy bass.
What’s your favorite horror movie soundtrack? Sound off in the comments…unless you’re gonna say something lame like Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.