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Into The Abyss: Catherine reaches for the light.


N THE LATE 1980s, MIDI STACKS, SYNTHESIZERS AND


RECORDING EQUIPMENT IN GENERAL WERE IMPROVING AT AN incredible rate, and John Carpenter and Alan Howarth were tak- ing full advantage of the technology. Their sixth soundtrack col- laboration, for 1987’s Prince of Darkness, resulted in a pioneering


horror score, a doom-laden, ambient work befitting a movie about a religious apocalypse. True to form, the music kicks in over the opening credits with a thumping


rhythmic bass line, which clears a path for the synth melody and the intro- duction of the recurring choral passages. “The seed is planted and it develops throughout the movie,” says Howarth


(pictured below), explaining that the score is designed to have a more subtle effect than previous, more thematic Carpenter soundtracks. “When actors are carrying a scene you don’t need the music – let the actors act – but there was a lot of panning around and watching things happen, so under those circumstances you want the score. John had this great quote where he re- ferred to the music score as ‘the director’s velvet glove.’ What he meant was that it was a way of touching the audience and steering them into what they were supposed to be thinking.” Howarth points to “Team Assembly” as a standout cue. The piece begins


as the homeless horde emerges from the darkness and surrounds the church that houses the research team. As the cue draws out, the ambient sounds slowly take hold, and the themes are distorted and overtaken by dissonant, grinding drones and sonic clatter. Such a gut-wrenching elec- tronic score was unheard of at the time and has influenced the work of com- posers such as Tyler Bates (Doomsday, 300, the Halloween remakes). “It’s got a rock feel because it’s got this constant bass drum, and the bass


line is really, for me, modern sounding,” remarks Howarth. “I always thought that was really good.” Although the $3 million budget for Prince of Darkness was much smaller


than that of Carpenter’s previous film, Big Trouble in Little China ($25 mil- lion), it was business as usual for the collaborators. “John would bring over his movie,” recalls Howarth. “I’d set him up with


all my noises, sequencing, recorders and stuff like that; we’d put the picture up and we’d just start. Often, since it was John’s movie and he knew what he wanted, he would sit down at the keyboard and make the first pass, then we would spend the rest of the day building [each cue] out.” A great composer in his own right, having created scores for many films


(most recently House at the End of the Drive and Brutal), Howarth is respon- sible for preserving his seven collaborations with Carpenter (their final being 1988’s They Live) through live performances and reissued limited editions of their work, available from alanhowarth.com. When it comes to the score for Prince of Darkness, however, he’s quick to heap praise on the filmmaker. “The couple note riffs that make up the theme, that’s John Carpenter. He’s talented in that way, and was ever since his early scores. He’s very humble about his scores. He refers to them as carpet- ing or wallpaper.”


One reviewer called it the worst movie of the year. The worst! Critics just didn’t want to like the movie and called it “pseudo-science.” I don’t know what that means. They didn’t appreciate the violence and they didn’t understand it. That’s okay; it wasn’t meant for them. It pissed me off at the time but hey, man, what are you going to do? You can’t win. [Pause] One day I’ll get ’em!


The climax sees Catherine emerging from inside the church as the Angel of Dark- ness, suggesting that she is the new “Bride” of the Anti-God. That’s right. There you go. At least you understood the movie. It’s a triumph! Some peo- ple are confused by the ending, but fuck ’em!


Others were offended by the notion that the malevolent force controls “simple organisms” – not only ants and worms but street people. The street people were meant to be schizophrenics that were susceptible to the evil’s power and influence. I thought their presence was scary, visually. I’m sorry if that was offensive and maybe I shouldn’t have done it, but that was the idea.


How did Alice Cooper land the role of “Street Schizo”? One of the guys involved with putting the film to- gether [Shep Gordon] was Alice’s manager and he offered up his services. Alice was such a nice guy, I said, “Sure,” and cast him. He actually brought along the impaling bicycle gag with him from his stage show. We needed that! [Laughs] I’m not kid- ding. It was great, but it was also hilarious that he provided it.


You’ve described Darkness as a summation of


all the horror and science fiction films you’ve ever seen and made. That’s probably true – and all done with no money! The most important thing for me was to create this feeling of dread and doom. I wanted to pick you up in the hand of this thing, carry you for 90 minutes – or whatever it was – and suggest to you the world as it really appears. That was the main purpose of it. Prince of Darkness is the second film in what I call my “Apocalypse trilogy” and is really talking about the end of the world in one way or another, an end of times. Like The Thing and In the Mouth of Mad- ness, it’s concerned with bigger things against humanity – much bigger things.


Would you say that Darkness is your most underrated film? It did okay at the box office but it’s underrated artistically. Again, I don’t think that people quite understood it. They certainly didn’t share my enthusiasm for quantum mechanics and so forth but, yes, without question, it’s one of my most underestimated films.


Since you recently returned from your hiatus with The Ward, one can indeed say that “The Sleeper has awakened.” What’s next for you? I have a number of projects in development. I’m working on a Gothic western called The Bloody Benders, which we’re in the process of trying to raise money for. I’m also adapting a comic book called Darkchylde into a movie. I’m also about to take a meeting on another script that I wrote years ago, but you know what? I don’t have to worry about all of that. The great thing about old age is that it brings you wisdom and you calm down about things. So if anything does come along, then it comes.


RM22


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