By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Along with his fellow iconic directors George Romero, Wes Craven and David Cronenberg, filmmaker John Carpenter helped redefine horror and science fiction with a string of classic movies he made during the ’70s and ’80s. Starting with his underground sci-fi comedy Dark Star in 1974 that he co-created with future Star Wars and Alien contributor Dan O’Bannon, Carpenter would move on with the urban thriller Assault on Precinct 13 two years later before managing his first major studio release with the 1978 landmark horror film Halloween.
A critical and commercial success, the pioneering slasher movie established Carpenter as a new American horror auteur with the filmmaker directing, co-writing and providing the memorable analog synth soundtrack that would become embedded in popular culture. A string of hit movies would follow, including 1980’s supernatural horror flick The Fog, the futuristic crime thriller Escape from New York a year later with frequent Carpenter star Kurt Russell, the stunning remake of The Thing (which featured a soundtrack collaboration with another film icon in legendary Italian soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone), the more mainstream sci-fi love story Starman and the influential cult classic They Live in 1988 starring wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
While the director’s career would decline in the 1990s and beyond, he still managed to produce a couple of cult favorites in the campy post-apocalyptic sequel Escape From L.A. and the genuinely creepy Lovecraftian horror movie In the Mouth of Madness. Carpenter’s enormous influence remained despite the inactivity that followed as a string of remakes — The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13 and Rob Zombie’s decidedly inferior Halloween reboots — but the director changed his main focus to music two years ago.
With his synth-heavy soundtracks having become coveted collectibles in the decades that passed, the music Carpenter made on his own and with regular collaborator Alan Howarth found a new audience with the deluxe reissues by soundtrack imprint Death Waltz. There were also prominent echoes of Carpenter’s signature sound heard in the music of synth/horror disciples like Pittsburgh, PA-duo Zombi and electronic quartet S U R V I V E, which had two members score a surprise hit with the music to the popular Netflix series Stranger Things.
In 2015, Sacred Bones Records released Lost Themes, the first of two volumes of new original music Carpenter made working with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies that successfully captured the menace and minimalism of the director’s best soundtrack work. Though in his late 60s, Carpenter made his first foray into work as a touring musician, enthusiastically holding forth behind a keyboard on stage for live audience at a number of festivals (the 2015 edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties in England and both Houston’s Day For Night Festival and Barcelona’s Primavera Sound last year) and sold-out tour appearances on both sides of the Atlantic.
Carpenter and company recently released a third collection — Anthology (Movie Themes 1974-1998) — that features new recordings of his many classic title themes from throughout his illustrious career as both a film and music maker. Fresh from a Halloween night performance at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, Carpenter and his band come to the Bay Area for two nights of the macabre director’s sights and sounds as the group performs his film music as clips from each cinematic offering are projected in the background. In addition to the headlining show at the Warfield Saturday night, Carpenter and company will also play the Catalyst in Santa Cruz on Sunday.
John Carpenter: The Anthology Tour
Saturday, Nov. 4, 8 p.m. $45-$55
Sunday, Nov. 5, 8 p.m. $39.50-$59.50