Exorcist II: The Heretic (Ennio Morricone, 1977)
The movie itself is widely castigated but there’s no denying it offered a canvas on which Morricone could paint one of his craziest scores. Veering from psychedelic chaos to expressive, sensual depictions of choral innocence (most famously in the case of ‘Regan’s Theme’, re-used by Quentin Tarantino in The Hateful Eight), it’s wilfully eccentric and far more memorable than anything director John Boorman served up.
The Amityville Horror (Lalo Schifrin, 1979)
It’s alleged that the Mission: Impossible composer’s theme for this smash hit haunted house horror was originally composed for The Exorcist, one that was ultimately thrown out by director William Friedkin. Whatever the truth, the composer’s undulating, skin-prickling vocal lullaby (complete with churning bass undercurrent) casts a menacing shadow over this account of the infamous haunting, a welcome reminder of Schifrin’s considerable talents beyond the realm of jazzy funk. It even got him an Oscar nomination.
Poltergeist (Jerry Goldsmith, 1982)
Schifrin may have got their first with the kids lullaby approach but, as ever, Goldsmith defined the technique with Oscar-nominated soundtrack. It remains one of the composer’s most accomplished and complex scores, Goldsmith tackling the Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg project not as a horror movie but as a love story of a family facing deadly supernatural evil. As a result it’s all anchored by the lilting, bittersweet ‘Carol Anne’s Theme’, a lovely statement of innocence that nevertheless undergoes some superbly menacing inversions as the ghosts make their presence felt.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Charles Bernstein, 1984)
The score for Wes Craven’s thought-provoking, dream-invading horror perhaps gets overlooked in favour of its appreciably grotesque imagery. Nevertheless composer Charles Bernstein deserves much credit for helping to reinforce the nightmarishly invasive presence of Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger. Much of the score toils in 80s synthetic cheesiness but the processed choral effects (particularly the ‘1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you’ theme) still strike a note of dread.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (Christopher Young, 1988)
Young’s grandiose orchestral score for the first Clive Barker chiller in 1987 swept through the synthetic 80s horror landscape like a breath of fresh air through a mausoleum, lending satanic grace and sumptuous elegance to the story of the pain-seeking Cenobites. His magnificent sequel soundtrack however took things to the next level. Anchored by a thunderously imposing choral waltz that celebrates the majestic return of Pinhead, and with all manner of genre-defying effects (including a musical replication of ‘GOD’ in Morse code), it’s one of the composer’s defining achievements.
Candyman (Philip Glass, 1992)
Glass’ intellectual, minimalist approach as heard in the likes of Koyaanisqatsi made an unexpectedly excellent fit with Clive Barker’s cautionary urban legend tale. Director Bernard Rose updates the story from Liverpool to Chicago but Glass’ choir/organ combo lends a timeless sense of dread, cleverly implying that the Candyman legend exists outside of time itself and bottling the pure essence of genuine fear. It’s prowling, invasive and quite brilliant, striking exactly the right notes of fairy tale fable and dread-fuelled horror.
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