Sean Wilson presents a selection of spooky film scores that make for the ideal 31st October playlist…
The scariest night of the year, Halloween, is upon us once again and, in addition to all the cosplay and trick or treating, a playlist of horror hits is also essential to the big night. Horror allows film composers off the leash like few other genres do, often unleashing an onslaught of symphonic and choral mayhem guaranteed to pull a chill down the spine. This then is a curated selection of fabulously frightening horror music that you need to complete your Halloween.
Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann
Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal horror practically birthed the modern-day slasher movie, throwing audiences for a loop with its terrifying dispatch of Janet Leigh in the shower. The director would later credit “33%” of Psycho‘s impact to regular collaborator Bernard Herrmann’s chilling score, one as starkly monochrome and bleak as the film’s black and white visuals. Composed entirely for a string ensemble Herrmann wrings a remarkable amount of emotional colour from the set-up, ranging from nail-chewing pensiveness to the flat-out terror of the jabbing violins for the aforementioned shower scene. Ever composer in its wake was forced to recycle.
The Omen (1976) – Jerry Goldsmith
The only horror score to ever win an Oscar, The Omen was also Jerry Goldsmith’s sole Academy Award. It’s not hard to see why. It adds a brilliant layer of diabolical, satanic intrigue to director Richard Donner’s visuals, indicating the dark forces surrounding Gregory Peck and Lee Remick’s characters even as they remain unaware of the threat. Subsequently it’s a masterful example of how a score can heighten an audience’s emotional response to what is happening, Goldsmith’s groundbreaking use of Gregorian choir (particularly in the Oscar nominated ‘Ave Satani’ main theme) both electrifying and disturbing. Quite possibly the greatest horror score ever composed.
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) – Ennio Morricone
William Friedkin’s original Exorcist was a watershed moment in horror cinema, not only illuminating the genre’s blockbuster capabilities but also forever changing our perception of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’. Truth be told, John Boorman’s much-maligned sequel has a far more distinctive score, Ennio Morricone throwing everything out there from sweeping choral elegies to frenzied, Penderecki-esque strings. Unashamedly eccentric, the soundtrack has taken on a life of its own even as the movie has been consigned to the grave.
Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter
Truth be told, if anyone was asked to cite a particular Halloween theme it would most likely be this one. Writer-director John Carpenter recently claimed that his iconic synthesised main theme took only an hour to put together but what it lacks in sophistication, the piece makes up for in sheer menace. Indeed the jangly, electronic soundscapes of Carpenter’s immediately influential work are proof that minimalism is just as effective as a thunderous symphony orchestra: as intentionally dispassionate, repetitive and relentless as killer Michael Myers himself. (Just forget Trent Reznor’s retooling and stick with the original.)
Dracula (1979) – John Williams
The Star Wars veteran isn’t as celebrated for his horror/thriller works as he should be. This Gothic extravaganza is an early highlight from what is considered to be Williams’ golden period, encompassing Star Wars, Superman, the Indiana Jones movies and E.T. and it’s a thrill to hear him pushing the boat out into different territory. Surging and swooning with dark-hued romantic threat, the ideal accompaniment to Frank Langella’s suave and handsome Count, it’s proof there’s a lot more to Williams as a composer than meets the ear.
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