Sleepy Hollow (1999) – Danny Elfman
Although he became famous for his lavish Tim Burton fantasias Elfman had instead spent much of the mid-90s experimenting in a host of different genres, from war drama (Dead Presidents) to family friendly fare (Black Beauty) and blockbusters (Mission: Impossible). Burton’s gloriously ghoulish and gory Gothic horror therefore offered Elfman the chance to return to his roots and it didn’t disappoint: a full-on operatic barrage of darkly portentous choir, orchestral mayhem and occasional shimmering beauty. It’s also got a far nastier, more brutal musical streak than many earlier Elfman scores, befitting the story’s subject matter.
Drag Me to Hell (2009) – Christopher Young
It’s an odd thing when a horror movie can act as something of a detox for its director. But Drag Me To Hell is exactly the movie Sam Raimi needed to make after the overblown disappointment of Spider-Man 3, a rip-roaring camp fire tale of a banker tormented by a vicious demon. Raimi made the sage decision to employ the latter film’s composer (and all-round horror veteran) Young for the spectacular score, which mixes ecstatic vocal fireworks with wavering violins representing the narrative’s gypsy curse. A terror-ific score that reminds us how much fun it is to be scared.
The Wolfman (2010) – Danny Elfman
A self-confessed fan of Wojciech Kilar’s Dracula score, Elfman borrowed liberally from it for this troubled horror reboot. The film was ultimately mired in so many reshoot woes that Elfman’s original score had to be reworked extensively, but a standalone listen reveals a richly brooding and intoxicating opus that leans towards the bass-heavy end of the string and choir sections, engulfing the listener in archaic majesty. If it occasionally suffers something of an identity crisis by borrowing from Dracula too much, assuredly there are just enough Elfman-isms contained within.
It Follows (2015) – Disasterpeace
The spirit of John Carpenter’s Halloween (and indeed every other John Carpenter score) courses through this entertaining pastiche from Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace. David Robert Mitchell’s eerie horror about a sexually transmitted curse is an excellent facsimile of Carpenter’s prowling visual style and it gains an added measure of authenticity from Vreeland’s rippling electronic tapestries, ranging from gentle unease to splashy, explosive moments of pure horror.
It (2017) – Benjamin Wallfisch
One of the biggest success stories of 2017, IT marks an across-the-board success as a horror movie, coming-of-age story and Stephen King adaptation. Bill Skarsgard’s gleefully malevolent killer clown Pennywise gains added dimensions from composer Wallfisch’s multifaceted score, one that deploys British nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’ as the monster’s childlike inner monologue. Yet this is a score driven more by compassion for its pre-adolescent ensemble, with an assortment of beautifully compassionate melodies measuring up against the horror. It’s a powerful reminder than in order to scare, the best horror scores also need to move us too.
Sean Wilson is a journalist, writer and soundtrack enthusiast and can be found on Twitter here.