Hasitha Fernando presents a selection of horror film scores to enjoy over Halloween…
With All Hallows Eve a creeping round the corner, ‘tis the perfect opportunity to look back at a few film scores which have gone on to define the modern-day horror film. More than films in other genres when it comes to horror, ‘music’ plays an integral role in elevating the end product and transforming it into something memorable and unforgettable. So, without further ado here are 10 horror film scores that defined the genre that is certainly worth listening to this Halloween. A few classics like The Exorcist and The Shining however, failed to make the cut since neither film had their own proper score. In the latter’s case Stanley Kubrick utilized only small portions of the score he commissioned Wendy Carlos to compose and with the former, William Friedkin ended up using the temp track of the film along with instrumentalist Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells track, which has since become synonymous with the iconic movie.
Psycho – Bernard Herrmann (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has often been ranked as one of the greatest films of all time, and quite rightly so. A fiercely original piece of cinema which defied convention and tradition, Psycho was the bonafide trailblazer that Hollywood needed, especially for genre films at that time. Just like every aspect of Hitchcock’s film Bernard Herrmann’s score for it was also something of a game-changer. From a creative standpoint Herrmann’s work here marks a dramatic tonal shift in horror film compositions of that era which possessed a more romanticized, melodramatic sound. Psycho was a completely different beast. Utilizing unnerving string sections Herrmann ratchets ups the tension and suspense to excruciating levels, augmenting the film’s pervading sense of doom and shocking scenes of violence by a hundred-fold. Just try watching Psycho’s infamous ‘shower scene’ without the music and you’ll get an idea as to what an instrumental role Herrmann’s music played, within the context of the film.
Album Highlights: Prelude, Temptation, The Murder, Discovery
Jaws – John Williaams (1975)
Never in his dizzying daydreams would author Peter Benchley have thought that his fledgling novel about a man-eating shark terrorizing a sea-side community would become the pop-culture sensation it would eventually become. Hell, not even the people involved with the production knew what they were doing, Steven Spielberg included. But the problem ridden film struck a proverbial chord with moviegoers of the era, eventually becoming cinema’s first summer blockbuster. From the very outset one particular facet of the Jaws that was universally praised was its music. Composed by a forty something John Williams the score is the very embodiment of subtlety. It took Williams only two musical notes played alternatively to personify the film’s terrifying aquatic antagonist. He employs this brilliantly simplistic motif throughout the film, merely varying the tempo in order to convey the shark’s proximity to unsuspecting humans, and its effectiveness in creating suspense is something that cannot be put into words. It’s that good. A masterpiece in minimalism, Jaws not only jumpstarted Williams’ illustrious career but also gave him his first Academy Award for Best Original score. And even close to half a century later the score has not lost any of its magic nor its relevance.
Album Highlights: Main Title, First Victim, Man against Beast, Shark hits the cage
The Omen – Jerry Goldsmith (1976)
One of the seminal religious-themed horror films to have been released in the same era as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Richard Donner’s The Omen continued the lofty standards established with the aforementioned in terms of narrative, performances and unending scares. But what the aforementioned lacked was a memorable score to compliment the film, and that is what musician Jerry Goldsmith-by then a multiple Academy Award nominee- was able to achieve with his utterly chilling score for The Omen. Utilizing strong choral sections replete with foreboding Latin chanting, Goldsmith’s effort can best be summed as the the very embodiment of religious horror music, and to be quite honest no film score since has been able to duplicate the sheer terror and visceral dread that he achieves here. Quite deservingly the film earned the talented auteur an Academy Award for Best Original score, as well as a nomination for its goosebump-inducing song, Ave Satani. An absolute must listen for any horror fan.
Album Highlights: Ave Satani, The Demise of Mrs. Baylock, The Dogs Attack, The Altar
Halloween – John Carpenter (1978)
Although forty odd years have elapsed since its debut, there’s no denying the fact that Halloween is one of the most iconic horror films of all time. The first in the ‘slasher’ horror sub-genre, Halloween started out as a low-budget movie about a psychotic-killer stalking babysitters during All Hallows Eve. Grossing 70 million USD at the box-office Halloween became one of the most profitable independent films of that decade and received praise for John Carpenter’s assured direction and moody, electronic score. Like Psycho before it, Carpenter’s Halloween marked the next major departure in the horror film soundscape. Ditching old-school ensemble orchestras in favor of a more modern synth-heavy sound, Carpenter created what can best be described as the ‘quintessential soundscape of 80’s horror’. Many copycats since have tried to replicate what Carpenter originally created, but with middling to sub-par effect. Instantly recognizable and utterly unforgettable Carpenter’s score for Halloween will certainly have you looking over your shoulder and then some.
Album Highlights: Main Title, Laurie’s Theme, Michael kills Judith, The Shape Stalks
Hellraiser – Christopher Young (1987)
Based on the acclaimed novella The Hellbound Heart by British author Clive Barker, Hellraiser can best be described as a dark gothic-fantasy containing macabre themes ranging from sadomasochism to Cronenbergian body-horror. Directed by Barker himself the low-budget flick has since gone on to launch a lucrative multimedia franchise following its release thirty-years ago. The film’s producers who initially hired the electronica group Coil to create Hellraiser’s score were dissatisfied with their final output and went with American composer Christopher Young to craft the film’s score. With multiple successful scoring stints like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Invaders from Mars under his belt, Young comfortably stepped up to the challenge and conjured a deliciously old-school, brooding gothic horror score that not only accompanied Barker’s effort but elevated the material as well.
Album Highlights: Hellraiser, Resurrection, The Cenobites, Another Puzzle
Candyman – Philip Glass (1992)
Candyman undoubtedly contains one of the most brutal and tragic origins ever featured for a horror film antagonist. Yes, the character commits unspeakable horrors but there is a method to his carnage that makes one sympathize with the terrifying perpetrator- even one brandishing a scary looking hook. Often proclaimed as the finest Clive Barker adaptation ever committed to film, Candyman amalgamated gory thrills with intelligent social commentary on topics ranging from racism to gentrification. Complementing this tragic tale of death and murder is the bittersweet score conjured by maestro Philip Glass. Undeterred by the challenge of composing his first horror film, with previous efforts primarily being confined to concert pieces and documentaries, the classically trained musician produced a romantic, gothic-horror score that both beguiles and terrifies the listener in equal measure.
Album Highlights: Helen’s Theme, Cabrini Green, Face to Razor, Floating Candyman
Suspiria – Goblin (1977)
Quite possibly the most famous ‘giallo’ horror film to debut from the late 70’s, it’s safe to say that Suspiria’s diabolical influence since its release has not diminished in any way whatsoever with the passage of time. Partially based on Thomas De Quincey’s 1845 essay Suspiria de Profundis, the film was the brainchild of Italian genre filmmaker Dario Argento, a man with a curious affinity for dark fantasy horror flicks saturated with erotic undertones. In an unorthodox move Argento hired the Italian Prog-rock band Goblin to conceive the unconventional sound he desired for his film and the rest, as they say, is history with the band’s contribution being praised by both audiences and critics alike. This coupled with some truly trippy visuals and graphic ultra-violence, makes for one hell of a ride.
Album Highlights: Suspiria, Witch, Sighs, Markos
Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Wojciech Kilar (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the Dracula myth is a delightfully grotesque exercise in cinematic excess. Everything is over-the-top and exaggerated here, almost bordering on the theatrical. But there is a certain unusual charm and odd appeal that lends the film excellent rewatchable value. Mirroring the overly baroque trappings of Coppola’s production is Polish composer Wojciech Kilar’s music for the film. From the swells of extravagant romantic orchestral melodies, Gregorian choral chants to the brutal brass sections that punctuate the soundtrack with ferocious intensity, Kilar’s contribution elevates Coppola’s singular vision and catapults it to the proverbial stratosphere, making it an unforgettable viewing experience.
Album Highlights: The Beginning, Vampire Hunters, Love Remembered, End Credits
The Thing – Ennio Morricone (1982)
After enjoying major hits with low-budget movies like Halloween and Escape from New York, The Thing marked John Carpenter’s first foray into major studio filmmaking. Carpenter who previously scored all his previous efforts with a distinctive keyboard and synth led sound wanted a similar output from Spaghetti western legend Ennio Morricone. And what Morricone has created here is a far cry from the flamboyant orchestral driven affairs he usually does. There is a lot of Carpenter in the score for certain, but Morricone injects the former’s minimalist, stripped-down sound with some truly ominous string and brass sections that intensify the cold bleakness of the narrative, imbuing even the film’s most ordinary moments with an unnerving sense of doom.
Album Highlights: Humanity Part 1, Shape, Bestiality, Despair
A Nightmare On Elm Street – Charles Bernstein (1984)
In 1984 Wes Craven introduced the cinematic world to one of its most iconic horror film characters with Freddy Kreuger, the sadistic blade-gloved antagonist of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Along with John Carpenter’s Halloween, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th,this film is considered one of the most influential horror movies to debut between the late 70’s and early 80’s era. To bring his vision to life Craven turned to the veteran 40-year-old composer Charles Bernstein, who had received some acclaim for his musical contributions to cult-films like The Entity and Cujo. And what he crafted is an eerily creepy electronic score which is simple and unsophisticated but perfectly complements the phantasmagoria of horror unravelling on screen.
Album Highlights: Prologue, Main Title, Laying the Traps, Final Search
What are your horror movie soundtrack recommendations for Halloween? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…