There are several types of horror films. There are the ones that you forget and confuse with others of the genre, and the ones that you remember. Then there are the ones that make you uneasy when you go to sleep that night or have you watching through your fingers.
Something that really helps a movie out when it comes to the scare-factor is when it has a “killer” soundtrack.
Let’s start off with the basics. It seems like a bit of a cop out to include these tracks. It would be a crime in the horror genre to not discuss the themes to these movies.
• John Carpenter’s theme to the 1978 slasher flick “Halloween” is the most distinguishable song from a horror flick, and for good reason. Would watching a big guy in a dumb mask walk behind Jamie Lee Curtis really be that unsettling without it? The song is spookier than the actual movie.
• “Tubular Bells” is another theme that’s extremely off-putting. This is the theme to 1973’s “The Exorcist,” created by Mike Oldfield. Paired with a lot of soft, classical music, the score to the film really isn’t that scary. Until you hear it in the movie.
Some of the original material for the score was trashed when audiences who saw the trailer were too scared by the combination of the sights and music. “Tubular Bells” became main theme of “The Exorcist” and continues creeping people out four decades later.
• Forever being associated with sharks, we can’t forget the crucial theme, “Main Title and First Victim” of 1975’s “Jaws.” The score even earned composer John Williams an Academy Award. Director Steven Spielberg says “Jaws” owes its success to that score.
• Love him or hate him, but when it comes to soundtracks, horror director Rob Zombie has his own style that sets him apart from other modern directors of the genre.
He’s mastered mixing his twisted, throwback directing style with music that you wouldn’t normally consider scary. There are a couple of spoilers up ahead, so if you’re planning on seeing these movies, skip a couple paragraphs.
Zombie has stand-out soundtrack moments in most of his films. In “House of 1000 Corpses,” Sheri Moon Zombie as the psychotic Baby Firefly theatrically lip-synchs along to “I Wanna Be Loved By You” by Helen Kane before threatening Dwight from “The Office” and his girlfriend with a knife.
In “The Devil’s Rejects” and “Lords of Salem” the endings would be so subpar if it weren’t for the songs paired with them.
The Firefly family shootout would just be a cheesy ending without the confusing backdrop of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” that took it from generic and cheesy to campy and awesome. The sacrifice of Heidi wouldn’t have been nearly as eerie without the somber “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by The Velvet Underground. Or maybe it would have been. Those white eyes…
• A movie that doesn’t necessarily fit into the “horror” genre but is still weird with a fantastic soundtrack is the 2001 sci-fi “Donnie Darko.” The theatrical and director’s cut of the film is rife with ‘80s new wave, accurately setting the mood for the dark, angst-ridden ride. Tears for Fears, INXS, Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen make up the soundtrack, and the famous cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” by Gary Jules has unofficially become the anthem of angsty teens who find solace in Darko’s character.
Of course, the list could go on and on covering all different branches of horror and the scores that make them what they are. We could even discuss the impact a lack of score or music has on viewers of a film, like in the hugely popular “Paranormal Activity” movies, or possibly one of the best examples, the 2006 French film, “Ils”.
What are some of your favorite horror scores and soundtracks?
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