Thursday 30 June 2011

The Greatest Soundtracks in Horror, Volume 1

The horror soundtrack....

It can make or break a film. Its well known that John Carpenters HALLOWEEN was deemed 'boring', and 'not scary at all', until the great man added his now universally adored soundtrack. Then, boom!, its a 'horror' masterpiece', and 'absolutely terrifying'. The music accompanying a horror film can, and often proves to be, the making or the dismantling of the movies atmosphere. They often elicit suspense, dread, humor, adventure and terror when all else fails. They're a directors best friend, and maintain a symbiotic alliance with the images the filmmaker creates. One cannot fully exist and flourish without the other. See? Soundtracks matter!

With that said, Ive been thinking of compiling this here list for quite some time now. And damn, its tough. Just think about it for a few minutes. There are so damn many to chose from, and we each bring with us a lifetime of memories and fears that we associate with them. I'm talking about the WHOLE soundtrack here. Not one track but the whole darn thing. The ambiance, the theme music and the score overall. There are a thousand I adore for a thousand different reasons and I could happily sit here for a week and reminisce about a lifetimes love affair with the art of the horror soundtrack. Its a bloody hard list to compile, which is why I'll break it into volumes for your listening pleasure, and mine. I'll add videos of certain compositions from each soundtrack, and give my reasons why I find them so effective. Be interesting to see who's in agreement and who thinks I'm full of shit. So, with no further adieu, here's some fine examples of what the genre has to offer. These are a few of the soundscapes that get my melons twisted. In no particular order. Enjoy!


What do you get when you cross the mighty John Carpenter with the equally mighty Ennio Morriconne? You get a soundtrack as sparse, doom laden and intense as any out there. Here's a soundtrack that perfectly captures the claustrophobia, isolation and paranoia the movie is so celebrated for. Think of the movies opening shots of the desolate arctic landscape, the Norwegian helicopter, the dog desperately trying to escape these seemingly insane hunters. It feels like the worlds ending and hope is long gone, even for those seeing it for the first time and who are unaware just how much is at stake by killing that dog. The reason...Morriconne!


Smogs input to the overall effect of this film cannot be overestimated. They compliment the horrors and tragedy onscreen beautifully, adding a bittersweet sense of grasping hope in the face of crushing disappointment with the lives that are ruined. VESSEL IN VAIN is among the finest songs Ive ever heard, and speaks directly to the heart. Its not just the protagonists requiem, its a requiem for ALL of us, and its beautiful.


The Goblin's soundtrack for Argento's masterwork is among the most celebrated and revered of all horror soundtracks. Demonic psychedelia for a film drenched in hallucinatory imagery. The first time I was exposed to SUSPIRIA, it was through its music, as I woke to a late night showing. I feel in love with the Goblins and with Argento right there and then, and for me, SUSPIRIA is perfection. A stunning marriage of sound and image that recalls a 1967 Fillmore gig on the worst LSD trip imaginable.


Directly influenced by The Goblins SUSPIRIA soundtrack; Carpenter used his music as a character, every bit as menacing and dangerous as his iconic killer, Micheal Myers. Alongside that soundtrack, this is probably the most beloved of horror's musical output. Carpenters stellar work on HALLOWEEN, composed entirely by the great man himself on the sort of synthesiser that Psyche bands only dream of playing these days, its genius is in its simplicity. Minimal, drenched in atmosphere and creepy as all hell.


Carpenter followed up his HALLOWEEN soundtrack with a work that's every bit as sparse, disconcerting and haunting as he brought us before. HALLOWEENS soundtrack may be wielding the sharper knife, but THE FOG's music is equally beautiful, and equally as frightening.Its a soundtrack that creeps on you stealthily, quietly chilling you to your very soul.


Bernard Hermann's most famous work is as familiar to horror and thriller fans as Jaws' score. But there is much more to this work than simply screeching violins. The entire soundtrack ups Hitchcocks already drum tight suspense, and takes the viewer on a demented ride into the twisted psyche of good ole Norman Bates.


As driven and unrelenting as an unstoppable onslaught of the Undead. Once again, Argento and The Goblin's knock it out the park. There are so many playful moments on this score, contrasted with so many overbearing and downright frightening moments, that its hard to pinpoint the effect it has on Romero's masterpiece. The DOTD soundtrack is a haunted fun house, a dark ride interspersed with glimmers of light, that ultimately is snuffed out by shadow. Just like the film itself. Consumerism has never been so nightmarish, or so much fun.


TCM's score is revered by all who suffer through it. I say that because there nothing here you could accurately call music. What you have is a disjointed collection of uneasy soundscapes that claw into your subconscious and leave you in a state of distress with all the power of a night terror. The films score stays with the viewer every bit as long as the imagery. Surreal, mind numbing and as uncomfortable as a soundtrack gets.

There you have it. A few of the greats to get your teeth into or relive as you see fit. I'll be doing a second volume soon, where I'll look at, (among others), A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, TENEBRAE, and my all time favourite, BLACK CHRISTMAS Hope you enjoy, and feel free to comment with your own favourites.

Till next time.... 


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