Do you know how many horror movies that have completely forgettable music will still end up with a soundtrack available for purchase? I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve gotten to the end of the credits of a terrible movie and saw “Soundtrack available on ________ records.”
I can’t help but be baffled that someone would want all those songs in one place. Other times, the soundtrack available for a horror movie is a compilation of songs either written for or inspired by the movie written by artists that reflect the tone of the movie. Other times, however, the music that accompanies a horror film so perfectly matches the tone of the movie you can’t imagine any other music being sufficient, and even listening to that music on its own is enough to give you the creeps. The following soundtracks are the ones that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, when you hear the music, you are instantly connected to the movie it was from and all those feelings you had while watching it.
6) Creepshow – John Harrison
Although the film itself isn’t necessarily scary to most people, Creepshow showcased the talents of George Romero, Stephen King, and George Romero in a way that anthology films have had a hard time doing ever since. The variety of stories about a monster living under the stairs, to being haunted by two murdered lovers, to a bug infestation, Creepshow has something for everyone, and the soundtrack by John Harrison is no different. From the ominous, repetitive “Something To Tide You Over” giving you the feeling of an intensifying haunt, to “They’re Creeping Up On You” getting under your skin and making you feel like bugs are on you, each song has a different feel to it, but with common themes and musical sounds that pull each theme together. As the movie has something for everyone, so does the soundtrack.
5) The Thing (1982) – Ennio Morricone
Considered to be some of John Carpenter’s best work, and one of the few examples where a remake is generally regarded to be better than the original, The Thing gave audiences feelings of paranoia, isolation, and the bleakness of life. Departing from his usual style, Carpenter relinquished his composer responsibilities to Ennio Morricone, an Italian composer who was made famous by his work on Spaghetti Westerns, specifically his work for his friend Sergio Leone like A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In retrospect, it seems so ridiculously obvious that the best way for Carpenter to convey those themes of isolation and being surrounded by an environment so incredibly harsh and dangerous, with the people encountered being the only rival to those dangers, was picking someone like Morricone.
4) The Exorcist – Mike Oldfield/Krzysztof Penderecki/Jack Nitzsche
In The Exorcist modern science and religion come to debate over what has afflicted young Regen. The score heavily features classical music which wasn’t even composed for the film, as the original score, by Lalo Schifrin, was considered too intense by the movie studio. Director William Friedkin chose other pieces that worked well, despite those musical pieces not necessarily being instantly recognizable. When it comes to one movie being epitomized through music, do we really even need to go any further than the main theme, “Tubular Bells”? This minimalist theme grows more intense, more erratic, and more jarring, despite the main harmony repeating endlessly. It’s that never-ending hook that reminds you that no matter what happens to the characters in the film, there are some things bigger than them that will continue forever.
3) Phantom of the Paradise – Paul Williams
What happens when you take equal parts Phantom of the Opera, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Brian De Palma? You get Phantom of the Opera, a rock opera that fulfills both words in that term. All William Finley’s character wants to do is release his epic concerto about Faust, but when his music is stolen by Paul Williams’ character and Finley is deformed in a record press, it’s Finley’s character’s mission to prevent the music from being released. From jazzy songs being sung by the lead Jessica Harper to songs about the tortured anguish of Finley’s character to straight-up arena rock, and even a few Beach Boys-esque songs, this soundtrack runs the gamut. One thing that’s for sure is that every song is awesome and shows you why Paul Williams gained the reputation he rightfully deserves.
2) Suspiria – Goblin
Picking just one entry for all of the frequent collaborations between Goblin and director Dario Argento was tough, and there was much debate, but their soundtrack for Suspiria comes out on top. Suspria follows a young girl attending ballet school; yet. when a series of mysterious, violent events take place, she realizes there’s more to this school than what she had previously thought. I’ve gone on record to say that the opening scenes of this movie are some of the most surreal, disturbing, and disorienting openings of any horror movie, due strongly in part to Goblin’s score. The music is innocent and whimsical, yet eclectic and chaotic enough to let you know there’s evil brewing just beneath the surface.
1) Halloween – John Carpenter
What do Star Wars, Rocky, The Godfather and Halloween all have in common? It’s that within seconds of hearing their theme song, you instantly recognize it and connect it not just with one film, not with just one style of filmmaking, but with an entire genre of film. As if the theme wasn’t enough to immediately connect you with horror movies, it has become so ingrained in our culture that it’s also connected with the holiday, which is also connected with an entire time of the year. I can’t think of one other film in any other genre whose music can connect so many individuals into one consciousness of not just films, but of an entire holiday and all of the thoughts and feelings associated with it. As if the theme alone didn’t accomplish that much, his entire soundtrack for the whole film helps to heighten the idea of a “Boogeyman” being right around the corner, and the inevitability that this Boogeyman’s will to do harm is stronger than your will to survive. Based on his success with this score, it’s no surprise (thankfully) that Carpenter provides the writing, direction, and music for so many of his films. Although, I suppose Halloween could have used more Kurt Russell.
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