The Music Library is Open: 8 Queer Horror Film Composers To Know

It is no secret that the horror genre has long been an avenue for LGBTQIA+ creators to share and explore queer stories, fears, and experiences. And frankly, the genre is stronger because of it. Whether these stories are shrouded in velvet-draped vampires, manipulated into monsters or mobs, or simply presented plainly in all their queer glory, horror has been and always will be queer. Of course, this also applies to the wealth of talented individuals behind the scenes who help bring horror films to life, including composers. 

As the honored custodians and manipulators of a film’s emotional undercurrent, composers are a critical and hugely influential part of the filmmaking machine. For horror especially, a film’s score can be the perfect cherry on top that sends shivers down spines, tugs at tender heartstrings, or sets up the perfect jump scare. Though horror has long benefited from the talents, perspectives, and creativity of LGBTQIA+ composers, only a few seem to get mentioned regularly in Pride Month lists and conversations. So let’s change that. 

While there is certainly no questioning the influence and importance of composers like Wendy Carlos, Michael Abels, or John Corigliano, here are a few more openly-queer film composers that have influenced the horror genre and deserve to be part of the conversation today and every day.

Carla Patullo

Composer Carla Patullo

Comedy icon Sandra Bernhard has described Patullo as “so fucking raw and groovy that it scares the shit out of me!” And, of course, she’s not wrong. Along with serving as Bernhard’s musical director for a spell, Patullo’s signature vocal-heavy, richly orchestrated, and experimental style has kept her busy working in film and television. Whether it is her scores for film projects like L.A.: A Queer History and Fangoria’s Porno, her original songs that pop up in shows like Teen Titans Go! and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, or even her albums released with her band White Widow, every project benefits from The Patullo Touch. 

Sound Bites: “Don’t Lose Your Edge” from Porno and “Black Heart” by White Widow

Nathan Barr

As one of the most active and in-demand working composers out there, odds are Barr’s name rings a bell. While perhaps best known for his work on projects like The Great, The Americans, or Carnival Row, Barr is certainly no stranger to horror. Extraordinarily versatile and creative, Barr’s horror credits include The Domestics, The Hunt, The Last Exorcism, the upcoming (someday) Salem’s Lot, and nearly every dang episode of True Blood

Barr is also one of Eli Roth’s go-to guys, scoring Cabin Fever, Hostel, Hostel Part II, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, and Grindhouse‘s infamous “Thanksgiving” segment. Another fun fact, Barr likes to collect rare, odd, and unique instruments like human bone trumpets from Tibet and a rare glass Armonica, many of which eventually make their way into scores. 

Sound Bites: “New Zebedee” from The House with a Clock in Its Walls and “The Reset Button” from The Domestics

Gerardo Garcia Jr.

Composers Isabelle Engman and Gerardo Garcia Jr.

While attending the USC film scoring program, Gerardo Garcia Jr. and Isabelle Engman discovered they made quite the dynamic duo. Ever since then, the pair have been supporting and inspiring each other while composing for film and television together as creative partners. With a gift for crafting captivating melodies, Garcia has wonderfully balanced Engman’s experimental musings on projects like Blumhouse’s Madres, Murder in the Woods, Stolkholms Blodbad, and the touching documentary, Only in Theaters.

Sound Bites:  “Ascension” from Stolkholms Blodbad and “Just the Women” from Madres

Marc Shaiman

When thinking about how to describe Marc Shaiman, the words powerhouse and dynamo come to mind. A prolific composer and lyricist, Shaiman has been blessing the world with his music since the 1970s. He’s been nominated for Oscars seven times, Tonys twice, Grammys five times, Emmys twelve, etc., etc. Whether his music is intended for the stage, or the silver or small screen, a Shaiman score is always guaranteed to be delightful. Shackled to no genre, his credits span the genre gamut and, as such, offer plenty for horror hounds. For example, Shaiman’s resume includes The Addams Family, Addams Family Values, Misery, and Hocus Pocus. And that’s just a taste. 

Sound Bites: “Number One Fan” from Misery and “Family Plotz” from The Addams Family

Ariel Loh

When Nicolas Pesce dropped The Eyes of My Mother back in 2016, the film quickly garnered a cult following. Rich, devastating, and visceral, it’s the type of film that lingers far after the end credits roll. A big part of this came through the film’s haunting score composed by Ariel Loh. Along with being a composer, Loh is a gifted producer, audio engineer, and mixer. You can hear some of their handiwork on projects like Goodnight Mommy (2022), Mother/Android, The Novice, and a short documentary series through the Stanley Kubrick Archive. Whether creating, crafting, or honing music, Loh’s keen ear and gifted sensibilities enhance everything they touch. 

Sound Bites: “After Someone Dies” from The Eyes of My Mother and “Music to Eat Steaks To” from Pink Skies Ahead

John Ottman

Fans of the late 1990s to early 2000s horror will be well familiar with the work of John Ottman. Credits from this time include bangers like Lake Placid, Gothika, House of Wax, Urban Legends: Final Cut, and Orphan. He even composed a score for Halloween: H20, but that’s a complicated story for another day. Big, bold, and exciting, Ottman’s musical contributions to the genre helped shape the sound of horror during this pivotal time and everything that was to come after. 

One more fun fact about Ottman is that he holds the unique distinction of being a frequent and talented editor. In 2019, he even won an Oscar for his editing of Bohemian Rhapsody. And sometimes, with films like The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, he even does both jobs of composer and film editor. Phew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Sound Bites: “Opening” from House of Wax and “Swimming with Croc” from Lake Placid

Bright Light Bright Light

In case the Gremlins-inspired moniker didn’t immediately give it away, horror and film are a source of endless inspiration for composer/musician/DJ Bright Light Bright Light (aka Rod Thomas). Despite being plenty busy releasing multiple solo albums, hosting “Romy & Michele’s Saturday Afternoon Tea Dance” parties around the world, supporting and amplifying LGBTQ+ and humanitarian causes, and performing with artists like Elton John, Scissor Sisters, Ellie Goulding, it was really only a matter of time before he added film scoring to his resume. In 2020, Bright Light Bright Light scored the instant cult classic Death Drop Gorgeous. Fingers crossed this isn’t the last the genre sees of him. 

Sound Bites: “Satisfaction” from All Man and Death Drop Gorgeous trailer

Angela Morley

A true icon, Angela Morley was a British composer, orchestrator, conductor, and performer whose credits include Peeping Tom, Watership Down, Fire and Ice, and Captain Nemo and the Underwater City. Though she sadly passed away in 2009, Morley’s contributions to film and horror still resonate and carry immense weight. Along with being nominated for two Oscars and six Emmys, Morley was a frequent collaborator with John Williams and had her hands in classics like Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, E.T., and Home Alone. She also became the first openly transgender Oscar nominee after she publicly announced her transition in 1972. Film music would simply not be the same today without Morley and her legacy is certainly one that deserves to be recognized, appreciated, and celebrated. 

Sound Bites: “Into the Mist” from Watership Down and “Main Title” from Captain Nemo and the Underwater City



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter