Some of the best horror soundtracks are for films that don’t even really exist. The composers of these scores draw their influence from the likes of John Carpenter and Goblin, crafting evocative synthesizer-driven pieces that tell suspenseful and horrifying stories despite nothing ever put on film.
These aren’t merely instrumental albums with vaguely connected instrumental tracks. Instead, composers like OGRE & Dallas Campbell, Antoni Maiovvi, and Repeated Viewing craft elaborate stories to go along with their music. What we’re left with is, in many ways, a fully realized film for our ears.
As this year’s Halloween, the most hallowed of holidays, slowly fades from our memory, here are five killer synth scores for horror films that exist only in someone’s imagination.
Slasher Film Festival Strategy – Psychic Shield
What would you expect from an artist called Slasher Film Festival Strategy? If you’re thinking of something supremely creative and evocative, then you’re right. The South Carolina-based project’s album Psychic Shield, which Death Waltz released on vinyl in 2015, is incredible.
The story behind Psychic Shield centers on a cult of flesh-eating witches who use their craftiness to lure unsuspecting victims to their gruesome deaths. Cult survivors tap into a “psychic shield” in a bid to protect people and set forth in a terminal battle to rid the world of the flesh-eaters once and for all.
SFFS draws on an ambient and drone background, paired with a love for ‘70s and ‘80s horror flicks, to create an entrancing experience that’s variously meditative, kinetic, and almost always suspenseful to the point of paralysis. Highlights like synth-woven “The Chant,” the massive “Cold War” and the triumphant “The Somnambulist” are prime examples of the power of SFFS’s preternatural ability to tell a story with music.
OGRE & Dallas Campbell – All Hallows’
The trans-Atlantic pair OGRE and Dallas Campbell have crafted several scores for imaginary films, and rescores for real ones, but All Hallows’ is their true masterpiece. They use their vast analogue synth collections to craft the perfect homage to ‘80s slasher films. An added bonus: they have written a story, which they include with every track on the album’s Bandcamp page. A listener could easily ignore the story and just make up their own with each dynamic score cue (track) that utilizes ethereal nuance to build suspense and terror. Or the listener could follow along with the provided slasher tale.
For those interested in the musicians’ chosen story, the narrative behind the haunting and dissonant minimal synth cut “Rabbit Run” paints the following sample: “The clatter of him was close behind her, closer than she wanted… She was blind, branches swiping at her in the pitch black, cutting her face as she ran. He was still coming, still on her trail.”
Regardless of how one experiences All Hallows’, it’s pretty clear that OGRE and Dallas Campbell have a masterpiece on their hands.
Mega Drive – Sleeper Street (The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Mega Drive is a powerhouse electronic producer, who started out doing more straightforward dark synthwave before expanding his repertoire into more nuanced and complex compositions with diverse instrumentation and arrangements. His latest, Sleeper Street, is a masterclass in how to maximize nostalgia for ‘80s horror film synth scores while injecting something new into the mix.
From the frenetic theme that opens the soundtrack to softer, more contemplative fare like “Memories of the Room” and “Safety In The Dawning Light (A New Day)” and to the bit-crushed sensory overload of “Last Stand,” the Dallas, Texas-based Mega Drive gives the listener plenty of narrative milestones to work with in creating an entire film in their head. Interestingly, unlike some of his contemporaries, Mega Drive doesn’t seem to offer a prescribed narrative. It’s all on you, dear listener. Unfurl what you will.
Repeated Viewing – Street Force
One of the most compelling scores for an imaginary horror film is Scottish producer Repeated Viewing’s Street Force, released on Giallo Disco Records, a label that specializes in soundtracks for faux-films. On Street Force, Repeated Viewing (AKA Alan Sinclair) channels the likes of Goblin, Angelo Badalamenti, and at times even early New Order to tell the story of one man’s rampage across New York City in 1982.
These dark numbers cover an impressive swath of territory. The sweet and slow “Night Loving” has chunky percussive synth stabs you can feel in your bones, topped with delicate, crystalline melodies. “Dance Chat” has a circular drive and a jovial bounce to it that would have made it play well at Factory Records’ famed Manchester nightclub The Haçienda. “Hussein the Killer” is an onslaught of big guitar riffs, drums gated in a prison basement, and minimalist synths. These and other tracks underscore the need for a real Street Force movie. What an incredible film that would be. Even so, with just Sinclair’s work, you can conjure up something pretty intense on your own.
Antoni Maiovvi – Shadow of the Bloodstained Kiss
Nowadays, Antoni Maiovvi mostly scores real films, like Can Evrenol’s latest, Housewife, and Adam Mason’s 2015 picture Hangman. But the Giallo Disco Records co-founder made his name creating brilliant and elaborate scores for nonexistent horror flicks, often faux giallo stories he’d power with impressive soundscapes covering ambient, electro, Italo Disco, and everything in between. Shadow of the Bloodstained Kiss, released by Seed Records in 2009, is one of those.
Maiovvi posits Shadow as a sci-fi giallo released in 1983, and which tells the story of utopia-gone-bad on the Jovian moon of Europa. A sadistic killer is on the loose, killing anyone connected to a brutal crime. Some pretty stark, existential secrets are revealed. He succeeds universally in providing the listener with a compelling space horror story.
“They Return” is a spacey contemplative cut that transforms into a big and triumphant Moroderesque groover. “Nightmoves” is a measured track awash in white noise and suspenseful melodies, foretelling the imminent degradation of galactic colonial social norms. “6000SEX” has the frenetic arpeggiated synthesizers people so enjoy in their horror scores and the banging rhythms that make dystopia the hottest nightclub in town. Over the course of the entire release, it’s hard not to have fun despite a killer being on the loose.
Those are only five of the hundreds of fantastic, non-imaginary synth scores to imaginary horror films that you can find on the internet and in your local record store. I’d recommend starting with these five and going deep down the pitch-black rabbit hole. It’s dark and often deranged, but you’ll never be disappointed.
Aaron Vehling is publisher and editor-in-chief of Vehlinggo, a site dedicated to synth scores, synthpop and synthwave, among other electronic genres. He has written a sprawling feature on the Drive soundtrack that includes the insights of most of the soundtrack artists, and has interviewed horror film composers such as Disasterpeace and Wojciech Golczewski. You can discuss all things synthy with him on Facebook and Twitter.