A Personal Top 10: Horror Film Scores
Howdy-do, folks. I appreciate y'all stopping by. Listen, before we get into this thing, I want to make something crystal clear. A "definitive best of" top 10 list this ain't. Sure, there are 10 film scores presented in this article, but in reality, they probably aren't the best. Hell, some of them could be the worst film scores of all time as far as some fellers are concerned. But each of them mean something to me, personally. That's what this whole thing is about. What I like. If you disagree - and let's face it, you're on the internet so there's a good chance you're already tempted to tell me I'm full of shit - that's just fine. You knock yourself plumb out.
Enough jaw flappin'! Time to deliver the goods!
Troll (1986) - Richard Band is likely more well-known for scoring films such as Re-Animator and From Beyond, but it was his work on Troll that really captured my attention and fed my imagination. The same fairy-tale flavored symphonic themes carry throughout the film, lending the already stunning visuals the extra oomph needed to make the fantasy/adventure seem palpable. Yes, the melodies are a bit repetitive, but they build, become increasingly dense, sinister, and perhaps disharmonic (what with a bunch of troll fairy monsters singing nonsense lyrics and all). This is an incredible way to build tension, to make the familiar seem dangerous, and Band pulled it off beautifully here. For those of you who might be saying "Rachel, Troll isn't a horror film!" well, fuck you. It was a pants-shitter for five-year-old me. HERBA HERBA WAY!
The Howling (1981) - If Troll made me shit my pants, The Howling made me shit 'em full of blood. The first time I saw this amazing bit of terror cinema, I was six years old. My family was in mourning, the house was filled with strange people, all crying on each other and moaning about something I didn't fully understand at the time. I escaped from the confusion the only way I knew how - I watched television. I parked my little brother's car seat in front of the tube, fixed myself a bowl of cereal, and tucked into the USA network's late-night horror movie. Now, you want to make The Howling even more terrifying than it already is, you just add a house full of bereaved people. Maybe my subconscious still inserts those desperate wails when I listen to the score by Pino Donaggio. Calm down, ladies. That's his name, not a fancy drinking wine. The whole thing is so 80s it hurts, with Gothic organ and shrill strings bleeding into the dissonant harshness of synthesizers and weird sound effects. I gotta say, though, as much as I absolutely love the music, the most shocking scene in the film was much richer for featuring no sound at all. Y'all who have seen it know what I'm talking about.
Night of the Demons (1988) - "Eat a bowl of fuck. I am here to PARTYYYYY!" And boy does this soundtrack party! The opening theme is the cheesiest horror-synth you've ever heard, but it's certainly not without its own kind of quirky charm. From there, the bulk of the record dives straight into a punk and hard rock jam session. I'm not crazy about the Bauhaus tune, but the original compositions by Dennis Michael Tenney are just as much fun as the rest of the film. I was actually afraid to watch this flick for the longest time. I would see the cover on every trip to rent movies and it would send chills up my spine. That Angela, what a creep. "FESTERING FUCKWADS, UNGH"!
Candyman (1992) - Fuck mirrors, bees, meat hooks, and composer Philip Glass. This film honestly made me sick when I was a kid. It was the combination of that eerie-as-anything piano theme along with Tony Todd's deep, hollow voice that got me. This score is like a music box straight out of hell. I guess I'm into psychotic Gothic sounds, because once again this score features organs, droning electronics, and mesmerizing chorale sections. Thinking about it is giving me goosebumps. On second thought, I don't like this score at all. Don't listen to it.
Silver Bullet (1985) - Synth strings and pitch-shifted howling wolves. Yeah, that's my jam. The music here is actually kind of sweet and hopeful from time to time, with the use of major scale piano melodies and flutes that melt into an upbeat pop jam. Yeah, for real. Not surprising from a guy like Jay Chattaway who went on to write music for the Star Trek television series. Still, HEE-AW HEE-AW HEE-ALWAYS seems to set the perfect mood. Gary Busey is hilarious, I don't care what you say. This one kind of hit the sweet spot for me, being a werewolf film with a lot of religious imagery.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) - This is minimalist John Carpenter synth at its finest. Yeah, a ton of people will jump at the chance to take a shit on this movie, but those people are fucksticks. They probably hate trick-or-treating, too. ARGH! I seriously can't express how much I love this score! It's instantly recognizable as John Carpenter, but it's still so radically different from anything you'll hear on any of the other Halloween entries. In my opinion, this is the best thing he's ever written. If you've never listened to a John Carpenter score before, don't start with this one because it will damn near spoil the rest of his work, all of which is absolutely fantastic. This also happens to be my personal favorite Halloween film, but that could have something to do with the fact that I am a rabid monster mask collector, and this film focuses heavily on that sort of thing. Happy, happy Halloween, Silver Shamrock!
The Burning (1981) - So Rick Wakeman is that ivory-tickling synthmaster from the English rock band Yes. We all know that, right? RIGHT?! Yes rules. Anyway, he also did a little composing for film and television in his day. The sweet spot for me is his work on Tony Maylam's classic slasher flick, The Burning. As you can imagine, the whole thing is very heavy on the synth and electro-weirdness. It's probably not what you would typically think of when you imagine the score to a summer camp slasher - in fact, it puts me in mind of deep winter more than anything - but it works somehow. It's just the right kind of offbeat to serve as a backdrop for Cropsey's carnage. There are also a few original rock compositions to be found here, and they are actually REALLY good standalone songs. Another cool fact: Wakeman played keyboards on the Sabbath track "Sabbra Cadabra" and refused to be paid for it. Instead, he took their beer. What a righteous dude.
Creepshow (1982) - This is about as good as you can get with a horror score, folks. It practically drips with mood and classic horror vibes. Interlaced with the piano and synth themes is eerie cackling and claps of thunder, indistinguishable whispered lyrics, and sinister de-tuned waltzing chaos! The music is as varied as the stories from the film, and all of it is practically perfect. Have your Father's Day cake and eat it too when you let these jams diddle your earhole. A super rad aside here: This score was composed by the extraordinarily talented John Harrison, who also went on to direct another one of my favorite horror anthology films, 1990's Tales From The Darkside: The Movie!
Gremlins (1984) - The only way you can make Christmas cool is by making it more like Halloween, and that's exactly what Gremlins did. It's one of the most fun holiday-themed horror films I've ever seen, and the score was provided by the massively talented Jerry Goldsmith. He's done just about everything you can imagine, from The Secret of NIMH and Planet of the Apes to Rambo and Total Recall. The guy has serious chops. The music here is fun and playful to the point of being an earworm. Once you've heard the stupidly catchy theme, you will hum it for the remainder of the day. And probably the next. It's pretty heavy on the Christmas vibes, with bells and twinkling and other shit I don't typically enjoy, but I give Gremlins a pass because it's also full of blood and terrified people in ugly sweaters.
The Fog (1990) - Of course John Carpenter would show up on my list more than once. OF COURSE HE FUCKING WOULD! This absolute gem of a score begins with a story to set the mood. I can't help but close my eyes and listen, picturing everything the narrator describes. The deep synth drone, piano, and electro-organ will transport you somewhere dark and menacing - somewhere you shouldn't be - but you won't want to leave. If there was ever a score that perfectly represented its film, this is it. The music here FEELS like a heavy fog full of glowing red eyes and hungry claws. JOHN CARPENTER IS MY GOD!