It’s October and everyone seems to be getting into the spirit of all things Halloween by having their own horror movie marathons! While most people choose this month to feast on a steady diet of all the horror classics, this writer watches them (along with every other genre of film) all year round. So the thing that stands out for me about these films that has become iconic with the Halloween season is their music! Ah yes, those chilling scores that have become so indelible that you can’t help but think of the actual movie its from the moment you hear those first few creepy notes.
With that said, Icons Of Fright thought it’d be fun to count down what we think are currently the TOP 10 Horror Movie Themes! Let’s see if you fellow horror fans agree! -Robg.
10) HELLRAISER: Resurrection – Very rarely does a horror score capture so perfectly the gothic flavor of the film that inspired it as much as Christopher Young’s HELLRAISER score does. This sweeping orchestral theme is the ideal backdrop for when Pinhead and his band of demonic cenobites appear on screen and evokes a simple beauty that only compliments the films “pleasure and pain” motif. Interestingly enough, writer/director Clive Barker originally commissioned industrial band COIL to compose an experimental score before bringing on board Christopher Young (who would also go on to do Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL). Let’s hope the recently announced still-in-the-works remake implements this classic score to maintain the vibe of the original.
9) PUPPET MASTER – Ah yes, whether you’re familiar with this franchise in Charlie Band’s infamous Full Moon library or not, you have to admit, it’s one of composer Richard Band’s catchiest scores. The melody has almost a carnival-esque essence to it that perfectly represents this series of killer puppet movies. While the quality of each entry in the PUPPET MASTER series varies, you can at least count on two things – you’ll be seeing Blade somewhere in there, the most popular of the PUPPET MASTER dolls and you’ll also hear the strings of this iconic score at some point. (PUPPET MASTER 3 is my favorite by the way.)
8) 28 DAYS LATER: In A House, In A Heartbeat – This piece of score by John Murphy has not only become synonymous with Danny Boyle’s digitally-filmed thriller 28 DAYS LATER, but it’s one of those pieces that just seems to make any film better. A slightly altered version appeared in KICK-ASS during the sequence in which Big Daddy unloads on a warehouse full of mobster thugs, and countless television commercials and short films on You Tube have used it as their backdrop. No matter when it’s used it always seems to make whatever film you’re watching work! Therein lies the power of this musical piece by John Murphy.
7) A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – It doesn’t get much better than Charles Bernstein’s nightmarish (pun intended) score for what is arguably Wes Craven’s most famous film. In fact, the remake of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET suffered tremendously for not using this iconic score. (Unless you count a few notes when the title appeared on screen, but let’s face it, that film suffered far more than just the music missing) That keyboard lullaby, the hush voices in the background, that synth score – all these elements are what set Bernstein’s work apart from all the other horror scores. And it’s SCARY!
6) SAW: Hello Zepp – With the exception of SAW VI, when you hear the opening notes of Charlie Clouser’s musical cue titled “Hello Zepp”, you know you’re nearing the final moments of a SAW film and in a few mere moments, you’ll be leaving the theater with mouth agape trying to process the film’s final twist. Formally a member of NINE INCH NAILS, Clouser’s work has become an important element to each entry in the SAW franchise, but it’s always this particular piece of music from James Wan’s original movie that fans immediately recognize. This should totally be America’s national anthem, because every time I hear it, I know I get hyped up!
5) SUSPIRIA – There has been no better marriage of filmmaker and band in horror history than with Dario Argento and Goblin. While the heavy metal outfit always provides for a unique soundscape to Argento’s wild and colorful visuals, the theme to SUSPIRIA is probably the most famous collaboration between the two. Goblin’s childlike lullaby melody to Argento’s SUSPIRIA is just as iconic as John Carpenter’s score for HALLOWEEN. Hearing it immediately puts me in the surreal rainy atmosphere of that film and makes me check all the rooms for potential witches. It’s classic!
4) THE EXORCIST – It’s funny, you hear the opening keyboard notes to Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” and you immediately tense up as you recognize it as the theme song to one of the most terrifying movies ever made. (I always picture that iconic poster image when I hear it too.) BUT, if you wait it out to the 30 second mark, it’s not so scary anymore. Hell, at the 2:30 mark on this particular version embedded below, it becomes a rockin’ jam rather than a terrifying horror score.
3) JAWS – Very few movie film scores could be identified as easily within the first two notes as John Williams legendary theme for Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. Williams is the composing legend who provided the soundtrack to everything from Star Wars to Indiana Jones to Superman! So it’s funny that all it takes is those first two bass notes of JAWS to immediately remember why you became afraid to go in the water!
2) PSYCHO – What’s interesting about Bernard Herrmann’s now iconic score for PSYCHO is that much like Hitchcock’s film, it’s often referred to as a “black and white” score, using only string instruments, which at the time of PSYCHO’s release (1960) was rather uncommon. The urgency and frantic nature of this theme provides immediate tension, which is what Hitchcock’s films all thrived on. Add onto it the famous screeching violins from the shower scene, and you’ve got a musical cue that’s recognizable almost immediately from the first note; and from people that might not have ever seen PSYCHO! They know PSYCHO when they hear it.
1) HALLOWEEN – Ah, our number one horror movie theme? Well, it’s John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. This is yet another theme that is instantly recognizable to everyone even if they’ve never seen Carpenter’s masterpiece. (Which if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? It’s Halloween season!) Not able to afford a composer on the low budget that the director had on this film, Carpenter opted to compose the score himself. Much like PSYCHO, it’s often said that both PSYCHO and HALLOWEEN didn’t work before the inclusion of their now infamous scores. Carpenter went on to do similar scores in his future films such as THE FOG, but it’s his 5/4 creepy piano melody for Halloween that has become his trademark.
HONORABLE MENTION – DEXTER: Blood Theme – One piece of music that came very close to making this list was composer Daniel Licht’s “Blood Theme” from Showtime’s hit series DEXTER. While some might associate the opening title sequence music with Dexter, I personally think the “Blood Theme” is the theme that better encapsulates the dark tone of the show. Anytime this cue plays, you immediately know something serious is up. Kudos to Licht for creating probably the catchiest theme song for a serial killer ever.
BONUS VERSION of HALLOWEEN – Since the HALLOWEEN theme is our number one horror theme, you’re entitled to an alternate version of it. There’s a gentleman named Andrew Goldenberg (aka GoldenTusk on You Tube) who does these incredible comedic videos by singing the plots of specific movies to their theme songs. As an artist, he’s incredibly talented and extremely funny. I first discovered him for doing the below version of Halloween, which lyrically is absolute insanity. Check the video out for yourself to understand exactly what I mean.
*This article originally appeared on Massive Hysteria 10/10