Last month, we thought it would be fun to reach out to a few of our friends in the genre, in order to bring you readers an article all about our favorite horror scores. The reception and the contributions exceeded our expectations, so when it was mentioned that “you should do a sequel to that article”, naturally, the next step would be just that: SEQUELS. So, we asked a few more friends, as well as some of the Icons gang, to give you a few words about our favorite scores to horror sequels. Enjoy! -Jerry



For me, Carter Burwell’s original score for PSYCHO III is one of the best film soundtracks to a sequel ever. Bold words, I know! After all, considering the history of composers behind the PSYCHO franchise. You can’t think of PSYCHO without immediately associating it with Bernard Herrmann’s infamous main theme or shrieking violin screeches. When PSYCHO II rolled up a good 22 year later, who could possibly follow in those footsteps? Jerry fucking Goldsmith, that’s who. And he did an amazing job crafting a completely unique, melancholy score that fit the confusion of our lead did-he-or-didn’t-he-do-it character Norman Bates. So with Anthony Perkins behind the camera to helm PSYCHO III, he chose… the relatively unknown Carter Burwell? It’s actually not too surprising once you learn that Perkins was a huge, huge fan of the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, and in particular their film BLOOD SIMPLE. Stylistically and tonely, there are so many similarities between the two that they’d make a really good double feature! 

Rather than follow in the grand orchestral footsteps of the original 2 movies, Burwell instead focused on a lullaby as his primary theme for the movie titled “Maureen In The Desert.” It both encapsulated the loneliness and anguish that both Maureen, the nun-gone-awol, and Norman Bates felt. Among that main theme, there are string pieces like “Before and After Shower” (a rearrangement of that main theme) and “Mother?” (a personal fave) but they’re so different than anything we’ve heard in the PSYCHO franchise previously that they add to the over all somber feel of the entire movie. The coolest bit? Norman often plays piano in both sequels. In this one, when he’s alone at his instrument, he slowly plays the main theme that Burwell composed; one of the only times I can recall having the lead character of a movie play the theme that was composed for him. Graeme Revell did a wonderful job rearranging a lot of the famous Herrmann cues for PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING, but I always do a bow of respect to Carter Burwell for his score for PSYCHO III.




I’ll be the first to admit how happy I am regarding the recent demise of the hatred towards the third HALLOWEEN entry. Growing up, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH was a regular for me, and even without Michael Myers in the film, it has always held a huge place in my heart (it’s also my favorite HALLOWEEN film, aside from the original). As a kid, I didn’t quite know exactly why it scared the hell out of me, I mean hell, maybe I just had a phobia of Irish Stonehenge-obsessed villains, or perhaps it was the sheer intimidation of Tom Atkins’ stache that did it to me. Whatever the reason might have been, it always did its job: making me terrified to sleep at night. As the years went by, I grew to be much appreciative of the musical arts than I had been as a youngster, and when my obsession with listening to soundtracks on repeat began, one that always found its way to my record player, was the John Carpenter/Alan Howarth score to well,..HALLOWEEN III.

What makes this record stand out so much to me, is how “Carpenter” it is, but how “HALLOWEEN/HALLOWEEN II” it ISN’T. Instead of featuring a musical track that gets stuck in your head like the first film’s theme, the score to SEASON OF THE WITCH takes a different route, relying more on an unsettling tone that runs throughout the film’s music. Starting off with the “Main Title“, the score provides a jump scare of a cue, before shifting into an ominous plateau, keeping you there for a good while with tracks like “Chariots of Pumpkins” and Jesus Christ, “Drive to Santa Mira“, a track that STILL freaks me the hell out. If you play that one while I’m visiting your house, things might get real between us, ending in one intense knuckle sandwich, right from my fist to your face. Midway through “The First Chase“, you begin to get a real Goblin-esque vibe, right up until “Robots At The Factory” comes in, giving you an xylophone from hell feeling, mixed with long, drawn out notes in the background. Honestly, every single track from the HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH score is killer, and yes, even the catchy but annoying Silver Shamrock jingle of the “Halloween Montage” track does it for me. It’s like that annoying friend that you can’t stand, but just can’t bare to part ways with, that track. “Challis Escapes” sounds like something that would have been in the first TERMINATOR film, and the other track that stands out to me (aside from all of ’em) from the tail end of the score, is HALLOWEEN III‘s final track, “Goodbye Ellie“, which like the rest, features some dark tones in the background, but with some typical but very welcomed Carpenter/Howarth synth jamming going on. A perfect way to end a perfect score, and one hell of a movie. SEASON OF THE WITCH forever.



John Murphy is one of the best film composers working today. My first encounter with his music was in Danny Boyle’s brilliant 28 Days Later. As in all of Boyle’s films, music plays such a huge part – he doesn’t want you to just watch his movies, he wants you to feel them.  Thankfully, Boyle and director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo brought Murphy back for the highly underrated sequel, 28 Weeks Later.

Murphy’s a master at creating epic sounding scores with a real rock ‘n’ roll edge. In the sequel, he re-uses the throbbing 28 theme to great effect, but he also has a few other tricks up his sleeve. One of my favorite tracks (“Theme 7”) sounds like it came right out of a Lucio Fulci zombie movie. This soundtrack is intense, beautiful and haunting (sometimes all at the same time), and it’s on permanent rotation on my iPod when I’m writing.



Very few sequels eclipse their predecessors, but HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II is a notable exception. Quite literally taking us into the sprawling labyrinth of Hell, HELLBOUND delves deeper into the secrets of the Lament Configuration, and how the Cenobites came to be. Clive Barker handed the reigns to director Tony Randel for this outing, but their collaboration, along with returning composer Christoper Young, led to the making of one of the greatest sequels of all time. When I think of defining horror scores, Christopher Young’s booming aural symphony will always immediately spring to mind first.

HELLBOUND is an extremely location heavy film, filled with more than a couple of iconic characters and moments the genre has ever seen. All are given their due thanks to Young’s larger-than-life orchestral score that matches the scope and grandiose scale of the film in every way possible. It’s incredibly loud, deafening even, and almost feels like it’s sonically assaulting you so it won’t be outmatched by the accompanying grotesque visuals. Christopher Young is still scoring horror to this day (DRAG ME TO HELL and more recently with SINISTER are highlights) with his unique sound, and he still manages to terrify.



Let me be clear, DEMONS is a much better film then DEMONS 2. DEMONS is claustraphobic, grotesque and scary while the sequel is lacking these qualities it ups the silly factor with a bat-shit Demon kid and questionable performances. That said, the soundtrack and gore effects of the sequel are phenomenal and make the film a truly memorable piece of 80’s genre cinema. Unlike the heavy metal bands that populated the first film’s soundtrack, the sequel is made up of popular British New Wave bands of the time (largely selected from the Beggars Banquet label) including The Smiths (‘Panic’ was licensing gold), The Cult and Dead Can Dance, which gives it a pulsating modern energy – and really sets it apart from the previous film.

As great as the songs are, the standout of the soundtrack is the electronically scored theme ‘Demonica’, composed by Simon Boswell (HARDWARE, SANTA SANGRE, LORD OF ILLUSIONS), which really elevates the film. It feels like an 80’s western meets Rocky sequel and it’s incredibly moody and just screams epic showdown. One of the scenes that comes off silly now, but in a pre – RING cinema, a Demon forces his way through Sally’s TV set, I remember being petrified and the only thing holding the scene together is the unrelenting soundtrack breaking down the barrier between them and me. Great stuff.



It just so happens that my favorite sequel musical score, is also the score to one of my favorite sequels: CHILD’S PLAY 2. As a young horror fan, who also happened to enjoy random music, this soundtrack was a wonderful thing. I enjoyed the theme song, mostly because it sounded like something that would play at a really creepy, evil carnival. I don’t know why, but I have always thought that. I genuinely love every track, but my favorite would have to be track number seven. I love how it starts out slow, and then out of nowhere, it gets really intense.

Every time I listen to any of the tracks, I think of how it felt being a child, and my grandfather letting me watch CHILD’S PLAY 2 behind my Mother’s back. I was banned from horror films for a while after I tried to act out scenes from the first CHILD’S PLAY (also my grandfather’s fault). This score takes me back to the times of hiding behind my pillow when Chucky creepily walked towards Andy’s teacher, before he kills the hell out of her, and the laughter that was shared between my grandfather and I when Chucky’s head explodes. It is always nice to revisit fun times, and the music from this film always puts a smile on my face.



The late, great Jerry Goldsmith is far and away my all-time favorite composer. Not only was he an accomplished and prolific film composer, with a fifty-year career spanning every imaginable genre, but his “horror street cred” is beyond reproach. He scored original episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He composed the scores for ALIEN, GREMLINS and POLTERGEIST. The man won countless awards, but he only ever won one Oscar – for THE OMEN. Yes, the man who scored PLANET OF THE APES, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, PATTON, CHINATOWN, BASIC INSTINCT, TOTAL RECALL and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL won exactly one Oscar, and it was for a horror film.

Goldsmith went on to bring his unique flair to the two original sequels, DAMIEN: OMEN II and THE FINAL CONFLICT. And while I cannot deny the greatness of the Academy award-winning score for the original film (and the fun, off-kilter revisiting of some of the same themes and cues in OMEN II), the standout score for me in the trilogy is easily the powerhouse music Goldsmith composed for the final* film in the saga, THE FINAL CONFLICT. The score announces itself right off the bat with a new, majestic, stately, grim fanfare for the now grown-up Damien Thorn. This theme is the basis of the entire score and it is one of Goldsmith’s best. It’s the music of a tyrant, the music of a merciless conqueror, the music the devil would want played whenever he entered a room. The multi-layered, deeply complex score that follows, performed by what has to be a huge orchestra and full choir, alternately rumbles, creeps, screams, hisses and lashes out with portentous evil before soaring to heights of angelic, pastoral beauty as Damien tries to stop the second coming of Christ. Goldsmith’s cue for the fox hunt scene – a high point of the score – might qualify as one of Goldsmith’s single best pieces of music ever written. But it really is the overall sound of every cue, the flourishes in the orchestration, the use of choir – sometimes as an accent to the orchestra, sometimes as pulse-pounding percussion – the gloomy, hopeless, pitch-black darkness of it all that always stands out to me. Cues like The Ambassador and Electric Storm, just ooze with dread and an undeniable sense of doom. This is music I’ve been getting lost in for 30 years, and it never fails to transport me to that land of delightful shivers.

I will freely admit that the film itself leaves a lot to be desired: Damien is the lead character, which means the film has no clear hero. We are given a conflicted, dubious, female news reporter love interest for Damien and a squad of stop-at-nothing assassin monks to try and care about, but our main focus remains on Sam Neill’s Damien, a mass-murdering megalomaniac who just happens to be the fully aware antichrist at the height of his powers. But this was Goldsmith’s lot: he always brought his A-game, even when the movie itself perhaps left a lot to be desired, almost as if he were scoring the better movie playing in his head. One might also think that Goldsmith felt in this case that he needed to wrap up the accomplishment of his devilish trilogy with a bang, regardless of the lackluster conclusion he was presented with. Listening to THE FINAL CONFLICT score on its own (and I highly recommend the expanded, remastered edition released by Varese Sarabande on compact disc in 2001 – the original LP and corresponding CD were justifiably criticized for below average sound quality), one imagines a much greater film, an epic full of unfathomable darkness and horror as evil incarnate – already here amongst us, insidiously tightening its powerful grip – is inevitably defeated by the forces of righteousness. I know it’s corny, and Goldsmith’s choral music for the signifying planetary alignment and full-blown heavenly appearance of second-coming-Jesus is unabashedly, gloriously “churchy,” but these are the archetypes at play and Goldsmith wrings them out with everything that he’s got.

*In 1991, a painfully weak TV movie sequel was made for the Fox Network called OMEN IV: THE AWAKENING. Yes, it is a reboot which awkwardly ties into the continuity of the original trilogy and yes, the producers repurposed some of Goldsmith’s music cues from the first and third films to use as underscore, but the least said about this film, the better.



To my mind, James Cameron’s Aliens is easily one of the most intense horror films ever made (I’m referencing the extended Director’s Cut, with all its beautiful, additional character beats and deeper emotional layers, naturally). No matter how many rip-offs have threatened to dilute its powerful singularity since 1986 it is a thoroughly exhausting, suspenseful film experience with no equal that I’ve yet to come across.

I believe that James Cameron’s ALIENS is in fact an action film (and an amazing feminist battle-cry by way of a thinly veiled Vietnam narrative at that) but that it is also a horror film and one of the most relentlessly nerve-shredding of its kind. Outside of the film’s breathless, intense set pieces, this marriage of genres is perhaps no better felt than in James Horner’s score, which persistently and simultaneously insists on keeping a foot in either genres gene pool. The Marine’s theme (derived from a percussive library cue by composer Harry Rabinowitz) heard throughout the the film in moments of carnage rubs elbows with ALIENS‘ darker musical cues; Foreboding falling strings compete against bravely bleating trumpets and trombones. The music will signify that the story’s horror is real, present, inescapable and all-consuming but then the French horns join in and seemingly belt out “This menace is surrounding you with impossibly unwinnable odds, it has sharp teeth and razor claws, it is your nightmare incarnate, but fight back marine! Damnit, fire!” as opposed to a more horror oriented  cue / sentiment such as “Flee you shrieking violets! Flee!” All the while, a piano is pounded away upon indicating certain doom for our protagonists, steel pipe percussion gets hammered, screeching flutes cut in bringing with them an otherworldly, alien terror and yet, despite the woodwinds and strings wringing every last bit of anxiety from the increasingly dire scenarios on screen, the brass answers back, insisting on courage, maintaining a melody of endurance and fortitude. Action and horror, with all their attendant motifs, working together side by side, harmoniously, in unison. It’s a complicated undertaking but ultimately one that works so well, you barely even notice the magic happening, so involving is film’s narrative and so complimentary is its score.

For me film scores don’t get much more exciting than this, something that is all the more gratifying to the ear when one is aware of the hardships it overcame to sound not only coherent, but excellent. It is hard to believe that once upon a time, one of cinema’s grandest horror films and one of its most effective scores, was very nearly derailed by cultural differences regarding tea time between bickering American and British filmmakers. But it wasn’t, thankfully. Instead we got an eleventh hour coup (which in the preceding years became a legacy) and for that reason alone, I think I’ll give this soundtrack another celebratory spin.

One Response to “Icons and Friends: OUR FAVORITE HORROR SCORES: SEQUELS!”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] We reached out to friends and did collaborative pieces about the music we love (here and here). We filled the Icons slate with interviews with everyone from Greg Nicotero to my personal […]

Leave A Comment