On Halloween eve we take the opportunity to listen to our favourite horror soundtracks. Music and score plays such a huge part of the genre; with music able to change a scene from shocking and graphic to comedic with the change of a note. Many hugely talented composers and musicians have contributed to the genre over the years and here we have chose five of our favourites and discuss why they have such a lasting impact; even beyond the films that they accompanied.
Bernard Hermann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece ‘Psycho’ is possibly the most iconic scores of all time and one which has set the gold standard for suspenseful horror scores and continues to expire generations of film composers.
Hitchcock insisted that Herrmann write the score despite the composer’s refusal to accept a reduced fee for the film’s lower budget. The resulting score, according to Christopher Palmer in The Composer in Hollywood =is “perhaps Herrmann’s most spectacular Hitchcock achievement.”= Hitchcock was pleased with the tension and drama the score added to the film, later remarking “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.”. Herrmann used the lowered music budget to his advantage by writing for a string orchestra rather than a full symphonic ensemble.
Joseph LoDuca’s (whose work can also be heard more recently in the Chucky TV series) sweeping score for The Evil Dead seamlessly mixes piano, synth, brass, strings and orchestral elements to create a Bernard Hermanesque score which would be equally suitable for a Hollywood thriller but elevated this low-budget but high thrills horror perfectly. This approach has been much spoofed and inspired a new generation of composers to bring more sophisticated and orchestral scores to the genre.
John Carpenter is a rare breed, being equally successful as a director and composer; largely creating the music for his own films as well as being a sought after composer for other genre film-makers. He changed the game for horror slasher scores with his synthesiser-drive score for Halloween. When it came time for the sequel Halloween II, Carpenter was no longer directing and was busy working on The Thing so his collaborator Alan Howarth was brought in – Howarth uses the best elements of Carpenters original score whilst adding his own electronic elements to enhance the original.
Beloved by fans of horror and music alike The Italian prog-rock band Goblin composed most of the film’s score in collaboration with director Dario Argento himself. Goblin had scored Argento’s earlier film Deep Red as well as several subsequent films following Suspiria. Like Ennio Morricone’s compositions for Sergio Leone, Goblin’s score for Suspiria was created before the film was shot. It created a template for the use of folk and rock elements in horror score that has since been used in films such as Midsommar.
Christopher Young’s score for Hellraiser combines sweeping strings, piano, orchestral elements, percussion and vocal choir to great effect for this gothic horror directed by horror legend Clive Barker.