Top Five - Horror Film Soundtracks

With a recording of his latest film score coming in December, composer Daniel White was [eventually! - Ed] persuaded to list a few of his own favourite horror film scores ...

I'll be honest with you, I've never really liked the "what's your top 5 favourite films" sort of question. For me, that's an impossible question to answer and, even if you increased it to top 10 it would still be impossible. My favourite films are not set in stone and they change, depending on my mood, time of year and any number of other factors. But one Top 5 I can get behind is this one. Choosing my Top 5 horror scores is easy. 

But, before I let you know what mine are I want to tell you what my criteria is. In my opinion a horror score needs to innovate and surprise, it needs to perfectly frame the onscreen action but also standalone in its ability to create an atmosphere. A truly brilliant horror score should have the power to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and to bring you to tears. We all know there is power in music but with a horror soundtrack that power is devilishly dark. Lazy horror scoring relies too heavily on cheap musical jump scare or, currently, that weird jittery sort of noise that I have seriously grown tired of. An effective horror score can be orchestral or electric or both but it always, always must have the power to throw you into the deepest and darkest realms of that really hot place. So here is my Top 5, and not in reverse order cos I hate that as well.

1. The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith)

Richard Donner's classic 1976 horror film broke ground in so many ways it deserves a separate article. Horrific, tragic and with powerhouse performances from Gregory Peck Lee Remick, David Warner and the awesome Patrick Troughton (it's all about THAT poem) It would deserved an incredible soundtrack and it got one thanks to the genius of Jerry Goldsmith. The brilliance doesn't just stop with the Oscar winning 'Avi Satani' (cleverly subverting a church choral feel into something utterly demonic that perfectly tracks with the themes in the film) the whole score is a masterclass into how you score a horror film. Take the main love theme for example. The Omen is played out as a romantic story (the love between Peck's Robert Thorn and Remick's Kathy is so tender and pure) so when little demonic antichrist Damien arrives their relationship is supernaturally demolished. Goldsmith's love theme devolves throughout the film as Damien's power takes hold until we feel a tremendous cataclysmical music crash as Thorn learns of Kathy's fall from the balcony. Goldsmith forever changed how horror films are scored with The Omen and even decades after the score is incredible.

2. The Shining (Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind)

Carlos and Elkind's score for The Shining starts with a main theme that has a simple yet effective refrain and is then accompanied by vocals yelps and whoops (perhaps harking back the Indian land that was stolen to build The Overlook Hotel) that absolutely unsettle and feel you with dread. The score continues with a very minimal approach that allows the atmosphere of the film to build and yet accentuates the eeriness. Note the use of silence as well. Most composers would have contributed something to Danny's clunky ride round those haunted halls. But the silence, punctured only by the click clack of the wheels on wood is so much more disconcerting. Big doesn't always mean better and the score for The Shining is a strong argument for us composers shutting up once in a while

3. Suspiria (Goblin)

Argento has used the services of Prog Rock superband Goblin on more than one occasion and Suspiria will show you why. I adore this soundtrack because it is so horrible. Guttural whispered shouts (whispered shouts are a thing) of "witch" are so disturbing they are nightmare inducing. Sporadic drums and what sounds like native instruments add to the feel of an evil that is timeless. When you think you have the band nailed they wrong foot you with a Prog Rock finale that is simply astonishing. Listen to it from start to finish, go on I dare you!

4. Get Out (Michael Abels)

I didn't think I would add a soundtrack to my top 5 based on one track alone but "Get Out" does it for me. Abels has the sort of composer relationship with Director Jordan Peele where it's no surprise he has soundtracked all of his films. His score for the powerful and relevant film is wonderful and so, so different from what anyone else is doing. But his main theme "Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga" is catchy with lyrics that actually break the rules like no other soundtrack I have ever heard, they are a warning to the main character. I challenge anyone to listen to the track and not be utterly under its spell by the end.

5. 28 Days Later (John Murphy)

Murphy's score for this brilliant zombie (well not zombie really as they aren't actually dead they have a virus) is understated and yet present. But when it breaks out it really storms your senses. In The House- In A Heartbeat brings all the emotional pain and inevitability you need for a film that is chronicling the end of humanity as we know it. Listen to the plaintive piano intro ( I love double octaved high reverbed piano) and the slow but inexorable build up and you can almost feel the virus spreading. I have heard many imitations of Murphy's original but this soundtrack is sublime.

So there you go, my Top 5 and doubtless yours may be different but I hope it makes you think, if you don't already, that for a horror film to work it doesn't need just to terrify with its visuals but also with its sound. Happy Halloween!

Powered by Blogger.