Six Horror-Movie Soundtrack Essentials
Friends, the greatest time of year is upon us once again. It's getting a little bit chilly outside (for Texas), the nights are getting just a little bit spookier, and the magic of Halloween is in the air! I don't know about you, but I get excited for it every year. One of my favorite parts of all the Halloween fun is having horror-movie marathons, like the one running on AMC right now, and, of course, the accompanying music.
Halloween music normally gets sort of a bad rap. Your first thoughts are probably novelty recordings like "Monster Mash," which probably holds a special place in a lot of our hearts but are pretty childish. But not all Halloween music is just a novelty. Some of it is awesome, and horror movies have thankfully inspired the creation of much of it.
Step with me back in time as we look throughout the years at the great horror movie soundtracks that have come Halloweens before.
Bernard Herrmann, "Psycho" (Psycho, 1960) Well, of course this is the first on our list. Horror film soundtracks had long dabbled in similar tropes, but is there any score more evocative than the music for Alfred Hitchcock's legendary Psycho? You could argue that the soundtrack practically made the iconic film, in particular Herrmann's "The Murder," which shouldn't even be a surprise considering Hitchcock's origins in the silent film era.
Krzysztof Komeda, "Rosemary's Baby" (Rosemary's Baby, 1968) The title theme for Rosemary's Baby ranks among some of the creepiest ever written for a horror film, and also went on to be massively influential on future horror soundtracks. Of note also is the incredible version by Mike Patton's metal supergroup Fantomas, who recorded it alongside other classic horror themes for their 2001 album The Director's Cut.
Mike Oldfield, "Tubular Bells" (The Exorcist, 1973) The Exorcist was revolutionary not only as a film, but for being one of the first horror movies to outsource its soundtrack. "Tubular Bells" was a composition by Oldfield for his same-titled progressive rock album. The album was a massive hit, but the movie was an even bigger one and today almost everyone can at least hum the opening notes of the 48-minute piece.
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Iron Maiden, "Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter" (A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, 1989) By the '80s outsourcing your soundtrack to hitmakers had become the industry standard. By this time horror had gone massively mainstream, and the rise of slasher flicks like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and, of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street had become intertwined with all forms of outside marketing, including soundtracks featuring songs by bands like Iron Maiden.
I'm cheating a little bit here, because the actual version on the soundtrack was recorded by Bruce Dickinson's solo band, but Iron Maiden took the song and gave it a little bit of extra oomph a year later. Nevertheless, "Bring Your Daughter," which ended being a #1 hit single for the band in the UK, was originally written and recorded for Freddy Krueger to hack up teenagers to.
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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Red Right Hand" (Scream, 1996) This modern classic by Cave and his Bad Seeds might seem like an odd choice for a horror-movie soundtrack, but it came to define the Scream series, being featured in each of the first three films. Scream was significant because it reinvented horror for the '90s after people had grown weary of the silly gore of slasher flicks. It represented horror's shift to being smart and savvy, knowing its own tropes and subverting them. In that way, the use of music like Cave's fit perfectly with the new tone Scream was pursuing.
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John Murphy, "In the House, In a Heartbeat" (28 Days Later, 2002) For the modern era, horror has largely shifted to its most abstract phase. Since 2000, we've the rise of remakes, zombie flicks carve their own niche separate from the general world of horror, slasher flicks make a resurgence, and all sorts of bizarre twists and turns. It should be no surprise that the music has also become extremely varied.
Nevertheless, the most significant shift has been a push back to the composer-driven soundtracks of old. These days they're inspired far more by post-rock, electronic, and industrial music than the classical film scores of a film like Psycho or Jaws, but the trend has gone away from big budget soundtracks.
To me, John Murphy's "In the House, In a Heartbeat," originally written for 28 Days Later but used in many other contexts since, represents the modern horror theme exceptionally well.
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