Bloody-Disgusting has scored an amazing Top 10 Horror Scores/Soundtracks from Alex Skolnick (Testament, Alex Skolnick Trio, Trans-Siberian Orchestra). Skolnick goes through each film and discusses what makes their score so deep and important, making it a fantastic read for you music majors.
Make sure to check out our review of the latest release from the Alex Skolnick Trio, ‘Veritas‘.
Director/writer/composer John Carpenter created one of the most effective themes, despite being one of the most sparse. Like many good horror melodies, “Halloween” has a lot in common with metal riffs, with a focus on the darker sounding intervals. So its no coincidence that this is a theme I heard used for an intro tape many years ago by an extreme metal band from Southern California playing the Bay Area for the very first time. The band was called Slayer.
Like Halloween, the Jaws theme is founded on a simple, haunting theme, one so frighteningly simple, a novice could play a basic version. Bu unlike ‘Halloween,’ which has no symphonic treatment, ‘Jaws’ has a theme that develops into a sophisticated full orchestration by composer John Williams. It sounds highly original until one listens to the work of seminal 20th century classical composer Igor Stravinski. Don’t believe me? Check out Stravinski’s ‘The Rite Of Spring,’ whose premier caused a riot at a Russian concert hall in 1913.
For this seminal Alfred Hitchcock classic, Bernard Herman composed a soundtrack that set the bar for all horror films that followed. Although most notable for that infamous ‘shower scene’ with its screeching string section, the main theme has brilliant ‘Rite Of Spring’ influenced orchestral intensity. At this point, anyone who doesn’t believe that Igor Stravinski inadvertently created the genre of horror movie theme music should be stabbed mercilessly, bludgeoned and laid to rest in a pool of blood.
4. It’s Alive
After a falling out with Hitchcock, composer Bernard Herman did the music for this B-list 1974 flick, qualifying it as a first rate horror soundtrack, despite the film not living up to its music or its brilliant posthumous ad campaign. A failure in 1974, the film was re-released to become a hit in 1977 thanks to a TV spot that scared millions out of their gourds, including yours truly as an eight year old. The ad began with the creepiest music of all time- a simple music box playing ‘Rock A Bye Baby.’ The music box was followed by a heartbeat, distant thunder, sudden drum hit, a blood curdling baby cry from a wicker baby carriage, and an announcement: ‘There’s only one thing wrong with the Davis baby…IT’S ALIVE!’
5 The Shining
One of the most sophisticated horror films of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ has a soundtrack of pre-existing, post-Stravinski 20th Century classical pieces. Among the most effective pieces is Hungarian/Austrian composer Gyorgy Legeti’s Lontona For Orchestra, a symphonic soundscape of sharp dissonant drones. Also included is a personal favorite, Bella Bartok’s Concerto For Strings, Percussion & Celesta.
6. The Exorcist
The main theme is a rare example of a track being a hit on its own before finding new life in a horror movie. ‘Tubuler Bells,’ by English multi- instrumentalist Mike Oldfield was already a multi-million seller in the UK as part of a ‘suite’ that combined progressive rock, art rock and folk on an album that launched a start up record label called ‘Virgin.’ In the US, however, most of us were introduced to the piece via The Exorcist, one of the most haunting films of all time, causing the odd time melody to have very demonic associations. Other music in the film is 20th Century classical, including a track in common with ‘The Shining,’ the ‘Cello Concerto’ by Polish composer Krzystof Penderecki
Like ‘The Exorcist,’ Italian horror film ‘Susperia’ used a progressive rock act to supply its soundtrack. In this case, Italy’s ‘Cherry Five’ changed their name to ‘Goblin’ when called to replace the films original composer. The main theme combines the creepy music box feel of the ‘It’s Alive’ spot with an ‘Exorcist’ like melody, followed by mandolins, percussion and later, electric guitar and synthesizer. The end result is something like a blood soaked version of the 1971 prog-instrumental track ‘One Of These Days,’ by Pink Floyd.
8. Nightmare On Elm Street
Charles Bernstein, who later did the music for Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’ composed this terrific nightmarish music. Here, Stravinski/Herman- esque melodies are given 80’s production, with synthesizers, echoes and electronic drums. Comparing this soundrack to the that of ‘Psycho’ of the 50’s,’ is a bit like putting Ozzy’s 80’s albums next to the catalogue of early Black Sabbath. They’re both great and they both reflect the time periods they were recorded in.
9. Children Of The Corn
What is it about this children’s choir that sounds so creepy? It helps that they’re singing over a Jaws like melody and achieving modulations that would make Bella Bartok proud. The main theme was used as an intro tape for my own band in the early days and no doubt influenced some of our metal riffs. Kind of funny, when you think about the fact that the film’s composer, Jonathan Elias, would go on to collaborate with members of 80’s pop group Duran Duran.
10. The Birds
One of the scariest movies and one of the boldest scores: the anti-soundtrack soundtrack. Essentially there is no music! Hitchcock had used his then composer, Bernard Herman, to create the ‘score,’ which consists of textures based on the sounds of nature taken to an extreme. So while you don’t get a ‘shower scene’ type melody or even a main theme, anyone who’s seen the film will agree that this music-less score is one of the most effective.