Something beautiful is happening in horror right now… well, in the soundtracks at least. There have been so many films made recently with a retro tone and style, harkening back to the colorful pop of the early/mid-‘80s. From the wide frame of John Carpenter to Dario Argento’s intense color palate, it’s all coming back. And that extends to the music most of all. So much of the sound in our favorite new horror, on both the big and small screen, is there to create a comfortable sense of nostalgia for the synth scores we were so used to hearing growing up.
That’s not to say that every attempt at a retro soundtrack works great, or even works at all. I’ve found that they’re best when the movie itself is entrenched in that aforementioned ‘80s aesthetic. When the music forces itself into something that’s trying to feel contemporary, I don’t think it works half as well.
Luckily, I think everything on this avoids that. Everything manages to fit perfectly with the overall tone of the respective feature. For our purposes, we’ll be including both scores and soundtracks, as in this case they’re meant to achieve the same basic sound & style.
The score for Starry Eyes is perfectly encapsulated by the main theme, which clearly has a distinctive ‘80s vibe, but feels genuinely eerie. At the same time, though, it’s kind of poppy and flashy. Given that the film is about the seedy, satanic underside of Hollywood, that’s astonishingly fitting.
Beyond the Gates
Considering that the story revolves around a supernatural VHS game—they existed, I assure you, and are just as bizarre as you think—it needed some retro beats to serve as our gateway. The opening track, beautifully laid over an intro montage that’s so nostalgic even if it looks like an industrial video, does this perfectly. It’s the perfect introduction to the tone and style of the film as a whole.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
The music is the star of this movie, and that’s saying a lot because it has an intense, often stunning visual style. While the story is scaled-back and not necessarily new, it definitely feels like the kind of thing that would be made in the early ‘80s, taking the basic premise of Firestarter and infusing it with heavy cues from Argento and Kubrick. The score is haunting, always present but never oppressive.
I wasn’t a huge fan of It Follows, but there were aspects of it that I loved and that includes both the clear influences from Carpenter on both the visual and musical style. The score is great, I can’t argue that. Every time I hear it, it makes me want to re-watch the film and give it another shot, which is probably the greatest power that a soundtrack can have.
The Neon Demon
Here’s a movie that I absolutely did not expect to like and wound up loving. I thought it was going to be all style, no substance. And apparently a lot of people do think that’s what it is, but to me, Neon Demon is basically Cronenberg’s The Fly, except the transformation only happens on the inside, and applying that to the modeling industry. The more beautiful she becomes, the more of an absolute monster she becomes. Cliff Martinez, who scores nearly all of Refn’s movies, might actually give his best work here.
Easily one of my favorite soundtracks of the decade so far, the music fits the movie as well as anything I’ve ever seen or heard. I could not imagine one without the other. When I saw the film for the first time, I listened to the soundtrack nonstop for probably a couple of weeks. It’s still something I put on regularly, it’s just that good. Everything fits. Not one song is unneeded or out of place. It’s perfectly timed and that is such a rarity, even among some of the best and most iconic soundtracks out there.
Stranger Things may not be a movie, but its influences are entirely cinematic and it wears them on its sleeve. While the core of the story and character relationships clearly pull from the respective wells of King and Spielberg, the score is almost entirely inspired by early John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream. Best of all: the series has had an incredibly wide reach and people who can’t get enough of this soundtrack are starting to go back and listen to those classic scores of the early ‘80s. That’s a win-win.