We can all immediately bring to mind the classic horror movie scores, from John Carpenter’s score for Halloween, to Goblin’s Suspiria, to Philip Glass’s hauntingly beautiful music for Candyman (1992). But there are many other solid efforts than just those that have earned a reputation for being classics.
The 1980s especially, were a goldmine of amazing synthesized scores. Most of my favorite film scores, horror or not, come from this decade. But that’s not to say that there aren’t amazing orchestral scores—again we could go back to Candyman or Danny Elfman—within the genre.
Music in horror can create a thousand different reactions, which is part of what’s so fascinating about it. Some of the scores we’ll be looking at create an unexpected tone, sometimes sounding more romantic, sometimes intentionally mixing horrific images with upbeat sounds. Either way, there’s a power to music in film that can’t be denied, and you can find it in the most unexpected places.
The House of the Devil
Released in 2009, The House of the Devil has an amazing soundtrack that—much like the film itself—completely feels entrenched in the tone and style of 1980’s Satanic thrillers. As great as the production design, costuming, and camera work is, the score is what really sells it as an ‘80s period piece.
Chopping Mall is a weird movie with a weird soundtrack. It’s so upbeat and cool. It has a neat, pure synth sound to it and I don’t even know how it really relates to the film itself. But the whole thing has that sense of weirdness. It’s a confined slasher, but it’s about robot security guards…
The Friday the 13th scores are classic, but I didn’t love them until Jason Lives, because it was the first time I felt like Harry Manfredini really nailed the atmosphere. It’s a genuinely creepy soundtrack and at the same time has an excellent drive and a sense of pacing.
Knowing what Nekromantik was about, that score was the last thing on Earth I expected. And it’s my favorite part of the movie. It might be the only thing that makes it work. Because that beautiful piano medley over the ménage a trois scene is just tonally perfect with what Jorg Buttgereit was trying to do.
The Howling sequels were not good, by and large, but Howling V is the most watchable. It has a solid atmosphere, but not a whole lot happens in it. That’s where the score comes in to have something going over these images of absolutely nothing. It’s more of a slasher—although a more classical slasher—but this is the only instance I can recall where I’ve seen each death marked with the same sound cue, as if the movie is telling you to keep track.
The score for Waxwork is so underrated. The movie is a mish-mash of different genres, a love letter to a number of horror movies and every type of horror movie that came before it. That’s part of what I love so much about it. The score really sells it because there’s a bit of everything from gothic monster music to sweeping romance-adventure.
Related: Script to Pieces: Waxwork III
Subspecies is one of my favorite film scores of all time. Yes, I’m absolutely serious about that. There’s something so haunting about this score, it’s dark, ominous and kind of sweet at the same time. Moreover, there’s something very folk about it that sets it firmly in that part of the world.