(Toru Takemitsu, 1964)
Weaving together a quadrilogy of ghostly tales drawn from Lafcadio Hearn’s 1904 Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, Kobayashi’s haunted vignettes were designed to echo the sensations of the four seasons. To produce the film’s breathtaking score, he looked to the skillset of avant-garde composer Toru Takemitsu. An icon of Japanese New Wave cinema and the creator of over 90 movie soundtracks (including Black Rain, Ran, Rising Sun and Woman in the Dunes), Takemitsu utilized emergent electronic technologies alongside traditional practices to weave his other-worldly soundscapes. Balancing elemental silence with distorted Japanese folk instruments, Takemitsu deftly took on the role of foley artist – twisting and snapping lengths of wood to produce some of Kwaidan’s unsettling sound effects. A fascinating exercise in trapping a ghost, or at least their spectral presence, Kwaidan is acclaimed for its first-hand account of Asian mythology and historical superstitions presented with the utmost atmospheric artistry. Horror stories “Black Hair,” “The Woman in the Snow,” “Hoichi the Earless” and “In a Cup of Tea” are tricked out and treated with stylized spectral tones and eerie sonic experimentation.
A dance macabre that has inspired a generation of sound benders and noisemakers. Suspiria engages the talents of Italian prog-rockers Goblin, who add their gory vibrations to the story of a German ballet academy from Hell. It’s no wonder that innovative bands like Duchess Says, point to Suspiria as a source of artistic influence and inspiration. An enchantment of Philip Glass’ “Music in Similar Motion,” the ground-breaking score was arranged by Claudio Simonetti who had previously worked with Goblin on Argento’s film Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) two years earlier. Forearmed with a bouzouki, a Hammond B-3, a Hohner Clavinet and a tabla, Simonetti and Goblin recruited musician Felice Fugazza to pilot a massive System 55 Moog modular synthesizer. Allowing the film’s occult mores and unrelenting tensions to occupy three dimensions, Goblin’s nightmarish interpretations expertly translate Argento’s vision on each simmering and mysterious instrumental track. From the lugubrious music-box title theme to the hypnotic rhythms that propel the spiraling action, ‘Suspiria’s’ sinister score richly deserved its remastered 40th anniversary Cinevox boxset in 2017, which featured nine additional tracks and a bonus ‘making of’ documentary DVD.
(Jerry Goldsmith, 1976)
It’s not every day that a horror film wins the Academy Award for Best Original Score, but that’s exactly what Jerry Goldsmith achieved with the assistance of the unholy original song “Ave Satani.” Mixing up his signature soundtrack flare with some well curated Gregorian chants paid off big time as The Omen’s evil choir chants and screeching strings became embedded in the psyche of droves of unsuspecting moviegoers. Leave it to the genius to plot out the scores for blockbusters like Planet of the Apes, Chinatown and Alien to place the background firmly in the spotlight. The Omen’s most suspenseful scenes are heightened by the injection of Latin verses and brassy Wagnerian overtures that have to epitomize capital e Evil itself. Even his wife Carol Heather Goldsmith wasn’t immune to demon-child Damien’s allure, contributing lyrics and vocals to the dusty ditty “The Piper Dreams’ ‘ for the LP version of the soundtrack. Reissued in various formats over the years, the 40th Anniversary edition of the soundtrack was released by Varese Sarabande in 2016 as a limited run of 4,000 copies and featuring over an hour of music spread across 27 sinister tracks.
(John Carpenter, 1978)
When the going gets tough, the tough roll up their sleeves, put on a James T. Kirk mask, and play a frightening melody on the piano. At least, that was director John Carpenter’s approach to scoring his undead opus when the then 30-year-old prince of darkness plucked out Halloween’s complex 5/4-time signature. Intense and purposeful, partly because it was composed in three short days, the movie’s custom-made soundtrack became a key character in the deadly drama as each keyboard stab accentuated the sinister images playing on the screen. Totally transforming the film’s flavour and impact, according to studio executives. The ambitious filmmaker founded two bands, the Bowling Green Philharmonic Orchestra and The Coupe De Villes, to perform the tracks heard in the film. Festering with the phantasmagorical influences of Argento’s Suspiria and Friedkin’s The Exorcist, Carpenter’s self-composed sounds would eventually go on to become synonymous with the slasher genre. Who would have foretold that 40 years later Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor would raise the Halloween main title from the dead for the release of John Carpenter Anthology: Movie Themes: 1974-1998 (Sacred Bones, 2017)? Michael Myers, that’s who!
(Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave, 1979)
Yet another soundtrack steeped in the creepy influence of Mike Oldfield (Tubular Bells) and Italian rock group Goblin, Phantasm continues to inspire musical groups and movie directors alike with a score that walks the razor’s edge between horror and science fiction. Proto-electronic shock tactics orchestrated around the best synthesizers the 70s had to offer were just one of methods director Coscarelli used to deliberately send theatregoers into a frenzy. The result of tapping into the talents of American composer Fred Myrow, who had rendered sensational soundtracks for Scarecrow and Soylent Green, Suspiria boasts one of the most terrifying scores ever set to film. Necromancing the tones alongside fellow classically trained composer Malcolm Seagrave, Myrow improvised Phantasm’s unforgettable eight-note theme and hybrid synth rock movements using droning Mellotrons and a cacophony of clavinets. Most assuredly, Myrow’s famous composer Father Josef, and renowned music publisher Grandfather Irving Mills, would have been delighted that their progeny shot to fame at the helm of immortal numbers like “Hand in Box,” “Hearse Chase” and “The Big Dwarf Fight.”
(Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind, Krzysztof Penderecki, et al., 1980)
A modern art-piece and cultural touchstone, the musical accompaniment to The Shining is easily on par with the score of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. His trusted music editor Gord Stainforth tightly bound the work of electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos and producer Rachel Elkind to the film’s mild to manic storyline. Borrowing “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (Movement III)” from art-music titan Béla Bartók, the suffocating suspense and explosive violence at the film’s core are thrown into high contrast by sounds that conjure a feeling of oppressive isolation and psychic peril. Seamlessly married to the icy austerity of mid-winter in the Rocky Mountains, The Shining’s cleverly conceived score morphs into yet another invisible observer hovering over the tragic scene. While licensing woes have hampered efforts to market the full soundtrack, subsequent releases have appeared with complete versions of Carlo’s compositions intact. In 2005, the appropriately named Overlook Productions issued a double album containing 55 frightening songs from the film in honour of the 25th anniversary of The Shining’s theatre debut.
(Ennio Morricone, 1982)
While he may have been content to compose and perform the Halloween soundtrack, John Carpenter went straight to the top of the field when it came to choosing someone to score his blood-chilling thriller The Thing. Maestro of the silver screen, Ennio Morricone may be best known for his work on so-called “spaghetti Westerns” but he didn’t shy away from the chance to add his artistic touch to Carpenter’s parasitic motion picture. Able to shift readily between mournful dirges and spooky discord, Morricone’s versatile score yielded swaths of extraneous extraterrestrial material. Remarkably, the veteran composer would later recycle these sonic ‘leftovers’ from The Thing for use on score to Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 film The Hateful Eight. In true Morricone fashion, Ennio would ride off into the sunset with the Oscar for Best Original Score in recognition of his musical contributions to that movie. Additionally featuring the jukebox-worthy songs “Don’t Explain” by Billie Holiday, “One Chain Don’t Make No Prison” by The Four Tops and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” The Thing’s otherwise minimalist soundtrack sets the table for an Alaskan massacre of ghastly proportions.
(John Carpenter and Alan Howarth, 1983)
Much like the relentless evil he conjured on screen, there is simply no escaping the presence of John Carpenter when examining the evolution of the horror film and its soundtracks. When paired with the ears of composer Alan Howarth, Carpenter’s eerie influence swelled threefold generating some of the most famous soundscapes to emerge from Hollywood. Together they conjured scores for the likes of Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Escape From New York, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness, They Live and the auto-erotic thriller Christine. Heavy metal on the highway, the sounds of twisting steel are just foreplay for Christine. Although, according to her prom date, Arnie, as a 1958 Plymouth Fury, Stephen King’s killer car preferred American Graffiti-style jukebox tunes on her radio. Under the hood lies a heart of evil and the chromed futurism of angsty/angry anthems such as “Moochie’s Theme” and “Christine Attack.” Forged from steely malice and revved up on pubescent frustration, the machinated synths that fuel Christine’s cold-blooded midnight drives and red-hot fender-mangling onslaughts are best enjoyed with the lights out and front seats and windows down.
(Tangerine Dream, 1987)
The best romantic vampire western you will ever see, director Kathryn Bigelow’s coolly confident homage to the American bloodsucker is rendered immortal by virtue of its cast and soundtrack. Reassembling cast members from Aliens, directed by her then husband James Cameron, and dressing them as eternal Civil War vets turned leather-clad bikers was a brilliant move. Selecting Tangerine Dream to provide the soundtrack? Genius. Founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese, Tangerine Dream had long set the bar for modern film noir counting original scores Sorcerer, The Keep, Thief, Firestarter, Ridley Scott’s Legend and dozens of other movies and television shows among their accomplishments. Internationally renowned for their symphonic use of sequencers and innovative tape-collage techniques, the multi-instrumental outfit is as capable of illustrating a moody love scene as a roadhouse massacre. And, as demonstrated by the rhinestone sizzle of tracks like “Caleb’s Blues,” there’s no country that’s too treacherous for a little electronic ambiance. 152
“Mae: The light that’s leaving that star right now will take a billion years to get down here. You want to know why you’ve never met a girl like me before? Caleb Colton: Yeah. Why? Mae: Because I’ll still be here when the light from that star gets down here to Earth in a billion years.”
(Philip Glass, 1992)
Pulled from the pages of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, the elegant urban legend The Forbidden was the foundation for the 1992 film Candyman. Graced with a perplexingly sophisticated track list, the movie’s songs include numbers written by Vangelis and Jon Anderson, featuring the vocals of Chrissie Hynde. But the most shocking aspect of the now infamous soundtrack is the fact that it landed on the doorstep of classical composer Philip Glass. Yes, that Philip Glass. It’s hard to imagine the modern maestro behind Einstein on the Beach slumming it by scoring a lowbrow genre like horror, but Glass’s penchant for repetition and tamed chaos were surprisingly well matched to the task. Churchy choir and organ drones run headlong into the repulsive strains of a melancholy piano and even an unapologetic glockenspiel as Glass stalks the murderous plot across Cabrini-Green (a public housing project on the Near North Side of Chicago and the Candyman’s preferred hunting grounds). Prized for its rapid pulse rate, the supernatural soundtrack fuses with the script’s mad pursuits and slashing climaxes until the entire film buzzes like a vest made of bees.
Under the Skin
(Mica Levi, 2013)
While it’s not going to settle the whole “Is it Sci-Fi? Or is it Horror?” debate, there’s no denying this otherworldly caper possesses an abiding vacuum of morality at its very soul. Fighting this psychic gravity, it took Mica Levi almost a year to craft his viola-dominated soundtrack to Glazer’s extraterrestrial manhunt. During this time, he looked to the music played in ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ and the works of surreal Italian composer/poet Giacinto Scelsi, Greek music theorist Iannis Xenakis and American electroacoustic pioneer John Cage to illuminate the film’s dark tonal structures. Cognizant that distinctly unnatural sounds instill a feeling of deep discomfort in the audience, Levi pushed hard to generate melodic juxtapositions that blur the barriers between flesh and fantasy. As the director behind videos for Massive Attack, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Radiohead, Glazer conceived a cat-and-mouse scenario with Scarlett Johansson starring as a praying mantis from space who inhabits a human form. Stretching for an erotic fix, Levi reinforces the botany of desire with a bespoke symphony of skittering suspense and alluring carnal harmonies.
Nosferatu (1929 silent film)
Original score by Shooting Guns (2018)
When director F.W. Murnau’s off-brand Dracula drama originally hit the big screen the only source of sound came from the theatre’s pipe organ. In the case of Nosferatu, the directorial note to the local keyboardist was something like “Play Greensleeves at full volume. Repeat.” Moviegoers at the time were reported to have fled the cinemas in terror. Fast forward to 2018 when Saskatchewan instrumental rock outfit Shooting Guns starts touring local art house theatres and performing their newly composed soundtrack to the classic horror film in front of live audiences. Captured during one of their live renditions at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon, the LP of Shooting Guns’ gothic Nosferatu tribute features 70 minutes of lurking dread and infectious suspense split into five reverberating Acts. Cleverly placing a mirror across the front row of seats, the band synchronized a miniature orchestra of strings, percussion and sound effects to the tale of terror unfolding on the screen behind them. Who knows what repercussions such witchcraft will have on their immortal souls? Still, they managed to breathe life into Max Schreck’s decrepit lungs and brought old black-and-white Count Orlok back to the land of living colour. Afterall, ninety years is just a cat nap by vampire standards.
Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages (1922 silent film)
Original score by The Garrys (2019)
Another silent film that has received a posthumous score, Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 occult classic Häxan, also known as Witchcraft Through The Ages, has long awaited its sonic initiation. The Swedish ‘documentary’ found its ideal muses in the form of The Garrys a prairie surfin’, psychedelic, sister-rock group from Saskatoon. Setting the scenes of bedsheet-clad maidens to their signature strings, The Garry’s claimed the coven as their own. Very superstitious sounds pervade this careful clocking of the film’s narrative, as each vignette is explored and experienced from the inside out. Lenore, Julie and Erica Maier used accordions, trombones, guitars, bass, drums and synths, as well as their own ethereal vocals, to illustrate the at times absurd depictions of sacred pagan rituals. Lending a spritely luminosity to the proceedings. Feeding a devilish spirit with original compositions like “Love Potions,” “Apelone’s Dream,” “Young and Beautiful,” Anna’s Inquisition,” “Torture Devices” and ultimately “Hysteria,” The Garrys cast a wicked shadow across the witch trials of the previous century from a position of female empowerment that would have been inconceivable when the film debuted.