With Halloween firmly on us, and being a horror movie fan I thought it would be frightening as hell to write a blog on my top ten scariest movie soundtracks. These tracks work on their own without the need for visual aid and never fail to freak me out, especially as I was writing them at night, with the storms conveniently forming outside. I think I`m going to need to watch “Weekend at Bernie’s” or something after this.
SILENT HILL (Akira Yamaoka, arranged by Jeff Danna)
I remember playing Silent Hill 2 on the Playstation 2 and I could never bring myself to play it on my own. Everything about it was abnormal and skewed and had many "What the heck is that...?" moments. It seemed right that the film would utilise the music from the game, composed by Akira Yamaoka, (who composed the main theme for Silent Hill 2 in three days). Yamaoka did not draw his inspiration from movies and has stated that he doesn’t think melody is the most important element in music. He wanted the music to have a physical reaction on the listener such as apprehension and unease. He has achieved this and then some, and contributes massively to this oppressed and mysterious world.
UNDER THE SKIN (Mica Levi)
This is beautiful and sexy, twisted and dark all at the same time. The only visual analogy I can think of is if you imagine the most beautiful image in the world. And now imagine looking at the same image through some glasses which morphs and bends the image into something deeply disturbing and bitter, yet you can still make out what it used to be, just. With the relentless drum beat and textures, the music makes you wait for probably one of the most unsettling yet alluring set of notes I’ve heard in a horror. This snaking “wolf whistle” of sorts provided by some unsavoury strings will make you feel super uncomfortable. This has got to be one of the most seductively creepy sound tracks out there. It’s a challenge to listen to, and it demands your attention.
AMITYVILLE II THE POSSESSION (Lalo Schifrin)
Lalo Schifrin loved horror and science fiction. He saw The Thing many times and influenced him enough that he became aware of the impact the music had on its audience. This story was one that I have been fascinated by for years since I first saw the movie as a kid. As well as the incredible story, I find the soundtrack one of the most disturbing elements. Nothing says evil more than an exposed, innocent nursery rhyme sung by “children” with some “off” notes accompanied by menacing low strings, with ethereal and eerie synths. The juxtaposition works well in horror, often gluing two opposing characteristics together makes for an anxious listen, and has been used time and time again in horror, but has never worked better than in this soundtrack.
CREEP (The Insects)
When everyone has gone home from work, left all the bars and nightclubs and made their way home, the London Underground comes alive and groans with the kind of macabre no one wants to hear when they are on their own. Or at least what this soundtrack seems to be an ambassador of. Twisted metal, low aggressive ominous tones from hell, drenched with reverb. The dynamic of the music means you are never quite sure whether the danger is getting closer or leaving. “The main challenge was to create a score that could sonically live within this claustrophobic, confined environment – with its maze of reverberant tunnels, drains and Victorian sewers.” This is a truly terrifying soundtrack by The Insects.
IT (Benjamin Wallfisch)
This soundtrack harks back to the great orchestral adventure themes of the 80s rather than the sound design that has become so popular of recent years, but don’t let that fool you. It is every way as intense and disturbing. Wallfischer utilises some effective orchestral techniques and a nursery rhyme sung by children make this an uneasy listen. It’s that tried and tested juxtaposition of innocence and evil, where the two worlds which don’t belong together should meet but is especially disturbing when it signifies the moment the aggressor is thinking about eating a child. I’ve included “You’ll Float Too”, which incorporates some sentimental writing in which the mood is devoured by the aggressive, lingering climax which follows. Horrific stuff.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Wayne Bell/Tobe Hooper)
Tobe Hooper left a legacy with this one, arguably grittier than any slasher to date and one that even influenced Ridley Scott’s Alien. The soundtrack adds up to less than 15 minutes in total and features various instruments such as cymbals and metals, tortured and abused basses, pianos, violins and probably anything else in the room they could warp. It walks the fine line between music and a certain sonic environment. Since watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre, whenever I hear that stinger, I have that unsettled, but very recognisable feeling again that I experienced on the first viewing, Leatherface is about to start up his chainsaw.
INSIDIOUS (Joseph Bishara)
Mainly an atonal improvisation with mostly just a quartet and piano provide a bed of unforgiving textures which build to a lonely repeated solo string riff, that has the effect of evil on steroids past their sell by date. One thing you notice is that there are barely any percussive elements present, but it really doesn’t need any. The glissandi on the strings feel like the crying victims of the demon and the soundtrack keeps you on edge the entire journey, even in the more subtle moments, using silence to lull you into a false sense of security. It sounds like death warmed up.
THE CONJURING (Joseph Bishara)
As well as composing the music for Insidious, Joseph Bishara was also called on to write this chilling soundtrack, and you can’t write to this kind of tension unless you truly love the dark. This time, the direction was to take up more sonic space, with wider textures, including a brass section for more discomfort. James Wan loves the atonal textures and this really does feel like it breathes in true bloodcurdling form. Bishara had a long time to think about this track and even spent some time with Lorraine Warren and checked out all the haunted artifacts in the basement. If Satan himself was in charge of an orchestra, this is what it would sound like.
JAWS (John Williams)
While there is more to this theme, the majority of people recognise those bass notes instantly. Who would have thought you just need 3 notes to make one of the most iconic terror themes of all time. It just goes to show, you don’t need big drum hits, screeching violins, and scratchy pianos to make an audience tense. Turns out, you just need John Williams. Easy. Spielberg thought Williams was joking when Williams played him the theme we all know, and it took a few plays for him to be completely convinced. It was a very flexible theme, it could be slowed down, sped up, played softer or harder, but you always knew that man-eater was near. Spielberg is certain that the score is responsible for half of the success of the movie.
PSYCHO (Bernard Hermann)
Initially, Hitchcock did not want any music during the shower scene and Hermann thought the opposite. The score from the shower scene is allegedly the scariest theme from any movie according to the British public, and you can see why. The soundtrack contains no brass, no percussion, no sound design, no weird vocal effects, just pure relentlessly stabbing strings that grind against each other with sheer spine-tingling results that make you wince and works without picture. It proved to be so iconic that it has been copied or parodied many a time since (I remember it making an appearance in a “Friends” sketch).