A CREEPY COLLECTOR’S GUIDE TO SCARY SOUNDTRACKS – “STARTER EDITION”

 

As a deep-dish fan with a love for all things horror, I’ve been collecting certain kinds of memorabilia in “serious” mode since about 1997, if memory serves me correctly. From posters, tee shirts, celebrity autographs and from candid snapshots to professional photo-ops, I’ve amassed quite a bit of “swag.” But it’s easy to say that nothing gives me greater pleasure than my collection of horror film soundtracks – be they on vinyl, CD or some other medium. (And I still do have some of them on cassette. Yep, this hobby for me goes back that far.)

Fair warning given now – as in most things pared down to “lists”, this is not at all an objective collection I’m about to outline here. But in all of the years of collecting and enjoying horror movie orchestral and song scores, the ten albums I’m going to mention are the ones that seem to be where I have experienced the most ‘overlap’, when I get into discussions with fellow fans about what the great soundtracks are in genre films. None of these are ‘rarities’; they’re all still fairly easy to obtain from Amazon, eBay, Intrada, Mondo, or whoever your favorite purveyor of collectible music is.  Here they are: the Ten Basic Scream-Worthy Soundtracks that any budding collector should have, to start a well-grounded, basic horror film music collection…

In no particular order (think of this less as a ranking list and more of a shopping list):

PSYCHOBernard Herrmann, composer

 

The Alfred Hitchcock movie that began the Sixties, by forever breaking the horror mold and establishing its own set of rules, proved to be no different with its score. Herrmann’s string section shrieking in horror at the complete out-of-left-field demise of the lead damsel-in-distress, would be imitated in countless horror films to come…but never quite duplicated in terms of the impact this work made upon not just movies, but popular culture overall.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMTrVgpDwPk

ALIENJerry Goldsmith, composer

When you’re speaking of master composers in the genre field, very few have contributed to it as indelibly as Jerry Goldsmith has. One of the most versatile composers in the business, who wrote for practically every kind of picture imaginable, just about nobody did it better when it came to horror or sci-fi than he, and Ridley Scott’s ALIEN gave Jerry and all of us the best of both.
Notoriously finicky about his accompanying scores, Scott actually discarded a lot of Goldsmith’s original score for this deep-space tale of dread and death, opting to use in some spots, bits and pieces of music he liked from Jerry’s scores for a couple of other films that had nothing to do with horror. Nevertheless, enough of the music written expressly for the film was still included, and the result still remains to be probably the second best piece of work he ever did for a genre film. What do I think the first one was? Stay tuned, kids…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ftsJoR1Jys

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984 version)Charles Bernstein, composer

Following the monstrous success of TUBULAR BELLS, the album created by brilliant multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield, of which director William Friedkin used but a snippet from for his iconic chiller, THE EXORCIST, every Tom, Dick and ‘Freddy’ wanted a soundalike theme for their project, to help guarantee its success. Every guy with a pen and a couple of reams of sheet music tried their hand at it, and some of them were more successful than others. Charles Bernstein, of the illustrious musical Bernstein clan, had something a little different in mind. Using the  creepy, sing-songy jump rope melody that became the picture’s signature jingle, what he managed to create was – rather than a slavish knockoff of the Oldfield tune – a theme and accompanying score that was as eerie, surreal and uneasily compelling as the film it anchors; “’An ABC Afterschool Special’ gone very, very wrong…” (The best comment I ever read describing the film in a critic’s review.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxU8veeydI4

THE LOST BOYSThomas Newman, composer; Various Artists

The Eighties. The definitive era when songs for soundtracks were commissioned by movie music supervisors, specifically from groups who were hot at the time, or groups and artists who were angling to get into that spotlight. A separate list could be devoted to these song scores alone (and maybe there will be one in the not-too-distant future, hint-hint), but one of the most popular and well-known of these albums is the one that goes with Joel Schumacher’s too-cool-for-ghouls teen vamp epic, that tossed around contributions from sources as diverse as Echo And The Bunnymen, The Who’s lead frontman Roger Daltrey and super-hot Aussie band INXS teamed up with soul-shouter Jimmy Barnes. But what nobody saw coming, was a little tune penned by singer/songwriter Gerard McMann (now known as “G Tom Mac”), which rapidly became a moody, synth-laden Goth anthem for all things lyrically ‘vampirical,’ “Cry, Little Sister.” More than amply covered by too many bands to count, it has become its own darkly delicious standard.  All this, and a not-to-be-discounted moody-yet-menacing score by Thomas Newman (of that other famed Hollywood musical family), which only has one cut featured on this collection (“To The Shock Of Miss Louise”), sad to say, and which hasn’t ever been released on its own well-deserved disc, to my knowledge. But for now, there’s enough Eighties nostalgia here to keep your ears busy as it is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raI38f_xMZE

THE OMEN (1976 version)Jerry Goldsmith, composer

Remember when I said that Jerry could do anything? He proved it, time and again with scores as wide-ranging as PATTON, OUR MAN FLINT, PLANET OF THE APES, THE BLUE MAX, the list goes on for what feels like forever. And yet, with all of the acclaim and the Oscar nods he received over the years, how ironic was it that the one time he actually managed to finally grab a Little Gold Man, he had to pen a literal Black Mass To Satan in order to do it?

You heard me. That’s pretty much what the score to Richard Donner’s demonic terror trip was: a Black Mass honoring the Horned One. And every spine-freezing note of that theme and the attendant dark dramatic cues that follow it are what provide the film with its heft, along with the leading performances of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. Goldsmith would go on to do even more iconic genre work with POLTERGEIST and GREMLINS, but this is the one that is as associated with him, as another memorable score from a contemporary of his is with his name…betcha can’t guess who that is!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj4o1xhkbG4

JAWSJohn Williams, composer

The low bass string notes hum…the lower end of the piano kicks in, followed by the primitive, threatening drum beats…then those horns start…

Even people who don’t collect horror themes as a whole have this baby in their collections…the score that kept people out of the water in beaches worldwide for YEARS. And with good reason. And yet its popularity resulted in the sale of millions of copies, making it one of the most successful film scores ever to hit the record store stacks.  Not known for horror scores per se (and he did a beautiful job on his one recognizable piece with the London Symphony Orchestra, for Brian De Palma’s psychokinetic suspense thriller, THE FURY), no other composer scared the holy hell out of audiences more effectively, by evoking the feeling of a threat that couldn’t even be seen for the majority of the movie.  Known primarily for his other work with Steven Spielberg, as well as magnificent dramatic and action scores for a wide range of directors (check out his matchless theme for Irwin Allen’s production of THE TOWERING INFERNO), Williams scoring for JAWS (and THE FURY) was indelibly etched into the minds of movie fans for generations to come.

SUSPIRIA (1977 version) GOBLIN, composers/performers

Remember what I said before about knockoffs of TUBULAR BELLS? Some composers managed to take the feel of that timeless theme and create something that felt completely unique, while others just “went with the flow” and cranked out something that sounded just like it. For Dario Argento’s giallo-esque witchy thriller, the famed art-rock troup Goblin managed to steer their work more towards the former category. As much a character in the film as the stunning visuals it supports, this crazy kaleidoscope of bells, hissing voices, exotic percussion and keening synths are almost a required must-have for any serious collector, even if they’ve never laid eyes on the film. (And if you haven’t yet…why the hell not???)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SI7SYh47Ak

HALLOWEEN (1978 version)John Carpenter, composer

Whenever the subject of iconic, recognizable genre themes comes up, PSYCHO, JAWS, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and THE OMEN always turn up on “the usual suspects” list. But that list would hardly hold water without the inclusion of one of the simplest, yet strikingly effective themes in horror history. Whether Carpenter heard Oldfield’s EXORCIST theme or not is debatable. Based on the 5/4 time signature he remembered using for percussion practice in his younger years, he managed to craft a leitmotif that, like JAWS, is so catchy and obsessively, memorably creepy yet rudimentary, that even someone with no musical knowledge or talent whatsoever can plink it out on the keys of any piano, and just like JAWS, a fan will recognize it immediately, even if they can’t quite remember where it comes from. That is a credit to Carpenter’s talent for composition – keeping it simple and also frighteningly memorable. A talent he would display through a raft of pictures that have scared and delighted us for years since.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0rSZfDJxpI&list=PL7v_KFM4xhO2ESrrIA9_Y_Hz7qKtq_ssj

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980 original)Harry Manfredini, composer

Hewing closer to Herrmann’s work on PSYCHO as an obvious influence, Harry Manfredini wasn’t a name known very widely to mainstream horror fans, when this “cabin-in-the-woods” touchstone suddenly took the world by storm, and changed all that. Whether you think the echoing hook of the theme sounds like “ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha” or “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” (and the backstory on THAT debate is one of the most interesting and hilarious in horror movie music history), Manfredini’s inspired choice to use the echoey hook to set the score apart was nothing less than genius. You can’t even mention the name “Jason Voorhees” without people imitating their own preferred version of that cue.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-RjwlplnGg&list=PL7v_KFM4xhO3kSu_dB45ubseBGPzq-qLb

CARRIE (1976 original)Pino Donaggio, composer

It was Brian De Palma’s third studio-affiliated picture, and his last chance to get it right, as his other two films (GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT for Warner Brothers and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE for Fox) had tanked at the box office. CARRIE, based on the blockbuster novel by then-burgeoning sensation Stephen King, was to feature De Palma’s favorite musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann for the score. Unfortunately, after composing and recording his final masterpiece, the score for Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER, Herrmann passed away.  Stuck without a composer, De Palma was still searching when he attended a screening of the Nic Roeg psychic chiller, DON’T LOOK NOW. Immediately blown away by the score, he made some calls to find out who the composer was. That call led to a long-term association with Donaggio that began with CARRIE and lasted all the way through virtually every movie he made until BODY DOUBLE.
Donaggio’s score for this unforgettable tale of one girl’s ‘coming-of-rage” works on every level, because of how, in the maestro’s own words, he didn’t write the music for a “horror film”, but rather as if he were writing passages for a “tragic opera.” Which evokes all of the anger, heartbreak, pathos and horror of De Palma’s instinctively accurate translation of Lawrence D. Cohen’s adaptation. Another one that should be in every horror fan’s music collection.

Posted by Samuel Glass

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