Suspiria (1977) – Goblin: Goblin is quintessential when discussing horror scores and Suspiria is just as important. The thing is that the movie and score fit perfectly together. The music is nightmarish at times and groovy at others, but all fits cohesively together as a singular musical vision. You can do the dance of death to this one.
Cat People (1982) - Giorgio Moroder: This score spoke to me at a very specific time. It had a haunting, but modern, tone that just fit with my day to day life. It felt like a soundtrack made just for me. Add in vocals by David Bowie and we’re off. Funny thing is that the music and Bowie combined really actually reminded me of Peter Murphy. Interesting.
Hardware (1990) – Simon Boswell: Hardware is a fantastic film. One of the few cyberpunk pieces that really tapped into the visuals of the genre. The film is a straight-up slasher with sci-fi and western elements woven in. A remarkable score that evokes the sense of desperate wandering as well as futuristic urban terror. Love it.
Amityville Horror (1979) - Lalo Schifrin: The Amityville score is one of my all-time faves. Whether or not you like the film, the music stays with you and evokes the unparalleled horror of being afraid in your own home. Often mistakenly identified as Schifrin’s rejected Exorcist score, it is actually its own monster composed specifically for the film and completely different than the aforementioned rejected one. That’s a lot of disturbing sound floating around in one man’s head.
The Wicker Man (1973) – Paul Giovanni: The Wicker Man score is unique in every way. Though it is not my favorite score, it is one of the most terrifying for me. It conjures images of Pagan worship with blind devotion and extreme prejudice against any outsiders. To be trapped in a place where you don’t belong, that is the feeling that permeates through this eclectic score and why I find it so unnerving.
The Lords of Salem (2013) – John 5: Lords of Salem needed something different and it certainly got it with John 5’s score. It is difficult to explain the feeling of dread that rides on every note of this particular score. It’s devoid of light, hope, and happiness. I say these things not in a bad way, but as a triumph. These are difficult emotions to pull off in the modern score with any originality, and although the film score was certainly punctuated by songs from The Velvet Underground, the score stands on its own as a downward spiral. A free fall from grace, and dare I say, the semblance of a life on an uphill trajectory. Don’t listen to this alone while drinking. I don’t want to read about you in the paper.
SAW (2004) - Charlie Clouser: People forget what a great film SAW was. It was a remarkable achievement for its minuscule budget and first-time director. It was simply big in its execution and that mentality carried over into the score. Ex-Nine Inch Nails mixer Charlie Clouser brought an orchestral-sized score to the film that rivaled anything Goblin has done and did so proudly as to announce to the world that he had arrived. The score is loud, melodic and filled with confidence. It stays in heavy rotation at my place.
The Omen (1979) - Jerry Goldsmith: Of all the films Jerry Goldsmith has done, it’s The Omen that gave him his only Oscar to date and it’s easy to understand why. This score is so many things all at once. It’s climactic, religious, forbidding, Satanic and filled with hope and the glory of GOD all at once. I don’t know how he did it but I guess that’s why I’m not a composer. The score walks the line between light and dark so perfectly and indistinguishable that I would argue that such a complex piece has never been matched.
Zombi 2 (1979) - Fabio Frizzi: I remember hearing the music play from the TV in the living room as a child and freaking out. It scared me so bad. Just the idea of the dead walking was enough but now they had their own beat that played in my head and scared me whenever I even thought about it or opened up the paper and saw the ad. Its unmistakable beat fills the film with the sound of death. The creepy thing is…it makes you want to dance to it.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) - Krzysztof Komeda: I love this score. It’s reflective of the best of that era. The jazzy high class scene of the late '60s mixed with simple nursery themes that play as horrifying omens of things to come. If I had a child, this score would play in their room 24/7… Just saying.
The Shining (1980) – Wendy Carlos/Krzysztof Penderecki: Though Wendy Carlos is credited with the composition, it’s the classical music of Krzysztof Penderecki that brings the terror. Isolation, imagination and inner demons are all at play in the score. Whenever it is playing you can’t help but be overcome with the feeling that you need to be elsewhere…and fast!
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) - Angelo Badalamenti: Angelo’s music is sublime. It’s always hauntingly beautiful and filled with calm. That being said, there is always something bubbling underneath. A second layer just below the surface which is the polar opposite of everything you think you’re feeling. It is a fantastic soundtrack with as many layers as the film itself. I equate the score to a murder house that is surrounded by a white picket fence and a garden a deep red roses.
Psychomania (1971) - John Cameron: I remember seeing this film on a rainy afternoon when I was young. The music kept ringing in my head and I still play it today. It’s also the music that first made me want a motorcycle. It’s a '60s rock style score that sounds a bit like early Black Sabbath to me. If you are a fan of the rhythms of '60s/'70s rock, then this is right up your alley.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) - Wojciech Kilar: I will argue to nay-sayers that this is the greatest Dracula score of all time. Rich and operatic, it echoes with its deep strings as if being funneled through the empty and forgotten halls of Castle Dracula. Nearly every piece is a moment of hellish discovery that culminates with Dracula’s entrance or rage. The only thing it’s missing is a cue or two from Swan Lake, which served as the theme to Universal’s original.
Alien (1979) - Jerry Goldsmith: Here is another score by Goldsmith, and my favorite by him. It plays to the isolation of space and I feel it with every note. You can visualize the halls of the Nostromo or the caverns of the derelict ship within each piece and feel the feeling that no matter how many people are with you, ultimately, you will die alone in space. It’s a quiet score best played alone and at night with a bottle of wine. Cheers.
Halloween (1978) - John Carpenter: Sometime a film really just needs a simple score that hammers the point home. That is what you get with Halloween. It is straight and to the point. It is also one of the best representations of the season. In the slower pieces like “Laurie's Theme” you can almost feel the leaves blowing past your feet. Sometimes I even feel I need to put on a sweatshirt. That is the power of a good score.
JAWS (1975) - John Williams: JAWS is unique because each section of the film has its own theme yet they all fit together as a whole. You may be saying “Of course,” but they are really vastly different when listened to separately. The first third of the film is the theme we know and love. Then it bleeds into the second and mixes with a very sea side theme that screams “beach community." However, it is still unrelenting in its purpose. The final third of the film becomes an adventure and that is probably the best part. It opens up, brings all the emotion that has been building, and then explodes. A great score!
Nightbreed (1990) – Danny Elfman: Nightbreed was the score I had on constant repeat in my basement. It screams Danny Elfman in all the right ways. For me it had the dreamlike moments that reminded me of the Cenobites, but also a tribal percussion that was the very essence of who the breed is. Add to all that, Elfman’s signature choir and it’s almost a perfect storm. It was beautiful darkness wrapped in a bow and sitting on my turn table.
Candyman (1992) - Phillip Glass: Maybe the most beautiful main horror score of all time, I learned to play it on the piano. I was so obsessed with this score because it was simply unlike anything I had ever heard. It didn’t really reflect the environment as much as it did the thought of lost love and the pain of separation. It builds its beautiful lullaby till it crescendos with the reuniting of Candyman and Helen in a strange death dance. Unavailable till 2001 because Glass was unhappy with the finished film and felt he had been duped into doing a film that was beneath him. It’s now readily available. You need it in your collection.
Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrman: What is there I can say? The score is brilliant. Each string sound is like the cutting of a knife across your skin but it cuts like butter so you love it. This music I play on road trips alone, at strange motels, and sometimes…just sometimes…in the shower. The score to Psycho makes me do strange things and that is what makes a great horror score. It moves you in ways that you would never fathom. It takes control of you in the best ways and forces you to bask in the glory of fear. All the time whispering that this is where we belong.