Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Top 10 Favorite Horror Themes

As I've said before on here, I'm a big audiophile and am almost constantly listening to music, be it from my own personal library of 60+ gigs of music, Pandora, or even searching around youtube when I'm feeling lazy.

There are certain horror films that I feel have... tremendous soundtracks, and I was tempted to write an article based on that alone, but that I'll save for another day. Today, I'm tackling merely theme tracks. I'm judging this mainly based on how catchy or memorable I find the tracks, as well as just how well they fit the mood of the movie, and of course just how creepy they are.

#10: Cannibal Holocaust - Riz Ortolani

I'm a big fan of dissonance in music. I love stuff like Devo where you get dark, depressing, cynical, and often bitter lyrics put to really upbeat and cheerful music, or something like Reservoir Dogs where you have a torture sequence set to "Stuck In The Middle With You." That is why I love this track.

It's just so... beautiful and calming. If you've never seen the film and don't get the dissonance bit, let me explain. Cannibal Holocaust is easily one of the most disturbing films to get a relatively wide release. I've been desensitized pretty badly, and even I find it to be hard to watch at moments. Scenes of rape, genital mutilation, actual real animals being viciously torn apart... and that's the movie's theme song.

#9: Phantasm - Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave

This may surprise some people who read my review of the Phantam series back a month or so ago, but I do find this to be a very catchy theme song that fits the mood of the films perfectly. It almost sounds like a more... churchy version of the themes for Exorcist and Halloween, but it still works.

As an added bonus, here, have Reggie Bannister turning it into a song for the fourth and final Phantasm film. Enjoy.

#8: Cloverfield - Michael Giaccino

First off, I honestly disliked Cloverfield. I thought the monster was poorly designed in both of his appearances (his design changes during the film because apparently nobody involved gave a shit about continuity), the bulk of the characters were unlikable morons, and I really hated the whole ARG surrounding it. The film is made even worse by the tie-in material, but I won't go into that.

So why, if I dislike the movie so much, did I put that theme on this list? Just listen to it, it is -amazing.- Seriously. It's a beautiful tribute to b-grade sci-fi films of the 50's and 60's, and it's just done so well that, as a fan of those kinds of movies, I immediately forgot how crappy the film was upon hearing this over the credits. If only more bad movies had awesome songs at the end for that reason.

#7: A Nightmare on Elm Street - Charles Bernstein

Now we're crossing over into scary territory. This music... completely captures the mood and atmosphere of the first Nightmare, to me. It's just got this creepy sort of kid feel to it, while at the same time being kind of surreal and soothing at the same time.

#6: Halloween - John Carpenter

Oh god where to begin. You've got the quick, heart racing synth/piano over a sound I can't really describe, like a mix between insects outside at night and someone sharpening a knife. Ultimately, this is the best slasher theme song to me. Friday the 13th made the mistake, to me, of being way too loud and complex with both of its theme songs, when it would have done better sticking to the ambient "ki ki ki / ma ma ma." This theme is pretty simple, but at the same time unnerving, and due to how simple it is it easily gets stuck in your head and brings you back to the feeling you had while watching the film.

#5: The Omen - Jerry Goldsmith

Right off the bat The Omen sets the mood for everything with dramatic, demonic latin chanting. This music has almost become something of a horror stereotype due to how recognizable it is, even to people that have never seen the film. It's also the only time I've ever heard latin chanting genuinely come across as menacing.

The best part? There's also a heavy version! Thanks, Gregorian!

#4: Psycho - Bernard Herrmann

I had to put this one on this list. This is, easily, one of the most memorable and easily recognizable horror themes in the history of the genre. The only theme that could maybe top it, if you ask me, is Jaws. So, why did I put this here instead of Jaws? Personally, I think Psycho's theme fits its film far better, and is still a genuinely dramatic theme, whereas I feel the Jaws theme tries too hard to cover every mood of the film. It goes from slow and menacing to quick and aggressive to this sort of fun, happy bit, much in the way Jaws managed to pull off multiple mood switches, only not as effective as the film did.

#3: The Exorcist - Mike Oldfield

Similar to the first entry in this list, I find The Exorcist's theme music to be oddly beautiful, though this manages to also be fairly sinister at the same time. I'm not all that big on the movie, though. Admitedly, it may be because I went into it being told it was "the scariest movie of all time," and was disappointed that even at the age of 13 I just didn't really feel scared in the slightest. I can still appreciate the film, though, and I certainly enjoy the theme music to it. It takes skills to make tubular bells frightening.

#2: The Shining - Wendy Carlos

The Shining is easily among my favorite horror films, so it only makes sense for the theme music to be among my favorites (although none of the music to my ultimate favorite has been on this list.)

Honestly, Wendy Carlos's music in general is pretty unnerving. She also did the music to A Clockwork Orange, another amazing Stanley Kubrick film, and the music is just as creepy and atmospheric there. God I wish Kubrick had lived to do at least one more horror film...

#1: Hellraiser - Christopher Young

This theme is just -amazing-. It starts out with the ambient noise, moves into this beautiful string piece, and then the brass comes in as everything goes to hell. This is just so powerful and beautiful, and it fits the whole theme of people seeking pleasure only to wind up the playthings of the cenobites.

Interesting thing, though. Hellraiser originally had another score, done by Coil, although it ended up being pulled because some involved with the film found it to be too unnerving and noisy. I'll let you guys be the judge of that.

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