John Carpenter is coming to town, and to herald his arrival Getintothis’ Del Pike offers you his ultimate Horror Soundtrack Top 10 to enjoy… If you dare.
With John Carpenter’s unexpected announcement to appear at this year’s upcoming Liverpool Music Week, what a great opportunity to consider the importance of great horror movie scores. Carpenter is arguably one of the most important figures in the world of Horror cinema, responsible for directing some of the most iconic movies of the genre. If he had only directed Halloween (1978) that would be enough but thank God he also went on to direct The Thing (1982), They Live (1998), Escape from New York (1981), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), The Fog (1980) and Christine (1983). All classics.
With multiple sequels and pointless Rob Zombie remakes, it’s easy to forget how essential Halloween is to Horror cinema. With surprisingly little gore and an incredibly laid back pace, this is a truly atmosphere movie, undoubtedly best enjoyed on October 31 and still it remains the best of its very many imitators. John Carpenter’s own score for the movie is perhaps its most memorable feature, still truly chilling in its hostile production, it is a true masterpiece in the canon of movie scores. No Halloween is complete without a trip to Haddonfield, from the safety of your sofa.
Carpenter had already scored Assault on Precinct 13 two years earlier, and whilst not strictly a horror movie, it remains one of the most affecting theme tunes ever. Whilst the iconic status of Carpenter’s screen work has lessened considerably, his interest in composing has not diminished; this is evidenced in his recent Lost Themes albums (2015/16), two discs of compelling themes to non-existent films. Listen to Night to hear how he effortlessly captures the sound of 1980s VHS spent horror afternoons.
The interest in these new tracks has encouraged the 68 year old New Yorker to take to the road in one of the most essential tours of recent years, for film and music fans alike, and Getintothis will be in the thick of the crowd to report back as ever.
Until then, we present our Top 10 of the most spine chilling and nightmare inducing Horror Movie themes to whet your appetite for the coming of the man himself.
- Disasterpeace – It Follows (2015)
In an age of 15 certificate horror movies, intent on filling up multiplexes with teenagers, rather than ramping up the scares, one movie stands head and shoulders above the also-rans; David Robert Mitchell’s superior sex-curse flick It Follows. Relying little on gore and heavily on tense, edge of the seat set pieces, this is a film that has breathed new life into the horror genre with its indie sensibilities and nods towards classic 80s video rental favourites. Borrowing wholesale but with absolute respect from John Carpenter, Disasterpeace’s score sets the scene perfectly for a session of pant-soiling shivers, playing immediately after a very nasty broken leg shot. Awesome.
- Sky Wikluh – A Serbian Film (2010)
The argument of whether this is an incredibly well made satire on the state of modern day Serbia, or simply the sickest film ever made continues. Either way, to watch Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film is not an enjoyable experience and certainly one that stays in the mind for a long time after turning the TV off speechless. You may need to shower.
Visceral doesn’t cover it, and the gut wrenching images are scored into the memory with the help of Sky Wikluh’s grinding score. The heavy farting rasp set against pounding industrial phrases brings back those images, which in effect is exactly what a horror score (or any movie score for that matter) should do. Hugely unpleasant but strangely genius at the same time.
- John Murphy – 28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle’s successful foray into Brit-zombie territory made stars of Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris and led to an almost equally effective sequel. The disturbingly fast moving zombies backed by John Murphy’s brooding theme make for a truly surreal experience. Completely disturbing and yet beautiful in its production this is a masterstroke in image / sound juxtaposition. Used less effectively in Matthew Vaughan’s Kick Ass (2010), this is a theme that belongs in the film it was intended for.
- Ennio Morricone – The Thing (1982)
Scoring a John Carpenter movie after his own success with Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13 is an unenviable job for anyone, except maybe Ennio Morricone. A true master of Soundtracking with a seemingly endless canon of work and still composing, check out Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) to see how it’s done. Morricone could have gone down his own tried and tested road with The Thing, a bloody remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 chiller, The Thing from Another World. Instead he chose to base his work around the style of Carpenter. Eskewing his usually lavish string arrangements, Morricone has gone electronic with skinny synth basslines and 80s atmospherics. A brooding and creepy theme that would really not be welcome in an isolated ice station.
- Jerry Goldsmith – The Omen (1976)
Despite its now shonky effects, Richard Donner’s The Omen still manages to unnerve with its horrible devil-child themes and stellar performance from Billie Whitelaw as the Nanny from Hell (literally). Jerry Goldsmith’s ridiculously over the top score fitted in perfectly with this Exorcist era Satan-fest, all chanting choirs and sweeping strings, hushed whisperings and pouncing pianos. Back in the day, movies didn’t get much scarier than this, helped in no small part by majestic, gothic soundtracks like these. No expense was spared here.
- Goblin – Suspiria (1977)
Dario Argento was arguably the king of Italian Giallo, and alongside other luminaries including Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi, created some of the most acerbic images to be captured on film during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Often regarded as trashy, Giallo has only relatively recently been taken seriously and has become the subject of many books and documentaries. Look beyond the poor dubbing and excesses and you will find a whole world of breath-taking cinema and morbid thrills. Argento’s Suspiria comes out at the top of so many Giallo lists and for good reason, with iconic set pieces and its uber-gothic setting of a creepy girls’ school on a stormy night, it remains the quintessential Giallo.
Italian prog rockers, Goblin have been prolific in their work with Argento, impressing all with their work on his sublime Profundo Rosso in 1975 and continuing to work with him in many forms right up to Sleepless in 2000. Their work on Suspiria is undeniably their strongest soundtrack however. The main theme has it all, hushed chants and medieval strings, gradually building to create a black wonderland of moods and phrases. Before long synthesisers join the party and the unique Goblin sound emerges. After a short lull, the pace picks up with chants of “Witch!” and then we go full Genesis mode for a spell before a final round of incantations. For a more New Wave Depeche Mode style experience check out their soundtrack for Tenebrae (1982).
- Paul Giovanni and Magnet – The Wicker Man (1973)
Where do you begin with Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man? Possibly the best British Horror movie ever, with hardly a drop of blood to be seen, this perfect slice of paganism gone awry horror also has one of the most endearing soundtracks around. Often cited as a musical rather than a horror, it is easy to see why. Christian Copper, Sgt Howie (Edward Woodward) is summoned to the mysterious Summerisle off the coast of Scotland to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. After booking in at the local Inn he is greeted by a rousing chorus of the Bawdy Landlord’s Daughter by a pub full of sinister locals. His sleep is interrupted by the Landlord’s daughter herself, Willow (Britt Ekland) dancing in her birthday suit and slapping her bedroom wall to Willow’s song with a stunt double’s bum.
The song was later utilised by Pulp and The Sneaker Pimps. The film is filled with these ridiculously catchy folk ditties that still somehow manage to chill. A cameo appearance of Giovanni himself entertaining pub regulars with the rites of passage ballad, Gentle Johnny is a high point along with the rousing Summer is a coming in that features in the climax of the film, led by Christopher Lee in his own favourite role as the menacing Lord Summerisle. Apparently he really disliked playing Dracula. The Opening Corn Riggs sets up the film dreamily as Howie flies over the island and lands in the harbour that holds so many secrets. A must see film with a stunning soundtrack. Avoid the Nic Cage remake at all costs.
- Mike Oldfield – The Exorcist (1973)
It is almost impossible to comprehend the impact of The Exorcist on its release in 1973. William Friedkin’s exercise in shattering atmospherics, based on the controversial book by William Peter Blatty, raised hell in mass protests from the church and do-gooding public alike, claiming the film was turning people catatonic with fear. With good reason too, even now, if the film catches you in the right mood, it can still be a horribly un-nerving experience. Too many spoofs have rendered the spinning, spewing head of Linda Blair’s troubled and possessed Regan laughable now, but the real terror is in the brooding direction and hollow atmosphere of the house in which the bulk of the action takes place. It’s what we don’t see that scares us, like the very best horror.
Using Mike Oldfield’s opening section of his Tubular Bells album was a masterstroke and proved massively successful for both the film and for Oldfield’s album sales. Released that same year, the album was the very first release on Richard Branson’s Virgin label and was already blowing minds across the world, an outstanding achievement from this otherwise unknown 20 year old from Reading. The fact remains that whenever the needle is placed on that vinyl, all we will ever think of is The Exorcist, like the album itself is possessed. Two great icons of 70s culture in one, what’s not to like.
- Bernard Herrman – Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock’s attempt to create trash cinema by shooting Psycho in monochrome when colour was readily available paid off in biblical proportions and resulted in his most notorious and popular film. As evidenced in a recent live soundtrack performance by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, it is made up entirely of strings. Swooping, swishing, slashing strings.
Regular Hitchcock collaborator Herrmann, created in the Psycho score a classical suite that will be remembered and revisited forever. The most memorable sequence, the infamous shower scene where Herrmann’s stabbing strings punctuate each puncture of knife into soft skin, is pure genius in terms of the marriage of image to sound with maximum impact.
However, the main title theme (Prelude) is equally as powerful, an eerie and lonely piece that is precise in reflecting Marion’s disturbed state of mind. Every moment of that theme points to a scene in the film and those who have already seen the film will have images of sequences passing through their minds with each sweep of the bow. The shower scene is recalled obviously, but also Marion Crane’s journey through the night to the Bates Motel and her first meeting with the murderous Norman Bates in the reception. A frantic, beautiful piece of movie music that never loses its effect.
- John Carpenter – Halloween (1978)
It would be rude not to place this at number one, and it deserves its place too. In a gambit that is too simple to possibly work (but it does), the camera closes in on a burning Halloween pumpkin as Carpenter’s basic piano phrase repeats over and over into a hypnotic mantra. Like all great Carpenter themes, the heavy synth kicks in and what was sinister now becomes fear. Imagine if you will, you are a teenager, its 1978 and you are watching your first horror movie in a darkened cinema… on Halloween.
Let’s not beat around the bush, this theme would have you warming the seat in seconds. The fact that much of the set pieces rely on imagination more than full on visceral gore will be lost on you as you will have your hands over your eyes anyway. The soundtrack to a great Horror movie is so important, as that is all you’re getting as you hide your eyes from the screen, at least that is the intention. The Halloween score put the genius of John Carpenter in the frame as much as the film itself. As each year goes by, the novelty of hearing that music on Halloween night, fresh after trick or treating with a glass of something warm and strong in hand, snuggled on the sofa, never diminishes, nor does it become any less chilling.
John Carpenter, we salute you and await your presence in the City with excitement and fear in our hearts.
John Carpenter’s 2016 tour dates:
Oct 20 Brighton Dome Concert Hall
Oct 22 Edinburgh Usher Hall
Oct 23 Bristol Simple Things Festival Finale
Oct 25 Dublin Vicar Street
Oct 28 Liverpool Olympia – Liverpool Music Week
Oct. 29 Manchester Victoria Warehouse
Oct. 31 London Troxy
Nov 1 London Troxy