text by Adam Lehrer
While I'm not a huge Halloween fan, my love of horror cinema is only bested by my love of music. Luckily, the two mediums have always gone hand-in-hand. Films simply can't be scary without tense and eerie sounds gripping the film viewer as it goes along.
Horror film music arguably has had more influence on contemporary music than all other film scoring combined. It's hard to imagine industrial music, noise, drone, dark ambient, and some electronic music without the blueprints laid down in soundtracks to films like 'Eraserhead,' scored by David Lynch himself.
While 'Eraserhead' isn't strictly a horror film of course, it is very scary. Making a film scary is no small feat, explaining why some of the scariest films ever made (pretty much all of Lynch's films are terrifying, another example is Lars Von Trier's underrated 'Antichrist') are done by auteur directors. Scary requires a singular vision.
John Carpenter is the true auteur of B cinema. His best films are better directed than most of today's prestige dramas, and Carpenter had complete creative control over every decision in the films, even scoring the music himself. His score for 'Halloween' both created and elevated the slasher genre, and every time we hear those ringing synths we look over our shoulder waiting for Michael Myers to brutally butcher us. His synth work has been undeniably influential, precluding the whole "cold wave" genre that would come into its own in the '80s and later be popularized by bands like New York-based Cold Cave in the '00s. Also included in this playlist is Carpenter's score to 'The Fog' as well as a bonus track, a Carpenter remix by New York noise icon Pruriert, aka Dom Fernow.
One of the few rock bands to ever get famous specifically for soundtrack work, progressive rock band Goblin's work with Italian Giallo Horror director Dario Argento was groundbreaking. Argento developed a new style of horror that was bright, stylish, big. and very fucking scary. Goblin's work encapsulated all of that, with near-shlocky use of synths and horn sections. The band's best known work was for classic witchcraft film 'Suspiria,' but their work was equally good on the less stellar film 'Phenomena' (which has the most disgusting person falling in pit of decomposing body goo ever shot). My favorite of Goblin' soundtracks is that for 'Tenebre,' my favorite Argento film. Spotify didn't have it though.
Kenneth Anger's most watchable film, the religious horror 'Lucifer Rising,' is scored to an epic soundtrack by Bobbu Beausoleil, who is currently serving a life sentence for his connection to the Manson Family. Beausoleil has a role in the film but his soundtrack, marked by fuzzed out guitar riffs and a free jazz-referencing horn section, is a marvelous achievement. In retrospect, it's hard to imagine the heavy psych bands like Acid Mother's Temple without it.
Mica Levi's soundtrack for last year's 'Under the Skin' reminds its viewers how important sound is to horror films. Much of the film would simply consist of Scarlet Johannson seducing sad sack men had it not been for the fact that those scenes are marked my screeching tonal soundscapes. Every facial gesture reeks of pure menace as a result.
And of course this list wouldn't be complete without the OGs. Krzysztof Komeda's OST for Roman Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby' exemplified how sound can be used to amplify a character's growing anxiety. Bernard Hermann, one of the greatest film composers ever ('Taxi Driver,' etc.), used tension in sound to push Alfred Hitchcock's narratives along ('Psycho' wasn't on Spotify, so we settle for 'Vertigo'). Finally, has anyone ever been able to swim in the ocean minus anxiety after hearing John Williams' score to 'Jaws?" I think not.
Happy Halloween everyone, be safe!