Every horror enthusiast knows the importance of atmosphere in genre film — when done effectively, camera work, color and auditory cues are utilized to manipulate audience emotions. Many horror films would not have their desired eerie effect without a solid musical score to accompany the viewer on their journey; when it comes to horror scores, some works instantly come to mind — like Carpenter’s score for HALLOWEEN, or Bernard Herrmann’s taut string compositions for PSYCHO.
Both worldwide video-on-demand and a surge of niche media distributors have led to the discovery (and re-discovery) of horror films old and new…. and with them, their hypnotic musical accompaniment.
Read on to discover some overlooked but nevertheless excellent horror soundtracks for your next rainy day!
THE HAUNTING OF JULIA a.k.a. FULL CIRCLE (1977)
British composer Colin Towns is known for his music on TV — but his most underrated work accompanies the story of a grieving mother (Mia Farrow) living in London, who is haunted by the vengeful ghost of an evil little girl. [Read more about this amazing film here.] From beginning to end of this hard-to-find film (it’s yet to receive a proper DVD or Blu-ray release), the story is fraught with a sense of foreboding and loss — largely due to Towns’ ghostly, melancholy minimalist score. Predating CANDYMAN by over a decade, FULL CIRCLE’s Title Theme shares similarities with Philip Glass’ haunting piano pieces in its spectral progression.
THE BOOGEYMAN (1980)
Featuring a healthy dose of analog synthesizers, Tim Krog’s opening title music for Ulli Lommel’s early ’80s slasher movie [which we covered in depth here] is reminiscent of the now-classic “Tubular Bells” theme from THE EXORCIST, peppered with the intense synth tones of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN — which is fitting, considering how many elements of classic horror movies make their way into the film. Banned in the UK during the “Video Nasties” panic of the 1980s, THE BOOGEYMAN and its hard-hitting score remain a rarely-seen-and-heard gem.
THE BAD SEED (1956)
Filled with melodramatic strings and a nervously tapping piano, Alex North’s musical accompaniment perfectly embodies this film’s sense of steady, building dread as we follow the dark descent of little Rhoda Penmark — the aforementioned “Bad Seed” of a loving family. North holds the distinction of being one of two film composers (the other being the legendary Ennio Morricone) to get a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, and his score for THE BAD SEED is a stellar example of his ear for tension.
THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS (1972)
Though his prolific work in giallo is widely known, a case could be made for THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS as Bruno Nicolai’s magnum opus. Nicolai’s orchestra succeeds in crafting a dizzying, bass-heavy score that is at times whimsical and unsettling, swinging seamlessly between hip bossa nova and knife-sharp string compositions. Blumhouse contributor Tony Giles cites it as “the score that made me fall in love with the music of the giallo genre.”
Italian horror fans already recognize Goblin as the prog-rock band that provided the music for a handful of legendary genre films for director Dario Argento — including classics DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA. The quartet scored Luigi Cozzi’s blatant ALIEN ripoff film with groovy zeal, and their standout track is “Connexion” — an unrelenting barrage of palm-muted guitar riffs and thudding drums that would be right at home in any John Carpenter masterpiece.
PEEPING TOM (1960)
Often credited as the first horror film to feature a “Killer POV,” PEEPING TOM is enjoying a deserved surge in popularity these days for its portrayal of a voyeuristic murderer — and for its innovative use of the camera to confront the audience. Brian Easdale’s score is an uneasy journey into a mad mind, mirroring the internal struggle of its tragic monster with rhythmic, swirling arpeggios.
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)
For Mario Bava’s genre-straddling space horror, Gino Marinuzzi, Jr. created an avant-garde work of doom and gloom. FORBIDDEN PLANET’s influence on Marinuzzi is clear in his electronic-augmented acoustics — to which he adds a healthy dose of reverb for eerie effect. The bombastic soundtrack is, like the film, best experienced on a cold and blustery day.
DAMIEN: OMEN II (1978)
Like any sequel worth its salt, DAMIEN takes the most celebrated elements from THE OMEN and puts them into overdrive — and the score is no exception. For Don Taylor’s 1978 sequel, renowned composer Jerry Goldsmith configures the now-iconic “Ave Satani” into a faster, meaner version that is just as unstoppable as the rise of an older, more evil Damien.
The same James Horner that scored ALIENS and TITANIC composed the ethereal theme for this lesser-known supernatural wolf movie. To underscore the tale of a former police captain (Albert Finney) summoned to investigate a string of grisly murders, WOLFEN’s music strikes a balance between swirling woodwinds and aggressive horns — culminating in a fever-dream that parallels the surreal journey of the protagonist.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
Johan Soderqvist’s unforgiving score sets the stage for this darkest of fairytales from Sweden. Tomas Alfredson’s darkly romantic story of a bullied boy and his relationship with a young vampire is a heartbreaking one — and it demanded a composer with sensitivity to nuances of emotion. Soderqvist delivers with an orchestral swell that reflects both the loneliness that plagues the main characters and the tenderness between them.