The Sound and the Fury

I was watching some forgettable comedy one night, whilst flipping through channels, and I laughed aloud as I heard one of the characters proclaim that the scariest movie he ever saw was The Sound of Music, “Come on, listen to the words, the hills are alive!….”  I had never thought of the The Sound of Music as a horror, but yeah, when you tale the lyrics literally–yeah, it’s frightening.

The power of music on a person’s emotions is very real.  We cry to country music, dance happily to club beats, dance erotically to a heavily bassed piece. It effects our mental health through our emotions.  Remember that year we all went through death metal and wore nothing but black and carried around any book by Edgar Allen Poe.  But I’m re-iterating what all of us know, music is emotive, a language of its own that we all understand–the language of the soul.

But I digress.  I love horror movies, and everything about them.  Every element is important to convey the mystery, or build up the fear and just set the overall mood of the film.  But music–that combination of sounds that express an emotion–help move the audience move along with the story  by basically coaching the audience.  Put your favorite horror movie on mute and you’ll realize what an impact the musical score has upon the feel of the movie.

Just think of a haunting melody in good ghost story, or a musical cue, you know what I mean, that build up of music when you know something is about to happen–then crescendo–evil strikes.  Imagine Jaws preying upon his victims without the famous da-nun da-nun daa-nun sound, or Janet Leigh getting murdered in the shower without the creepy shrieking violin sounds.  

The soundtrack of screeching violins, violas, and cellos was an original all-strings piece by composer Bernard Herrmann entitled “The Murder.”

Did you know that Alfred Hitchcock originally didn’t want any sound for the shower scene?  But the score was written anyway, and when he heard it-he knew it was too good to pass up.  And horror movie history was made.  How many times have we mimicked the screeching violins and stabbing motion?  (Don’t lie, I know it’s not just me, we’ve all done it).

I know that every time I’m in a pool, someone always mimics the Jaws theme.  It’s cool–if someone else doesn’t do it, I will.

John Williams’ first Oscar for Best Original Score went to Jaws. The jaws theme song is probably one of the simplest, but most inspired creations in he history of music, let alone film music. It can instantly warn of danger by implying the shark’s presence even when we can’t see it on screen. There are some great action cues interspersed with quieter, but tense moments as well as optimistic tracks highlighting the holiday season on the Island of Amity.

That dramatic buildup and subsequent scary reveal is almost always accompanied by really freaky music or somebody screaming.  But we all know this.  We expect it, and like me, you probably love it.  The right kind of music enhances or highlights the horror genre.

The sounds that we love the most become auditory symbols for the movie.  Its usually the sound we hear when the killer is around.  We hear it, recognize it, and remember the fear it evoked when we first saw the film in question.  Think of the ki ki ki, ma ma ma scenes from Friday the 13th (based on Mrs. Voorhees “Kill her mummy” from the original.)  Or the very simple yet effective theme 3-note piano theme from the Halloween movie franchise, or the tubular bells from The Exorcist.  Okay, now I’m getting chills.  Lets face it, if life had a soundtrack–and we heard these–we’d be looking for a 12-gauge, a crucifix, and well-lit room to barricade ourselves in.  Even people who may have never seen the movie can usually identify what movie these songs are from.  That is how deeply etched into our culture these auditory symbols have become.


 Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was the premier release of Virgin Records and launched a global empire for Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur known these days more for ballooning and boating than music.

This earned an Oscar for composer Jerry Goldsmith.  The creepiest part of the song is the chanting, but then again, isn’t chanting, in general, pretty effing foreboding.  But in this song, the refrain to the chant is, “Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani” (Latin, “We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan”).

I don’t believe John Carpenter won any awards for this simple yet awesomely chilling track.  This is one of my favorites.

Composed by Henri Manfredini.  He also came up with the k k k ma ma ma (the most well known part of the number)– “ki” comes from “kill”, and the “ma” from “mommy”. To achieve the unique sound he wanted for the film, Manfredini spoke the two words “harshly, distinctly, and rhythmically into a microphone” and ran them into an echo reverberation machine.

This particular nugget was composed by Charlie Clouser and is entitled Hello Zepp. The piece’s appearance in the first film was timed to bring a dramatic tone to the end of the film (which I believed it completely accomplished), in which the supposed bad guy named Zep Hindle, is revealed to actually be a victim of the real baddy-Jigsaw.

Composed By Christopher Young. He also did the music score for the first sequel.

Another wonderful score by Jerry Golsmith, entitled Carol Anne’s Theme.

Composed by Ennio Morricone for one of the best horror/thrillers of all time!  It still gives me chills!

Give these a listen, they’ll send chills down your spine!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some.  Which theme gives you the heebie-jeebies?

Oh and on a peripherally related note:  We should all get one of these.  The best part is you can upload your own theme music.  Yeah, I would definitely put a few of the above music themes on this shirt, and walk around with a knife and a Michael Myers mask.  I want it!

for sale on ThinkGeek:

9 thoughts on “The Sound and the Fury

  1. I was wondering if you have seen the first horror movie ever, Murnau’s Nosefratu. Given your interest, i suppose you have. Since it’s a silent movie, everything depends on the music. I reviewed it here
    The examples you chose are all great. It’s true, withouth music they would be far less thrilling. I don’t know which one I perfer. I like The Omen and The Exorcist themes.
    I don’t know whether you consider The Skeleton Key to be a real horror ovie. I totally love it. the music as well.

  2. In Brownsville, on the local radio station Wild 104, they have a guess the scary movie from music contest from like September to October 31. It’s awesome, but since I do not watch scary movies, I can never play. You would rock at that contest!!

  3. I like listening to this album in a passive, “background” kind of way, but I could never enjoy it in the same way as anything else of similar quality, because it has no completeness. It’s like watching a film where each scene is very rewarding and of high-quality, but none of the scenes make sense in the presence of each other and the whole movie has no narrative. That would be a good, but limiting experience. Such is true of ‘Tubular Bells’. And whilst I can appreciate the fact that Oldfield plays all the instruments himself, I think that hiring some musicians would have helped turn this linear experiment into an actual album, a concept one or otherwise.

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