The Exorcist may be considered by many to be the king of scary movies, but it takes a little more than a possessed and vomit spewing Linda Blair to make it truly horrifying. And what would Psycho be without the percussive stabs of music that take it to an all new level? Take a look at five of the scariest and most suspenseful films of all time that wouldn’t have produced the same amount of chills if it hadn’t been for the music.
1. Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter
Not only was Halloween John Carpenter’s breakout film as a director, he also provided the hypnotic score for the sleeper horror classic. The synthesizer-based soundtrack is relatively simple and fairly repetitive, yet it’s key to bumping up the suspense of the night Michael Meyers returned to the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Carpenter’s musical talents were first evidenced while studying film at USC. Along with other future directors Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween II, It) and Nick Castle (who played The Shape/Michael Myers in Halloween), Carpenter formed the rock band the Coupe de Villes. In addition to Halloween, Carpenter is also responsible for the scary scores to his films The Fog, Christine, They Live, and many more.
2. Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrman
The sight of Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates dressed as his mother and slashing a nude and defenseless showering Janet Leigh in Psycho is chilling enough, but add the percussive staccato strains of Bernard Herrmann’s score and you have true terror. But long before Perkins pulls back that shower curtain, Herrman’s score (set to the amazing opening credits designed by the legendary Saul Bass) sets the audience up for true anxiety. It’s a classic film that just wouldn’t be the same without the score. Be sure to check out the flawless Blu-ray transfer to see and hear the film as you never have before. Herrmann’s scoring can also be heard in many other Hitchcock classics including North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Sight and Sound’s current reigning #1 movie of all time, Vertigo.
3. Carrie (1976) – Pino Donaggio
Director Brian de Palma has often been seen as the successor to Hitchcock, so it was no surprise that de Palma would seek out the talents of Bernard Herrmann for his films as well. Herrmann scored de Palma’s first forays into terror and suspense, Sisters and Obsession, but died prior to the filming of de Palma’s 1976 horror classic Carrie. Enter Italian composer Pino Donaggio, who brought with him a similar musical sensibility to Herrmann’s for his score for the bloodiest prom in film history. “Bucket of Blood,” the name of the piece leading up to Carrie’s bloody denouement on the prom throne, provides the perfect musical anticipation of things to come. Viewers of this television season’s premiere of American Horror Story: Asylum heard “Bucket of Blood” used once again in several key parts of the episode. Donaggio went on to score many more de Palma films including Dressed To Kill, Blow Out and Raising Cain.
4. Jaws (1975) – John Williams
It’s safe to say that if beach patrols wanted to keep beachgoers out of the water all they would have to do is blast the ominous strains to director Steven Spielberg’s Jaws to get their point across. Scored by frequent Spielberg collaborator John Williams, the fear-inducing theme to Jaws is based on only two notes, but those two notes pack a wallop of anxiety. Ironically, he also kept the notes to a minimum on his score for 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, his next project with Spielberg, branching out to a five-note theme with the call from the aliens. That same year, Williams also produced his legendary score for Star Wars. His work on Jaws brought Williams his second Academy Award and his first for an original composition, winning for Best Original Score in 1975. Other Spielberg/Williams collaborations include Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and Jurassic Park.
5. The Exorcist (1973) – Mike Oldfield
Unlike the rest of the film’s above, the music most closely associated with William Friedken’s The Exorcist was not actually written for the film. Recorded in 1972 and released as the “virgin” recording on Richard Branson’s Virgin Records, 19-year-old Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was a ground-breaking record, with the multi-talented musician playing more than 20 different instruments on the recording. But it was the opening piano solo that was chosen as the spooky theme for The Exorcist, leading to the rare appearance of a solely instrumental recording making its way up the Billboard pop charts. Due to the immense popularity of the film, the opening track of Tubular Bells became a top 10 hit in the United States. The popularity of Oldfield’s Tubular Bells continues to this day, with Oldfield recently performing Tubular Bells as part of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
-Brad Haynes, 1059 SUNNY FM/Orlando