Halloween is objectively the greatest holiday of them all. Fight me.
I mean, seriously, Halloween provides an opportunity to binge on horror movies, objectively the greatest art form of them all (fight me, again) and to gorge on lollies. What more could you possibly want out of a holiday? Christmas and yer birthday can get stuffed.
That said, every perfect Halloween night needs a score. To that end, here are the ten most underrated servings of horror soundtrack kitsch – oversaturated delights which, played loud enough, will keep the trick-or-treaters miles away and have your neighbours pounding on the walls.
10. Howard Shore – The Brood
Of all the great director/composer partnerships, there are perhaps none as spine-tinglingly brilliant as the meeting of minds represented by David Cronenberg and Howard Shore. Indeed, though Shore is best known for his work with Peter Jackson and his role as the composer for the Lord Of The Rings films, his finest work has always been done with the support of Cronenberg.
Any number of Shore’s Cronenberg-era soundtracks could sit comfortably on this list, but perhaps his most deranged work is the screechy, uneasy score he turned in for The Brood, a blood-drenched, pitch-perfect film that explores maternity, divorce and mental health. Oh, and for the record, it also contains a scene in which a mother licks an evil serial killer foetus. Yum!
9. John Williams – The Fury
The Fury isn’t a particularly great film. Despite being helmed by dark master Brian De Palma and featuring a fantastically creepy turn from renowned indie actor and director John Cassavetes, it’s all a bit ham-fisted and stiff, with a plot that too often gets bogged down in mundanity. Nonetheless, it does have something going for it: an incredible, oversaturated score from John Williams, he of Star Wars fame.
Actually, considering it contains this incredibly grotty explosion scene, make that two things going for it:
8. John Carpenter – Prince Of Darkness
Given John Carpenter has pretty much packed up on being a film director and has now totally dedicated himself to music, it was perhaps unsurprising he was going to end up on this list (speaking of which, his new album, Lost Themes II, is well worth your time).
Though he is of course most famous for the eerie, oft-imitated Halloween theme, his best work was written for the underrated flick Prince Of Darkness, a piece that infuses the horror genre with a surprisingly fitting jolt of science and quantum physics. Reflecting the film’s diverse range of influences, the soundtrack mashes up horror tropes with synth-heavy sci-fi work, creating a strange blend of styles that truly gels. Check it out:
7. Riz Ortolani – Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most controversial films ever made. The progenitor for The Blair Witch Project, it’s a found footage film that contains actual, real-life animal dismemberment, screened alongside staged scenes of humans being tortured. Given the blend of the real and fake, it was perhaps unsurprising that some poor cinemagoers actually believed the director, Ruggero Deodato, had murdered his cast and crew on camera, and he was forced to testify in front of a court that he hadn’t actually, you know, killed people.
That said, you’d never be able to guess at all that controversy simply by listening to the score, given Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack work is surprisingly beautiful and subdued. Blot out all thoughts of murder, and it’s actually pretty chill:
6. Seppuku Paradigm – Martyrs
There’s a nice segue between Cannibal Holocaust and Martyrs, actually: despite the fact the former is an Italian production and the latter is French, and that the projects were made decades apart, both are unremittingly dark, violent films accompanied by beautiful scores.
Actually, Martyrs might be perhaps the most gruelling film of recent years, a non-stop barrage of bloodshed that ends up offering some very deep (yet extraordinarily nihilistic) things to say about the human condition. But again, you’d never be able to tell that if you skipped watching the film and merely checked out the soundtrack, a powerful collection of tunes anchored by the striking ‘Your Witness’.
5. Paul Williams – Phantom Of The Paradise
Brian De Palma, director of the aforementioned The Fury, sure does know how to pick musical collaborators. That said, though the Hitchcock-devotee loves pairing up with a varied selection of maestros, none of his partners in crime have proven to be more talented than singer-songwriter Paul Williams, the man De Palma selected to score his satire of the music industry, Phantom Of The Paradise.
Williams is a musical chameleon, a man who can adopt and discard styles at the drop of a hat, making him a perfect choice for the film. His musical score combines elements of country, glam rock, opera and kitsch, an ideal accompaniment to a movie so batshit crazy it gave us the following, all-time great gif:
4. Richard Band – Re-Animator
Richard Band’s score for horror classic Re-Animator has never really been given its dues, thanks in no small part to the plagiarism claims that have always dogged it. Band wrote the soundtrack as a deliberate nod to Bernard Herrmann’s work on Psycho, keen to make sure that Re-Animator’s OST played around with horror tropes in the same cheeky, provocative manner that the film itself did.
And yet few critics picked up on that joke, instead somehow believing that Band was trying to rip off one of the most famous scores of all time and hoping that no one would notice. Irregardless, Band’s work represents the very highest tier of horror soundtracks: it’s ridiculous, gauche and absolutely unpredictable.
3. Goblin – Tenebre
There’s not much to say about a film score as brilliant as Goblin’s work on Tenebre, really. It’s the kind of unapologetically mental work of art that words only detract from.
Indeed, the same could be said for the film itself. So rather than talking about either, I am going to present you with two incentives to see the film and to watch the soundtrack. Here’s your push for watching the flick:
And here’s your push for listening to the score:
2. Sean Spillane – The Woman
Of all the soundtrack work on this list, Sean Spillane’s impeccable score for The Woman is perhaps the most unconventional. In fact, it’s not really a soundtrack at all: it’s more of a straight-up-and-down rock’n’roll record, one that happens to perfectly fit with The Woman‘s themes of imprisoment, the fragility of masculinity and the ugly side of the American suburbs.
Almost every track on the piece is a delight, each song drawing from sludge and punk rock influences like The Ramones and Nirvana without ever seeming overly retro or fixed in the past. In fact, the forward-thinking nature of the music is what means the album still feels so cutting-edge today: it hasn’t dated one iota. Rather, every single year seems to add something more to the piece. It demands your attention. Get on it.
1. John Harrison – Creepshow
Creepshow is a fucken’ perfect film. I mean, I know this column is meant to be about the soundtracks rather than the movies themselves, but let me quickly take the time to encourage you to watch this flick come Halloween. It was written by Stephen King, directed by Dawn Of The Dead‘s George A. Romero and features cameos from Leslie Neilsen and Ted Danson. Oh, and there’s a scene in which King, in a rare turn in front of the camera as the doomed Jordy Verrill, does this:
It also features one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, an oversaturated delight penned by the film’s first assistant director, John Harrison. Not a single second of the thing goes for a subdued approach: it is magnificent, unhinged brilliance every step of the way.
Every time you think it can’t get sillier, or that the pounding electronic keys can’t get any more debauched, the work surprises you, overreaching itself and tumbling down into sheer insanity. Forget Bob fucken’ Dylan winning the Nobel Prize: if they were going to give it to a musician, they should have given it to Harrison.
Any soundtracks we’ve forgotten? Pop ’em down in the comments. Oh, and happy Halloween!