Ranking scary movie soundtracks is like announcing your favorite Partridge Family member. It’s a subject that’s not worthy of much debate, and, let’s be honest, most people don’t care much. But those of us who dig what’s happening in the orchestra pit as Michael Myers stands up behind the sofa, waiting too long to plunge a knife into Jamie Lee Curtis – we know this is what can make or break a movie. Would Halloween have made such a powerful impression on audiences if it weren’t for Carpenter’s repetitive minor-key piano theme? I sincerely doubt it.
I’ve seen a few posts by others who have tried to nail down the top ten and the usual suspects are always there – Jaws, Psycho, Halloween, The Exorcist, and, surprisingly, Eraserhead, which delights me to no end – so I’m going to tip my hat and give those a pass. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of lesser known creepy soundtracks, many of which don’t belong to actual horror movies. I hate not being able to post links to these beauties on You Tube, but alas, my copywright infringement warchest is empty. So if you love music and love horror movies, look these puppies up and listen for yourself!
1. Creepshow. John Harrison, 1982. Rereleased 2003
I’m a little biased with this one. I could watch Creepshow every day and never tire of seeing Ted Danson buried up to his neck in sand, watching bug eyed as the tide skips past his chin. Romero’s classic adaption of four Stephen King comic-book style shorts is a fun and campy romp through the macabre, with great support from John Harrison’s brilliant soundtrack. “Welcome to Creepshow” is one of my all-time favorite musical themes in film, and it just gets better from there. The synth-backed “Something to Tide You Over” and ominous piano scales of “They’re Creeping Up On You” are absolutely wonderful. Note: On my CD, the tune “They’re Creeping Up On You” is actually the theme that went with “The Crate” segment of the movie, but who cares? It’s good stuff!
2. The Fountain. Clint Mansell, 2006
I haven’t actually seen this movie. Honestly, I’m afraid to because I don’t want to dispel the images it conjures in my own imagination when I listen. I stumbled across it on Pandora one day and downloaded the soundtrack on the spot. If there is a more deliciously haunting soundtrack to be found in a contemporary film I have yet to hear it. Clint Mansell – who also composed for other great Aronofsky films like Requiem for a Dream – collaborates with a string quartet named the Kronos Quartet, and post-rock band Mogwai. The combination is a soundscape that will blow your freakin socks off.
3. The Passion of the Christ. John Debney, 2004
Yes, I’m being serious – stop laughing. I went to see the film when it came out in 2004, and, when it was over, I left convinced of two things: Jesus is one tough hombre, and the soundtrack is a must have. John Debney earned every nickel on this one. The tracks on the score have skin-like pores and each of them sweats an ancient gothic texture that will transport you to right to ancient Jerusalem. It’s a powerful, creepy, and beautiful piece of music. Too bad there wasn’t a sequel, right?
4. The DaVinci Code. Hans Zimmer, 2006
We all had to suffer through the hype of Dan Brown’s breakout novel, and whether you liked it or not, the book seeded a pretty awesome soundtrack for the movie. This one belongs to Hans Zimmer, whose hand has scrawled some of the most inspired cinema music of the last twenty years, and The DaVinci Code does not disappoint. The score is driven by swelling orchestral themes and a massive chorus that builds tension to the end, evoking the perfect atmosphere of suspense and religious intrigue. “Salvete Virgines,” one of the most memorable tracks, is a great example of the depths Zimmer can take you. Listen to it sometime in the dark and see what it does to you. I dare you.
5. The Insider, 1999
Michael Mann had a winning combination when he embarked on this project in the late nineties. The Insider cleaned up at the Oscars, winning Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Writing, and so on, but when you throw in a soundtrack that’s led by the talents of Pieter Bourke and Lisa Gerrard? That’s fighting dirty, Mr. Mann. The soundtrack to The Insider is alternately suspenseful, haunting, paranoid, and mellow. Gerrard, best known for her work with Brendan Perry in Dead Can Dance, has collaborated with Bourke several times throughout her career, and the results are equally stunning. But there’s something about The Insider that remains special. Maybe it’s the brilliant storyline and superb characters we get from Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. Either way, The Insider soundtrack is a heart-pounding masterpiece that will leave you needing a cigarette. Maybe.
There you go – five soundtracks you probably haven’t listened to (at least outside of viewing the movie), but I cannot conclude this post without a last word on Lisa Gerrard. She is one the most versatile artists in world music today, and her talents have enhanced some of the greatest contemporary movies we all know and love. Gladiator, Black Hawk Down,The Insider, Whale Rider, and The Mist are just a few gems. Her music is totally unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and it defies labeling. She’s multilingual and flits between Celtic, Mediterranean, Medieval, and Eastern themes on all her albums. If I could offer two recommendations they would be Dead Can Dance albums – “The Serpent’s Egg” and “Aion.” “The Serpent’s Egg” features some of their most memorable work, including the song “Host of Seraphim,” featured in the movie “The Mist.” You really can’t go wrong with any DCD or Lisa Gerrard album.
So go forth and listen, my friend. Listen, and set your imagination on fire. You might be surprised at what comes out of you.