This month is all about villains on Cinematical, and thankfully, October seems flush with folks who fit the bill: horror movies, often released in anticipation (if not exploitation) of Halloween, usually offer at least one person, creature or entity that qualifies as an adversary to be fled from or feared. But the sad truth is that not a whole lot of them have particularly great theme music, which brings us to this week's Cinematical Seven.
To be fair, these folks don't often have the luxury of choosing said music themselves, so if they get a crappy rock song or some kind of dumbass lullabye, it's not their fault. But after revisiting a number of classic horror series and the movie monsters they immortalized, we've put together what we think is a pretty good collection of themes that folks can and will still find scary. (And while some of this music may or may not be specifically associated with the individual character or creature, the guideline to which we held ourselves was the association of the music with that particular monster.)
Suffice it to say there are a number of other great horror movie themes, and we're just scratching the surface with a list of seven, but check our list of some of the most famous, memorable, and yeah, terrifying, with or without some dude in a mask bearing down on the bathroom door where you've found temporary safe haven.
1. Mike Oldfield "Tubular Bells" (Pazuzu, The Exorcist) – As documented in my previous Cinematical Seven, about Good Movies I Never Need to Watch Again, The Exorcist is just too damn scary for me to ever watch again (which is why I chose this comparatively harmless clip from Youtube rather than a montage of images from the film itself). But even separated from its now-iconic horror movie, the music remains dense and incredibly powerful, reminding fans and those familiar with the film there's nothing quite as creepy as the sight of some little kid spider-walking upside down – oh yeah, except having her effed-up little face spout profanity that would make a sailor blush in a disembodied, gravelly voice.
2. Harry Manfredini "Introduction to Horror" (Jason Voorhees, Friday the 13th) – Borrowing a page from Bernard Herrman's Psycho score (we'll get to that later), composer Harry Manfredini made movie history with this theme that would henceforth be associated with Jason Voorhees long after he (and his franchise) died, was reborn, died again, and was reborn yet again. For those still uncertain what those vocal cues are in the music, Manfredini has explained that he essentially took the words "kill" and "mommy," fed them through a reverb machine, and made what has become one of the most memborable pieces of music in cinema history.
3. Krzysztof Komeda/Mia Farrow "Main Title" (The Devil, Rosemary's Baby) – Okay, no jokes about Polanski, especially since this particular film is one of his true masterpieces. Mia Farrow, still a couple of years away from getting involved with Woody Allen, starred in and eventually performed the theme for this film about a mother who begins to believe her unborn child may be the progeny of no less than the Devil. There is certainly plenty in the film that gives audiences the creeps, but composer Komeda's score (along with Farrow's wispy, melancholy vocal) sets the tone for what's to come in the opening credits.
4. John Carpenter "Halloween – Theme" (Michael Myers, Halloween) – John Carpenter was a one-stop-shopping kind of filmmaker back in his heyday, not only writing and directing his films but editing and scoring them, and while he certain crafted a number of memorable movie scores during that time, Halloween is undoubtedly his most iconic. My girlfriend can't even hear it without getting freaked out, even in the middle of the day, from another room, but like the rest of the scores on this list, Carpenter's music haunts the space it inhabits and creates a feeling of impending dread that is only paid off in the nastiest of ways, justifying all of that tension and apprehension.
5. Jerry Goldsmith "Carol Anne's Theme (End Title)" (poltergeists, Poltergeist) – Jerry Goldsmith previously contributed a classic horror theme with his score for Richard Donner's Omen, but this one, not unlike Komeda's work on Rosemary's Baby, runs counter to expectations that horror movie music needs to be naturally dark or heavy to be menacing. That said, the children's chorus that sweetly and innocently provides a theme for the film's young protagonist – ironically, sort of the conduit for both its "monster" and heroine – is at once wholesome and terrifying, creating a similar sense of unease and eventually terror as the kids embody the film's themes of childhood swallowed by a mysterious and terrifying world.
6. John Williams "Main Title and First Victim" (Bruce the shark, Jaws) – John Williams is famously influenced by Wagner's leitmotif compositional structures where each character gets an individual theme, so it should have come as no surprise that he would create a theme even for the shark itself in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Peter Benchley's novel. Stolen by countless filmmakers in subsequent films, albeit primarily for humorous purposes, the music has lost some of its impact detached from the film it came from. But in the context of that underwater opening and the sad fate of some poor skinny dipper, it's still as terrifying as the first day it made people never want to go into the water again.
7. Bernard Herrmann "Murder" (Norman Bates, Psycho) – if this isn't the most famous piece of music in movie history, then it's certainly a close second. Bernard Herrmann's entire score for the film seemed to upload directly into audiences' collective consciences in 1960 when the film was released, but it's become a source of influence and inspiration for decades to come, not the least of which because those arpeggios are almost as sharp as the knife Bates puts into his victim. A truly amazing piece of music that is just as terrifying today as the day it was released.