“It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Superman”

Superheros are characters that need no introduction. We are exposed to the iconic crime fighters and protectors of the people through comics, TV series, and flicks since we are little kids. We all dreamed of possessing their extraordinary superpowers, and dressed up like them for Halloween and other costume parties.

 

Wonder Woman’s lasso and bracelets, Iron Man’s powered armor suits, Thor’s hammer, and Green Lantern’s power ring are no match for John Williams’ brilliant heroic march (Superman, 1978). The first major superhero film featuring Christopher Reeve lives in our memories and in our hearts. Get ready to be propelled into space, and fly into a fantastic and melodic journey.

 

The Joker, the Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and other psychotic criminals at the Arkham Asylum are probably asking themselves “Can somebody tell me what kind of a world do we live in, where a man dressed as a bat gets all of my press?” (Batman, 1989) The Penguin, Catwoman, and Mr. Freeze will probably tell them that is hard to compete with Bruce Wayne alter ego when he is driving the Batmobile with Danny Elfman’s “The Batman Theme” soaring in the background. The dark, gothic, powerful and mysterious superhero score is truly awesome and highly memorable.

 

The Dark Knight again landed a great musical score in the film Batman Begins (2005). Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard collaboration is the second best example of how two composers can complement each other (sorry Lennon and McCartney still win). The music evokes feelings of sadness, mourning, terror, tension, and provides powerful driving music for the action scenes. “Molossus” and “Antrozous” are my favorite tracks.

 

“In a stunning turn of events, a superhero is being sued for saving someone who, apparently, didn’t want to be saved” (The Incredibles, 2004). Michael Giacchino’s score for the animated superhero movie features lots of brass, saxophone, and 1960’s spy film nostalgia. “The Glory Days” is a perfect blend of big band jazz and classic John Barry-esque music. “The Incredits” is the best superhero score for closing credits since an amazing piano piece was used for the impulsive alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner (“The Lonely Man Theme” by Joe Harnell from The Incredible Hulk TV series, 1977).

 

“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.” The theme song of the 1967 cartoon (re-recorded by Michael Bublé in 2002) still remains the most memorable tune for Peter Parker, despite two excellent scores penned by legendary composers Danny Elfman (Spider-Man, 2002) and James Horner (The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012).

I will also like to highlight two recent fine compositions in the Marvel superhero universe:  the great epic action romp “Driving With the Top Down” by Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, 2008), and the soaring “Captain America March” by Alan Silvestri (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011).

 

Finally, let’s close with the extremely memorable “Flight of the Bumblebee” (Green Hornet TV Series, 1966), arranged by Billy May from an original composition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It features an amazing solo by Al Hirt, a true trumpet superhero.

 

Superhero Superman

Notable Superhero Scores

 

Adventures of Superman (TV series 1952) – Leon Klatzkin “Superman March”

Batman (TV series) 1966) – Neal Hefti “Batman Theme”

Green Hornet (TV Series 1966) – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov “Flight of the Bumblebee”

Wonder Woman (TV series 1975) – Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics)

Incredible Hulk (TV series 1977) – Joe Harnell “The Lonely Man Theme”

Superman (1978) – John Williams

Superman II (1980) – Ken Thorne

Flash (1980) – Queen

The Greatest American Hero (TV Series 1981) – Joey Scarbury

Supergirl (1984) – Jerry Goldsmith “Overture”

Robocop (1987) – Basil Poledouris

Batman (1989) – Danny Elfman “The Batman Theme”

The Punisher (1989) – Dennis Dreith

The Flash (TV Series 1990) – Danny Elfman

The Rocketeer (1991) – James Horner “To the Rescue”

Batman Returns (1992) – Danny Elfman

Batman: The Animated Series (TV Series 1992) – Shirley Walker

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (TV Series 1993) – Jay Gruska (the son in-law of John Williams)

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (TV Series 1993) – Ron Wasserman “Go Go Power Rangers”

The Crow (1994) – Graeme Revell

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series 1994) – Nerf Herder

Superman: The Animated Series (TV Series 1996) – Shirley Walker

Batman & Robin (1997) – Elliot Goldenthal “A Batman Overture”

Spawn (1997) – Filter and the Crystal Method “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do”

Blade (1998) – Mark Isham

Batman Beyond (TV Series 1999) – Shirley Walker

X-Men (2000) – Michael Kamen

Unbreakable (2000) – James Newton Howard “Visions”

Smallville (TV Series 2001) – Remy Zero “Save Me”

Spider-Man (2002) – Danny Elfman “Main Titles”

Blade II (2002) – Marco Beltrami

Daredevil (2003) – Graeme Revell “Daredevil Theme”

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) – Trevor Jones

Hulk (2003) – Danny Elfman

X2: X-Men United (2003) – John Ottman “Suite from X2”

Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman “Main Title”

Blade: Trinity (2004) – RZA

Catwoman (2004) – Klaus Badelt

Hellboy (2004) – Marco Beltrami “Main Title”, “Fathers Funeral”

The Punisher (2004) – Carlo Siliotto

The Incredibles (2004) – Michael Giacchino

Batman Begins (2005) – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Fantastic Four (2005) – John Ottman

Elektra (2005) – Christophe Beck (from Buffy and Angel TV Series)

Superman Returns (2006) – John Ottman “Main Titles”

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – John Powell

TMNT (2007) – Klaus Badelt

Spider-Man 3 (2007) – Christopher Young

Ghost Rider (2007) – Christopher Young

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) – John Ottman “Silver Surfer Theme”

Iron Man (2008) – Ramin Djawadi “ Driving With the Top Down”

The Incredible Hulk (2008) – Craig Armstrong

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – Danny Elfman

The Dark Knight (2008) – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard “Aggressive Expansion”

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – Harry Gregson-Williams

Watchmen (2009) – Tyler Bates “Rescue Mission”

Iron Man 2 (2011) – John Debney “I Am Iron Man”

The Green Hornet (2011) – James Newton Howard

Green Lantern (2011) – James Newton Howard “We’re Going To Fly Now”

X-Men: First Class (2011) – Henry Jackman “Magneto”

Thor (2011) – Patrick Doyle “Sons of Odin”

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Alan Silvestri “Captain America March”

The Avengers (2012) – Alan Silvestri “The Avengers”

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Hans Zimmer “Rise”

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – James Horner “Main Title – Young Peter”, “Saving New York”

Man of Steel (2013) – Hans Zimmer

Films with fantastic themes often have an element of magic, myth, and wonder. They allow us to escape to imaginary lands, whimsical worlds, and extraordinary alternate realities.

 

“And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline, for no one, no one in this world can you trust, not men, not women, not beasts… This you can trust” (Conan the Barbarian, 1982)

Basil Poleudoris musically painted a richly colored mythical landscape full of magic and power, hope and sorrow, beauty and danger, metal and fire. This great musical triumph was accomplished with haunting chorals, thunderous percussion, lavish melodies, and great orchestral sound. He created in the process one of the greatest music masterpieces in fantasy-adventure film history.

 

“Eddie. The guys and I were talking, we’d like want to invite you to our card game on Friday night. Would you like that? Only thing is, you can’t cut!” (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)

A young, innocent, shy, eccentric and weird-looking man named Edward (Johnny Depp), whose hands are made of scissors, is adopted by the kind hearted Peg Boggs. Danny Elfman’s music, like Edward’s scissor-handy works (garden sculptures, hairstyles), is highly imaginative, truly beautiful, and breathtaking. A haunting and inspiring musical journey that is melancholic but fun, tragic but hopeful, wintery but heart-warming, and dark but not evil. Tim Burton’s tender, dreamy, heartbreaking, and inspiring movie has, as it deserves, one of the best fantasy film scores ever written.

 

“Long ago, when man was young and the dragon already old, the wisest of our race took pity on man. He gathered together all the dragons, making them vow to watch over man, always” (Dragonheart, 1996)

The majestic and uplifting Randy Edelman’s score really breathe fire into my heart. “To The Stars” theme is magical, awe inspiring, commanding, stunning, and truly unforgettable. This majestic score is able to transcend tears, sadness, and sorrow. It lifts our spirits to a triumphant state of remembrance, commemoration, and glory.

 

“Once upon a time there was a boy named Peter Pan, who decided not to grow up”

(Peter Pan, 2003)

Inspiring, exciting and delightful, this score is one of James Newton Howard finest accomplishments. The sweet and poignant composition “Flying” is an amazing and uplifting magical adventure. Sweet harps, graceful bells, lovely choral works and soaring melody fill our imagination with mystery, hope and tender feelings. He is able to capture for our enjoyment the wonderful dreamy world of Neverland.

 

“You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that, even if it hurts (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006)

It was hard not to fall in love with Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film masterpiece. The beautiful but tenebrous universe blends a haunted fairy tale with the ugliness of reality. Javier Navarrete’s fantastic lullaby magically captures the mystery of the movie. The score can be at times relaxing and soothing, but the composer’s sweeping imagination combined with violin, brass and strings can conjure dark, majestic and sweeping melodies. The music induces a feeling of incantation, placing us under a comforting spell that helps us go through fear inducing imagery that would otherwise lead to a heightened state of dread and anxiety. It is without doubt one of the best film scores composed in the past decade.

 

I did not dare to overlook the epic fantasy films based on the works of J. R. R Tolkien and J.K. Rolling. I plan to review their beautiful music in a future blog about great fantasy film sagas.

 

Heart of Summer

Notable Fantasy Film Scores

 

The Wizard of Oz (1933) – Herbert Stothart

Beauty and the Beast (1946) – Georges Auric

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – Bernard Herrmann

Alice in Wonderland (1951) – Oliver G. Wallace

A Christmas Carol (1951) – Richard Addinsell

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – Bernard Herrmann

Scrooge (1970) – Leslie Bricusse

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – John Williams

Excalibur (1981) – Trevor Jones (featuring mainly music by Richard Wagner and Carl Orff)

Dragonslayer (1981) – Alex North

Legend (1985) – Jerry Goldsmith (European release) / Tangerine Dream (American release)

Clash of the Titans (1981) – Laurence Rosenthal

Time Bandits (1981) – Trevor Jones

Conan the Barbarian (1982) – Basil Poleudoris

The Dark Crystal (1982) – Trevor Jones

Krull (1983) – James Horner

Fire and Ice (1983) – William Kraft

Brazil (1985) – Michael Kamen

Lady Hawke (1985) – Andrew Powell and Alan Parsons

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1986) – Michel Kamen

The Pricess Bride (1987) – Mark Knopfler

Willow (1988) – James Horner

Scrooged (1988) – Danny Elfman

Highlander (1986) – Michael Kamen and Queen

Labyrinth (1986) – Trevor Jones and David Bowie

Edward Scissorhands (1990) – Danny Elfman

The Green Mile (1999) – Thomas Newman

Groundhog Day (1993) – Thomas Newman

Hook (1991) – John Williams

Dragonheart (1996) – Randy Edelman

Meet Joe Black (1998) – Thomas Newman

Peter Pan (2003) – James Newton Howard

Big Fish (2003) – Danny Elfman

Corpse Bride (2005) – Danny Elfman

Brothers Grimm (2005) – Dario Marianelli

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) –Javier Navarrete

Lady in the Water (2006) – James Newton Howard

Eragon (2006) – Patrick Doyle

The Golden Compass (2007) – Alexandre Desplat

Bridge to Terabithia (2007) – Aaron Zigman

Stardust (2007) – Ilan Eshkeri

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) – Alexandre Desplat

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) – James Horner

Avatar (2009) – James Horner

Alice in Wonderland (2010) – Danny Elfman

Clash of the Titans (2010) – Ramin Djawadi

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010) – Harry Gregson-Williams

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) – Trevor Rabin

Hugo (2011) – Howard Shore

Conan the Barbarian (2011) – Tyler Bates

Your Highness (2011) – Steve Jablonsky

Wrath of the Titans (2012) – Javier Navarrete

John Carter (2012) – Michael Giacchino

Dark Shadows (2012) – Danny Elfman

Life of Pi (2012) – Michael Danna

Snowman and the Huntsman (2012) – James Newton Howard

During the 1940s and 50s, gifted directors together with Hollywood legends (Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck, William Holden, Humphrey Bogart) crafted stylish crime dramas combining the following elements:

– a deceitful, manipulative, double-crossing, but extremely beautiful and sexually appealing lady (a “Femme Fatale”);

– a cynical, and ethically compromised male main character, usually (but not necessarily) a private eye, or a detective;

– a visual style that emphasizes black-and-white photography, high-contrast lighting, distorted shadows, dark city streets, cigarette smoke, and fog.

The French critic Nino Frank coined the term “Film Noir” in 1946 to describe these films.

 

Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) dramatically descends her grand staircase and, proving she has completed her plunge into a delusional state of mind, delivers the film’s most famous line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Sunset Boulevard (1950), one of the greatest films of American cinema, stands at the pinnacle of the “genre”. Franz Waxman composed a poetic, reflective and unforgettable score for the movie.

 

“Goodbye, Laura. Goodbye, my love.” Columnist Waldo Lydecker, police detective Mark McPherson, playboy Shelby Carpenter and every other man in the film will fall under the love spell (and eventually become obsessed with) the beautiful and highly successful advertising executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), or with her notorious portrait. Composed over one weekend by David Raksin, the exceptionally sophisticated and haunting title theme song “Laura” will become one of the most recorded and performed songs of the 20th century (lyrics by Johnny Mercer). It clearly has become one of the film’s most endurable legacies. Both Laura (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (above) were honored in 2005 as two of the top 25 film scores in the American Film Institute’s “100 Years of Film Scores” list.

 

“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” (Written by Orson Welles to be delivered by his character Harry Lime). The Theme from The Third Man (1949) is simply brilliant, full of suspense, shadowy betrayal, and postwar fear. Anton Karas wrote and performed the score using only the zither (a string musical instrument). It was no cuckoo clock; it easily topped most international music charts in 1950.

 

“The Fault… is Not in Our Stars, But in Ourselves…” (William Shakespeare).

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst at a mental hospital in Vermont. She protects the identity of an amnesiac patient accused of murder. Miklós Rózsa bejeweled the famous dream sequence (designed by Salvador Dalí) of the film Spellbound (1945) with one of the most moving, thrilling, passionate and beautifully paranoid orchestral scores ever composed. Although the score won the Academy Award, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t like the music because “it got in the way of his direction” (quote from Rózsa).

 

Finally, I would like to highlight the scores from two late film noirs: Sweet Smell of Success (1957), and Touch of Evil (1958). Elmer Bernstein and Henry Mancini, two young and upcoming composers at the time, crafted these works of genius. Bernstein’s furious jazz and orchestral score done in collaboration with the Chico Hamilton Quintet is one of the top film music masterpieces in the 1950s.  Mancini’s crime jazz score is sinister, sleazy, swinging, and very cool.

 

 

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Notable Film Noir Scores

 

The Letter (1940)- Max Steiner

Rebecca (1940) – Franz Waxman

The Maltese Falcon (1941) – Adolph Deutsch

High Sierra (1941) – Adolph Deutsch

Laura (1944) – David Raksin

Double Indemnity (1944)  – Miklós Rózsa

Spellbound (1945) – Miklós Rózsa

The Lost Weekend – (1945) – Miklós Rózsa

Mildred Pierce (1945) – Max Steiner

The Big Sleep (1946) – Max Steiner

The Killers (1946) – Miklós Rózsa

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) – George Bassman

Dark Passage (1947) – Franz Waxman

Brute Force (1947) -Miklós Rózsa

Force of Evil (1948) – David Raksin

Key Largo (1948) – Max Steiner

The Third Man (1949) – Anton Karas

White Heat (1949) – Max Steiner

Sunset Boulevard (1950) – Franz Waxman

The Asphalt Jungle  (1950) – Miklós Rózsa

D.O.A (1950) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Strangers On A Train – (1951) – Dimitri Tiomkin

Suddenly (1954) – David Raksin

The Night Of The Hunter (1955) – Walter Schumann

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) – Frank DeVol

The Killing (1956) – Gerald Fried

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) – Elmer Bernstein

Touch of Evil (1958) – Henry Mancini

Star Trek depicts a balanced human society where technology is mainly used to enhance their quality of life.  The opposite is true in a large portion of the sci-fi universe known as dystopian futures. The evolution toward excessive “optimization” of societies that dominate every aspect of human life, sentient technology or rapid advances in non-sentient technology may lead to radical changes in the social order, dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster or other cataclysmic events.

 

A dystopia is a community or society that is in some fundamental way undesirable or frightening.  In order to continue to be human and not a robot, the individual needs to preserve certain degree of unattached intricacy essential to his different biosocial rank. Loss of our emotional depth, independent thought and power to choose freely will lead to the destruction of our humanity. Lower standards of living, or pleasure-packed but emotionally barren lives will result (“Lots of love-making, but no love”).

 

“You Maniacs! You Blew It Up! Oh, Dawn You! Goddawn You All To Hell!”

 

At the top of this list one have to place the truly original, shocking, visceral, chaotic, modern-primitive and utterly unpredictable score of Planet of the Apes (1967). Composed by the genial chameleon Jerry Goldsmith, it is full of thunderous odd percussion, piercing strings, and animal-like sounds. It constitutes a true landmark and a turning point in movie score history.

 

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. [laughs] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like [coughs] tears in rain. Time to die.” (speech improvised by Rutger Hauer, the actor who plays the replicant Roy Batty).

 

The ultimate “cyberpunk” cult film Blade Runner (1982) has one of the most evocative, haunting, and thought-provoking scores. “Tears in Rain”, the last track of the official score for the film by Vangelis, will always be an integral part of  “the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history” (The Philosopher at the End of the Universe). Unfortunately, due to creative disputes, the true Vangelis score has never been released. All the different commercially available incarnations are “replicant” scores. There is no written score of the music, and trying to reversed engineer the music has proven to be a haunting task, given the improvisational nature of the score and the use of vintage electronic technology and synthesizers.

 

“Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. Skynet fights back.”

 

The eerie and bizarre Brad Fiedel’s score is as much a character of the Terminator 2 (1991) as the shape-shifting mimetic polyalloy T-1000.

 

“What is “real”? How do you define “real”?”

 

Nightmarish, strangely intense and very thrilling, the minimalist score composed by Don Davis is definitely a big contributor to the excitement of The Matrix (1999).

 

The groundbreaking and exhilarating scores of these films catapult them to otherwise unachievable cinematic heights. These compositions recall Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and Bela Bartok’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta”. Devoid of recognizable melodies and classical-like orchestration, these dystopian scores stand opposite to Romantic-like scores like Star Wars (John Williams) and Star Trek (Jerry Goldsmith).

 

The astronaut Taylor, the replicant Roy Batty, the living tissue over a metal endoskeleton Terminator, and the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar should all be proud of the incredible body of musical work created for their dystopian futures.

 

Dystopian Bladerunner

Notable dystopian futures, time travel and “mind-bending plot” film scores:

 

Twilight Zone (1959 TV Series, s1/s2) – Bernard Herrmann/ Marius Constant

The Outer Limits (1963 TV Series) – Dominic Frontiere

HG Wells’ The Time Machine (1960) – Russell Garcia

The Time Tunnel (1966 TV Series) – John Williams

Planet of the Apes (1968) – Jerry Goldsmith

Logan’s Run (1976) – Jerry Goldsmith

Logan’s Run: TV Series (1977) – Bruce Broughton, Laurence Rosenthal

Back to the Future (1985) – Alan Silvestri

Brazil (1985) – Michael Kamen

Highlander (1986) – Queen

RoboCop (1987) – Basil Poledouris

Quantum Leap (1989 TV Series) – Velton Ray Bunch and Mike Post

The X-Files (1993 TV Series) – Mark Snow

Twelve Monkeys (1995) – Paul Buckmaster

The City of Lost Children (1995) – Angelo Badalamenti

Gattaca (1997) – Michael Nyman

Dark City (1998) – Trevor Jones

Being John Malkovich (1999)- Carter Burwell

Dark Angel (2000 TV Series) – Joel McNeely

Memento (2000) – David Julyan

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) – John Williams

Minority Report (2002) – John Williams

28 Days Later (2002) – John Murphy

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – Jon Brion

Lost (2004 TV Series) – Michael Giacchino

Battlestar Galactica (2004 TV Series) – Bear McCreary

V for Vendetta (2006) – Dario Marianelli

WALL·E (2008) – Thomas Newman

Fringe (2008 TV Series) – Michael Giacchino

Inception (2010) – Hans Zimmer

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – Patrick Doyle

Prometheus (2012)- Marc Streitenfeld & Harry Gregson-Williams

A slasher is a horror film involving a mysterious killer stalking and killing a sequence of victims usually in a graphically violent manner. Serial killers may be psychopaths, cannibals, “explorers” of carnal experience (cenobites), or reanimated mindless corpses (zombies). Paranormal entities (ghosts, demons), or iconic monsters (vampires, werewolves, aliens), had already been discussed in my two previous horror tune blogs.

Important forerunners to the slasher genre include Peeping Tom (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and the Italian horror and psychological thrillers known as “giallo” (yellow). The name pays homage to the cheap paperback mystery novels with trademark yellow covers that served as inspiration for the films. Besides being very influential in the genre, these films also helped to set a new level of tolerability for violence and deviant behavior in movies.

Splatter films came to life in the early sixties with the film Blood Feast (1963). Director Herschell Gordon Lewis, who up to that point was producing low-budget nudie films, was searching for a new exploitative angle. He settled on graphic portrayals of gore and graphic violence, a niche that virtually no one had explored.

“You can’t kill the boogeyman!” (Halloween, 1978)

The slasher film subgenre reached its peak in the early eighties. The famous trio of psychopathic killers Michael Myers (Halloween), Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) and Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) cemented their fame and horror franchises around that time. The “master of terror” John Carpenter created a perfectly simple, tense, creepy, terror-filled, stalking, synthesizer-based theme song that has been chilling us with a disturbing sense of impending doom every Halloween ever since.

“I told you not to hang up on me” (Scream, 1996)

In the mid 1990s, slasher films experienced a revival with satirical-suspenseful storylines, more developed-clever characters, and less focus on gore. Ghostface and The Fisherman “put to good use” a hunting knife and a meat hook to become pop culture horror symbols. “Sidney’s Lament” a brilliant, pretty scary composition by Marco Beltrami fills us with intense fear. Although I know that “the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long” (Lao Tzu), I still wish it was a little longer.

“You kids shouldn’t have messed with that little girl. You brought this all on yourself” (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003)

Producer Michael Bay revamped the 1973 original film, and gave Leatherface and the slasher genre new life. Using a blank sheet music “made of human skin,” chainsaw wielding composer Steve Jablonsky conjured a sinister, creepy, and disturbing score. It will leave even cold-blooded killers panic-stricken.

“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”  (Dawn of the Dead, 1978).

The term “splatter cinema” was first use by George A. Romero to describe “one of the best horror films ever made” (Roger Ebert). This rather complex gem was a sequel for the Night of the Living Dead (1968), where Romero has attempted to replicate on film the atmosphere and gore of EC’s horror comics like Tales from the Crypt. Dawn of the Dead has been attributed higher meaning, as it relates to the destruction of modern society by solitude and greed. Besides it is also somewhat exploitative for its own sake, and its over-the-top gore involving evisceration can turned out to be very comical (“splatstick”). Dario Argento’s cut of Zombi: Dawn of the Dead features a versatile terror soundtrack by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin. They combined Mellotron, twin guitars, funk bass to produce a wide variety of pieces ranging from slow jam, techno-jazz, and pseudo-country, to violent tribal-disco.

“He doesn’t want us to cut through our chains. He wants us to cut through our feet” (Saw, 2004)

A new breed of splatter films labeled “torture porn” (or “gorno”) surface at the dawn of the new millennia. These movies were characterized by graphic depictions of extreme violence, nudity, torture, mutilation and sadism. Nathan Barr masterfully composed dark, epic, heart-racing music for Saw. The dramatic “Hello Zepp” makes you feel like the music is starring at you with murderous intent.

As the very successful recent TV series Dexter (2006) and The Walking Dead (2010) demonstrate, slasher and splatter have made it into our living rooms. The music themes by Rolfe Kent and Bear McCreary hook us to our flat screens, take us on a roller coaster ride, and haunt us in our dreams. Let’s put our bladed gloves on and continue to celebrate Halloween on Elm Street and Camp Crystal Lake to the scary tunes of our favorite mass murderers.

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Notable slasher/splatter music scores

Suspiria (1977) – Goblin

Friday the 13th (1980) – Harry Manfredini

Halloween II (1981) – John Carpenter

The Funhouse (1981) – John Beal

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Charles Bernstein

Re-Animator (1985) – Richard Band

Hellraiser (1987) – Christopher Young

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) – Christopher Young

They Live (1988) – John Carpenter

Village of the Damned (1995) – John Carpenter “March of the Children”

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) – John Frizzell “Julie’s Theme”

Final Destination (2000 – Shirley Walker

28 Days Later (2002) – John Murphy “In the House – In a Heartbeat”

Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Tyler Bates

The Amityville Horror (2005) – Steve Jablonsky

Hostel (2005) – Nathan Barr

The Devil’s Rejects (2005) – Tyler Bates

House of Wax (2005) – John Ottman

The Hills Have Eyes (2006) – Tomandandy

Black Christmas (2006) – Shirley Walker

Halloween I & II (2007 & 2009) – Tyler Bates

The Final Destination (2009) – Brian Tyler

My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009) – Michael Wandmacher “Buried Alive”

Friday the 13th (2009)  – Steve Jablonsky

The Crazies (2010) – Mark Isham

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) – Steve Jablonsky

Some of my favorite movie characters are iconic monsters. Getting scared with monstrous creatures can be really thrilling and engaging. King Kong, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, and Godzilla constitute a representative sample of the inhabitants of the pantheon of movie monsters.

 

Protagonists in these films may also include characters derived from folklore tales (Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster), “nuclear paranoia” creatures (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), Japanese Kaiju (Gamera), vicious animals, mutated beasts, carnivorous insects, and dinosaurs. Sci-fi inspired monstrous characters include aliens, robots, cyborgs, and mad scientists’ experiments gone wrong (normally harmless animals, plants or machines turned into cold-blooded killers).

 

“Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty that killed the Beast.” (King Kong, 1933)

Max Steiner’s breathtaking, timeless orchestral composition was the first film score ever written for an American “talkie”. The film tells the story of a gigantic ape creature who dies in an attempt to possess a beautiful young woman. Because his actions were not entirely based on choice, and were in fact the consequence of circumstances beyond his control, the monstrous island-dweller has elicit an outpour of empathic feelings from film viewers. King Kong has become a landmark in the history of cinema, and one of the world’s most famous movie icons.

 

“It’s Alive!” (Frankenstein, 1931) is the most legendary horror movie quote.

Dr. Frankenstein creates a mate for his monster in the famous sequel Bride of Frankenstein (1933), considered by most at least an equivalent and possibly a superior film. The famous character portrayed by Boris Karloff was introduced to us in a film with no original score, but the sequel was blessed with a Franz Waxman’s early film-music masterpiece. Gothic literature elements of horror and romance percolate thought-out the score. The wonderful melody beautifully captures the sinister side of the human soul. This extremely influential composition is considered a cornerstone of horror film music.

 

” You yell ‘Barracuda,’ everybody says ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘Shark,’ we’ve got a panic on our hands.” (Jaws, 1975)

The John William’s theme for this movie is the most recognizable horror score of all time. Going to the beach has never been the same for most people after watching the Steven Spielberg ‘s ultimate animal terror film. He also penned the beautiful and thrilling score for Jurassic Park.

 

“Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility… A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality” (Alien, 1979)

Jerry Goldsmith’s chilling, and otherworldly atmosphere of the alien ship and its monstrous inhabitant is reminiscent of his prior landmark score for Planet of the Apes. Along with the vacated Alex North’s original recording of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was one of the most requested and coveted soundtrack restorations. The complete original score for this monster film set in deep space was released in 2007.

 

To conclude, I will like to place in the limelight the composition that plays over the end credits of the film Cloverfield (2008). “Roar!” is a bold, creepy, exciting, and very well crafted overture by one of the emerging dramatists of contemporary film music, the “Smoke Monster” (Lost TV Series) composer Michael Giacchino. Due to similarities with the music of Akira Ifukube, it has been suggested that Giacchino’s overture is a tribute to the composer of Godzilla. Cloverfield also celebrates other legendary monster movies with embedded still frames from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them! and  King Kong. Monsters, like movies, will be with us forever…

 

Monster King_kong

Notable Monster Movie Scores

 

Nosferatu (1922) – Hans Erdmann / Reissue – James Bernard

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) – Gustav Hinrichs

Dracula (1931) – it did not have an original score, Philip Glass was commissioned to write the score  for the 1999 DVD release

Frankenstein (1931) – there is no musical soundtrack in the film, except for the opening and closing credits

The Mummy (1932) – ballet Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky, also previously used for the opening credits of Dracula

King Kong (1933) – Max Steiner

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – Franz Waxman

Son of Frankenstein (1939) – Frank Skinner

The Invisible Man (1933) – Heinz Roemheld

The Invisible Man Returns (1940) – Frank Skinner

The Wolf Man (1941) – Hans J. Salter & Frank Skinner

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) – Franz Waxman

The Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942) – Hans J. Salter

Phantom of the Opera (1943) – Edward Ward

The House of Frankenstein (1944)- Hans J. Salter

The Thing from Another World (1951) – Dimitri Tiomkin

It Came from Outer Space (1953) – collaborative score by Henry Mancini, Herman Stein, and Irving Gertz

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) – David Buttolph

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – Hans J. Salter, contributions by Henry Mancini and Herman Stein

Godzilla (1954) – Akira Ifukube

Them! (1954) – Bronislaw Kaper

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) – Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Tarantula (1955) – Herman Stein and Henry Mancini

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) – Mischa Bakaleinikoff

The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) – James Bernard

The Mummy (1958) – Franz Reizenstein

The Horror of Dracula (1958) – James Bernard

The Giant Behemoth (1959) – Edwin Astley*

*Astley’s most memorable work is the distinctive theme music for the British TV series The Saint

Brides of Dracula (1960) – Malcolm Williamson

Curse of the Werewolf (1960) – Benjamin Frankel

Kiss of the Vampire (1962) – James Bernard

The Birds (1963) – no score

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) – James Bernard

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) – James Bernard

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) – Tristram Cary

Young Frankenstein (1974) – John Morris “Transylvanian Lullaby”

It’s Alive (1974) – Bernard Herrman

Jaws (1975) – John Williams

King Kong (1976) – John Barry

The Thing (1982) – Ennio Morricone

The Fly (1986) – Howard Shore

The Fly II (1989) – Christopher Young

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Wojciech Kilar “The Storm”

Jurassic Park (1993) – John Williams

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) – Patrick Doyle

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) – Elliot Goldenthal

Mimic (1997) – Marco Beltrami

Alien Resurrection (1997) – John Frizzell

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 TV Series) – Nerf Herder

Godzilla (1998) – David Arnold

Lake Placid (1999) – John Ottman

The Mummy (1999) – Jerry Goldsmith

Sleepy Hollow (1999) – Danny Elfman

The Mummy Returns (2001) – Alan Silvestri

Brotherhood Of The Wolf (2001) – Joseph LoDuca

Lost (2004 TV Series) – Michael Giacchino

King Kong (2005) – James Newton Howard

Let the Right One In(2008) – Johan Soderqvist “Eli’s Theme”

Let Me In (2010) – Michael Giacchino

When I chose to undertake the “haunting” task of reviewing the horror scores for this blog, I found myself in a similar position as police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) when he realized how big his fishy nemesis monstrous shark actually was. I told myself “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat” (Jaws, 1975). I decided to split the scores into three broad categories: Paranormal & Psychological Terror, Monster Movies, and Slasher/Splatter Films. This post is the result of my efforts in the first category.

The Paranormal includes curses, haunted-houses, ghosts, evil spirit possession, demons, Satanism, the macabre, the occult, parapsychology and other phenomena that appear outside or beside the natural. Psychological terror stories deal with the inner workings of the human mind, guilt, grief, primal fears, phobias, revulsions, emotional instability, schizophrenia or other abnormal psychology, nightmares, hallucinations, dream-like states, and other altered states of consciousness.

“La la la la… What, have they done to its eyes?!” (Rosemary’s Baby, 1968)

A disturbing baby soothing song, “Rosemary’s Lullaby”, was a perfect match for the plot of the film. A woman discovers that her pregnancy is actually part of a satanic ritual. The composer Krzysztof Komeda tragically suffered a head injury and departed this life the same year the movie had its premiere. His death foreshadowed the “curse” believed by some to be linked to the premature deaths of several people associated with other horror films. Infamous examples include the terror franchises Poltergeist, Exorcist, and Omen; as well as the films Twilight Zone: The Movie, The Crow, and Queen of the Damned.

“From the Eternal Sea, He rises, creating armies on either shore, turning man against his brother, till man exists, no more.” (The Omen, 1976)

An American ambassador is repulsed to learn that his son is the bona fide Antichrist. “Ave Satani” is a sinister choral work that bears a spine-tingling dark resemblance to a liturgical celebration. The score by Jerry Goldsmith remains to this day one of the most prominent works of the master composer, and his only Academy Award after receiving 18 nominations over the course of his career. He also demonstrated his amazing gift for macabre scoring when he wrote the frightening and chilling music for the film Poltergeist referenced above.

“The churches belong to God, but he doesn’t seem to care about them” (Don’t Look Now, 1973)

The story follows a couple working through their grief after the drowning death of their daughter. The film is based on a short story of Daphne du Maurier, the same author of Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Famed scenes of John and Laura (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) having explicit sex, intercut with more mundane scenes of them dressing afterwards, lived on in our memories and had caused much controversy throughout the years. The enchantingly diabolical score, composed by Pino Donaggio, emotionally submerge us in sorrow, precognition, and horror from beyond in the canals of beautiful and menacing Venice. The musician also wrote the score for Stephen King’s first novel Carrie and other Brian De Palma’s thrillers.

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.” (Psycho, 1960)

After stealing a large sum of money, a secretary arrives to the Bates Motel and encounters a young man under the control of his mother. The terror of the legendary “shower scene” is undoubtedly magnified by Bernard Herrmann’s magnum opus score. The 1959 novel Psycho by Robert Bloch served as basis for the unforgettable Alfred Hitchcock’s film.

Finally, I will like to pay homage to the master author of contemporary horror Stephen King and borrow Bloch famous quote (often misattributed to the author of Carrie, The Shining, and Misery):

“Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

 

Psych Dont_look_now

Notable Paranormal & Psychological Terror Scores

Les Diaboliques (1955) – absence of music

The Innocents (1961) – Georges Auric and Paul Dehn

Eyes Without A Face (1962) – Maurice Jarre

The Haunting (1963) – Jehuda Ewert

Wait Until Dark (1967)  – Henry Mancini

Twisted Nerve (1968) – Bernard Herrmann

The Devil Rides Out (1968) – James Bernard

Duel (TV 1971) – Billy Goldenberg

The Exorcist (1973) – Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield (non-original music on the soundtrack)

Sisters (1973) – Bernard Herrman

Obsession (1976) – Bernard Herrman “Valse Lente”

Carrie (1976) – Pino Donaggio “School in Flames”

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) – Ennio Morricone “Regan’s Theme”

The Fury (1978) – John Williams

Damien: Omen II (1978) – Jerry Goldsmith

Phantasm (1979) – Fred Myron & Malcolm Seagrave

The Fog (1980) – John Carpenter

Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) – Jerry Goldsmith

The Changeling (1980) – Ken Wannberg, Howard Blake, Rick Wilkins

Altered States (1980) – John Corigliano

The Shining (1980) – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Béla Bartók (non-original music on the soundtrack)

Evil Dead (1981) – Joseph LoDuca

The Entity (1982) – Charles Bernstein

Poltergeist (1982) – Jerry Goldsmith

Videodrome (1983) – Howard Shore

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)- Jerry Goldsmith

Terror in the Aisles (1984) – John Beal

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) – Jerry Goldsmith

Ghostbusters (1986) – Elmer Bernstein

Evil Dead II (1987) – Joseph LoDuca

The Witches of Eastwick (1987) – John Williams

Beetlejuice (1988) – Danny Elfman

Dressed To Kill (1988) – Pino Donaggio

Pet Sematary (1989) – Elliot Goldenthal

Jacob’s Ladder (1990) – Maurice Jarre

Arachnophobia (1990) – Trevor Jones “Dilbert’s Theme”

Misery (1990) – Marc Shaiman

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Danny Elfman

Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Howard Shore

Army of Darkness [Evil Dead III] (1992) – Joseph LoDuca (except for “March of the Dead” written by Danny Elfman)

The Sixth Sense (1999) – James Newton Howard

Stir of Echoes (1999) – James Newton Howard

The Haunting (1999) – Jerry Goldsmith

Hannibal (2001) – Hans Zimmer (except for the aria “Vide Cor Meum” by Patrick Cassidy)

The Others (2001) – Alejandro Amenábar

The Ring (2002) – Hans Zimmer “This Is Going to Hurt”

The Mothman Prophecies (2002) – Tomandandy (Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn)

Frailty (2002) – Brian Tyler

Gothika (2003) – John Ottman

The Grudge (2004) – Christopher Young

The Village (2004) – James Newton Howard

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Javier Navarrete

1408 (2007) – Gabriel Yared

The Mist (2007) – Mark Isham

Zodiac (2007) – David Shire “Graysmith’s Theme”

Sunshine (2007) – John Murphy “Adagio in D Minor”

Drag Me to Hell (2009) – Christopher Young

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) – Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders

Sinister (2012) – Christopher Young

The Woman in Black (2012) – Marco Beltrami