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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

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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.”

 

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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