Halloween’s a good excuse to indulge in some cinematic terror. Now the thrills of a good horror film depend on a variety of things: the acting (the worse the better), the ratio of gore to plot (if it bleeds zoom in close and hold), and an adherence to generic conventions while not being afraid to wreak havoc with them (seen Cabin in the Woods yet?).
But the soundtrack is also an essential part of a film’s fright factor. In the U-S the undisputed masters are Bernard Hermann and John Carpenter. But take a look at films from across the world and you’ll find other musical geniuses at work, in a variety of genres. For this edition of Global Notes we’re sharing some of our favorite international horror soundtracks and composers - please add yours in the comments section!
1. Goblin, Title Track, Profondo Rosso (Italy, Dario Argento, 1975)
The Italian rock group Goblin was a double threat: They found success both as popular musicians and soundtrack composers. Band leader Claudio Simonetti trained as a classical composer and pianist, but he feasted on ‘70s prog rock, like Deep Purple and King Crimson. Thanks to their success amongst the progsters, they came to the attention of Dario Argento, who was in search of music better suited to his own visionary and genre-breaking horror.
Profondo Rosso (Deep Red in English) was their first collaboration together. Many (including Simonetti) think Suspiria their best soundtrack work, and it’s true they went all the way to weirdo town on that one. But I find this track endlessly compelling: So pure, so metal, so drum-tastic! Argento may terrify you but Goblin’s sounds will keep you happily head-banging. And lovely to discover: Simonetti's still active and will be appearing in Los Angeles this weekend!
Other notables in the high art high camp Euro-horror world of the ‘60s and ‘70s: Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda, who trained as a jazz musician, but also accomplished the impossible: making Roman Polanski films like Rosemary’s Baby even creepier! The avant garde composer Krzysztof Penderecki never composed for popular film, but his thrilling, strange arrangements, were used in films ranging from The Shining to Fearless.
2. Bappi Lahiri, Disco Title Track, Dashat (India, Ramsay Brothers, 1981)
Wow. What better than a rather raw disco track to accompany a truly B grade horror film, straight out of Bollywood? The film involves bat venom poisonings and a Hamlet motif - beat that, Hollywood!
Bappi Lahiri is truly the king of the dance floor track in India. He's also quite the character: he's fallen in and out of favor as a composer and been accused of musicial plagiarism with alarming regularity. But this month he's celebrating 40 years of success in the Hindi film industry wtih a couple of concerts.
Lahiri’s just one stand-out on Bollywood Bloodbath: The B-Music of the Indian Horror Film Industry. This rather amazing compilation from British label Finders Keepers covers almost forty years of Bollywood horror films, from 1949-1985, which also includes tracks by Laxmikant Pyarelel.
If you want to watch the film (translated as The Terror) you can find the entire thing online. And if you’re starting to develop a taste for horror soundtracks, you’re in luck. They’re having a bit of a resurgence these days. Another UK label (the Brits seem to love their horror) Death Waltz Recording Co. is issuing a number of classic American soundtracks (Halloween, Zombie) on vinyl, complete with fabulous, limited edition artwork.
3. Johan Soderqvist, "Oskar in Love", Let the Right One In (Sweden, Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
This is music to swoon...and then die by. One of my favorite horror films in recent years, and a lot of that has to do with this remarkable, classical soundtrack. Listen to the contrast between the lush, mournful piano and the menacing muted strings beneath – a wonderful take on the attraction/repulsion principle that animates every vampire. It’s in stark romantic contrast to some of the more frenzied film scores.
Soderqvist became famous for this soundtrack, which is wonderful performed by the Slovak National Symphony. But he’s also composed for other star directors of the Nordic cinema, especially Susanne Bier). Other contemporary composers who mine the more mellow side of music for horror films: French musician Alexandre Desplat (Twilight) and Wojciech Kilar (
Martin Scorcese's Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula).
What would you add to this list? Leave your comment below - and happy Halloween!