Hey there, Nerdoweeners! Wait. That can’t be right. That’s an awful term for fans of Nerdoween. But I suppose that’s what I’m going with since Nerdoweenists just isn’t as fun. We’re smack dab in the middle of October and if you’re anything like me, at least some of the month has been spent watching more than a fair share of horror movies.
Of all the things there are to love about horror movies, what I might love most is the music. Sure, there’s fun to be had with the monsters, jump scares, and terrible character decisions, but I find that the music is what makes them really memorable. Horror theme songs have a way of re-igniting terror more than any visual can and the really good one goes straight for the goosebumps (or “goose pimples” if you were raised by weirdos). This week I thought I’d share some of my favorite horror movie themes. It was pretty tough picking the following pieces of music since there are just so many to choose from, so feel free to share your own because an article like this is bound to have its fair share of “can you believe the author didn’t include _____?” comments.I grew up in Rhode Island and, as most New England coast-adjacent residents can attest to, going to to the beach makes up about 70% of anyone’s time when there isn’t snow on the ground. Having the joy of three older brothers with a talent for scaring the crap out of me, once I was old enough to be aware of Jaws, I heard this tune almost any time we went swimming . There are so many reasons to love this film, and that iconic theme might be at the top of the list. It, like my other selections below, is a song that’s capable of garnering a strong emotional response and is used so well in the film. Whenever we hear the song, we learn that there’s danger. Over the course of the film, it becomes our cue to be scared despite the shark rarely being seen. On the flip-side, let’s talk about music from a film that shows us way too much of the monster…
I know, I know. I’m a monster for even sharing it but this is another song that immediately causes an emotional reaction (peeing your pants is technically a reaction). For all the many, many, many creepy things in Stephen King’s It, the haunting calliope music that plays when Pennywise shows up (which is way too much if you ask me) works its way into our minds and carves out a hole where it stores pictures of the demonic clown ready to come out when we hear this type of music. Although calliope and organ music just might be inherently creepy, with the one exception being this song from Fraggle Rock.
This last one might get me in a bit of trouble in the comments, since I am actually ending on what I consider one of the best horror themes and it’s not from a film that rhymes with “The Texorcist.” Let’s have a listen and then I’ll get into it.
Why do I think this song, that would be relatively unimpressive if it were in any other film, is one of the best selections from a horror film? It’s because it hits on the same points of the Jawstheme (albeit to a lesser extent). The movie primes the audience for an emotional reaction throughout the score.
For those who don’t remember, 28 Days Later tells the story of Batman’s Scarecrow fighting his way through the rage zombie apocalypse with Moneypenny and Mad Eye Moody that culminates in a fight with Doctor Who in the mansion from Sense and Sensibility.
I suppose “In the House – In a Heartbeat” technically isn’t a theme song so to speak, but shows up in one of the most important parts of the movie. Elements of the song are first heard at the beginning when Cillian Murphy’s “Jim” is trying to figure out what’s happened. This song in that scene is different than “In the House – In a Heartbeat” but the score throughout the movie all hits similar beats and this one may be close enough to consider it a reprise of sorts. The score during this scene is important because it connects with the audience and its slow build to action mirrors what we’re slowly figuring out alongside the scared and meek Jim. The similar build is one we hear at the end of the film, it’s when Jim has “transformed” into his own version of rage exacting revenge on the soldiers who sought to kill him. When we first hear it, it helps to build the tension of the world we no longer recognize. At the end, we’re already connected and primed with it to expect something harsh to happen. It’s a beautiful use of music in a film that sometimes may not get the recognition it deserves, sprinting rage zombies and all.