As we reach October and Halloween is approaching rapidly, it once again feels like the right time to get into the mood of things and give you a list of some of my favourite horror soundtracks. I’ve decided to make this a list of 80’s scores only as it’s my favourite era of horror film and scores, and just for the sake of keeping it down to five (which felt difficult enough).
So, here are my top five 80’s horror scores (in no particular order).
John Carpenter – Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Halloween 3 was the first and only of the Halloween series that didn’t feature Michael Myers. A clear attempt by John Carpenter along with it’s writers and director, to distance themselves from the first two movies entirely. Carpenter’s soundtrack for Halloween III has the same philosophy and instead of rehashing the music from the first two movies, he and Alan Howarth crafted an altogether new score that used cutting edge technology (at the time). Whilst today it has that instantly recognisable old-skool analog sound, it still has a very futuristic and fresh feel to it.
From the opening screeching synthesized wails and sweeping pads of the Main Title, you know you’re in for something different to that of the previous two Halloween films. The second track, Chariots of Pumpkins, probably my favourite piece of music on here begins with an unnerving arpeggio and then Carpenter introduces layer upon layer of hideously atmospheric synths that intensify by the second until they fade into nothingness. From the harrowing synth chords of First Chase to the proto-techno sounds of the final track Goodbye Ellie, every piece of music on here is as genius as the next.
Many people believe that the first Halloween score is the original and best, just like the film. However, I completely disagree in regards to the music and believe that Carpenter’s score for Halloween III is far superior to any other in the entire franchise. This isn’t only one of the best horror soundtracks ever recorded, it’s one of Carpenter’s best, and coming from the master of synth, that’s saying a lot.
Riz Ortolani – Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Is Cannibal Holocaust the most controversial film of all time? Probably. It’s definitely up there with the most horrific pieces of film ever made and is still just as shocking today as it was back when it was released in 1980, to a backlash of abuse and criticism.
Despite the horrifyingly gruesome images and themes, without Riz Ortolani’s chilling score, Ruggero Dedato’s film may never have had the same effect as it ultimately did. The opening track, Cannibal Holocaust (Main Theme), played during the opening and closing credits of the film is a truly beautiful bittersweet country-esque piece of music that is a total juxtaposition to the actual film. Even though it probably makes the film’s horrific content more bearable, It’s just as haunting as any image from the entire film and it still makes the hairs on my body stand up every time I hear it. Even after watching the film, with all its shocking violence and gore, the theme music is still the part that stands out for me.
Having said that, there’s a lot more to Ortolani’s score than just the Main Theme and there is a country-funk feel to tracks like Cameramen’s Recreation and Drinking Coco. The demonic synth-bass chords and string parts on Adulteress’s Punishment mixed together with Deodato’s brutal images of torture and rape are truly unsettling, whilst the beautiful classical strings of Crucified Woman are just another example of how Ortolani managed to give a humanistic feel to the terrible images within the film.
Incredibly, Riz Ortolani’s score to Cannibal Holocaust never saw the light of day in terms of a vinyl release until very recently, previously only receiving a limited cd release through the Italian label Lucertola Media. However, fans of this Holy Grail of horror soundtracks will be pleased to know that it has finally gotten the release it deserves, with a joint Death Waltz/One Way Static Records release out as we speak.
The Keep was Michael Mann’s second feature film after his fantastic debut, Thief. Based on F. Paul Wilson’s novel of the same name, The Keep is a dark atmospheric horror film set in a Nazi occupied Romanian Fortress during World War Two. Unfortunately for Mann, the studio completely butchered the film, cutting it down from a three hour feature to the more studio friendly hour and a half. Despite the cuts, Michael Mann’s feature still remains a very misunderstood, atmospheric, synth-laden Nazi horror that has become a stone cold cult classic.
The score itself is composed by the legendary Tangerine Dream, one of the most influential electronic bands of all time and it is right up there with the best material the band ever produced. This score is completely different from anything else on this list solely due to the fact that there’s a more ambient, less traditional horror feel to the music. Instead we are treated to a stunningly atmospheric and lush piece of electronic genius, more akin to the likes of Vangelis than to that of Fabio Frizzi or John Carpenter. Tangerine Dream cook up the atmospherics perfectly to Mann’s beautiful visual style with tracks like the droning, delightful Ancient Powerplant and the sinister arpeggio bass-lines to Sign In The Dark. The stand out track for me is The Night In Romania, a mesmeric, warm, reverb-heavy synth piece, that’s only fault is that even at over 3 minutes long, feels too short.
Tangerine Dream founder member Edgar Froese died in February this year but he will be remembered as the frontman to one of the greatest electronic acts ever, and their score to The Keep is the perfect example of the band in their heyday.
Amazingly, The Keep has never actually been officially released due to licensing restrictions and problems with the film company. We can only hope that with the recent soundtrack boom that one of our favourite labels can somehow get the rights to give this score the release it deserves.
Fabio Frizzi – The Beyond (1980)
With his soundtrack to Lucio Fulci’s gorefest The Beyond, Fabio Frizzi churned out yet another classic horror score. After his prog-rock influenced, synthy score to Zombie Flesh Eaters, the Italian maestro changes things up this time around. Frizzi instead opts for a more operatic and orchestrated approach and his score is littered with intense strings, acoustic guitars, creepy pianos pieces and low-pitched choir vocals. The end result is something truly extraordinary and quite unlike anything you have heard before. There are a range of different styles and influences throughout and Frizzi somehow manages to fuse them all together, but ultimately every second of music sounds very…well, Frizzi to the core.
With The Beyond, each track constantly changes and evolves into an almost different song but often returns to its original form. The track Voci Dal Nulla is the piece of music that always stands out for me: From the low-pitched mellotron vocals and acoustic guitars at the beginning, the song builds and intensifies into an incredible piece of horror influenced disco that is almost indescribable.
Instantly recognisable and truly unique, this soundtrack is a must for any Fabio Frizzi and Italian horror score fanatic. US based label Mondo reissued the score back in 2011 but in a limited quantity which is unfortunately no longer available without paying top-dollar. The good news is that if you missed out, Death Waltz have just repressed the score and its available to order now.
Tim Krog – The Boogey Man (1980)
The supernatural slasher, The Boogey man was German director Ulli Lommel’s first venture into American cinema. An almost trashy rip-off of John Carpenter’s Halloween, it stands today as a pretty generic but fairly enjoyable, violent slasher. However, the most memorable thing about the film is Tim Krog’s classic synth-heavy score.
The Main Theme and melody appear many times throughout the score in numerous different forms but it’s so catchy and distinctive that it never becomes dull or repetitive and Krog changes up the instrumentation and melody throughout. There is a very distinct John Carpenter and Halloween feel to the music, which in all honesty doesn’t sound entirely original. But there just something so engaging about Krog’s warm synthesizer sounds and melodies that draw me in so much that once I’ve listened to it, it will continue playing in my head for the rest of the day.
There’s a lot more to this score than the main theme and there are some truly frightening and gloomy analog synth sounds, drones and terrifying high-pitched wails and screeches.
Bizarrely, The Boogey Man is Tim Krog’s one and only film score to date but it is a score that will live long in the memory of fans of the film and horror score aficionados. Terror records reissued the score last year and the brilliant One Way Static Records have now given it a second reissue. It really is that good!