10 Shudder Titles With Killer Scores
It’s an indisputable fact that one of the most important elements in a horror film is sound. Creepy visuals are one thing, but one of the quickest and most efficient ways to scare the hell out of your audience is to have a sound mix that forces their imagination to work overtime, trying to figure out what’s happening in the darkness. This includes a film’s score.
Consider this: You’ve just stepped into the water for a nice calming swim, but as soon as your feet get wet, two musical notes emerge from your subconscious. As a chill runs down your spine, you look around for the telltale sign of a large dorsal fin silhouetted against the hazy New England sky, accepting the fact that you may now be in mortal danger. Even though you’re only waist-deep in a swimming pool.
Of course, we love what scares us, and that includes haunting music. So sit back and relax as we take you on a musical trip that shows you some of the best horror music Shudder has to offer…
Lucas Feigelfeld’s slow-slow burn occult chiller can be compared to Robert Eggers’ The Witch, but the predominant thing they have in common is an excellent musical score. Feigelfeld’s choice of doom-folk duo MMMD certainly helps add several layers of dread to a film already dripping with atmosphere, their constantly churning and undulating low frequencies imbuing Hagazussa with a sense of inevitability and foreboding. Consistently unsettling, MMMD’s score underpins the inescapable horror of torment and grief that goat-herder Albrun experiences, their deliberately sluggish tones woven amongst the narrative, themselves becoming another veneer of terror for the poor girl and her child.
GINGER SNAPS (2001)
When John Fawcett’s clever lycanthrope family drama was unleashed in 2000, it quickly became a fan favorite due to stellar performances from the lead duo of Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabelle as the Fitzgerald sisters and the sly sense of humor around their status as outcasts. The latter was quickly established in the film’s title sequence, which not only displayed the pair’s penchant for photography and grisly FX makeup, but also composer Michael Shields’ beautiful and melancholic theme. The score took a gorgeous, brooding violin melody and placed it over a chilled beat clearly influenced by Bristol act Portishead. Shields also uses silence to great effect as displayed in the scene where the wolf attacks the sisters in the park, his gloomy melodic strings given great restraint while the POV switches between Ginger and Bridget, sparingly used to hit just the right emotional beats.
Nine times out of ten, when there’s a Dario Argento movie in the offing Goblin aren’t far behind, at least in some configuration. So when the maestro of murder directed uber-Giallo Tenebrae in 1982, three former members of the prog supergroup stepped forward, despite the band having officially split four years prior. The omnipresent Claudio Simonetti came together with Massimo Morante and Fabio Pignatelli and put together something much more in the vein of electronica than before (understandable, since Giorgio Moroder dominated the landscape). They’re spraying around disco beats and vocoders the way Argento uses arterial spurts, even diegetically; just watch as the camera shifts around from apartment to apartment while the main theme plays on a turntable, only to mask the sound of another signature horrible murder.
French composer Robin “Rob” Coudert has made quite an impression since leaping onto the scene in 2012 with his supremely cool and catchy score to the Maniac remake starring Elijah Wood, and he’s cemented his place in today’s film music landscape with his score for Coraline Fargeat’s 2018 film, Revenge. Rob’s score is incredible, especially when paired with Fargeat’s impressive use of music. He employs a range of European electronica in the extraordinary sequence where the director juxtaposes vintage throwback “I’m In Love” with Rob’s thumping synths as the scene switches between dancing in a car and being stabbed in the eyes. Like the film, the score is a grimy piece of work that doesn’t lack a sense of humor, with tones pulsating and exploding as actress Miranda Lutz walks into the desert brimming with weapons and attitude, like his own twisted version of a Batman theme.
John Williams isn’t usually a composer that many associate with horror, which is curious given his successful scores for films like Jaws (1975), The Fury (1978), and Dracula (1979). Nevertheless, his score for Robert Altman’s 1972 psychological horror might be his most terrifying of all, leaning into true avant-garde textures instead of his expected symphonic tradition and collaborating with Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamash’ta, who the previous year had performed on Peter Maxwell Davies’ score for Ken Russell’s The Devils. Williams looked at Susannah York’s character in the film and wanted a concept of duality, which saw more traditional elements such as piano and strings contrasted with the eerie dissonance of the Cristal Baschet and Kabuki woodblocks, and the result is absolutely chilling.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
Coming two years after Images, Tobe Hooper’s infamous insane asylum of a film lies in the same ballpark as Yamash’ta’s sounds, with Hooper and co-composer Wayne Bell creating a library of found sounds in the tradition of Pierre Schaefer and musique concrete. They subsequently produced what is possibly the scariest film score ever recorded. Everyone remembers the horrifying screech of the camera flash, and it’s those terrible sounds that burn into your memory, making it easy to recall the eerie and foreboding tones as the teens approached the house or the sheer mind-bending torturous cacophony of the family’s dinner party. Even the eponymous chainsaw gets in on the act, as the film ends with Leatherface leading an orchestra of instruments of death in the world’s most brutal and unforgiving opera.
BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992)
Bram Stoker’s bloodthirsty Count hasn’t been short-changed when it comes to great music in cinema, from “Swan Lake” in Universal’s 1931 classic to James Bernard’s “Dra-Cu-La” theme in the Hammer picture Horror of Dracula (1958), but Francis Ford Coppola outdid them all when he recruited Polish composer Wojciech Kilar for his sumptuous “faithful” retelling of the original novel. Kilar’s brooding opening cue sets the stage while showing Dracula’s tragic story and renunciation of god with an Orffian orgy of symphonic devastation, the decadent and seductive strings continuing as he and his brides attempt the conquest of Jonathan Harker. But Kilar also provides haunting music for Dracula and Mina and his eternal quest, allowing the juxtaposition of beauty and beastly. It’s this element that has done the most to help retain the film’s power over the decades since its initial release.
While Goblin is Italexploitation’s most famous musical export, it barely scratches the surface when it comes to amazing horror music from the boot, with composers like Stelvio Cipriani, Alessandro Alessandroni, and Fabio Frizzi helping spread chords and claret across the world. The latter composer is one of the more well-known on foreign shores, not least through his scores for the films of the great Lucio Fulci, and it’s his score to the classic gorefest Zombie that’s his greatest achievement. Frizzi’s electronic grooves are as apocalyptic as they are addictive, mixing the exotic flavors of the Caribbean location with long, slow synth lines that crawl along your spine as symbols of inevitability, leaving no doubt that while they may take a while to get to you, there is no escape. This is capped off by the amazing main theme, both a droning tribute to the shambling flesh-eaters and a serious piece of melodic gratification.
Clive Barker’s 1987 hellscape introduced Cenobites to the world along with a splash of S&M, but one person who was already immersed in the horror world was composer Christopher Young. By that point he had already given musical life to The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982) and Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Initially, Barker had recruited experimental nightmare band Coil, but their efforts were rejected and Young was brought in, delivering a more traditional score but one that immediately captured the neo-gothic aesthetic of Barker’s story. Young’s score is beautiful and seductive with an edge of cruelty and malevolence, resulting in a strange color that imprints a musical tone onto the damned box itself.
LADY VENGEANCE (2005)
Like Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy, the first two chapters of Park Chan-wook’s exceptional “vengeance” trilogy, Lady Vengeance is a striking tale of tragedy, guilt, regret, and revenge, complete with a magnificent musical score. Composed by Choi Seunghyeon under Cho Young-wook, the music opts for a baroque feel, with inspiration coming from the works of Bach and Vivaldi and the emotionally rich and melancholy edge that typify the late baroque period. The title character of Geum-ja is given a trio of themes; two are based on works by Vivaldi and Paganini, while the other comes from a Valencian lullaby, each representing a different side of Geum-ja (her agency, her power, and her motherly instincts). Together they draw from a fairly small palette — including the distinctive cimbalom — to illustrate Geum-ja’s journey. While the film’s climax is incredibly somber, it ends on a beautiful note as Geum-ja finally cleanses herself while the lullaby plays the film out.
Of course, there are many more scores for you to discover, but consider this an initial whetting of your musical appetite. Now go forage, and remember: it’s never safe to take a shower if you can hear a violin.
Charlie Brigden grew up in the U.K. on a diet of video nasties and heavy metal and little else has changed. His knowledge of film music has led to liner notes with labels such as Death Waltz Records and DVD essays for the likes of Arrow Video. He lives with one wife, two children, a dog, two cats, two geckos, and a room full of tarantulas.