Coil/Cyclobe's Stephen Thrower on horror movie soundtracks

 Sys-Images Admin Bkfill Default Image Group 2011 8 17 1313596534514 Suspiria-007 At The Guardian, author/musician Stephen Thrower -- a member of Coil and Cyclobe -- presents a fascinating primer on horror movie soundtracks. Links galore too. From The Guardian:
If I had to choose just one great horror soundtrack from the 1970s, I'd go for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Relentless, disturbing and totally "out-there", this groundbreaking work arose out of free improvisations by the film's director Tobe Hooper and his musical associate Wayne Bell. Rather than composing melodic themes for the characters, or dutifully applying motifs to particular events, Hooper and Bell approached the soundtrack like vengeful deities, raining down storms of pure nightmare. The sound design rumbles with elemental violence; it's difficult to discern precisely which musical instruments, if any, are responsible. When I spoke to Bell a few years ago he told me that a signature ingredient was "an upright bass, which we did all sorts of torturous things to during the Chain Saw sessions". There's also lots of tape manipulation (slowed-down and speeded-up gongs), and what sounds like a heavily asthmatic pedal-steel guitar (it is set in Texas, after all). Hooper and Bell smear these cues (with ad hoc titles such as Seethe and Madness) throughout the film, creating a dense, expressionist impasto into which screams, chainsaw engine noise and murderous gibbering are embedded; the effect is to completely mire you in the film's claustrophobic horror.
"From Goblin to Morricone: the art of horror movie music"


  1. I loved the TCM soundtrack. I’m also a big big big fan of Akira Yamaoka’s work for the Silent Hill series. The games might not all be keepers, but the soundtracks definitely are.

    1. Ooooh! Almost forgot! For video games, my favorite creeped soundtrack goes American McGee’s Alice (2001). It was by Chris “Tweaker” Vrenna (Nine Inch Nails). It’s good enough that it’s worth the i-tunes download or disc purchase. 

      The sequel to the game was released earlier this year. I don’t have a credit for the soundtrack, and haven’t yet played.

  2. They didn’t mention the score for The Shining. The minute the opening credits start to roll, you know it’s going to be ugly just from the gloomy, distorted pounding of the music.

    And it’s not just horror movies. There is a scene in Full Metal Jacket that always haunted me, in large part because of the music: Most of it was the sampled, repeated sound of some screeching rusty metal gate. Very creepy and effective.

    (Kubrick really knows how to keep people up at night)

  3. Awesome link!

    I’ve been hoping and praying for an official release of the TCM soundtrack for years! Apparently, the original elements have all been lost and it would take a miracle at this point. I remember reading a quote years ago (from either Hooper or Bell), though, where one of them said that that signature piercing “shriek”sound cue was partially done by scraping a pitchfork across an old wooden table (mixed also, with a violin or something it sounds like).

    And I may be alone here, but in my book, another (way unappreciated and/or undiscovered) gem is Carl Zittrer’s chilling analog synth score to CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1973). Sadly, it’s also never been released as a soundtrack, but just listen to it while you’re watching the DVD. Some very eerie stuff (whatever you may think of the film–which I personally love). This is right near the top of my “lost soundtracks” CD release wishlist.

  4. I’d like to know how they did that strobe-ish sound in TCM (and if it’s
    available anywhere).

  5. Two things also not mentioned in the article, but mentioned by its first commenters and things I’d like to call attention to as well.

    First, a reminder about David Lynch and his work with Angelo Badalamenti. My favorite is the soundtrack for Lost Highway, which really can’t be appreciated unless you take it for a nighttime drive yourself! Add to that all the work completed just for Twin Peaks (a soundtrack so successful it was parodied on Psych) and you’ll know music is a key element of Lynch’s work.

    The second commenter also knew about Coil’s Unreleased Hellraiser Themes. They’d win my vote for creepiest score, but they were never included in the film. I have a copy of the 10″ vinyl (cruelly pressed onto pepto bismol pink) and it’s some of the most physically effective music I own. Direct quote from the cover: “The only group I’ve heard on disc, whose records I’ve taken off because they made my bowels churn.” – Clive Barker. Since Hellraiser was totally enjoyable (and a visually unique in its time), I can only imagine what the film would have been like had that music been incorporated.

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