Friday, September 17, 2010

Scoring the Dead – Three Film Composers to Start October

A sudden noise in the silence may be a more realistic soundtrack to things that make us dread and jump, but we’ve had plenty of great modern film composers tighten the tension of horror movies and ghostly films. Some of them make their career on haunting the films released around October (obvious geniuses like John Carpenter's theme to Halloween or Titular Bells from The Exorcist; others have dabbled occasionally and gotten it oh-so-right.

John Debney

The Halloween Tree 1993 – This isn’t a terror tale, but any story brought to you by the immaculate Ray Bradbury (Hanna Barbera or not), is sure to please. I watch this film every year as a great romp through the Halloween atmosphere of my past, and of the world’s past. Getting by the films kitsch and just loving it for what it is, great storytelling mixed with decent animation backgrounds and a beautiful score my John Debney makes this an October must. If you like that, dance on through the cemetery to Hocus Pocus, Disney’s 1993 Salem Witch fantasy, which again is pure candy with a whimsical score.

James Newton Howard

This guy cut his teeth early on nail-biters like Flatliners and Alive (a movie I still can’t watch). But it wasn’t until 1999 when he scored The Sixth Sense that he showed up on my radar. His music is utterly haunting, but unlike Debney or Elfman, Howard really utilizes atmospherics more than catchy themes to place the audience in the right frame of mind. His music is streamlined, with just the hint of a theme that asserts itself when ever the supernatural is confronted. The melody is mysterious (which it must be), and just a little sad around the edges, just a touch of grief.

Danny Elfman

Really couldn’t do this list without him. He is Hollywood’s master of macabre melodies, and permanently attached to the hip with Tim Burton. Early works like Batman, A Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands are fun romps that suggest fairytale more than supernatural (and rightly so!). But Elfman didn’t really show up on my radar until 1998’s Sleepy Hollow. Perhaps it’s the combination of Burton’s interpretation of a colonial haunting and Elfman’s atmospheric tension, but this hits all notes for me. Much like Jerry Goldsmith in Poltergeist, Elfman uses innocent sounding melodies and children’s choirs to underscore the sinister. And all the while, he keeps a murkiness to the mood. It’s a score as overcast and foggy as the scenery.

I also give Elfman Kudos for composing the original opening theme to the Simpsons. Here’s a little Halloween rendition he contributed to a later season.

Also, if you are craving something a little less Hollywood, but still fun and atmospheric, Try Nox Arcana. Deliciously atmospheric in the vein of each of the above composers, but their music is open-ended. Warning, you might be accused of listening to a Halloween sound effects album… No shame it that!




Cyndi said...

Sleepy Hollow is one of my all time favorite movies!! The music really did help to set the tone.

A Sixth Sense. Two of my favorite things: Bruce Willis, and ghosts. You can't go wrong there!!

Amanda said...

They definitely got it down. Such chilling melodies. I think I have to go with the Sixth Sense as my favorite. My spine tingles when I hear it.

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