Horror is about the blood, it's about the fear, the things we fight, can't conquer or must succumb to. It's about the things that make us human - or inhuman. And oftentimes, it's about the emotional release that only music can help convey.
When many consider what a great film score is, they typically site the “go-tos” of the medium. Composers like Hanz Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore, John Williams, etcetera. More often than not, the connotations surrounding the canon of horror relegate it to a dark corner where the medium doesn’t acknowledge it for its emotional fortitude; only its savagery or nihilism.
While it would be easy to reference the excellent works of John Carpenter, The Exorcist’s Tubular Bells or the subtle “ch-ch-ch-ah-ah-ah” of Friday the 13th, for this list, I’ve compiled ten overlooked horror movies whose musical compositions defied normalcy.
Instead, they vied for ear-piercing impact, emotional resonance and cathartic brutality. These are films that stand out from the ravenous pack due to their composers’ ambitious and juxtaposed approach to conveying nightmarish narratives.
Where many could have solely relied on standard pangs of dissonant strings to enunciate jump scares or droning background bass to build tension, these macabre masters chose to give creativity and character - musical life - to stories revolving around the omnipresence of death.
The scores herein are personalities unto themselves, many that will hopefully catch readers off guard with their sentimental strength, outlandish harmonies and ruthless operatic melodies.
10. Extraterrestrial (2014)
Listen To: "Into the Dark"
Back in 2011, writing/directing duo The Vicious Brothers (Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz) released a little flick by the name of Grave Encounters. While it was a tired retread of found-footage tropes and eye-rolling scares, it surprisingly received a healthy dose of attention and was eventually followed with a meta-sequel directed by John Poliquin.
Nothing about either of these films was particularly noteworthy, nor did they give any sort of hint that the filmmakers had a voice their own, let alone talent. Extraterrestrial changed that.
Yes, much of the story plays to convention, the aliens look like something you'd see on a bumper sticker in Nevada and one character in particular is nothing short of obnoxious. But given a chance, Extraterrestrial actually has some pretty groovy things going for it, not the least of which is its surprisingly moving score by Toronto-based band Blitz//Berlin.
Once the martians finally land and bickering is replaced with screams, Extraterrestrial moves at an energetic clip while delivering a handful of stand-out moments such as a wall of rain that seemingly stops at a forested boundary and a rectal probe that's well, a few sharp points too many.
However, it's the emotion of its central plot thread (a failed marriage proposal) that gives the entire narrative a tragic foothold. Pulsing beats, shrill sounds and electronic music play as though a 50's alien theme was a given a Nine Inch Nails overhaul (especially the title track "Extraterrestrial/Main Title" at 1:14:45), but it's the orchestral swellings that pump Extraterrestrial's heart.
The most moving example of this is the film's climactic track "Into the Dark" (begins at 1:12:28), which reinforces the ill-fated romance between two lovers as they escape one fate only to have to come to terms with another.
What begins as a quiet track quickly evolves with the thunderous arrival of steady drums before a beautiful crescendo of strings give heroic rise--and mournful fall--to soft and lamentable strokes of a piano. It's at once triumphant, heartbreaking and most importantly, powerful.