A horror movie’s intensity, suspense or sheer creepiness can be enhanced even more by the music selected to accompany the scene. Good horror movie soundtracks add suspense, give us chills and in some cases even add comedic levity to a potentially intense scene. The perfect musical selection can be a trigger that when heard outside the movie, can take you back to the scene it was featured in and re-ignite the emotions being felt while watching that scene initially.
There have been many orchestral scores that have had this effect. Exorcist, Halloween, and even Jaws all had soundtracks that enhanced the all around scariness and intensity of the scenes they were used in. The majority of these scores were written specifically for the movie. You can find a wide variety of “Best Horror Movie Soundtrack” lists featuring orchestral scores online. But what about a soundtrack that is a compelation of artists whose singles may not have been written for the movie. The music can still has an equally effective impact as any spooky orchestral score.
Here’s a list of some of the more powerful horror movie soundtracks that are not orchestral scores but still had a huge affect on a movie or scene.
The Lost Boys Soundtrack
Probably one of the more successful horror movie soundtracks in history, The Lost Boys Soundtrack can often be found mixed in with a variety of orchestral horror movie sound track ‘best of…’ lists, even though there is no orchestral score on the sound track. Right from the very beginning of the movie, “Cry Little Sister” by Gerald McMann sets the tone for the entire movie. You picture Michael being challenged to “Keep up” in the motorcycle ride when you hear Lou Gramm’s “Lost In The Shadows” and you can’t forget the shirtless, overly muscular, oiled up saxophone player Tim Cappello as he performs his song “I Still Believe” at pier. That was scary in it’s own way.
Shocker was advertised as Wes Craven’s new masterpiece, but once it hit the theatres it’s campiness was no match for Wes Craven’s prior releases The Nightmare On Elm Street and The Serpant and The Rainbow. The soundtrack contributed to the sheer cheesiness of the movie, from the theme song “Shocker” by the Dudes Of Wrath (which was actually a band made up of members of Kiss, Motley Crue and Whitesnake) to Megadeth’s cover of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (which also happened to be the main villain Horrace Pinkler’s catch phrase). The sound track was highly anticipated by the hair metal community, but the movie did not live up to expectations. Looking back and watching it now, it’s appreciated more for its campy cheesiness, dated special effects and equally dated soundtrack, making it still a good movie.
Scream and Scream 3
Much like the Shocker soundtrack, the Scream Trilogy’s soundtracks showcased a lot of artists that were popular at the time and even introduced listeners to new ones. The Scream 3 soundtrack was a who’s who of Nu Metal artist including 2 tracks from Creed. Okay, I’ll admit it the Scream 3 soundtrack is in here because I enjoyed it. It introduced me to a handful of new bands. But technically none of the track on Scream 3’s soundtrack actually enhanced any of the scenes in the film and a lot of them didn’t even appear in the movie. This was a very different route compared to the first Scream movie. The music was used so effectively in the first Scream movie, while watching any of the sequels, even if it wasn’t in the movie, I could still hear Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” in the background. The haunting acoustic version of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and the use of teenaged angst songs like “Schools Out” and BirdBrain’s “Youth Of America” set the tone for the primarily high school student cast of characters.
Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
The Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors soundtrack is somewhat unique in that it only features one song. Well technically one song plus 2 ‘b-sides’ by the same artist, but the only song that is actually in the movie is Dokken’s “Dream Warriors”. Originally when the movie was in theatres and released on VHS an instrumental track called “Quiet Cool” was used during the opening sequence. When the movie was later released on DVD due in part to the popularity of Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” another Dokken track “Into The Fire” was inserted during the opening sequence. The success of Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” led to the subsequent Nightmare On Elm Street movies featuring music from a variety of different heavy metal artists, a standard which was soon adopted by the genre as a whole.
Shaun Of The Dead
The underlying music themes within the movie, which may or may not be intentional, adds a whole new level of enjoyment to this Zombie movie. From the wanna be DJ heroes, to trying to decide which records to throw at the Zombies and which ones they should keep, music is introduced subtlety through out the movie with hilarious results. The soundtrack itself is predominately electronic music. But amongst the album of electronic music, one track stands out. The same track also stands out in the film. While hiding out in the local pub, a noise catches the attention of the Zombie lurking outside. As our group of ‘heroes’ decides to take action, the jukebox comes alive spinning the Queen classic “Don’t Stop Me Now”. Not only does the song enhance the scene, but the scene helps to enhance and draw attention to the song. Lines like “David, Kill The Queen” and the in time beat down of a zombie done with pool queues draws more attention and somewhat amplifies the out of place track.
Sometimes the soundtrack is just as big as the movie. Now most probably wouldn’t consider Ghostbusters a horror movie, but when it came out in the 80s it was fairly on par with the horror movies of the time. Ray Parker Jr’s “Ghostbusters” was one of the biggest tracks of the year and continued to be an annual Halloween track, spun along the sides of “The Monster Mash” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on radio stations everywhere. But “Ghostbusters” wasn’t the only track on this soundtrack. Many of the scenes in the movie are enhanced by the soundtrack. When hearing the orchestral theme and Dana’s Theme the listener is taken back to the scenes in the movie where these two piece are used. The same thing happens when you hear the lesser known “Cleanin’ Up The Town” bę The BusBoys. Most can’t help but picture the Ghostbusters getting their first call and driving out in Ecto 1 for the first time.
As a side note, the new Ghostbusters soundtrack is just as bad as the attempted revamped movie. One quote I heard about why the movie failed stated that because all 4 strong comedic cast members were all trying to be “the Venkman” when the movie also needed an Egon and Spengler to even things out. Not everyone can be Venkman, much less do what Bill Murray did in that role. Similar to that, not everyone can do a cover of Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” (although some believe that Ray Parker JR did a great cover of Huey Lewis‘s “I Want A New Drug“) but on the new movie’s soundtrack there are 4 versions of the song, including the original. I haven’t seen the new movie, so please enlighten me, are all 4 versions heard in the movie or is this just another way they destroyed a great movie.
Did I miss any? Let me know what you think of these selections and if there are any you think should be added to the list.
What I missed…
I got my first suggestion of something that should be added to the list. It comes from Alan Cross and to be honest, I’m not 100% sold on it.
Phantom Of The Paradise
To be honest, I’ve always been aware of this film, but had actually never sat down to watch it, assuming it was just a bargain basement version of Rocky Horror Picture Show. When Alan first suggested it be part of this list I had my doubts, but after he assured me that the music supports the narrative and isn’t the narrative like in a musical, I decided to check it out. And what do you know? The whole movie can be found on YouTube. Did I like it? Well, lets just say I watched it. It was entertaining, the music does support the narrative and is a big part of the film. Does it belong on this list…you tell me.