Is it possible for just a song to truly frighten the listener? Are horror scores actually scary when taken out of the context of the movie? Does anyone really buy vinyl reissues of horror soundtracks… and then sit down and listen to them?
The answer to all three of these questions, is yes.
With Halloween on the way, my music choices have started to get a little spookier. Since the start of October, each week, my wife and I have been blasting through movies that fit certain categories: Killers, Monsters, the Supernatural (and so on) and I’ve realized that RARELY is any of the music in the movies actually scary. There are some amazing horror soundtracks out there, but nine out of ten times, the music in most horror movies is either sparse, obnoxious or hokey.
We all know the shrieking strings in Psycho were effective in scaring audiences, that Michael Meyers doesn’t work without Carpenter’s ominous, plodding synths and that most good horror scores are intentionally written to FrEaK u OuT.
But let me share with you some of the songs that make me feel personally freaked…
Let me share with you, a few… deep cuts.
Stigmata by Ministry
“Cutting my face
And walking on splinters
I lost my soul
To the look in your eyes
Where I lived in New Hampshire, on most nights there was very little to do. Aside from the movie theater and a couple pizza places, the town essentially closed down after 9 PM. For this reason my friends and I would drive to a neighboring town to go to a record shop that stayed open until midnight and to eat french fries/smoke cigarettes in the Denny’s. To get to said town you had to cruise down a dark, winding, strip of road for about 40 minutes, and you would eventually come upon Salem, NH. It was the fall and I was on a solo trip back from Salem when the speakers in my junker Ford Taurus station wagon began rattling and I almost drove off the fucking road. At about 20 seconds into Ministry’s Stigmata, the MOST unsettling scream/noise/chaos is unleashed upon listeners. The lyrics are dark, and violent. I have grown to really, really love this song, but Ministry, not so much. This song is basically like one of those youtube videos where nothing is going on, and you have been advised to turn the volume ALL THE WAY UP on your phone/computer and then a dead person’s face suddenly appears and you realized you’ve been PrAnKeD.
Suspiria by Goblin
For those who don’t know, Goblin are an incredibly cool Italian prog band who have made a career out of scoring horror movies. Goblin are the musical group behind most of Dario Argento’s notable films like Suspiria, Tenebre, Deep Red, Zombi etc. and the Suspiria theme is just plainly unsettling.
Suspiria, visually, freaks me out. The whole atmosphere of the movie just makes me feel very nervous and thinking about getting lost in that huge dance academy, or having to sleep in that shadow-y gymnasium… no.
I don’t know if the low, tribal, woodwind sound is a didjeridu or something else- but when it’s paired with the spider-y, medieval-y melody, I don’t need to be watching Suspiria for the theme to make me feel uneasy. The only thing that usually frees me from the clutches of this spooky track is thinking about how cool it is that an Italian prog band named Goblin write such sick horror scores.
Frankie Teardrop by Suicide
“Frankie is so desperate
He’s gonna kill his wife and kids
Frankie’s gonna kill his kid
Frankie picked up a gun”
I first heard about Suicide through my friend Carl who pointed out that Alan Vega’s signature “WOO!” yelp was stolen by Bruce Springsteen for his minimal masterpiece Nebraska. Apparently Springsteen was into Suicide and it was an homage to the duo. This song is incredibly dark. I was walking around Lower Allston/Boston in the middle of the day, heading back from a shift at a sandwich shop I worked at. I was listening to Suicide’s self-titled debut album for he first time. I had put in the time to find it and steal it via Mediafire and was thoroughly enjoying it and spacing out to the hypnotic art-punk of Alan Vega and Martin Rev when suddenly, Frankie Teardrop came on.
The subject matter, the way Vega screams, the feeling you are left with when the song ends… jesus. It’s a really messed up song. Oh yeah, its also like, 11 minutes long.
Penetration by The Stooges
I’m so fine, so fine, so fine
I get excited
I get excited
I’m alone, I’m so fine, pull a line”
I can’t remember when I first heard this particular Stooges album but it was definitely when I still had my V-card. I didn’t (and still don’t) know whether it was about having sex or shooting up, but Iggy’s vocal delivery is so menacing, violent and hard that it scared me. Iggy Pop used to freak out his audience when he would cut his chest open on stage and Penetration sounds like a song written by a dude… who would cut his chest open on stage (and is super into pain).
This song is very mean sounding. The opening guitar riff sounds like it’s about to steal a cop car. If you listen to how Iggy’s sings on this, and not just the lyrics, it sounds like he is trying to convince someone to slit his throat.
Lover’s Prayer by Laurence Vanay
Whooooooo the hell decides to write/record songs that sound like this, but not for a horror movie? I listened to this hungover, over the winter and it kind of helped ease my hangover, but by making me feel like I just might be actually dead. I decided to research a little bit by googling “Is Laurence Vanay an evil person?” The answer was no, Vanay, as explained on the Light in the Attic (record label) website, is a pseudonym for a woman named Jacqueline Thibault, who once said:
“Since childhood, I improvised and composed songs and instrumental music… it seemed to me that music was the true language of emotions.”
I would have to assume that her childhood consisted of talking to spiders, digging up dead bodies, bringing them home to her small, dimly lit cottage (where she lives alone, because she killed her family) and then composing strange, haunting songs for her audience of corpses.
This track just weirds me out, at the same time I think it’s great and I really enjoy this record when I’m in my sober moments and trying to relax. Light in the Attic do such a great job of releasing hard-to-find or previously unreleased albums of all styles/genres. Most songs on this (1975) reissue genuinely sound like they were pulled from a 70’s horror soundtrack and I’m glad we get a chance to hear them.
Mind Playing Tricks on Me by The Geto Boys
“The more I swung, the more blood flew
Then he disappeared and my boys disappeared too
Then I felt just like a fiend
It wasn’t even close to Halloween
It was dark as fuck on the streets
My hands were all bloody, from punching on the concrete
God damn homey
My mind is playing tricks on me”
This Geto Boys’ VERY REAL album art alone is prettyyyy spooky. You know, cause it’s a picture of two tough dudes pushing a stretcher holding a little person who HAS BEEN SHOT IN HIS EYEHOLE while he nonchalantly holds a cordless 1991-era phone up to his ear. Apparently Bushwick Bill was trying to get his girlfriend to kill him and while they fought for/against the gun, it went off and he was shot in the eye. As far as the subject matter goes, I most certainly do not have to worry about any of the shit that is rapped about in Mind Playing Tricks on Me. It’s a PTSD-fueled, NIGHTMARE portrait of day to day life in a bad area. BUT, as someone who oftentimes feels paranoid, nervous (and sweating as a result) this song does a great job of inducing anxiety. Another frightening aspect of this song is how ridiculously cool it sounds. I was pretty sure the recurring jazzy guitar sample was taken from a George Benson song, but it’s actually Isaac Hayes, and it sounds like something you’d be more likely to hear playing in Market Basket and not fueling a gangsta rap track. The overall production (this hypnotic driving haze) perfectly backs the trio’s verses, and together they create a horrific atmosphere of impending doom.
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