I love the fact that people are rediscovering horror soundtracks. Some of the most iconic scores—and even some unexpected ones—are being given amazing treatment on vinyl. There’s no better time to get into noticing the great, often unsung music that goes into crafting a horror film.
Usually, the score of the film goes unnoticed. But horror films are often so intertwined with the soundtrack that themes in horror are recognized more often than dramas, action films, etc…
But there are still so many musical scores that go under-appreciated and unrecognized. While we embrace the classics like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, there are always those that fall through the cracks.
That’s unfortunate, though, because some of these underrated scores rank among my favorites of all time, so I think it’s well past time to shine a light on them.
I’ll admit it, Subspecies might be one of my favorite film scores, period. From the booming opening titles to the surprisingly sweet romantic theme, the entire soundtrack is incredibly strong. It boasts an extremely authentic Eastern European sound, which also helps it to stand apart from not only vampire scores and soundtracks of the era, but also in being one of the few early Full Moon scores not composed by Richard Band.
People tend to lump the Friday the 13th scores together, and I get that. It took me awhile to really get into listening to them because of the repetition and the re-used cues. Admittedly, there’s still some of that with Jason Lives. But this is Harry Manfredini’s favorite of the scores and it’s easy to see why. He had more to work with on this one and he didn’t waste it. This score manages to stand apart from the others and, on top of that, it’s genuinely moody and atmospheric.
We all love John Carpenter both as a director and as a composer. Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, these are all iconic scores. Christine is sort of the forgotten Carpenter score in the same way that it’s sometimes seen as the forgotten flick from Carpenter’s early ‘80s heyday. But it shouldn’t be forgotten, because it’s great. The car itself has a terrific pounding, uh, driving theme—but my favorite is the sweet Arnie/Christine motif that reappears throughout the film.
It might seem strange to include Gremlins on this list, because it’s weird to describe a score as underrated if everyone can immediately hum the theme tune. But I’m not talking about the theme, I’m talking about the entire score, and that’s where I think Gremlins falls into underrated territory.
This entire score is so strong. My favorite thing about it is that, like the film itself, it is constantly crossing genre and tone. It starts off sounding like a genuine Spielbergian family/adventure flick before filtering in comic, peppy beats and then gradually introducing an electronic horror sound.
Rick Wakefield’s score for The Burning might be one of the most praised aspects of the film, but much in the way that the movie itself still isn’t as widely recognized as the heavy hitter, prominent slasher that it should be known, the score isn’t usually listed as one of the greats—and it should be.
The theme is so catchy. It hooks you in right from the get-go, and then (smartly, I think) it doesn’t appear for awhile. And when you do hear the main theme again, it’s played in a sweeter, more comedic way. I definitely don’t think The Burning gets enough credit for having a score that’s able to lure you in, get you on edge and then almost immediately convince you to let your guard down.
Child’s Play 2
With Child’s Play 2, Graeme Revell got it right. As terrific a film as Child’s Play is, the score is not overly memorable. It’s got a fairly industrial sound to it that works for the setting and is effective and creepy at the right moments in the movie, but it doesn’t have much to offer a listener on its own. It really can’t be listened to without the movie. The score for 2 fixes all of that. It’s got an instantly recognizable theme, its bigger, lighter and somehow meaner than the first—much like the sequel itself.
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Seriously, John Debney’s score for I Know What You Did Last Summer is really good. It’s got a great atmosphere to it, a strong character theme, and chase scene music that isn’t just the same persistent shrieking over and over and over again. I’d forgotten just how good it was until going back and listening to it when putting this list together. Similarly to the film itself, it holds up a little better than you’d think. I can’t say the same for the soundtrack, but even then, thankfully the score’s this good.