Reviews Score-Liners

11 Horror Scores You Need To Hear

Halloween is among us and I thought I’d highlight a handful of killer horror scores you need to hear. You obviously can listen to these any time of the year — I certainly consume more horror films and music outside of October — but these will help you get into the spirit of All Hallows Eve.

Now, two things before we proceed. First, I’m not going to list the obvious gems that I and everyone else have covered many times over: Hereditary, Halloween, It Follows, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser (original or new), and other well-covered or otherwise marquee fare. Second, these are scores for both films and TV shows, real and imagined, from various years. OK, I think those are enough caveats for one day. Let’s get to the music.

Archive 81 (Soundtrack From The Netflix Series) — Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow

Salisbury & Barrow are quick to challenge our preconceived notions of what a score should be — leaving viewers stuck in a state of perpetual wonder and terror as they watch this show about a researcher cataloging the rather messed up video archive of a missing filmmaker. Some of the cues contain rhythms, sound designs, or melodies that recall the duo’s groundbreaking work on Julius Onah’s stunning Luce, but they’re not resting on their laurels here. They rise to the moment and then some. A damn shame Netflix cancelled the series after one season, leaving the story somewhat unresolved.

What Keeps You Alive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) — Brittany Allen

Not only did Allen star in this popular film, she also scored it. The result is as gorgeous and unsettling as the plot itself, which centers on a woman who learns a lot about her wife while they’re away at the wife’s family’s cabin in the woods to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.

Winterskin (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) — S.T.R.S.G.N & Europaweite Aussichten

Director Charlie Steed’s horror film about a stalking, skinless creature has notes of wintry horror like The Thing and Misery, paired with monster flicks from 40 years ago. Synth maestros Stewart Hamilton (S.T.R.S.G.N.) and Sam Freissler (Europaweite Aussichten) do a great job of tapping into the past without copying it, crafting a wholly original score filled with quiet foreboding and bone-chillingly high-octave exploits that elevate the picture.

Scare Package (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) — Alex Cuervo

Aaron B. Koontz and Cameron Burns unleashed the horror anthology film Scare Package at Sitges in 2019, and we all got to see it in 2020 on Shudder. It features a host of talent, including Joe Bob Briggs, Jon Michael Simpson, and Luxy Banner, and pronounced throughout are the dark and dirty synth haunts of composer Alex Cuervo (AKA Espectrostatic).

In The Earth (Original Music) — Clint Mansell

Clint Mansell has made so many awesome scores it’s impossible to really capture the scope of his oeuvre (Requiem for a Dream, San Junipero, Moon, Stoker, etc.). One recent that has stuck out is his masterwork score for director Ben Wheatley’s horror film In The Earth, a gorgeously bleak and sometimes dissonant onslaught of reserved minimalism through the prism of enchantingly dark electronics. (Mansell actually recording the singing of plants, via the PlantWave MIDI sprout machine, according to Invada Records.)

The Overnight (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) — Nola Wren

Nola Wren is best known in the synthwave world for “Save The Day,” her collaboration with College, but she’s been making modern pop gems for years. However, somewhere in there she also did a synth score for Bobby Francavillo’s and Kevin Rhoades’ demon-laced horror film The Overnight (previously known as The Stay). You got a taste of it a few years ago with the single “Creature,” which shows up in the film. Oddly enough, her score hasn’t been released as an album yet — that I can see — but it’s worth watching the film just to hear her music.

Mohawk — Wojciech Golczewski

Mohawk found director Ted Geoghegan and composer Wojciech Golczewski again teaming up after a successful stint with the excellent We Are Still Here. For this film, which centers on the story of a clash of white Americans and some Mohawk tribe members during the War of 1812, Golczewski mines his synth prowess and more organic-sounding modalities to cultivate a poignant expression of the horrors inherent in simply being a Native American during Europe’s centuries-long global land grab.

M.F.A. (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) — Sonya Belousova & Giona Ostinelli

An intense and beautifully off-putting score from Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli for a visceral film about an art student named Noelle, who taps into the creative inspiration that comes after the accidental slaughter of her rapist.

Compliance (Music from the Motion Picture) — Heather McIntosh

Heather McIntosh was exactly the right composer for Craig Zobel’s rather fucked up Compliance, which basically was about a mysterious caller who got fast-food employees to do pretty darn terrible things to each other. Oh, and it was based on a true story! McIntosh is faced with complementing a story about something we all claim we’d never be gullible enough to fall for but which nevertheless scares us because maybe we would? She excels, using strings that bend and wail and skitter on the vine, with a piano that twinkles with deceptive whimsy and drums that punctuate the psychological blows and trauma of the story.

Lovecraft Country (Soundtrack from the Series) — Laura Karpman and Raphael Saadiq

Misha Green’s HBO series Lovecraft Country was a compelling look at traveling while Black in segregated 1950s America, which certainly seemed markedly more terrifying than the monsters that Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) and Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors) and others encountered on their journeys. Karpman and Saadiq bring on an engaging score to accompany the story, using traditional orchestration to ride the wave of emotion, intrigue, and, of course, the horror of it all.

Where Dreams Go To Die (An Original Soundtrack) — Antoni Maiovvi

Maiovvi makes scores for real films, but he’s also a prolific scorer of that which is not (or might never be) made. Case in point is this album that Spun Out Of Control released in 2019, in which we find the Giallo Disco Records co-founder tapping deeply into the mighty melancholia and pronounced foreboding inherent in the work of Bernard Herrmann. The delectable cover art, by the inimitable Eric Adrian Lee, suggests something more ’80s synth-driven, but let’s not paint Maiovvi into that corner — even if he’s damn good at such things.

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