The Definitive Horror Movie Music Collection

Various Artists

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The Definitive Horror Movie Music Collection Review

by William Ruhlmann

Just in time for Halloween 2009 comes this massive compilation of re-recorded background music for films and TV shows with horror themes, 60 tracks on four CDs running more than four-and-a-half hours. The tracks are drawn from Silva Screen Records' extensive library of rerecordings, most of them performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Compiler Rick Clark has stretched the definition of horror to include movies with supernatural aspects that may not be "horror" movies per se (serial killers, e.g., Zodiac and TV's Dexter, also make the cut, as it were). But then, when is a "horror" movie really a monster movie (Cloverfield)? Or a science-fiction movie (Sunshine)? or a fantasy movie (Pan's Labyrinth)? or an adventure movie (The Mummy)? or a mystery movie (The Sixth Sense)? or a thriller movie Dressed to Kill)? or a romantic movie (The Witches of Eastwick)? or an action movie (Predator)? or a comedy movie (Ghostbusters, Young Frankenstein)? or a suspense movie (Duel)? Here, they all come under the heading of horror, and by defining the term loosely, Clark has expanded the types of music that can be included. This isn't all slashing strings, by any means. (In fact, there's only one track composed by Bernard Herrmann, and it's not Psycho!) Another curious programming decision is the more-or-less reverse-chronological order in which the tracks are sequenced. This means that one hears music from The Mummy Returns before The Mummy, Aliens before Alien, Exorcist II: The Heretic before The Exorcist, and, most problematical, Halloween II before Halloween (since director/composer John Carpenter and composer Alan Howarth's Halloween II theme is an elaboration of Carpenter's original theme for Halloween). But, for some reason, the suite from Hellraiser immediately precedes that for Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Also, in many cases, the cues come from remakes, notably King Kong, War of the Worlds, The Mummy, Village of the Damned, and The Thing. Music from both versions of The Haunting is featured. And there are tracks from two different movies called Dracula (as well as the versions of the same story called Bram Stoker's Dracula, Dracula, Prince of Darkness, and Nosferatu, and even one called Taste the Blood of Dracula, which is the fourth of the Hammer studio's films starring Christopher Lee). All of this is to say that, while lengthy, the collection isn't so much "definitive" as a sort of warehouse-cleaning effort in which Clark has used everything from the vault that could conceivably be included under the definition of "horror" music from previous Silva Screen projects of, say, the music of composers John Williams (four selections) and Jerry Goldsmith (five selections). But whether or not one accepts the "horror" premise, the collection functions as a backwards history of ominous-sounding movie music, starting with contemporary composers like Christopher Young (three selections) and James Newton Howard (two selections), and ending with legends like Franz Waxman and James Bernard (six selections, all on the fourth disc). Great movie composers such as Ennio Morricone make surprising appearances (Exorcist II: The Heretic, really!), and so does a great classical composer (Béla Bartók, typically sampled by director Stanley Kubrick for The Shining). For the most part, this is orchestral music, but rock sneaks in here and there, including, curiously enough, the work of George Thorogood (whose "Bad to the Bone," used in Christine, is re-created as an instrumental by Nick Watson). If the album really does present a true history, then the '70s was a sort of golden age of horror movie music, particularly in the hands of Carpenter (five selections), whose subtle, simple theme for Halloween remains a terrifying piece of music, whether one recalls its use in the movie or not.

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