A history of the sound in horror films
Horror films are known for their ability to scare audiences, to get the audience’s hearts racing, their blood rushing. A good horror film will cause viewers to be on the edge of their seats and having their perception of reality distorted as they attempt to understand the unraveling plot of the horror film. The tone of the film aides in the amount of suspense that a horror film produces, since a much darker film will create a more suspenseful atmosphere than one that is more focused on campy monster makeup. But the tone of a film is determined by the sound of the film, or in other words, the score. Sound or music in a horror film, or the lack thereof, make the intense scenes and without the addition of a marvelous score than fits the movie. All films begin with the opening credits and the main title. This is the first and only chance the composer has to rope the audience into the movie. The stage is set, but the tone of the film is not. Horror movie title music creates a mood, insinuating the viewer into this world where the normal and abnormal collide. The sounds must match that as well. The main title music of horror films is at its base, the same, from Jaws to Dracula, the music is characterized by sharp contrasts in volume and timbre. This distinction in notes helps to create a feeling of unknowing that resonates with the audience. Legendary composer John Williams is known for distinctive tones in many of the famous scores he has composed. Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park have a very melodic feel that sets them apart from other modern scores. However, when contrasted with William’s work on Jaws it is apparent where the tone for horror scores comes in. One of the most common devices used by composers in horror is the creation of tension and foreboding through consistent patterns and distinguishable notes. Usually this music is very identifiable and stays with its listener. The strongest horror scores are the ones that almost went viral throughout a society after a large portion of the community had seen the film it went along with. The most famous of all horror scores being the immediately recognizable alternation of low notes that foreshadow the incoming attack of a Great White from Jaws, on par with the iconic screeching notes from Psycho when Marion Crane’s character is murdered in the shower by who she believes to be her innkeeper’s mother. The first time a horror film’s original score was recognized by the Academy was in 1975 at the 48th Annual Academy Awards. William’s score for Jaws was nominated and took home the prize. No score exemplifies the base structure of a horror film’s score more than the one composed for Jaws. The alternating bass notes that go from middle ranged, to very low become iconic and forever have struck fear into beach-goers when reminded of the ominous tones. Not only does William’s score create a sense of foreboding but also leaves a subtle hint of dread. The fear created comes at the inevitable when the alternating E and F notes finally get closing together and collide when the abnormal Great White attacks its prey. Williams has even said that this score is the one that jump started his career and lead to numerous Academy Award wins in his future, in addition to creating even more legendary film scores in the future. William’s win at the 1975 Academy Awards could also be credited with the increased respect for the horror genre. There have been very few horror and science fiction films to be honored by the Academy but the following year, Jerry Goldsmith won the award for Best Original Score for his work on the Omen. () This newfound respect for the horror score genre was almost a nod to the horror scores of the page that paved the way for the contemporary horror score genre. During the early 20th century, most films were silent and had to rely entirely on their scores. This time of black and whites slowly gave rise to the famous...
Cited: * Buhler, James, David Neumeyer, and Rob Deemer. Hearing the Movies: Music and Sound in Film History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Carrie. Dir. Brian De Palm. United Arts, 1976. Film.
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Jaws. Dir Steven Spielberg. Universal Pictures, 1975. Film.
“Hush.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer By Joss Whedon, WB, December 14 1999.
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