Killer Scores

Imagine every shark attack scene in the movie Jaws without its iconic two-note score: dunnn dun dunnn dun dun dun dun dun dun.

For films like Jaws, the score plays an invaluable component in amping up the suspense. In fact, the actual shark in Jaws does not appear on screen until over 80 minutes into the film. This means the only signifier of the sharks presence through the first two-thirds of the movie is John Williams score. In the case of Jaws, the score was the killer, which is perhaps why those two notes are among the most recognizable in pop culture.

In other horror flicks, the score serves as an essential tool to drive suspense further. Take John Carpenters 1978 classic Halloween, which stars the O.G. scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as protagonist Laurie Strode. The film, also scored by Carpenter, includes a musical theme solely consisting of a piano melody one that strikes audience members to the core with visceral fear because of its evil refrain.

The main theme in Halloween adds to the building climax of the film. Michael Myers, the movies main villain, never runs after his victims in the movie. Instead, he stalks his victims with a calm walk signifying his confidence in the certainty of his kill while the score plays over it. Think about how the film would appear if Myers was walking without any music over him how scared would you actually be? In this case, the score plays an integral part in thrilling the audience.

But lets go back to the birth of slasher films, with 1960s Psycho. The cinema classics score was produced by Bernard Herrmann at the request of director Alfred Hitchcock. Herrmann used only a string orchestra to create the score, resulting in a spooky sound that is violent, sporadic and unsettling similar to the films killer, Norman Bates. In this case, the score is used to portray the unhinged manner in which Bates snaps and demonstrates his dissent into madness as he struggles to take control of his mind.

The use of music within spooky horror films has enhanced the image of iconic fictional killers, forever solidfying them in the pop culture history books. The score is unequivocally a crucial part in the development of fear in the horror genre, enhancing the legitimacy of the killer within the film. Without a good score, horror flicks just dont have a believable killer.