So it’s that time of year again. Summer’s officially over and instead of contemplating beach dresses and polo shirts for a night out, we instead move on to “what witches hat suits me best?” and “shit I hope no one else is coming to this thing as Elvis Presley’s undead corpse.” As the changing of seasons go, it’s one of the weirder shifts in tone, but it’s also one of the most liberating. For one month only, loving horror movies is viewed as a completely normal social trend instead of a slightly unstable and worrying obsession. So with that in mind it’s now more acceptable than ever to get overly (and slightly obsessively) excited about an upcoming horror movie soundtrack, right?
But then, this isn’t any old soundtrack. This is a Thom Yorke soundtrack. Creating music for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, it’s the first time he’s ever done a motion picture, and if his moderately impressive back catalogue is anything to go by then it should shape up to be something quite special. I mean, the guy’s music has been described as “haunting” so many times it was only a question of when, not if, he finally decided to lend a director a hand.
So how can Luca and Thom shift a soundtrack that is bound to be great into the realm of the classics? They’ve got Thom Yorke’s fingers, so that’s a good start. But none of the other other classic horror soundtracks had that luxury. I’m talking Psycho, The Shining, Halloween, hell even the original Suspiria soundtrack sounds just as good today as it did forty one years ago. So what did they utilise in order to become inducted into the horror hall of fame?
With John Carpenter, restraint was the key word. I mean seriously, fuck John Carpenter—when he rushes his homework he comes out on the other side with a killer movie score which still wows forty years later, when I do that I get an “at least you tried.” Just three days were needed to create the Halloween score, and it turns out that was the crucial factor in it’s success. Simple to the point of being monotonous, the soundtrack to Halloween worms it’s way into your head with three simple piano notes and a wash of metallic synths, almost like a nursery rhyme that’s gone through the horror blender. As a piece of music it’s restrained, basic and compelling. Making it one of the most recognisable horror scores to this day, and a perfect example that sometimes the simple things are the most effective.
Personification also proved to be pretty important to Stanley Kubrick. Take The Shining, if you’re not up to watching the main character’s slow descent into madness, you could just listen to the soundtrack and experience the exact same thing. With a concoction of soaring strings and scattered percussion, the music essentially tells the story of the movie, starting small and ending with an insane wall of noise that hit the eardrums as relentlessly as Jack Nicholson busts through a restroom door. By doing this, it becomes less of an atmospheric accompaniment and more of a character in it’s own right, a constance presence which literally embodies the aura of The Shining. Crazy to think, then, that it wasn’t actually made for the film. Without wanting to score an original soundtrack, these pieces of music were hand picked by Kubrick himself, random compositions that have now become synonymous with nightmarish axe murder. As I’m sure Johnny Carson would be the first to admit, it’s funny how things work out.
When talking about the classics, it’s also impossible to ignore the score that’s made showers terrifying for over half a century. Created for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Bernard Herrman’s soundtrack has become a staple of the horror genre, continuing to send shivers up spines and keep shower curtains open even after all these years. As a piece of music, it’s pretty much perfect. The strings are fast and aggressive, as if the violinist were trying to replicate the stabbing motion through sound alone, and they get in the ears too, making the scariest scenes of Psycho both a visual and audible assault. Above all though, they’re uncomfortable. Like, they’re really fucking uncomfortable. But that’s a good thing. It’s actually a compliment to the composer when the music is as disturbing to listen to as the scenes are disturbing to watch. Like the movies they’re in the scores shouldn’t necessarily be an enjoyable listen, they should be the opposite, an insurance that no-one watching through their fingers misses any of the horror.
So for Thom Yorke, there’s definitely a lot to be gleaned from the success and longevity of these soundtracks. Not only did they bring something unique to the table, but in doing so they hit the perfect note for the movie that they accompanied. Whether he will do the same with this remake is anyone’s bet, but putting money on a well crafted, fresh and intriguing score wouldn’t be an dumbest move. After all, if anyone’s good at hitting the right note, it’s the guy who’s been hitting them pretty frequently since 1993.