Paranormal Activity scared up over 20 million at the box office last weekend, proving once again that public appetite for 'horrific' fare still reigns supreme, especially when All Hallows Eve approaches. Also in the spirit of Halloween, my tweenage son and I watched Will Smith's I Am Legend on Friday night.
Now I am old and jaded, so it didn't do much for me (not to mention an abundance of CGI which, however well it's done, always tends to push me out of a movie as opposed to draw me in), but it freaked my son out. A lot. He's since woken up from nightmares, and when awake hasn't stopped talking about it - ("...what if world got wiped out by virus?" "...what if a virus turned us into flesh-hungry zombie-like creatures?"). What if. What if. Gak.
I will admit I feel a little guilty for subjecting him to it (even though he was the one who said: "Let's watch something scary!")
"I Am Legend", like most contemporary horror films, isn't 'original'. The story is adapted from a 1954 sci-fi novel by Richard Matheson, which has been filmed twice before, as "The Last Man on Earth" (1964), and "The Omega Man" (1971) starring Charlton Heston.
And I do remember "The Omega Man". Oh yes. It freaked me out when I first saw it...probably around the same age as my son is now. And like him, I didn't even see it in a theatre but on late-night television, and it still freaked. Of course, checking it out now, it seems pretty cheesy...but way back when...Omega Man...."shiver".
Sticking with 'when I was younger', the two movies constantly referenced as well-made pictures that also managed to scare the crap out of the audience were "The Exorcist" and "Psycho".
No argument here...but when I eventually saw them, I'd either heard too much already or my expectations were too high, and I felt let down. I wasn't 'fugged up'.
"Jaws", on the other hand, freaked me out quite a bit, but most wouldn't really categorize it as a horror movie. The first "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" all had their moments, but they were just good candy-coated popcorn...tasty in the moment, but generating very little of the residual 'wake up screaming covered in sweat later that night' factor.
No, the two that really did it for me it were John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982)...
...and Ridley Scott's "Alien" (1979).
I suppose one could debate whether they are 'horror movies' in the classic sense as well, but I would say so. At their core they're 'trapped in the house with a monster' movies...relentlessly suspenseful and tension-filled...and they succeeded in achieving horror's highest score - they scared the bejesus out of me.
Now, onto some soundtracks that helped make those movies even scarier...and not surprisingly, a lot of the most hauntingly memorable scores are from a lot of the same films.
First rule seems to be LOTS of minor keys...major notes or chords, not so much.
Next, refrain from resonance...add plenty of dissonance.
Then bring on the cacophony...leave the harmony on the shelf.
And finally, a LOT of repetition...drilling it into your head over and over...this is scary...this is scary...this is scary...
As for classic horror movie soundtracks, there's the obvious ones..John William's Jaws... the theme from The Shining... Bernard Herrmann's score from Psycho...Mike Oldfield's theme from The Exorcist... Krzysztof Komeda's score from Rosemary's Baby ...Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen ...
But even though clearly influenced by Oldfield (in the case of Halloween) and Berrmann (in the case of Friday the 13th), for me the two most memorable have to be from the 'original' modern slasher films...
John Carpenter's theme for 'Halloween':
...and Harry Manfredini's theme for 'Friday the 13th':
Ki ki ki... ma ma ma ma
Ki ki ki... ma ma ma ma