Every year around Halloween there are dozens of articles, lists and essays about the best scores in horror. Undoubtedly these entries will contain iconic classics like John Carpenter’s Halloween, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho, Harry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th and Jerry Goldsmith’s Poltergeist. Now, no shade intended to these articles or these scores. Iconic and classic for a reason, scores such as these are immensely influential, brilliant and often groundbreaking. But hidden behind these giants, barely peeking their heads out of the bushes into mainstream notoriety, are a wealth of worthy horror scores. In an effort to bring just a few of these lesser known scores to light, here is an assortment of 10 horror score deep cuts. All of them deeply deserving of a listen during this, the most hallowed and spookiest time of year.
10. Forbidden World (1982)
Composed by: Susan Justin
Top Tracks: Theme from Forbidden World, Steam Room and Mutation
After years of playing in LA new-wave bands and studying music at the collegiate level, composer Susan Justin continued her musical education by working for Roger Corman. Her first film score, Forbidden World is an atmospheric, fully electronic and catchy score that beautifully blends Justin’s vocals, style and pop sentiment with Corman’s 80s sci-fi aesthetic. Simple, but supremely effective, the score compliments the Corman production with equal parts originality, sleaze and suspense. With Justin’s rich background with music both in the academic arena and the mainstream pop world, she created a film score that is far better than it has any right to be. One of the first fully electronic film scores ever, Justin’s contributions to Forbidden World elevate it from a simple B-movie Alien rip-off into something special all its own.
9. Shock (1977)
Composed by: Libra
Although Goblin may be the most influential, notable and well-known Italian prog band with ties to the film world, they certainly weren’t alone. Formed around the same time as Goblin was another Italian group named Libra. One of the rare Italian groups signed to an American record label, Libra released a handful of studio albums with Motown Records before getting in on the film scoring game as well. Lucky for them, their first venture into the film world came at the hands of none other than Mario Bava. Continuing his tradition of using Italian musicians and composers for his films, Bava once again sought out Italian talent for his latest vengeful ghost story (starring frequent Dario Argento collaborator Daria Nicolodi). Funky, groovy, spooky and supremely prog-y, Libra’s singular score contribution easily stands toe-to-toe with many of Goblin’s works. It certainly didn’t hurt that Maurizio Guarini (sometimes keyboardist for Goblin) was also member of Libra during this time.
8. Cooties (2014)
Composed by: Kreng
It is possible for a film to be relatively new and also be a hidden gem. With the overload of content we are all exposed to each and every day, sometimes films fade into the background for no real valid reason. It’s understandable. While this idea applies to Cooties itself, it especially applies to Kreng’s score for the film. Also known as Belgian musician Pepijn Caudron, Kreng’s unique blend of repurposed vintage sounds and boundary pushing electronic soundscapes always had a cinematic flair to it. After scoring dozens and dozens of dark stage productions, Caudron decided to pursue his passion for film scores further and eventually linked up with Spectrevision in 2013. His first feature film score for the company, Cooties required a sound to balance the film’s mix of horror, humor, suspense and fun. Kreng’s score easily accomplished this task with its blend of intense electronics, unpredictable sound samples, manipulated acoustic instruments and moody atmosphere.
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7. The Brain (1988)
Composed by: Paul Zaza
Canadian composer Paul Zaza is one of those prolific composers that for some reason never quite gets the attention they deserve. While horror fans most likely know his work from films like Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine, Zaza also worked on films like Porky’s and A Christmas Story. However, it’s perhaps Zaza’s score for the sci-fi horror film The Brain that deserves way more attention than it gets. Supremely saturated in synths, strange noises and quintessential late 80s sentiment, Zaza’s score is a wild, fun ride that fans of 80s film scores will adore. Plus, the killer pop track Right Now is moment of sheer delight guaranteed to get your toe-tapping and head bobbing.
6. Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)
Composed by: Jon McCallum
Top Tracks: Opening Titles, The Youth of Tomorrow and Before the Fight
Unquestionably 100% Grade-A TROMA, Surf Nazis Must Die is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. After her son is murdered by the local beach dwelling neo-Nazi group, a mother takes revenge into her own gun-toting hands. While the film is quintessential B-movie schlock viewing, the score itself is in a category all its own. Synth-tastic, driving, simple and atmospheric, Jon McCallum’s score is one that dark and synthwave artists today dream of replicating. Very reminiscent of score work done by artists like Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter, its a must listen for fans of the style. Don’t sleep on this one.
5. Porno Holocaust (1981)
Composed by: Nico Fidenco
In case the name of the film doesn’t quite give it away, Nico Fidenco’s score for Porno Holocaust is a swinging and very sexy good time. Don’t even bother typing it into IMDB, they don’t even consider a real film apparently. One of the earliest cinematic releases of an Italian film containing straight up hardcore pornography, its rather remarkable that the film boasts such a fabulous and fun score. While at times extremely dance-able, the score also does a fair deal of experimentation with modular synths, electronic distortions and manipulations. Interesting and engaging, the score encapsulates an extremely specific moment in time in a gloriously sexy way.
4. In The Wall (2007)
Composed by Clint Mansell
Top Tracks: Main Title and Sex = Death
When a composer hits a certain level of name recognition for their level of work, it’s easy for smaller productions to fall through the cracks of their filmographies. For Clint Mansell, In the Wall is one of those works. While best known for big films like Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler, Mansell is also a frequent composer for short films as well. Ominous, haunting and expertly executed, In the Wall blends orchestral instrumentation with electronic elements in Mansell’s own personal style. Perfect for a Halloween playlist, it is also definitely worth checking out for fans of the prolific composer.
3. Dead Shack (2017)
Composed by: Humans
Top Tracks: Lisa Undead, Creepy Kids and Combat
There are scores that elevate, contribute and sonically support an already fantastic film. And there are scores that fail to properly meet that standard. And there are also scores that actually surpass the film that they are in. This is the case for Humans’ score for Dead Shack. While the film isn’t awful, it’s also not great. But you’d never think that simply listening to the music. An indie electronic duo from Canada, Humans’ score is most easily compared to the Stranger Things sound, but retains a unique sonic presence all its own. Beautifully varied, the score fluctuates between stripped-down simple synth passages, to dark club style bangers, to eerie and terrifying with ease. Don’t let the film reviews fool you, this score rules.
2. Orgasmo aka Paranoia (1969)
Composed by: Piero Umiliani
For fans of the iconic Italian director and writer Umberto Lenzi, Orgasmo is essential viewing. Starring frequent Lenzi actress Carroll Baker, the film is the first in a trilogy of iconic giallo productions the two did together. And like many similar genre films of the time, Orgasmo boasts a killer score. Active since the late 50s, Italian composer Piero Umiliani was well into his prolific career by the time Orgasmo came around…and it shows. Polished and precisely executed, there’s a level of panache found in Umiliani’s score that allows it to stand slightly adjacent to many of its genre counterparts. While many giallo films began to lean more into prog, rock or funk territory (especially in the subsequent 5 years), Orgasmo feels quite lounge-y in nature. Sleek, swinging and jazzy, its a score that embraced the 60s jet-set sound in all the best ways. For maximum effect, give it a listen while sipping on a perfectly chilled dry martini.
1. Rocktober Blood (1984)
Composed by: Sorcery
Ok, so maybe you’re looking for something a bit…heavier. Well, fear not. I have something for you metal-heads as well. Not only does Rocktober Blood have a killer title, it also had a real life hard rock 80s metal band score the film. And star in it! Elaborate and cinematic in nature, Sorcery innately had a level of theatrical performance in their presentation that transitioned well into the world of horror. Stacked with crunchy guitar riffs, swagger injected vocals and driving rhythms, the soundtrack could easily be mistaken for a random rock compilation found at the back of the metal section at your local record store. A blast and a half from front to back, Sorcery will have you throwing horns and cutting the sleeves off all your shirts in no time.
Want more scores? Well, here’s a few more to check out!
- The Chain Reaction (1980) by Andrew Thomas Wilson
- Cub (2014) by Steve Moore
- Synchronicity (2015) by Ben Lovett
- Obsession (1976) by Bernard Herrmann
- Cold Eyes of Fear (1971) by Ennio Morricone
- Werewolf Woman (1976) by Lallo Gori
- Screamers (1979) by Luciano Michelini
What are some of your favorite deep cut horror scores? Want more score recommendations? Check out our previous installments of Terror on the Turntable, where I dissect an iconic horror score each month! Talk all things horror soundtrack related with us over on Twitter or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group!