Music For Halloween:
A Devilish Dozen
Film Music Review Presents...
Our reviewers pick some of their favorite film scores for monster and horror films released between the 1930s and 1980s.
See how many you agree or disagree with and then make your own list of favorites.
Selected by Roger L. Hall
I asked Steve Kennedy to make his picks first so he took many of favorites away (sigh).
Like Steve, I'm a longtime fan of Universal horror films of the 1940s and 1950s. Ar least, there's one classic Universal film that Steve didn't pick, also a '40s film-noir classic, plus several "chiller"scores of later film music masters -- Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. They're all represented in my choices here...
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) -- This score by Frank Skinner features many of the themes that were re-used in Universal horror films of the early 1940s, especially for the various Mummy films. This compilation offers a great sampling of this milestone score, the third and last in the Frankenstein trilogy with Boris Karloff.
CAT PEOPLE (1942) -- Unquestionably my favorite film-noir horror film of the 1940s. It just reeks with dark menace and has a seductive score by the vastly underrated Roy Webb, who worked on so many fine films at RKO, including many of the great Val Lewton horror classics, like the ones included on this excellent compilation CD, with brilliant score reconstructions by John Morgan and sensitive conducting by William T. Stromberg.
VERTIGO (1958) -- Most fans would probably pick PSYCHO (see below) as their favorite Hitchcock thriller, but for me it is this stylish and mesmerizing film with James Stewart and Kim Novak and featuring one of Bernard Herrmann's best scores. The opening Main Titles music is as dazzling as the title credits done by Saul Bass. Herrmann's score is so strong it's almost like another character in the film. [A re-recording of VERTIGO with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely is highly recommended].
DRACULA (1979) -- Even though this is not the best known or best liked of the many outstanding scores by John Williams, for me it remains a favorite of his '70s scores. The film features a different slant, with Frank Langella playing a more tormented Count Dracula. In his DVD interview, Langella is very complimentary about Williams saying: "It remains a beautiful haunting memorable score." Williams says on his segment of the DVD: "A wonderful subject for music...The magnetism of the unknown mixed with the erotic aspects of the story made it for me a very romantic piece in many ways."
POLTERGEIST (1982) -- Jerry Goldsmith fully deserved his Oscar for THE OMEN (see below again), but he should have also received one for his superb POLTERGEIST score, featuring a delightfully subtle children's theme along with the usual sinister type of modernistic music found in so many horror films of recent decades. This is one of Goldsmith's great scores of the 1980s.
Selected by Stephen A. Kennedy
When it comes to music for Halloween, my mind always turns to the music for the great Universal horror films of the 1940s. The music by Hans Salter and Frank Skinner accompanied many of my late night movie watching and Saturday “chiller” theater matinees growing up. These were often offset by the body of work James Bernard provided for the Hammer horror films of the 1960s and the many cheaply made Horror films of the 1950s and 1960s scored by the great Gerald Fried. Difficult to select from over several decades of music, here's some suggested listening...
KING KONG (1933)—Steiner’s score for this early monster movie is a landmark in film music history. I still get chills listening to the music of Kong’s first appearance in the film with each step mimicked in the orchestra. [For those who want the original dialogue and Steiner's original film score, this CD is also highly recommended:
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)—Though this film is more a drama with macabre elements, Waxman’s music for the scene where the Bride comes to life is simply some of the best film music of the decade. The theremin theme that helps cement everything together was also no doubt creepy to this film’s first audience. The other thing is that a lot of Waxman’s score was pasted in to future Universal pictures into the next two decades.
THE WOLF MAN (1941)—Hard to pick just one great Universal film in this decade but this score has a little of everything. The infamous lines of how to beware when the wolfsbane blooms is wonderful alongside the various gypsy dance scenes. But it is in some of the chase sequences that the score also works well. This one was co-composed by Charles Previn, Frank Skinner, and Hans Salter and the latter would provide music for the Frankenstein and Invisible Man franchises in addition to later Wolf Man films. DVD
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)—Tiomkin’s score, recently available from Film Score Monthly, is another of those classic film scores. Here it is as much about when music is not in the film as when it is and the creepy music and dramatic underscore that builds tension help make this one of the great sci-fi horror classics. DVD
PSYCHO (1960)—Little else can be added here to this great score for one of Hitchcock’s creepiest films. As I looked through my lists of horror music scores it was interesting to see how beginning in the 1960s especially, more and more horror films were about the kind of monsters that live in our urban settings than imaginary creatures or aliens. [The soundtrack with the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Herrmann is available here: PSYCHO ]
THE OMEN (1976)—Goldsmith’s music for the OMEN TRILOGY helps chill your blood any day. The initial Oscar winning score is an amazing accomplishment mixing horror movie writing into traditional dramatic underscoring. That is what makes it a masterpiece and sets it apart even from its successors, though THE FINAL CONFLICT is close to being an equally accomplished score.
GHOST STORY (1981)—Probably my most surprising choice, but I always loved this film. It has a great cast, an engaging story and some scenes still make you jump. Sarde’s score is filled with a gothic horror music sound complete with a rhythmic piano idea that itself sounds skittish coupled with bells and even a little organ.
Hear the radio special "Hollywood Halloween" from 1993 with these songs and
"Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" - Glenn Miller & His Orchestra
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) - Franz Waxman (arr. Charles Previn)
"Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf" - Ann Ronell & Frank Churchill
(rare live recording)
THE WIZARD OF OZ (soundtrack excerpt) - music by Herbert Stothart
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941) - The Miser Waltz, Sleigh Ride, Swing Your Pardner - music by Bernard Herrmann
THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) - "The Monster Attacks" - music by Hans J. Salter
"Little Man That Wasn't There" and "Little Man With The Mandolin" -
Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, Glenn Miller & His Orchestra
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) - Main Theme -
Fred Carling & Ed Lawrence
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) - Visitors From Space -
music by Herman Stein
PSYCHO (1960) - music by Bernard Herrmann
You can get this radio special as a Free Bonus when you order a copy of "A Guide to Film Music: Songs and Scores." For more information, click
Also available are these classic horror film scores...
The Monster Music of Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner
Legendary Horror Films
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