Only need to choose ONE reading from the attached file. No outside resources needed. Total word count: 350.

Only need to choose ONE reading from the attached file. No outside resources needed. Total word count: 350.


11
Mellifluous Terror
The Discourse of Music and Horror Films
Joe Tompkins
The scene is distinctly familiar: a dark moonlit night, a deserted city street, a solitary
man leaving his girlfriend’s apartment, a killer on the loose. Following a cautious
glance around the corner, the man edges his way out from the door and down the
stairs. There is no dialog, no background noise—just the quavering sounds of some
high-pitched string music and an incessant piano loop that adds a layer of agitation
and suspense. The man peers right, then left. Suddenly a discordant blast ruptures
forth onto the soundtrack and the man stops dead in his tracks. Out of the depths
of the fog-shrouded alleyway emerges a hulking shape, lurching forward in silhouette, holding what appears to be a mangled object in one hand—perhaps a severed
head—and a large, pointed instrument in the other, possibly a dagger. The music
intensifies: an atonal din of brass and strings, high and low, seems to reflect aurally
the man’s shock and alarm, while at the same time registering our own emotional
turmoil … that is, until the laugh track ensues.
“Lopper!” exclaims Jerry before scuttling back into the apartment; meanwhile a
funky bass-guitar cue overtakes the musical tension, as Kramer’s friend, “Slippery
Pete,” ambles past with a car battery and an electrical extension chord—he is looking
for “holes” (a power source). This gag from an episode of Seinfeld (called The Frogger)
offers a knowing acknowledgment of horror film-music conventions even as it satirizes those conventions for an altogether different generic purpose: television comedy. Despite the fact that the scene is set for laughs not scares, the pragmatic effect is
still uncanny: we know, for instance, that Jerry is in no real danger of becoming the
lopper’s next victim (lest the series come to an abrupt and gruesome conclusion),
yet the musical codes oblige us to consider otherwise. That is, if we are to apprehend Jerry’s own folly (his laughable misrecognition of the situation at hand) and,
hence, “get” the joke, we must be astute “readers” of horror movie music: we must
A Companion to the Horror Film, First Edition. Edited by Harry M. Benshoff.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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be competent enough to recognize (consciously or unconsciously) the grouping of
atonal clusters and jarring musical dissonances as distinctly that: “horror music,” and
not simply some unnerving combination of oddly misplaced cues that sound rather
inappropriate to the context of a prime-time network sitcom.
Put simply, the reference to horror film music is, in this context, less a matter of
pure dramatic underscoring than overt cultural signage: that is to say, it appears
indicative, on one hand, of a peculiar set of stylistic codes and conventions that
guide our response to generic moments of fright, tension, and danger, while on the
other, it seems to require little in the way of outside visual or narrative support
to achieve those effects. Rather, horror’s distinctive cinematic-musical codes are so
clearly familiar that even when removed from their filmic context, these codes manage to evoke the same terrifying ideas and images usually associated with the genre.
As K. J. Donnelly (2005: 89) writes: “music for horror films is often as distinctive and
easily identifiable as the films themselves … [it] is often very distinct from music
used in other film genres.” And hence horror film music epitomizes what Donnelly
calls the “mental frameworks” of the genre (2005: 14), those extra-musical relations
and textual structures that work to articulate different meanings and listener expectations through the power of cultural association. Taken together, these expectations
reference certain ideals of what horror film music should sound like: ideals that work
to set it apart as an identifiable type and also position it within the broader field of
musical discourse. For this reason, horror film music cannot be reduced to certain
kinds of formal features, for it is also a cultural discourse that encompasses certain
kinds of listening habits.
Accordingly, this chapter will attempt to explain horror’s musical conventions in
light of their aesthetic and discursive components. Its aim is to describe not only the
way horror films make use of different types of music for generically specific ends, but
also how such music works to solicit generically specific listening practices by drawing upon prior audience knowledge and certain cultural associations. Along the way,
different sections will make reference to a number of “exemplary” texts in the genre;
however, these references will not take the form of a canonical history of “great” horror film scores and their composers. Rather, they will focus on the broader stylistic
norms that govern horror scoring practice, the critical debates that underwrite these
approaches, and the generic assumptions that motivate the use of various types of
music in horror films. As I hope to make clear, the discursive dynamics of music
and horror entails not only aesthetic strategies for shaping mood, atmosphere, and
identification; it also involves routine audiovisual articulations that affect the codes,
competencies, and affective terrains that organize our investments in and evaluations
of specific musical styles and genres.
Aesthetics and Exemplars
One of the best ways of grasping the musical identity of the horror film is to consider
it aesthetically, that is, in relation to the genre’s distinctive textual strategies. Whereas
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numerous scholars have argued, for instance, that horror’s primary aesthetic function is to horrify—and this finds clear manifestation in the genre’s penchant for
“startle effects” (Baird, 2000; Donnelly, 2005)—others have been less keen to identify
any essential qualities in the genre, arguing instead that the category is too stylistically and historically varied to permit such reductions. Peter Hutchings (2009), for
example, has sought to explain the distinctive character of the music in relation to
the “peculiarly protean” nature of the genre, suggesting that the latter has experienced numerous transformations over the years, and these “reinventions” coincide
with producers’ attempts to maintain audience interest:
Arguably as a by-product of this, the genre has throughout its history housed a variety
of musical styles: including not just orchestral and choral scores but also electronic, jazz
and rock-based music as well as some avant-garde experimentation. In certain respects
this music has served the same sort of functions that music serves in other genres . . . .
However, horror’s moods, characters and effects often exhibit a generic specificity that
seems to require not just particular types of music but also particular deployments of
that music within films. It follows that trying to identify what is distinctive about music
in horror films requires a sense not just of how horror music changes in relation to the
genre’s history but also the extent to which horror music deviates from the more general
norms and conventions of film music. (2009, 221)
Accordingly, one of the central questions encompassing debates over horror movie
music concerns not just the different types of music used, but the way these different types get used to produce distinctive generic effects. In other words, how are the
technical codes of film music manipulated so as to bring about the appropriate kinds
of aesthetic response (terror, fright, dread, anxiety, and so forth)? One answer lies
with the listening strategies afforded by conventional usage, which is to say, the aesthetic possibilities to which music is put in horror films, and, as a part of this, the
generic expectations that are discursively maintained through such conventions. As
Hutchings suggests, horror music is not defined by some single, overarching stylistic
feature, but by recurrent patterns of deviation that permit “licensed transgressions”
(2004: 130) in film scoring practice.
One such transgression involves the classical scoring principle of inaudibility,
the idea that film music should be scarcely noticed (if noticed at all) in popular
cinema—that it should subordinate itself to dialog, visuals, and other primary
vehicles of cinematic storytelling (cf. Gorbman, 1987). To be sure, some of the
most iconic musical moments in the horror film have been distinguished in terms
that blatantly contradict this practice. Consider the shrieking violins in Alfred
Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960): not only is this cue often cited as the most famous (if not
infamous) in cinematic history (Siegel, 2000; Sullivan, 2006; Chicago Tribune, 2012),
it is also credited with having “overturned the convention that music must remain
subliminally in the background” to be effective (Sullivan, 2006: 244). In other words,
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Figure 11.1 “The Knife.” Psycho (1960). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Produced by Shamley Productions.
when music is heard in Psycho it is not deployed like the more traditional scores
of the classical era; rather the “slashing dissonances” draw attention to themselves
in a way most other scoring techniques do not. As Jack Sullivan writes, “‘The
Knife’ in Psycho’s shower scene has been ripping through our culture ever since
[film composer] Bernard Herrmann secretly created it. This is the cinema’s primal
scream … it is a force of aggression as frightening as the flashing knife” (Sullivan,
2006: 243–244) (Figure 11.1).
To that end, other horror scores have been canonized according to the same
aesthetic criteria underwriting Psycho’s patently “aggressive” music cues. Stephen
Thrower (2011), for instance, defines the “art of horror movie music” in reference
to soundtracks for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Suspiria (1977), two
films that ostensibly “set out to disprove the argument that the best film music is
that which you don’t hear.” And indeed the latter mobilizes a veritable grab bag of
horror music tropes and conventions: everything from speed guitars to shrieking
violins, spastic drums to synthesizer cues and sounds of the human voice (e.g.,
whispers, screams and wails). By contrast, more prominent horror films like The
Shining (1980) and The Exorcist (1973) rely on preexisting art music to achieve their
effects. Nonetheless, they have been analyzed (and distinguished) in terms that
are directly opposed to incidental “background” music. As K. J. Donnelly (2005:
43) writes, “art music in The Shining seems to dominate the image … at times it
seems this ‘foreground’ music is too dominant to occupy a role in the background.”
Accordingly, the use of avant-garde music in The Shining is described not only as a
central convention of the genre but also as “an alien object to mainstream film … the
antithesis of popular and mainstream film music” (Donnelly, 2005: 44).
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In this way, scholars and critics maintain horror movie music as a legitimate
aesthetic category, through reference to “anti-mainstream” exemplars. More specifically, horror’s musical conventions are said to constitute a special category on two
fronts: first, in terms of an aesthetic ideal of noticeability or “foreground music,”
a presence on par with the images that ultimately works as a “force of aggression”
on listeners; and second, in terms of stylistic deviation from classical Hollywood
norms, insofar as the latter traditionally emphasize romantic-symphonic idioms and
accessible musical structures (i.e., tonal harmony and melodic themes). By contrast,
the “music of terror” (as Sullivan labels it) ostensibly takes on its unsettling qualities
via those aesthetic features that “deviate in some way from what would be [considered] appropriate elsewhere in cinema either because of the weirdness of the sounds
or the incongruity of their use” (Hutchings, 2004: 146). In effect, these features
bear the imprint of musical vocabularies deemed outside the purview of “normal”
film scoring practice—features that, in turn, afford horror moviemakers and
composers the opportunity to create strong emotional reactions such as fear, shock,
and revulsion.
Affect and Emotion
But how, one might ask, do these affects play out in practice? How is it that
horror music gets configured to manipulate our emotional perceptions of characters and events? And to what extent are these affects and manipulations bound
up with stylistic trends in the genre? As already noted, horror music is largely
designed to have an “assaultive character.” But this can be achieved through a
variety of means, including sheer volume (as in “noisy” outbursts that erupt on
the soundtrack each time a monster appears or violence ensues), musical timbre
(in characteristic instrumental sounds like “screeching” violins or “haunting”
electronic synthesizers), or specific musical techniques, such as repetitious drones
(tension built in and through sustained notes), clashing dissonances (unusual
combinations of notes), and stingers (sudden musical blasts that coincide with
moments of shock and revelation). Moreover, many of these techniques are readily
familiar to most horror moviegoers, and accordingly they draw upon norms and
expectations that ultimately reward aesthetic competency in the “language” of
horror music. As Kay Dickinson (2007: 175) writes, the tacit “rules” of horror
scoring often embody strategies deemed culturally appropriate for representing screen violence. As such, the “lion’s share of horror soundtracks deploy
instruments that sound as close as possible to humans in pain: instruments like
violins and even the voice that linguistically tag alongside the victim and most
pointedly provoke our empathy.” To that end, horror’s musical affects carry a
decisive moral connotation as well, one that works to implicate certain sounds and
structures with the overall “negative” implications of horrific action and events. As
Dickinson continues:
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Music itself can also function as a perpetrator of brutality, so much so that assertive
sonic spasms are commonly known in the scoring trade as “stabs.” Dissonance rears
its head frequently, although it does so mainly to tell us that things aren’t quite right,
to provoke an unease, certainly, but one in keeping with our sense of both moral and
musical right and wrong.
Thus, most horror films make use of the same affective strategies in order to convey a
generally “suitable” tone that corresponds with our (culturally constructed) “sense of
moral and musical right and wrong”—with what we imagine we should hear when
confronted with violent imagery and horrific situations. Within this context, horror
music is often considered as a signifier of emotion, a culturally specific approach to
musical “mood” conventions.
However, whereas these conventions often derive from people’s shared experience of horror movie soundtracks, they also become entangled in our broader cultural understanding of musical meanings and values; in other words, they help to
constitute certain musical sounds and structures as more “horrific”-sounding than
others, and thus they make up a series of listener expectations that become embedded in concrete practice. And yet (as we shall see below) the link between concrete
practice and emotional impact remains an unresolved point of contention among
film music scholars. For instance, horror music is often said to have direct physical effects—sending “shivers” down the spine, making audiences jump or raising
neck hairs; however, the extent to which this process is attributable to basic sensory
experience remains open to debate. While one theory suggests that horror music
is somehow uniquely and purposefully of the body, for example, another proposes
that it can be studied in terms of distinct musical traditions, which in turn represent particular affective-emotional states. In either case, the category of horror
music is distinguished as a special type of movie music on the basis of its affective character—its ability to cue spectator responses through “startle effects” and/or
emotional signification.
Horror Music as “Startle” Effect
For his part, Hutchings (2009: 222) observes the distinctive manifestation of startle effects in the genre’s penchant for stinger chords, a scoring device “which for all
intents and purposes entails the idea of music as noise.” As he writes:
Imagine a potential victim in a horror film foolishly straying into some shadowy location. The tension builds as the victim moves further away from safety and the audience
increasingly anticipates that the killer will leap out from the shadows. And when the
attack does occur, the shock or startle thereby provided will be accompanied by a discordant crash of music. It might be argued that in many cases startle effects of this kind
are actually generated more by the sudden musical outburst than they are by the visuals
themselves.
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As a substantive part of the horror movie world, then, the stinger chord acts in a manner that is constitutive of that world rather than a mere stylistic appendage; it operates
in conjunction with other components of the narrative (image, sound, and dialog),
while also contributing strongly to the representation of horrific events. Thus, when
we hear a discordant crash of music (as, say, when the killer emerges from the shadows), the cue is not merely reinforcing the dramatic aspects of a scene but forming
them. It presumes the capacity to shape emotional perception and trigger sensory
reactions, acting as a potent stimulus for the kinds of musical affects we typically
associate with the genre.
For this reason, scholars like Donnelly have been inclined to assign the stinger
chord a central place within the overall horror score, pointing out how “deep stinging
blasts” are crucial to horror’s “material effects.” As Donnelly writes, there is something of a “physical aspect” to horror movie music, which arrives most clearly during moments of “deep stinging blasts.” Here, stinger chords not only manage to
underscore the horrific aspects of a scene but also “partially manifest the horror
itself,” causing audiences to respond directly to the “sonic aspect of the attack” (2005:
92–93). One example of this sort of “attack” might be the famous “head-in-a-hole”
scene in Jaws (1975), where Matt Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfus) is investigating
Ben Gardner’s sunken boat. As he pulls a shark tooth from the boat’s hull, Gardner’s
severed head suddenly appears in the hole, just as a sharp musical sforzando (a sudden blast of brass and string music, augmented by the sound of human screams) is
engaged on the soundtrack. No doubt, the music works to convey Hooper’s instantaneous shock and surprise; however it also works to prompt a similar affective reaction
in the audience: eliciting a “jump scare,” as it were, via our involuntary reflex to the
suddenness of the cue itself (Figure 11.2).
In turn, this sort of reaction raises questions about the nature of horror music
in general, and specifically whether generic conventions like the stinger chord are
simply a matter of “conditioned reflex” or, alternatively, a consequence of “learned
Figure 11.2 “Head in a Hole.” Jaws (1975). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Produced by
Zanuck/Brown Productions and Universal Pictures.
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triggers”, which work by coding particular musical moods and affects. For his part,
Donnelly argues that musical stingers need not be interpreted through learned
associations and musical codes; rather, when considered “as absolutely fundamental
blasts of sound … stingers underline that there is a primary level that precedes
learned responses, precedes complex mental cognition and responses” (2005: 95). In
other words, so long as music proceeds loudly and abruptly, it triggers appropriate
startle reflexes, and thus “the most primitive (and primal) musical moments in
cinema are stingers, which engage with the audience on the most basic levels” (2005:
95). Grounding this assessment is a self-styled “behaviorist” model of cinematic
experience, which suggests that musical horror acts in a more-or-less biologically
determined way: much like the buzzer in Pavlov’s famous dog experiments (Donnelly, 2005: 6), stinger chords are conceived as a means of directly stimulating
audience reactions. The more basic the stimuli (the theory goes), the more powerful
the effect. Thus, researchers working in this area tend to regard horror film music
as a visceral experience: as some combination of physiology and aesthetics which is
“measurable via heart rate, EEG (electro-encephalogram) readings of brain waves
and respiration” (Donnelly, 2005: 95).
This “science of scary music” (Haggin, 2012) resonates with the practical assumptions of many horror film composers. For instance, Christopher Young, composer
for films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985), Trick or Treat (1986), Hellraiser
(1987), Species (1995), Urban Legend (1998), The Grudge (2004), and Drag Me to Hell
(2009), comments that horror movie music has to be “aggressive” and, above all, it
“needs to generate a kneejerk reaction” that will “make the audience jump out of their
seats” (quoted in Ellison, 2012). Similarly, Tyler Bates describes his music for Dawn
of the Dead (2004) as something that “engages your senses on a very primal level”
(quoted in Loring 2012); meanwhile John Frizzell, whose scoring credits include I
Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998), Ghost Ship (2002), and The Following
(2013–2014), labors under the assumption that audience reactions to horror music
are essentially hardwired, and that our sensory experience of the genre is relatively
less “complex” when compared to other types of film. He explains:
Fear is a very two-dimensional, rudimentary feeling—I don’t even want to call it an
emotion. It’s a very primal, simple thing. You’re afraid or you’re not afraid. This creates
the challenge of writing a good, scary score. If you’re dealing with drama, you might
have the complexity of someone who is elated but slightly anxious and maybe envious,
but hopeful. Writing a cue that has those things in it is a lot easier than simply scoring
fear. Fear is not a terribly complex feeling … it’s something very primal, deep down
in our brain stem that evolved very early and doesn’t have the complexities of higher
emotional functions. And that’s what makes a scary score hard. (quoted in Donnelly,
2005: 105–106)
Setting aside the possibility that a “good, scary score” might also encompass a wide
variety of musical styles and genres, or that horror movies might be capable of
generating a range of emotional responses beside fear (dread, anxiety, exhilaration,
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amusement), the question still remains as to whether musical horror is inherently
frightening or if it derives its power from differences from other types of film (e.g.,
drama). To be sure, whereas composers like Frizzell and scholars like Donnelly
assume that music works on listeners by dint of basic physiological processes, others
prefer to view horror’s musical affects as equally bound up with stylistic codes
and conventions—narrative and stylistic patterns which have become ingrained
over time as a function of our collective experience. Hutchings, for example,
makes the point that horror movie stinger chords may well have something in
common with “primal” emotions like fear, but these techniques do not exist within
a cultural vacuum. Rather they are engaged in very specific dramatic and narrative
contexts (i.e., horror films), and these contexts are in turn “dependent on audience
expectations and competencies” (2009: 221). As a result, “audiences familiar with
horror’s musical conventions will know that the maximum threat occurs once any
atmospheric music ceases and we are left with a menacing silence that could at any
moment be breached by an ear-splitting stinger” (2009: 221). Thus, depending on
our awareness of generic codes and conventions, stinger chords potentially activate
a mishmash of aesthetic reactions that, not infrequently, derive their power from a
knowing appreciation of “a good, scary score.”
Consequently, it might be more useful to suggest that audiences make sense of
musical horror on a number of different levels (emotional, cognitive, and physiological), and that these levels include an amalgamation of sensory triggers and
culture-based responses (cf. Smith, 1999). Of course, this does not obviate the notion
that horror movie music constitutes a truly distinctive aesthetic category—the
cornerstone of some genuinely “unnerving” cinematic experience—but it does
complicate the notion that musical horror works primarily in one of two directions:
either through direct sensory stimulation (the arousal of “rudimentary feelings”) or
through a codified set of institutionalized practices. Returning to our example from
Jaws then, we might realize that scenes like “head-in-a-hole,” which clearly establish
music’s physiological dimensions, also draw upon an extended filmic tradition of
composers using musical noise to fit conventionalized narrative patterns. To be
sure, this is a tradition with deep roots in the genre, one that extends back at least
as far as the 1940s, with Val Lewton’s famous “bus sequence” in Cat People (1942),
and continuing up through other renowned musical moments in horror from the
canonical shower scene in Psycho to the routine musical “stabs” that accompany
slasher killers Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. Without a doubt, such music
takes on a peculiar function as a sensory trigger in these contexts. However, it also
operates not so much as an essential or defining feature of the genre (as in Donnelly’s
account) but as a stylistic trope that gets used intermittently, as befits certain generic
traditions. Indeed, as Hutchings (2009: 222) points out, it is not until the 1950s
that the startle effect “becomes a significant feature of horror cinema … [as it] was
increasingly reliant on shock effects.” In this context, stinger chords emerge as a
central hallmark of the genre to the degree they become associated with certain
types of horror films and horror film scoring practice.
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Discourse and Tradition
Perhaps the best way of accounting for these practices, then, is by offering an abbreviated snapshot of horror’s musical traditions, with an eye toward the various conventions routinely used to achieve horrific effects and associations. Whereas most
histories, for example, tend to highlight the 1950s as the period when horror music
begins to separate itself out as a distinctive category of film music, it is arguable that
some of the earliest genre films—those associated with Universal’s gothic cycle, for
example—contain a fair amount of stylistic novelty and eclecticism. Franz Waxman’s
score to Bride of Frankenstein (1935), for instance, is often recognized as a landmark
of horror film scoring, and includes both late romantic styles and leitmotif structures
(in the Monster and Bride themes), as well as indices of early atonal music (Dr. Pretorius’s theme). Furthermore, it also contains orchestral bursts (akin to the stinger
chord) which underwrite moments of dramatic spectacle: Waxman recalls using a
“big dissonant chord” at the end of the film in order to underscore the monster’s
destruction of the laboratory (quoted in Rosar, 1983: 411). Music here also proves to
be a source of ironic commentary, as in the church bells that accompany the Bride’s
creation scene.
By and large, however, these practices remain the exception, not the rule, as most
early horror films contain little (if any) musical accompaniment outside the opening titles. Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), for example, consist mostly of
track music (as opposed to original scoring), which is made up of a repertoire of
classical selections carried over from the concert hall (e.g., Wagner, Tchaikovsky,
and Schubert). Likewise, scores for The Mummy (1932), The Black Cat (1934), and
The Invisible Ray (1936) maintain relatively conservative scoring practices insofar as
they draw on related conventions of romantic-symphonic music. As Randall Larson (1985: 30) sums up this early cycle: “these early Universal horror films share a
similarity in musical approach, both stylistically (most favored a romantic, leitmotif
style) and with regard to the repetition of the same library tracks and classical material (such as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake).” As a result, there is arguably “little about the
music itself, or the use of music within these films, which separates it out from music
elsewhere in Hollywood” (Hutchings, 2004: 142); as such, many of these scores were
subsequently recycled for films associated with other genres.
Nonetheless, as an early model of horror scoring, these films contain a fair
amount of stylistic materials now associated with “scary” music (dissonance,
chromatic chords, extensive use of the pipe organ), and so provide an early glimpse
into what was (and indeed still is) considered musically horrific. Likewise, Roy
Webb’s original scores for RKO (and Val Lewton) during the 1940s supply a fairly
standard model of “eerie” mood music, one geared more toward atmosphere and
suspense rather than impulsive moments of shock. Films like Cat People (1942),
The Seventh Victim (1943), and I Walked with a Zombie (1943) adhere to classic
norms of “unheard melodies” (Gorbman, 1987)—restrained narrative cueing and
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subtle melodic themes—which are inflected by harmonic dissonance to punctuate
sustained suspense sequences. This practice parallels the ways in which critics have
discussed Lewton’s films more generally, as “artful” applications of atmospheric
mise-en-scene and sound effects (Jancovich, 2012; Hutchings, 2004: 134–140). As
one reviewer noted of the score for Cat People: “Roy Webb’s music conveys an
undercurrent of menace without becoming obtrusive, adding immeasurably to the
gathering atmosphere of dread” (quoted in Larson, 1985: 45). In these terms, Webb’s
scores are set apart from subsequent trends in the genre, which tend to feature
startle effects more blatantly.
By contrast, Hammer horror films of the 1950s and 1960s are notable for
incorporating startle effects as the central aspect of their overall scores—this owing
largely to the work of studio composer James Bernard, who scored films such as
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), [Horror of] Dracula (1958), and The Plague of
the Zombies (1966). Bernard’s work tended to rely on techniques that exploit what
Donnelly (2005: 99) calls music’s potential for “instant effect,” utilizing a variety of
“scare tactics” (e.g., brass stingers, crash chords, string harmonics, and percussion
taps) noted for their loud, piercing qualities. Bernard was also famous for using his
scores to play with the title of a given film as well, and so one hears the idiosyncratic
three-note horn motif blasting “DRA-cu-laaa!” in Hammer’s many Dracula films.
The technique prefigures a wide-ranging strategy of studio composers utilizing loud
brass and percussion instruments as aural punctuation to previously unseen levels
of Technicolor gore. As Hammer musical director Philip Martell described this
approach in 1976:
there is a pattern. As long as it’s horror you have to make frightening sounds, and they
do come in a pattern . . . . The general practice is to make a great deal of noise on your
titles and give everybody the impression that this is a terrifying and very important
film. But it is true that on horrors as a rule you need a lot of brass … you’ve got to make
a lot of noise to terrify the audience. (quoted in Buscombe, 1976: 101)
To be sure, such assumptions may hardly come as a surprise to horror film
audiences; however, they also suggest a broader discourse for conceptualizing the
experience of horror music—that is, the type of music used to activate particular
sorts of generic listening strategies. Here, the idea of “horrors as a rule” entails
a set of enculturated associations regarding not only the kind of musical devices
best suited to the genre (a lot of brass, a great deal of noise), but also a series of
shared cultural expectations. Undoubtedly these expectations derive significance
from musical traditions outside the cinema (Donnelly, 2005: 96–97), but it is
also arguable that the suppositions people bring to such music achieve their most
stable articulation in proximity to the horror film, wherein putatively “frightening”
sounds take on clear visual/thematic associations and the value of aesthetic norms.
As evidenced above, these norms operate as part of a codified se