Now that I've gotten over the shock of summer being over so quickly, it's time to start looking forward to Halloween. I confess I don't get into it as much as I used to—and I never got into it as much as people do these days, judging from the elaborate displays in some of our neighbors' yards. I no longer dress up, although I do enjoy seeing what costumes are popular with the kids each year. (Since this year saw the release of both a film documentary and a TV mini-series about the OJ trial, I predict that there will be lots of little Johnny Cochrans, Marcia Clarks, and Judge Itos coming to our door.)
One of the things I enjoy most during the Halloween season is listening to some good spooky music. Below are some favorites from my Halloween playlist—suitable for setting the mood at a party, terrorizing trick-or-treaters, or as accompaniment to a good horror novel. I've included links to Amazon.com should you be interested in purchasing any of the albums or songs, and I've embedded YouTube videos so you can listen to some of the pieces.
Henry Mancini: Experiment in Terror
Henry Mancini is probably best known for scoring Blake Edwards comedies such as The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, and The Great Race, so it's surprising to find he composed something as creepy as this, the theme from Edwards' 1962 thriller, Experiment in Terror. This theme has special meaning for me, as it was used as the intro to Creature Features, which I watched religiously on Chicago's WGN when I was in high school.
The above link is to a Greatest Hits collection which, among other Mancini hits, includes music from the aforementioned comedies and the famous Peter Gunn theme—originally composed for an all-but-forgotten detective series, now forever associated with The Blues Brothers.
Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops: Chiller
This album includes suites from Bride of Frankenstein and Psycho, several spooky classical pieces, and some ear-splitting sound effects that come with the following warning: "BEWARE!... contains the Highest level Sound Effects that Telarc has recorded to date... Damage could result to speakers or other components if this disc is played back at excessively high levels." Plus the album cover glows in the dark! Here are the first two tracks: some of the aforementioned sound effects, followed by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Overture from Phantom of the Opera.
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho and The Day the Earth Stood Still
The suite from Psycho on the Chiller album includes some blood-curdling screams, but it does not include my favorite theme from the movie: the quietly suspenseful "Hotel Room." If you follow the above link, you can download just this track (as I did), or you can purchase the whole album as a download or on CD.
Also on my playlist is Herrmann's eerie suite from The Day the Earth Stood Still, one of the two best compositions featuring the theremin (the other, of course, being Brian Wilson's "Good Vibrations"). The above link is to a compilation called Great Film Music, which also includes Herrmann's music for Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Fahrenheit 451, and Gulliver's Travels.
Vic Mizzy: Suites & Themes
Okay, so Vic Mizzy's music is not very spooky. As a matter of fact, most of the music on this CD is just plain silly. However, some of it is silly-spooky, including the music from one of my favorite silly-spooky movies, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, the theme from The Addams Family, and this piece from the 1967 comedy, The Spirit is Willing, which sounds like something a vaudeville ghost might soft-shoe to. Unfortunately, the album is out of print, and used copies are going for $130 and up. Hopefully someday someone will reissue it, because where else are you going to find the themes from such memorable TV series as The Pruitts of Southampton and Kentucky Jones?
Danny Elfman: Music for a Darkened Theatre
That Danny Elfman has written some wonderful spooky film music should come as no surprise, considering one of his biggest influences was Bernard Herrmann. He is also a master of the silly-spooky, as evidenced by his score for Beetlejuice.
Robert Cobert: Music from Dark Shadows
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was one of those kids who ran home from school to watch Dark Shadows back in the 1960s. I had this album on vinyl when I was a kid, and I now have it on CD. Some of the spoken-word tracks are a bit cheesy, but the music is delightfully creepy.
Various Artists: The Haunted Mansion
I love the whole Haunted Mansion experience, from queuing through the family cemetery to Little Leota's farewell. ("Hurry back! Hurry back! Be sure to bring your death certificate, if you decide to join us.") It's the one ride I must go on whenever we go to Disneyland, and each time I see something new.
The music contributes so much to the Haunted Mansion experience. Like the ride, it begins full-out spooky: funereal organ music underscores the narration of the Ghost Host (Paul Frees). As the ghosts begin to party, the organ theme transitions into the spooky-silly "Grim Grinning Ghosts" song. The CD is out of print, and used copies are ridiculously overpriced (because Disney collectors), but you can download MP3s—either the entire album or individual songs—for a very reasonable price.
Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor
Why have we come to associate organ music with Halloween? I think it goes back to the original, silent version of Phantom of the Opera, when Lon Chaney pounded the organ on screen while accompanied by a live organist in the theater—no doubt playing this piece, which has been used in countless horror movies. I have a number of recordings of it, but I recommend Great Toccatas by French organist Marie-Claire Alain, because it includes several even scarier pieces (my favorite being the hair-raising toccata from Suite Gothique by Léon Boëllmann). The CD is out of print, but you can order a used copy for a ridiculously low price.
Poulenc: Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings in G minor
It was a dark and stormy night, nearly forty years ago (well, it was dark and a bit chilly, but the weather was actually quite pleasant for late October in northern Indiana). I was in an open-air theatre, waiting in line with dozens of other people. Dramatic organ music played over the loudspeakers, setting the mood for a Halloween "haunted forest" event. Unfortunately, the volunteers taking tickets could not tell me the name of the piece or its composer (and this was long before smartphones and Shazam). Years later, I heard the same piece on a classical radio station, and I was immediately transported back to that October night in Indiana. "What is this music?!" I cried. "Poulenc," the announcer replied, "Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings in G minor." It still gives me chills every time I hear it. Turn down the lights and turn up the volume; you'll see what I mean.
And don't let the quiet movements fool you. Remember that scene towards the end of all horror movies, when the audience thinks the monster is dead, and it suddenly comes back to life?
Usually more than once?