Some of us may want a more atmospheric Halloween than last week’s hard rocking songs offered. Here you go. I’ve made a playlist of my favorite dark classical pieces, spooky movie themes, and other eerie instrumental snippets. Sit out on your porch at midnight on Halloween and watch the fall clouds racing by under that almost-full moon and listen to these tracks, if you dare.
Ave Satani (from The Omen) – Jerry Goldsmith. (1976) Goldsmith’s satanic version of a Gregorian chant was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in ’76. Goldsmith worked with his orchestra’s choir-master to create a musical black mass. Highly unnerving.
Danse Macabre – Camille Saint-Saens. (1874) One of my absolute favorites. I get goosebumps every time I hear it. According to old superstition, at midnight every Halloween, Death appears and calls skeletons from their graves to dance for him. They dance until the cock crows the next morning. In this piece, you can hear the harp at the beginning, striking midnight, and the oboe mimicking the rooster at the end. Magnificent, wild, eerie, brilliant.
The Fog Prologue – John Houseman. (1980) “11:55, almost midnight. Enough time for one more story…” The epitome of a creepy ghost story from the 1980 film classic. If Houseman’s voice and the deep swell and single theme notes in the background don’t give you chills, nothing will.
Theme from The Fog – John Carpenter. (1980) Followed immediately by the iconic theme from the king of spooky synthesizer himself. Carpenter considered it one of his best scores.
Carnival of Souls – Combustible Edison. (1994) Lounge-y tribute to the ’62 cult classic film. Sticks weirdly in your head.
Suspiria (Daemonia version) – Goblin. (1997) Creepy, whispery, synthesizer-heavy theme to Argento’s horror masterpiece. John Carpenter later credited Goblin’s work on another Argento soundtrack – Profondo Rosso – for inspiring his own use of synthesizer on the Halloween soundtrack. Cool.
The Bookhouse Boys – Angelo Badalamenti. (1990) Think: alone on a late and rainy night in a strange place. Darkly bluesy song. Eerie sax. Badalamenti won a Grammy for the Twin Peaks Theme in 1990.
Dies Irae (from the Requiem Mass in D Minor) – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (1791) “Dies Irae” means “Day of Wrath” when souls are summoned for the Last Judgment and the worthy are delivered and the unsaved are damned. The Dies irae was used as part of the sequence for the Catholic Requiem Mass and funerals. Roman Catholic reforms removed it (and other off-putting texts that focused on terror, despair, punishment, etc.) from funerals and masses in 1969-1970. Small wonder – this is terrifying! Powerful, fast, almost violent.
Theme from The Shining – Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. (1980) Based on Berlioz’s Dies Irae from the Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath movement of Symphonie Fantastique. Dissonant and uber-creepy.
Confession Modulation – Broadcast. (2012) From the Berberian Sound Studio soundtrack. The British band did haunting bits of song for this mesmerizing film – a must for audiophiles. I couldn’t find the clip for you, but here’s the movie trailer. Trust me on the haunting part.
Two Steps from Hell – Exhumed. (2012) Two guys joined forces in 2006 to create original music for movie trailers…now they’re known for dynamic genre albums. This one is from the Halloween album, of course.
Tam O’Shanter Overture – Sir Malcolm Arnold. (1955) Read Burns’ poem first – and you can completely envision drunken Tam weaving home on his old horse Meg, chased by witches and other terrifying creatures. Can he make it to the river and cross before they catch him? Amazing tone poem blending humor and horror.
Main Theme from Psycho – Bernard Herrmann. (1960) Herrmann used a muted, all-string orchestra to ramp up the tension in the soundtrack. The main title gets me most of all: the speed, the rising and falling: nail-biting. Interestingly, Herrmann only unmuted his strings in the famous shower scene, creating terrifying contrast to the rest of the score. Hitchcock later commented that “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.”
Funereal March of Marionette – Charles Gounod. (1872 for solo piano, orchestrated 1879) Speaking of Hitchcock… This was the main theme for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Not scary, but piques the imagination.
Calliope – Nox Arcana. (2006) A “dark ambient” duo that musically depict gothic and horror fiction. They turn out some really, really eerie albums.
Carmina Burana (O Fortuna) – Carl Orff. (1935-1936) The Carmina Burana is a series of medieval poems that Orff brought to life in music. O Fortuna bemoans the fickleness of fortune and the inescapablem cruel nature of fate. Absolutely chilling. It begins ominously with deep, fast, forceful chanting, and climbs to a stunning, hair-raising conclusion.
Main Theme from The Amityville Horror – Lalo Schifrin. (1979) It starts out so innocently, yet with ominous undertones. Happy children singing…and then, not so much. Classic theme.
Theme to Kolchak: The Nightstalker – Gil Mellé. (1974-1975) One of my favorite television shows of all time. Darren McGavin is a crime reporter who keeps getting sucked into supernatural encounters. I think this show singlehandedly made me spooky. And a writer. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Ah…I can’t let go! Here are a few others without as much annotation:
Dead Silence Theme – Charlie Clouser. (2007) Creepy song, creepy film.
Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. (1936) Tense, brooding, dark tones. Excerpts were also used in the original version of The Shining.
Witch’s Ride – Engelbert Humperdinck. (1891-1892) From the opera Hansel and Gretel. You can almost see the witch herself, madly flying through the night sky. Evocative.