HISTORY & SURVEY OF FILM MUSIC

Horror Films of the 1970’s - 1980’s

Beginning in the early 1970’s, the horror film genre began to have strong commercial success. Cultural upheaval, combined with a new tolerance for cinematic violence, all plotted to entice major filmmakers to work in the genre. Horror films with a religious connotation, such as “The Exorcist” (1973) and “The Omen” (1976) enjoyed strong theatrical success. Other films focused on the paranormal, such as “Poltergeist” (1982), and The Legend of Hell House (1973). 

Films featuring blood and gore, such as the 1974 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, were often created with lower budgets, but have remained cult-classics to the present day.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Delia Derbyshire (1937 - 2001) worked for BBC Radio in the 1960’s, and is most well-known for her 1963 electronic realization of  Ron Grainer’s “Dr. Who” theme. Her electronic score to the 1973 film “The Legend of Hell House” was co-composed with Brian Hodgson. 

Derbyshire’s education as a musician and mathematician drew her to the electronic medium, which was experimental at the time. Her unsung recognition and influence have grown since her death in 2001.

The Delian Mode - A documentary on Delia Derbyshire 

The Legend of Hell House (1973) - Music from the Soundtrack

The Legend of Hell House (1973) - Theatrical Trailer

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist opened to great controversy and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in an R rated movie. Based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, the film centers on a 12-year-old girl possessed by a demon, and the two priests that try to save her. Despite mixed reviews, the film did extremely well at the box office, and has become one of the highest-grossing films of all time. 


The music is a mixture of mostly avant-garde classical music from the early and mid twentieth-century. Other that the electronic main title by Mike Oldfield (“Tubular Bells”), the film features music by Krzysztof Penderecki, George Crumb, and Anton Webern. The film’s original soundtrack by composer Lalo Schifrin was discarded by the director who did not like heavily atonal textures. As a result, the film is largely devoid of music for the first 53 minutes.

The Exorcist (1973) - Main Theme by Mike Oldfield

The Exorcist (1973) - Trailer

The Exorcist (1973) - Scene

The Exorcist - 1974 Documentary “Its Cultural Impact”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a low-budget slasher film that ended up grossing more than twenty times its original investment. Based on a family of cannibals who use power tools to kill their victims, the film was controversial due to its content, and was banned from certain theaters and several countries. Today, the film is regarded as one of the most influential horror films in the history of cinema.


The music, co-composed by Wayne Bell and Tobe Hooper (who was also the film’s director), features a soundtrack of industrial sounds and experimental textures.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Theatrical Trailer

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Final Scene

The Shining (1980)

“The Shining”, a film by by Stanley Kubrick based on the Stephen King novel, explores the use of preexisting avant-garde music re-edited for use in film. The story centers on a writer (Jack) who takes a job as a winter caretaker in the Overlook Hotel, located in remote Colorado mountains. After several weeks at the hotel, Jack and his young son begin to experience encounters with ghosts living in the hotel. Jack is eventually driven to madness and attempts to murder his wife and child with an axe. 


    After and introductory theme by synthesizer composer Wendy Carlos (based on the famous Dies Irae chant), the music is sourced from musical works by Eastern European avant -garde composers Krzysztof Penderecki, György Ligeti and Bela Bartok.  The vast majority of the music is by Krzysztof Penderecki, including the orchestral works “De Natura Sonoris No.1” (1966), “De Natura Sonoris No.2” (1971), and works for mixed groups such as “The awakening of Jacob” (1974) and “Polymorphia” for 48 strings (1961). All of these works are examples of dissonant, dense sonorities that fit well into a chaotic soundscape- creating a great match for the intensity of the story.


Scene from The Shining (1980)

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