As a big horror nerd, my favorite time of year is Halloween. And as a movie nerd, the power of a horror film’s score has always been crucial to my viewing experiences–music is often what makes a scene effective and suspenseful. Think about Jaws without the “Dum-DUM” or Michael Myers without Carpenter’s piano theme playing behind him as he deliberately pursues Laurie. What would Janet Leigh’s shower scene in Psycho be without those strings?
In addition to emphasizing the scares or mood in a horror film, the music can also tell a story on its own, which is why my favorite is John Murphy’s score for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… The movie was groundbreaking in a lot of different ways. It managed to catapult zombie into its modern day incarnation (the “fast” zombie) and update the metaphor to reflect our fears of bio-terrorism and other apocalyptic threats in a post- 9/11 climate . This film, and its successor 28 Weeks Later, feel even more timely now that the Western world can no longer think of ebola only as an African issue on the other side of the world (for the record, I am not trying to suggest that average citizens of the United States need to worry about ebola and you should read more from Nerdist’s science editor Kyle Hill on the matter).
The thing I love so much about Murphy’s score is how perfectly it encapsulates all of the emotions that are explored throughout the film. Songs serve dual functions of reflecting feelings of fear and intensity while also soundtracking an eerily calm metropolis like London that has been reduced to stillness. There’s almost a tribal quality to the music while at the same time Murphy includes a disarming take on “Ave Maria” and “In Paradisum.” For a film and a score that, I would argue, is ultimately hopeful, Murphy’s music also ventures into terrifying parts of the human condition.
While there is a lot to be said for the good displayed in Jim, Selena, Frank and his daughter, Boyle’s film and Murphy’s score are not afraid to confront the horrific and grotesque in people, especially in the third act when the survivors find themselves on the military compound faced with some very difficult choices. Do the adults sacrifice their integrity and what might be the last of their humanity as they know it and willingly offer up the women to the soldiers for protection from the infected outside? Which group is worse? These scenes, underscored by the track “I Promised Them Women,” set the stage for the ultimate showdown, a scene that no one could forget.
The film’s signature piece, “In The House – In A Heartbeat” is the precise moment that the bottom falls out and the film climaxes in a bloody and incredible piece of filmmaking that is one of the most perfect sequences I’ve ever seen. The fast editing and tricks that are played by the light, the frantic nature of the actors except for the stillness and deliberate movements of Jim, the music working perfectly in tandem with all the action: try to listen and not get chills.
The piece of music is so beautiful that Louis Vuitton even used it in an ad, one of the most ridiculous and crazy things a genre fan could ever see. Didn’t they know this is the part where the infected rip people’s throats out and the military officers attempt to rape an underage girl? I’ma go with probably not. Regardless, the silliness of that disparity only conveys the longevity of the brilliant and effective piece of music Murphy created.
And by using “The End” in the conclusion of the movie, Murphy and Boyle choose 0ptimism, a choice that I would agree with, no matter how dark and depraved my horror heart can get. In a world that faces threats that are all too real, the folks behind the scenes choose hope. A brave choice, indeed.
What about you, horror fans? What scores are some of your favorites and why? Let us know in the comments!