Friday, January 29, 2010

Old Music in Horror

I have seen The Shining well over 20 or so times and every time I see it, it freaks me out or reminds me of that time when I screamed when I saw the twin girls in the hall. However, one thing that has always given me the chills was at the end of the movie when the camera zooms in on the portrait and a specific song plays over the scene. That song was ‘Midnight, the Stars and You’ sung by Al Bowlly in 1934. It got me thinking of other movies that incorporated really old songs as part of their soundtracks and I started to wonder why these songs sound so creepy in horror movies but not in real life.

I think one of the reasons why the Al Bowlly songs was so creepy in The Shining is because of the way it was recorded. It sounds really muffled, very low key, Al Bowlly’s voice is echoing and it sounds so ominous. The intentions of the song are very chipper and very romantic, however, when it’s played… it sounds like the song is actually coming from the hotel. When I hear it, I immediately think of the tragedy that happened and how long ago it was and yet the hotel keeps replaying what happened. It’s repetition.

Another movie that does this quit well is Stephen King’s Rose Red. I will admit that this movie was pretty creepy and sometimes pretty intense. The one scene that I will always remember, among many, is the scene when ‘In The Mood’ by Glenn Miller starts playing out of the flowers. Now, the original recording wasn’t recorded like Al Bowlly’s song but what made it chilling was how the house took such a festive song and made it play out of a flower. I am sure any normal person would freak out over something like that.

Jeepers Creepers was brought up to me by somebody on Twitter as a movie that incorporates such a whimsical song into a dark and sadistic horror movie. I have to agree because the song plays over a tour of the Creeper’s lair. This chilling feeling is somewhat like that feeling of remorse, sorrow and horror in Apocalypse Now when ‘What A Wonderful World’ was playing over the bombings. It’s a They are contrasts of two vastly different feelings and seeing a dark, watery, silent, cold-feeling, eerie basement while hearing an echoing song is pretty terrifying. Plus, since you are the camera, you don’t know where you are headed and it only adds to the horror.

The other example that I have comes from a trailer for a horror themed video game called Bioshock. In the trailer we hear ‘Beyond the Sea’ (1959) sung by Bobby Darin play over while the protagonist tries shooting and destroying the Big Daddies, killing mutated monsters and blowing shit up. The reason why this song is so eerie is because of the same reason why the Al Bowlly song sounds so creepy. The editors tuned it up to make it have an echoing sound and pipe-sound. This tuning makes the song sound as if it was recorded under the ocean and it fits perfectly with the dark and threatening atmosphere.

There are plenty more that I am missing and I only talked about the more prominent ones. I know there is ‘Jazz Traditional – Charleston’ from The Evil Dead and Creepshow and a few in See No Evil. I think the reason why these horror movies are so creepy in horror movies is because of the context that they are used in. Plus, back then, they didn’t have such great audio capturing devices so a lot of times they are muffled, echoed or distorted… giving the song the perfect mood for that horror movies.


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