The sound of fear: Movie music for a scarifying Halloween

Second year of college, I shared a mouse-ridden rental house way, way off campus with a rotating cast of drama department undergraduates interested in film music and, I suppose, in getting freaked out in a relatively safe environment.

Late one night, somebody turned the living room lights off and turned on the motion picture soundtrack album of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” This was around Halloween. The music cued up was Gyorgy Ligeti's “Requiem,” first heard in the film when the astronauts on the moon approach the baffling obelisk.

It’s the most intense and disturbing stuff. How long could we actually stand it? All those intense, bizarre choral passages, all that unsettling grief evoking the worst of 20th century humanity. At some point somebody screamed in a mock-theatrical way (mock theatrics: hallmark of the undergraduate theater major), turned the record player off and went to bed. We all did. I don’t think I slept very well. The sounds of fear floated through my subconscious, and who knows what dreams were dreamt that night.

Recently on WFMT-FM (98.7), I hosted “The Film Score: Music for Halloween.” Here’s the entire program for you. Putting it together with associate producer Michael San Gabino, it became clear that finding the right, varied hour’s worth of tension-inducing movie music composed for an array of horror, thriller, science-fiction and supernatural tales meant, in effect, freaking out, over and over, in the safe but claustrophobic confines of a recording studio. It was like college all over again.

We learned a lot. Too much of the same style of sonic fear, offering too many aural jump scares, grows tedious in a hurry. So we went for intimations of dread instead — music written to spellbind, subtly, as much as terrorize. “The Film Score: Music for Halloween” offers fresh material composed for a heartening number of contemporary thrillers and ghost stories: “Get Out,” “The Witch” and “A Ghost Story.”

Other composers, other films, you may know already. The roster includes Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho,” Jerry Goldsmith’s “Alien” (we’re featuring both the release and rescored alternate versions of the main title theme), Danny Elfman’s “Beetlejuice,” a death waltz from the band Goblin for “Suspiria,” a little mountainside driving music from “The Shining” by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, Philip Glass’ “Candyman,” John Williams’ quietest, eeriest passage from "Jaws,” the “Passacaglia for Orchestra” from Franz Waxman’s “Sorry, Wrong Number.” Plus you’ll hear a berserk fragment of Lalo Schifrin unused score for “The Exorcist.” Sixty-four seconds of that will curl everything you’ve got.

What’s your favorite scary movie music? I’d love to hear it. Let me know. I’m a tough guy. I mean, I almost got through the “Requiem” heard in “2001” that Halloween night back in 1979, before I turned it off and fled.

Michael Phillips is the Chicago Tribune’s film critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

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