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Soundtrack Review

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The Definitive Horror Box Set


Composers: Various
Performed by: The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
Silva Screen Records
RRP: £15.99
Available 26 October 2009

This four CD box set features 60 tracks from Horror movies spanning 90 years of cinema, from the 1922 landmark silent Nosferatu all the way through to the 2009 release Drag Me To Hell. This collection includes classics from the genre such as The Shining, Halloween, The Exorcist, Suspiria, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Poltergeist...

Four CDs - that’s a massive body of work, especially when it’s as diverse as this. It seems never ending and as a result it’s probably best to dip into this collection. It’s certainly more than one sitting, that’s for sure.

Horror films use music in very specific ways - it signals action and moods and often helps create tension, so as a collection many of the tracks are simply ‘hard work’, as was intended by the composers, no doubt. The down side is that it can make for uneasy listening. There’s only so much musical tension and release that the listener can absorb in one go.

And there’s the problem with The Definitive Horror Box Set - without the visuals much of it seems lost and lacking purpose. The Saw track exemplifies this - it really needs a visual key to make the composition make sense. The same applies to The Ring recording: scything strings are a horror staple so in order for the sound of bowed cat gut to resonate with the listener there really needs to be ‘on screen’ action.

In fact, after a while the doomy piano chords, string stabs and high female vocals all get lost into one big horror movie mess; a problem brought into high contrast when tracks such as They Live and Buffy come on - they jump out at you for being so different.

Oddly, the tracks that seem to work best are those that are totally unapologetic about their purpose. The recording of The Devil Rides Out is a tuneless slab of discords but it packs real menace that suggests what might be going on rather than just providing a foreboding atmosphere. The Bride of Frankenstein works in a similar way, perhaps because the movie is so familiar, as does the main title recording from Dracula.

In the end horror music isn’t necessarily design to be listened to in isolation - the nub of the problem with this box set. Yes, it’s very thorough, but it’s just not a lot of fun. You could argue that these scores weren’t meant to be ‘fun’ but you’d have to be especially interested in the subject to plough your way through all four of these discs.

I defy anyone to play Horror of the Black Museum more than once, such is its lack of musical purpose as a stand-alone track, which pretty much sums up this well-intention collection. It really is for completists only.


Anthony Clark

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