An extract from my dissertation titled ‘How Do Horror Films Employ Scores to Instil Fear?’ in which I highlight some of the contrasting traits adopted by different horror film composers as well as the recurring/prevalent frameworks that make a score scary. Taking out this research enabled me to gain a better understanding of scoring Gothic horrors, a useful attribute when scoring a horror film about a witch. The extract:
Nosferatu – despite being an unauthorised adaptation of Irish author Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula – is widely acknowledged as an influential masterpiece. Despite the word “horror” not being used to describe a style of film until Universal Pictures released their significant monster films in the 1930s, the macabre and chilling nature of Nosferatu made it synonymous with the horror genre. The score has been reimagined by many prolific writers since its release, allowing the film to be reinterpreted by whoever composed the score (Mirowitz 2016). Hans Erdmann’s original orchestral score has never been released, and is only ever heard during performances at film festivals or special screenings. This has resulted in many composers interpreting the film and expressing their interpretation to the audience via the composition of a score. Each notable score for this film contrasts the last, presenting different emotional cues for the audience and altering the atmosphere of the film. James Bernard was a leading composer in the British horror film industry in the mid 1900s, scoring prolific films such as The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. In 1997, Bernard enlisted the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to present his adaptation of the Nosferatu score. Bernard’s score embraces the gothic theme: sinister strings play rising and falling arpeggios and imposing horns play diminished and unresolved scales. This is perhaps the most grandiose rendition of the Nosferatu score, whereas previous interpretations of the score have adopted a more ominous and eerie tone, including Tim Howard’s solo organ depiction taken from the initial release of the film on video. Contrastingly, Howard’s score is quintessentially gothic, the characteristics of his playing rooted in the film’s nineteenth century setting. During iconic moments in the film, the immensity of the sound from one instrument is astounding, and amidst the scariest scenes the sound from the organ occasionally begins to distort; this is an inadvertent result of Howard’s emotive playing and the limited recording quality of the time, but also an unnerving modulation that is to be applied in modern horror scores.