Classic Halloween Horror Films in L.A.

If you are a fan of classic horror films and you are lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, then you have ample opportunity to sample your favorite titles on the big screen, surrounded by an appreciative audience. Sure, you probably own most of the films on Blu-ray disc, but there’s nothing like seeing a movie in a theatre – especially a scary movie.
Listed below are most of the major horror film festivals taking place in and around Los Angeles this October. For more screenings, check out the film listings at our sister site, Hollywood Gothique.
divider

American Cinematheque’s Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon

Creepshow1982posterLocation: The Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403
Date: October 25, starting at 7:30pm
More Info: Click here
Description: The American Cinematheque celebrates Halloween 2014 with its 9th annual Dust-To-Dawn Horrorthon, featuring seven films running one after the other: CREEPSHOW, GARGOYLES, THE THING (1982), THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS, THE DEADLY SPAWN, BASKET CASE, and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.) Guests will spend the entire evening and much of the next morning within the Aero Theatre. There will be trailers, short subjects, free food, prizes and give-aways, plus coffee (courtesy of Pete’s Coffee) to help keep your eyelids open.
Horrorthon ticket prices (includes all-night snacks and coffee):

  • General $20
  • Student/Senior $18
  • Members $15.
  • No vouchers

divider

Arclight Beach Cities Halloween Horror Screenings

Location: The Arclight Beach Cities, 831 S. Nash Street, El Segundo, CA 90245

Anthony Perkins does not play Mother in this scene.
The shower scene in Psycho.

Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here

Description: Starting on October 5, the Arclight Beach Cities offers a month of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Psycho, Edward Scissorhands, and The Bride of Frankenstein.
The full schedule is below:

  • Gremlins on October 12 at 7:30pm
  • The Silence of the Lambs on October 13 at 7:30pm
  • An American Werewolf in London on October 14 at 7:30pm
  • Little Shop of Horrors on October 19 at 7:30pm
  • John Carpenter’s The Thing on October 21 at 7:30pm
  • Beetlejuice on October 26 at 7:30pm
  • Psycho on October 27 at 7:30pm
  • Edward Scissorhands on October 28 at 7:30pm

divider

Arclight Hollywood Halloween Horror Screenings

Gremlins-poster

Location: The Arclight Hollywood, 6360 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood CA
Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here

Description: Starting on Wednesday, October 1, Arclight Cinemas celebrates Halloween in Los Angeles with a month-long series of horror movies at their Hollywood location, including such classic and cult titles as The Exorcist, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Shaun of the Dead, Let the Right One In, and An American Werewolf in London.
Arclight Cinemas’s other locations will offer a different selection of horror titles for Halloween 2014.
Complete schedule for Arclight Hollywood is:

  • Beetlejuice on October 12 at 3:30pm
  • Shaun of the Dead on October 10 at midnight
  • Videodrome on October 13 at 8pm
  • Poltergeist on October 17 at midnight
  • From Dusk Till Dawn on October 18 at midnight
  • Gremlins on October 19 at 3:30pm
  • Let The Right One In on October 20 at 8pm
  • John Carpenter’s The Thing on October 24 at midnight
  • An American Werewolf In London on October 25 at midnight
  • The Shining on October 26 at 3pm
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on October 29 at 8pm
  • The Evil Dead on October 31 at 11:30pm

divider

Arclight Pasadena Halloween Horror Screenings

Sigourney Weaver with director Ridley Scott in Alien.
Sigourney Weaver with director Ridley Scott in Alien.

Location: The Arclight Pasadena, 336 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91101
Link out: Click here
Description: The Arclight Pasadena presents a month-long series of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Ju-On: The Grudge, Dracula, Night of the Creeps, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Fright Night.
The complete schedule is below:

  • Fright Night (1985) on October 9 at 7:45pm
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer on October 12 at 7:30pm
  • Alien (the director’s cut) on October 13 at 8pm
  • The Shining on October 14 at 7:30pm
  • Psycho on October 19 at 8pm
  • Edward Scissorhands on October 20 at 7:30pm
  • Ju-0n: The Grudge on October 21 at 7:45pm
  • The Exorcist on October 26 at 8pm
  • The Silence of the Lambs on October 27 at 7:45pm
  • Night of the Creeps on October 28 at 7:30pm
  • Videodrome on October 30 at 8pm

divider

Arclight Sherman Oaks Halloween Horror Screenings

Location: The Arclight Sherman Oaks, 15301 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
bride_of_frankenstein
Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here

Description: Starting on October 5, the Arclight Sherman Oaks offers a month-long series of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Carrie, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Monster Squad.

  • A Nightmare on Elm Street on October 12 at 7:45pm
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on October 13 at 7:45pm
  • The Creature from the Black Lagoon on October 14 at 7:45pm
  • Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride on October 19 at 7:45pm
  • The Fearless Vampire Killers on October 20 at 7:45pm
  • The Shining on October 21 at 7:45pm
  • American Psycho on October 22 at 7:45pm
  • The Bride of Frankenstein on October 26 at 7:45pm
  • Rosemary’s Baby on October 27 at 7:45pm
  • The Monster Squad on October 28 at 7:45pm

divider
WITCHES POSTER 1990

Cinefamily’s Heavy Midnights: The Witching Hour

Location: The Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Link out: Click here
Description: Saturdays in October, the Cinefamily’s weekly Heavy Midnights series is transformed into The Witching Hour, offering a trio of wicked midnight screenings: The Witches, Troll, and Teen Witch.
The latter two are minor cult items at best, but The Witches is a brilliant piece of cinema. Taking a break from his usual art house work, director Nicolas Roeg brought Roald Dahl’s wickedly amusing children’s story to the screen with the help of some great makeup and effects by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Anjelica Huston stars as the Grand High Witch, who has hatched a plot to dispose of all the children in England by turning them into mice. She opposed by a young orphan and his sweet (but knowledgeable) grandmother. Though nominally a “kids” film, The Witches is amusing and scary, though not too disturbing for young viewers. Recommended.
The schedule is:

  • The Witches on October 11
  • Troll on October 18
  • Teen Witch on October 25

All screenings are on Saturdays at midnight.
divider

Haunted Screenings at LACMA

F. W. Murnau's FAUST (1926)
F. W. Murnau's FAUST (1926) screens October 17.

Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Link out: Click here

Description: As part of Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in conjunction with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, presents a series of Halloween horror movie screenings during the month of October, including Nosferatu, Faust, and Edward Scissorhands.
In a neat big of programming, several evenings will feature double bills or original films and their remakes, illustrating the continuing influence of German Expressionist Cinema from the 1920s, the style of which is still apparent in such later work as Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
Screenings take place at LACMA’s Bing Theatre. Tickets are $3 for LACMA members, $5 for general public.
The complete schedule of horror-related screenings is below:

  • Nosferatu
  • October 10, 2014 | 7:30pm
  • Nosferatu the Vampyre
  • October 10, 2014 | 9:00pm
  • *
  • An American Werewolf in London
  • October 11, 2014 | 7:30pm
  • *
  • Faust (1926)
  • October 17, 2014 | 7:30pm
  • Faust (1994)
  • October 17, 2014 | 9:30pm
  • *
  • M
  • October 24, 2014 | 7:30pm
  • *
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • October 25, 2014 | 5:00pm
  • Edward Scissorhands
  • October 25, 2014 | 7:30pm

divider

Old Town Music Hall Halloween Horror Screenings

Location: Old Town Music Hall, Richmond Street, El Segundo, CA 90245

Link out: Click here
Description: The Old Town Music Hall launches its month-long Old Town Music Haunt with THE INVISIBLE MAN, the 1932 black-and-white classic and based on the H.G. Wells novel, and starring Claude Rains. The special effects still hold up today, and director James Whale’s sly sense of humor keeps the film from feeling dates. Co-starring Gloria Stuart (Titanic).
In celebration of the Halloween season, Old Town Music Hall will be screening horror classics every weekend in October, all of them from Universal Studios, the company that specialized in old-school Gothic chillers in the 1930 and 1940s. The theater will be all decked out with spooky decor, so have fun!
The complete schedule includes:

  • Frankenstein (1931) on October 10, 11 & 12
  • The Mummy (1932) on October 17, 18 & 19
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on October 24, 25 & 26 (with live musical accompaniment on the Old Town Music Hall’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ)
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) on October 31, November 1 & 2

Screenings are on Friday at 8:15pm; Saturday at 2:30pm and 8:15pm; and Sunday 2:30pm. Every show begins with music played on the pipe organ, an audience sing along, and a comedy short. There is a 15-minute intermission, followed by the feature film.
Tickets are $10.00 ($8.00 for seniors 62+) Tickets go on sale at the door thirty minutes before show time. No advance sales.
divider

SpectreFest 2014

spectrefest2014_posterLocation: The Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036

More info: Click here

Description: The Cinefamily and SpectraVision presents a two-month festival of horror, science fiction, and cult films, including several west coast premieres and some in-person guests. Titles include Kevin Smith’s TUSK; DEAD SNOW 2; THE GOLEM; METROPOLIS; and GREMLINS.
SpectreFest promises “a hand-picked look at the latest and greatest in progressive genre films and forward-thinking music from around the world.” According to the official website, the festival is “a collaboration between Cinefamily and SpectreVision (the new production company founded/partnered by Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller).”
The complete schedule is below:

  • Thurs, 10/9, 7:30pm: Dead Snow & Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead (L.A. premiere, cast members in person!)
  • Fri, 10/10, 7:30pm: The Creeping Garden (L.A. premiere!)
  • Thurs, 10/16, 7:30pm ($18/$10 for members): Show & Tell w/ Clive Barker & Nightbreed: Director’s Cut
  • Thurs, 10/23, 7:30pm: Metropolis (w/ live score by Chrome Canyon!)
  • Sat 10/25, 5:00pm: Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Spooktacular!
  • Wed, 10/29, 7:30pm ($15/free for members): Tales From Beyond The Pale: LIVE!
  • Thurs, 10/30, 7:30pm: Gremlins (30th Anniversary screening!) & “The History of PG-13″ Panel
  • Fri, 10/31: special Halloween night event

Unless otherwise noted, tickets are free for members and $12 for non-members.
divider

Street Food Cinema Screenings

The Shining Shelly Duval screams at ax
Shelly Duval in The Shining

Locations: various
Link out: Click here
Description: Street Food Cinema, which screens movies in outdoor venues around Los Angeles, offers a series of classic horror films for Halloween 2014, featuring live music, food, and special guests. Titles include Gremlins, The Exoricst, and The Shining. Guests include Zach Galligan and Linda Blair.
The schedule of screenings is:

  • October 11: Gremlins with Zach Galligan at Victory Park, Pasadena
  • October 18: The Conjuring at Syd Kronenthal Park, Culver City
  • October 18: The Exorcist at Eagle Rock Recreation Center, Los Angeles (benfiting Linda Blair’s World Heart Foundation)
  • October 25: The Shining at Exposition Park, Los Angeles

General Admission prices are $6 for children and $12 for adults. Reserved seating is $11 for children and $17 for adults. Children under 5 are free. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door; entrance priority is given to advance ticket holders.
Doors open at 5:30pm. Live music begins at 6:30pm. Movie screens at approximately 8pm.
Street Food Cinema is Fido Friendly. Bring a blanket, snuggle up, and get scared!

Halloween Showcase 2013: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:41

Michael Myers has a goody for your bag in HALLOWEEN.
Michael Myers has a goody for your bag in HALLOWEEN.

You’d think the weekend before Halloween that the studios would be falling all over themselves to get something suitably bone-chilling into theaters. Nope, turns out the lackluster CARRIE — the film that is to horror what a pouch of baby carrots is to a trick-or-treat bag — represents the full extent of what Hollywood wants to offer up for the season. Not good enough. So it falls to Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons to offer up some more appropriately scary movies to get you in the mood. We discuss what makes a movie appropriate for a night of spooky fun, talk about the legacy of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, and take a glimpse into the team-up of Roger Corman and Vincent Price.
Also, Steve discusses his experiences at this year’s batch of Halloween haunts, and Dan gives his take on the experimental horror film, TOAD ROAD. Plus, what’s coming to theaters next week.

Malcolm McDowell: The CFQ Interview

Malcolm McDowell in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
Malcolm McDowell in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

Practically omnipresent and infinitely versatile, Malcolm McDowell has played, among others, a rebellious private school student, a futuristic sociopath, a degenerate emperor, Michael Myer’s nemesis, and the killer of Captain Kirk. He has worked with directors that have included Stanley Kubrick, Paul Schrader and Rob Zombie. He’s pretty much done it all, including a brief appearance as a mastermind in corporate espionage in this weekend’s environmental biography, A GREEN STORY. And, oh, has he stories.
We were able to spend some time with Malcolm, delving into the full range of his career, including his work with the iconoclastic director Lindsay Anderson and how he faced the challenge of filming a high-speed orgy for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Click on the player to hear the show.

[serialposts]

John Carpenter's Halloween in theatres

Screenvision, Compass International Pictures, and Trancas International Films team up to re-release John Carpenter’s 1978 version of HALLOWEEN in one-night engagements around the country during the final week of October. The presentation will include an exclusive documentary short from Justin Beahm entitled YOU CAN’T KILL THE BOOGEYMAN: 35 YEARS OF HALLOWEEN, which focuses on the character of Michael Myers. HALLOWEEN will be presented in Digital (though not DVD) format, with a new transfer and a new 5.1 audio mix.
Theatres are showing the film any time from October 25 to October 31, but so far most have scheduled the film for Tuesday, October 30. More screenings may be added; you can find a complete list of theatrical engagements at www.screenvision.com.

Saw: Game Over at Halloween Horror Nights – Video Flashback

For the past few years, Universal Studios in Hollywood has employed a strategy of building their annual Halloween Horror Nights attraction around established film franchises. Last year, they featured walk-through mazes based on SAW and HALLOWEEN, among others. The HALLOWEEN maze is gone for 2010, but SAW is back for another year of terrorizing eager fans. Although I am not a huge fan of the franchise, I must admit that its multiplicity of terror traps offers ample opportunity for memorable live-action scares, as recreated by the Universal team.
A larger version of the video is embedded below:

Universal's Halloween House of Horrors: Video Flashback

Ever since Knott’s Berry Farm began basing their annual Halloween Haunt mazes on titles like THE GRUDGE 2 and QUARANTINE, there has been a tendency for Halloween attractions to seek inspiration from horror and fantasy movies. No one has taken the concept further than Universal Studios in Hollywood, whose annual Halloween Horror Nights features, among other fearful entertainments, the House of Horrors, a year-round walk-through attraction loaded with many more monsters during the October season. House of Horrors is a bit like a trip through the history of the genre, starting with an older black-and-white style of horror, and moving through the generations toward more modern variations.
For 2008 (as seen in the video), the House of Horrors included characters from THE STRANGERS. A larger version of the video is embedded below.

Music in the Horror Film: An Interview with Neil Lerner

Click the podcast button to hear Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, performed by Frederich Magle, courtesy of Magle International Music Forums.


I come from a generation of fantastic film fans who wanted a greater depth of knowledge about the films we loved. This moved beyond knowing who the actors and even the directors were. We knew about the special effects technicians, the make up artists, the matte painters, the model makers, stop-motion animators, and even who composed the scores. Some of my favorites included Bernard Herrmann, James Bernard, Jerry Goldsmith, and of course John Williams.
A few moments reflection on the movie going experience, especially in regards to the horror genre, reveals how important music is. Some of the more noteworthy examples are the shower scene in PSYCHO, the main theme for JAWS, and the memorable music for John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Unfortunately, while the images of horror have been the focus of much critical and academic discussion, little attention has been paid to the music. Addressing this deficit, Neil Lerner has edited the book Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear (Routledge, 2010). Lerner is Professor of Music at Davidson College, where he teaches courses in music as well as film and media studies. His work on film music has been published in numerous journals, essay collections, and encyclopedias. Lerner discusses horror film music in this special interview for Cinefantastique Online.
John Morehead: Neil, thank you for being willing to discuss your book here. Can you begin by sharing a little of your background in music, and why, on a personal level, you chose horror as the genre of film for analysis in terms of music’s significance and impact?
click to purchase
click to purchase

Neil Lerner: First of all, I want to you thank you and Cinefantastique for your interest in this work. As a longtime fan of Cinefantastique, it’s a great honor to get to discuss these things with you.
My professional background is as a musicologist, and my dissertation studied music in some U.S. government documentary films. At the time I started working on my dissertation, there were only a handful of music scholars who were taking film music seriously. So that’s partly why I went with these documentary film scores, by established concert hall composers like Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland: because they were in many ways safer to the academy. It was also a case where I was confident I could get to the relevant archival material, like score manuscripts and production papers, something that’s still not easy to do with Hollywood scores.
One question that I found myself drawn to throughout that research on documentary scores was whether or not a composer could do more experimental things in a score for a documentary than in a Hollywood fictional narrative. I actually found several instances where composers could push the compositional envelope in a documentary film score—like using extended dissonances, or writing fugues, things that didn’t happen too much in Hollywood’s mainstream scores—and that question of where and how modernist strategies enter into film music continues to interest me.
Finally, I’ve always been a fan of horror films, but I started studying film more seriously in college, which, believe it or not, was at Transylvania University. I had one particularly brilliant professor there who took great pleasure in talking about vampire films in his film courses, and his intellectual curiosity was contagious. In many ways, then, I’ve been on a crash course with this topic.
John Morehead: Can you sketch how music developed in terms of its inclusion in the horror film? Viewers take its presence for granted in contemporary cinema, but may forget that there was a process of development as it was included in film, and in horror as well, beyond the jump from silent films to sound.
Neil Lerner: I think studying music in horror films brings with it the same challenges as in other genres in that transitional period between “silent” and sound film: composers had multiple strategies for dealing with different kinds of dramatic situations; it’s often difficult or impossible to reconstruct with certainty what early musicians did (in cases of live accompaniment); and it’s too easy to over-generalize based on just a few examples. There’s still a good deal of basic research to be done in trying to map out just what was done in horror films in the 1920s, but we have some important clues in a book like Ernö Rapée’s Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures (1925), which lists all kinds of categories and topics that musicians accompanying film could have used. That book doesn’t have notated music, but rather it has lists of possible pieces that would fit each topic, giving us now an idea of what music was considered appropriate (at least according to Rapée) for different genres. If you look up “horror” in the Rapée, it directs you to the topics of “gruesome” and “outcry,” which themselves then direct out to other categories like “dwarfs, ghosts, spooks, and mysteriosos” (for “gruesome”) or to “dramatic” in the case of “outcry.” It ends up suggesting quite a wide spectrum of music that was available to someone accompanying a scary scene, but certain basic ideas tend to surface over and over again in these pieces, and these are things that aren’t unique to music for horror film, but rather things that fall in a much longer tradition of ways that composers could create a sense of fear or dread: extended unresolved dissonances, surprising bursts of sound, unfamiliar timbres, etc.
I do think Robert Spadoni’s recent book on horror film and the transition into the sound era makes a strong case for the significance of the sound track and how it could make films more horrific. The success of horror films coming out of Hollywood (starting in 1931) really does overlap in interesting ways with the coming of synchronized, recorded sound to the cinematic experience.
Candace Hilligoss stands before the church organ in CARNIVAL OF SOULS
Candace Hilligoss stands before the church organ in CARNIVAL OF SOULS

John Morehead: Your book begins appropriately with a consideration of the organ in CARNIVAL OF SOULS in a chapter by Julie Brown, with a comparison of the same instrument in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Was this the first major instrument to be used in horror films, and how significant is it in associations with the genre today?
Neil Lerner: I don’t know if we can say that it was the first major instrument of horror films, just because I’m not certain we know enough yet about music in horror film in the 1920s, but Julie Brown’s work makes a compelling case for why the organ would recur so much in horror films. Namely, the instrument’s connections with certain kinds of religious spaces as well as its associations with funerals are all rich things to explore in a genre (horror) that probes at our sublimated anxieties. The tradition of the baroque organ is one where its huge sound was supposed to overpower its listener through sheer volume and acoustic weight, in ways that Robert Walser has compared with heavy metal music (and how heavy metal music works in horror films, when it starts to appear, etc., is another topic that needs work).
The film that I researched for the book, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931), makes the organ a central icon connected with Henry Jekyll, adding a musical dimension that doesn’t occur in Stevenson’s novella. I believe it’s there to provide a quick and efficient clue to Jekyll’s character: he has a certain level of wealth and high culture sophistication in that he plays Bach organ works for pleasure at his home, and it also suggests something of Jekyll’s piety and goodness (towards the end of the film he cries out to God).
Our first glimpse of Dr. Jekyll: his hands playing a pipe organ
Our first glimpse of Dr. Jekyll: his hands playing a pipe organ

Yet there’s another component to Jekyll’s organ playing that I explore in my essay, and that’s the possibility that Rouben Mamoulian’s conception of Jekyll & Hyde might set the entire narrative up as a dream occurring in the midst of Jekyll’s organ playing. The film opens with Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, a piece that recurs in the middle of the film—with some of the middle of the organ piece—and then the film closes with the final measures of the organ work. I know it’s a fairly radical way to read the film, but I found some other clues in the literary references that I believe at least complicate some of our assumptions about that film and how it works.
John Morehead: Of course, PSYCHO is perhaps the horror film most associated with striking music, as in the infamous shower scene. In the interesting chapter on this film, Ross Fenimore connects the film’s “aural fragments” of imagined and real voices with the musical “screams” of Marion’s (Janet Leigh) death as she is stabbed in the shower. Most viewers are familiar with the significance of Bernard Herrmann’s score to the film, but may not have connected this as part of a bigger aural whole that paints a picture of terror. How do these elements come together under the direction of Hitchcock?
Neil Lerner: I agree with you that the shower scene music from PSYCHO has become an iconic example of horror music, but I’d extend it even further, to say that it’s become one of the most iconic examples of all film music. Ross Fenimore’s essay raises some important questions about the music and to whom it might be connected (to Marion? to Norman? to Mother? to someone else?), which becomes really interesting when you start to factor in the film’s trickery in regards to connecting voices to characters.
I don’t know, however, how much credit should go to Hitchcock’s direction. I mean no disrespect to Hitchcock here, but I think it’s important to remember that Hitchcock originally wanted that shower scene to have only natural sound effects (like shower and knife sounds) without music. Herrmann lobbied to put music into it, and Hitchcock acquiesced, but Herrmann probably paid a heavy price later with Hitchcock for upstaging his director with a better idea. Herrmann’s score here is just brilliant; he was a composer at the peak of his powers, creating music that continues to yield new readings and interpretations. It’s just so marvelously simple and effective in its blend of extended, unresolved dissonances (major sevenths and minor seconds), descending registral gestures (moving from high to low), and repetition. Plus there’s the effect of having the string instruments play the quick portamento, the sliding up on the string, which creates a terrible ripping or tearing effect; it fills in the blanks of what’s happening because visually, we never actually see the knife ripping through flesh, but aurally, we get a clear idea of what’s happening.
John Morehead: As a long-time horror fan I should have been aware of this, but it was not until I read Music in the Horror Film, and Claire Sisco King’s chapter on music in THE EXORCIST, that I realized that the film includes an unconventional approach to musical scoring at the insistence of director William Friedkin. Why did he approach music in the film in this way, and how is this reflective of cultural anxieties of the time as well as the film’s narrative?
Neil Lerner: It’s hard to try and get inside a director’s head, but Claire Sisco King does a fabulous job of collecting all sorts of evidence from the production of the film, thereby giving us clues to what might have been motivating him. I was struck at Friedkin’s resistance to thinking of THE EXORCIST as a horror film, because it reminded me of Rouben Mamoulian’s similar remarks about DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. I have a hunch both of these directors might have felt that horror as a genre was perhaps too undignified for the kinds of larger ideas they were addressing, and appropriately enough, both of them ended up transforming and complicating the genre in pretty important ways. Friedkin was motivated by a kind of documentary impulse in THE EXORCIST, and Claire Sisco King argues how this probably led to the unconventional musical choices he made. She then goes on to read the music in relation to the larger cultural anxiety of a widely perceived crisis of masculinity. I think her essay can help viewers to see THE EXORCIST in a new and different way—note the visual metaphors here, it’s just tough to escape them—but the underlying goal behind all of the essays in the book is the idea that by paying closer attention to the music, the ear can lead us to see these films in new ways.
John Morehead: I was raised on the fantastic scores of folks like Bernard Hermann, James Horner, and a little later John Williams. But one of the others I enjoyed was director John Carpenter with his synthesizer music. Your book includes a chapter discussing Carpenter’s music in THE FOG, and I wonder how original and significant you see his electronic scoring in this and other films like HALLOWEEN and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK?
Neil Lerner: I think there’s still a good deal of basic work that needs to be done on this question, but K. J. Donnelly’s essay makes a strong case for the potential returns in giving close attention to film scores that might be thought of as too simple or basic. A good deal of scholarship on film music has tended to focus on fully notated orchestral film scores, but of course there’s a much wider spectrum of musical strategies out there, like rock or jazz, and Donnelly has been an important scholarly pioneer in this regard.
The synthesizer timbres weren’t original to John Carpenter—several of the important Vietnam-era horror films, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, have some prominent use of electronic instruments—but Carpenter does seem to have done something that worked well and proved influential with the synthesizer scoring in HALLOWEEN (1978). Plus I just think those early modular synths were incredibly cool, so I’m happy we got a picture of a Moog in the book.
John Morehead: It is understandable that, since film is a visual medium, the image has been the primary focus of film analysis, but given the significance of sound and music to film, particularly to horror (not to mention science fiction and fantasy), why has musical analysis been largely ignored? And is this situation starting to change?
Neil Lerner: My college film courses emphasized that film is a visual medium, and of course much of the writing about film does that also, but maybe because I was studying music while taking film classes I was more attenuated to what was happening in the soundtrack. I’ve always found it interesting that so much of the attention in film goes to the visual elements, but the experience of film (and now television and video games) is almost always tied together with a soundtrack. One might speculate that there’s a larger cultural bias against the acoustic, that there’s a hegemony of the visual; what we consider basic educational skills dwell largely if not exclusively on things that are visual, like reading, but where in our culture do we teach about the sonic and the musical? I believe most of us are self taught in regards to knowing how to interpret the music we encounter with a film or video game—if we’re raised watching these things, we figure it out from the context—and most people can interpret these musical codes with a great deal of nuance, even if they aren’t trained in music and have no idea how the music is doing what it does. It’s useful, therefore, to have music scholars devoted to studying music in screen media as a way of providing students and devotees with another tool in their own lifelong encounters with these things.
As a music historian, I’ve long heard the truism that concert hall music in the twentieth century, particularly the experimental, avant-garde styles, hit a kind of impasse where audiences became disinterested in it and where many of these musical languages then found their way into film genres like fantasy and horror. One of my goals with the book was to help to provide some examples of that, whether it be through the radical sound collage that Mamoulian created for the first transformation scene in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE or the later appropriations of Penderecki in THE EXORCIST or THE SHINING. There’s still a great deal of work to be done in tracking all of these musical languages, and that’s exciting for musicologists, film scholars, and folks who love movies.

(Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, performed by Frederich Magle, courtesy of Magle International Music Forums)

Sense of Wonder: Counting Horror, Fantasy & Sci-Fi Franchises on One Hand?

franchise combo copy

In this post about SAW 3-D, being touted as the finale installment in the Jigsaw saga, Lionsgate president Jason Constantine makes the following statement about the longevity of the SAW franchise:

“You can count on one hand the franchises that lasted seven years — and every year, no less,” says Jason Constantine, Lionsgate’s president of acquisitions and co-productions. “It became part of pop-culture discourse.”

This strikes my as slightly myopic in terms of the history of horror, fantasy and science fiction film franchise. Off the top of my head, here are several more than you can count on one hand – unless you are a polydactyl alien from a galaxy far, far away:

  • The Universal Pictures Frankenstein series began in 1931 with FRANKENSTEIN and continued through 1948 with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, totaling eight films.
  • Toho Studio’s original Godzilla franchise began in 1954 with GODZILLA (a.k.a. GOJIRA) and took a breather after TERROR OF MECHA-GODZILLA in 1974. The franchise revived in 1985 and lasted until GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER in 1996, then resumed again in 1999, wrapping up with GODZILLA: FINAL WARS in 2004, with 26 films on its resume.
  • The Hammer Films Frankenstein series began in 1957 with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and ended in 1974 with FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, totalling six films (not counting the aberration known as HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN)
  • Hammer’s Dracula series began in 1958 with HORROR OF DRACULA and ended in 1974 with LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (a.k.a. THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA), totaling eight films (nine if you count BRIDES OF DRACULA, in which the Count does not appear).
  • The James Bond franchise launched in 1962 with DR. NO and continued until QUANTUM OF SOLACE in 2008, totaling over 20 films. (There was a haitus in the 1990s, but still this is a long-lived franchise).
  • HALLOWEEN started its reign of terror in 1978, which lasted through HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION in 2002. The franchise started up again in 2008 with a remake.
  • FRIDAY THE 13TH began in 1980 and lasted through 2003’s FREDDY VS. JASON, before launching a remake last year.
  • A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET arrived in 1984 and officially ended with FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE in 1991 – barely six years. But then the franchise started up again in 1996 with WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, followed by FREDDY VS. JASON in 2003, and then a remake this year.

Well, that makes eight. I guess we’re not supposed to count the ALIEN franchise and George A. Romero’s sequels to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), because the films were spaced out at long intervals: the ALIEN films extend from 1979 through ALIENS VS. PREDATOR in 2007; Romero’s latest, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, arrived earlier this year.
If we include non-sequel franchise, we get the Vincent Price Poe movies from HOUSE OF USHER in 1960 through THE OBLONG BOX in 1969. Extending past the real of cinefantastique, we get lengthy franchises devoted to Sherlock Holmes and other screen detectives, not to mention such low-brow fare as Ma and Pa Kettle and Francis the Talking Mule.
Let me know if there are any I missed.
[serialposts]