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A soundtrack for spooky season: spine-tingling scores in Flix@5

A bassist (and companion) performing in a scene from Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.'
Skellington Productions
A bassist (and companion) performing in a scene from Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.'

I grew up watching scary movies with my Dad. The Creature Double Feature on Saturday afternoons were a fixture in our house. I couldn’t tell you the names of many of those films, but I certainly remember the music and the way one note alone could terrify you, or bring you back to the “gotcha” moment — and how high I jumped!

With Halloween fast approaching, WRTI will feature a number of spooktacular scores on Flix@5. Listen all week at 5 p.m., as we celebrate the best soundtracks for the spooky season. And like a kid eyeing a bucket of Halloween candy, I couldn’t limit my options; you’ll find some extra picks here, for even more thrills and chills.

Bernhard Kaun, Frankenstein (1931)

A classic film that turned Boris Karloff into a household name and began the golden age of horror films in Hollywood. The beginning and end credits by Bernhard Kaun became a template for gothic horror films.

Franz Waxman, Bride of Frankenstein  (1935)

“It's a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.” So says Mary Shelley in this sequel to Frankenstein. Franz Waxman’s score took this film to the next level with the spine-tingling, eerie yet full-bodied symphonic masterpiece.

Bernard Herrmann, Psycho (1960)

Those violin screeches are so iconic, they are a part of the modern lexicon and the epitome of terror. Herrmann’s score takes you inside the character’s fear and doesn’t let you go.

Danny Elfman, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Bernard Herrmann’s movie scores inspired Danny Elfman to become a composer himself. In the Nightmare before Christmas he draws on influences as diverse as Kurt Weill and Gilbert and Sullivan, creating a soundtrack that became the hit for kids growing up in the 1990’s.

Modest Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain - Fantasia (1940)

The animated film Fantasia was revolutionary in so many ways — including the first “music video” decades before MTV. Mussorgsky’s music was made for this. His depiction of “St. John’s Night on Bare Mountain” grabs you from the start. Roiling strings, an ominous brass fanfare and a shrieking wind section create a wild and terrifying party. Did you have nightmares about the creature on the top of the mountain with the glowing eyes, like I did?

A scene from the "Night on Bald Mountain" section of Disney's 'Fantasia.'

Wojciech Kilar, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

“I have crossed oceans of time to find you...” Francis Ford Coppola’s film shattered just about everyone’s expectations of the vampire Dracula. A warrior, monster and eternal romantic — Wojciech Kilar’s score combines gothic horror with romanticism to fantastic effect.

Elmer Bernstein, Ghostbusters  (1984)

This supernatural comedy, with its witty dialogue and great ensemble cast, is a touchstone for anyone who grew up in the ‘80’s. The title song got all the attention back in the day, but the genius of Elmer Bernstein (of Magnificent Seven and To Kill a Mockingbird fame) was how he fused three disparate elements into one score - a ghost story with humor and a dash of romance.

James Newton Howard, The Sixth Sense (1999) 

M. Night Shyamalan’s first feature film, and arguably his best, shocked audiences when it premiered in 1999. There were audible gasps in the theater when the major plot twist was revealed. James Newton Howard’s spare and melancholy score, punctuated by strident dissonances is a masterful accompaniment to this psychological thriller.

Philip Glass, Candyman (1992)

Based on a short story by the master of horror, Clive Barker, Candyman is suspenseful and shocking, not least because of Philip Glass’ minimalist score. Trancelike and unsettling, Glass keeps you on edge throughout this modern gothic film.

John Carpenter, Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter directed and wrote the score for Halloween — the gold standard of slasher flicks, and one of the most influential horror films of all time. The haunting, dissonant theme is iconic and taken on a life of its own, along with Hermann’s Psycho and John Williams’ Jaws.

Ennio Morricone, The Thing (1982)

The prolific film composer best known for Westerns and the eponymous “Gabriel’s Oboe" may not seem like an obvious choice for a horror film, but Morricone’s minimal, taut score for John Carpenter’s sci-fi thriller is one of his best. The thudding beat that is subsumed by a deep synthesized drone as an embodiment of “The Thing” will send a chill down your spine every time.

Javier Navarette, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a visually stunning dark fairy tale where innocence and brutality intertwine. Javier Navarette scores a dark and evocative work that uses tension and imagination to transform magic into cruelty.

As a young violinist, Meg Bragle regularly listened to her local classical music station and loved calling in on Saturday mornings to request pieces, usually by Beethoven. The hosts were always kind and played her requests (often the Fifth Symphony), fostering a genuine love for radio.