We may not be aware of it but the success of a horror film doesn’t solely rely on the plot or the actors; it also depends on the film score. Composers for horror films may often be unrecognized; you may not know their names but chances are you’ve been spooked by their music. Here are several composers who created music for horror and suspense films.

  • Franz Waxman (1906 – 1967) – Born in Konigshutte, Upper Silesia, Germany, Waxman started playing the piano at age 7. He worked as a bank teller before he became a composer and conductor. Some of the horror films he scored are “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Aside from creating film scores, Waxman founded the Los Angeles International Music Festival. Waxman was very much in demand; he worked with major studios, received awards including Academy Awards for Best Score in the movies “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and “A Place in the Sun” (1951). Listen to a sample music from the movie The Bride Of Frankenstein.
  • Frank Skinner (1897-1968) – He started off as an arranger for dance bands. Then in 1935 his big break came when he was hired by MGM; he would eventually move on to Universal Studios. Skinner scored more than 200 films, notable of which are those he created for horror films. Among the horror films he scored are “Step Down to Terror” (1958), “Nightmare” (1942) and “The Wolf Man” (1941). Listen to music samples from the movie “Son of Frankenstein”, “The Invisible Man Returns” and “The Wolf Man”.
  • Hans J. Salter (1896 – 1994) – He was born in Vienna, Austria but moved to the United States after Hitler ascended to power. Salter worked mainly under Universal and sometimes collaborated with fellow composer Frank Skinner. He created the scores for such films as “The Ghost of Frankenstein,” “The House of Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Listen to music samples from the movie “The Ghost Of Frankenstein”
  • James Bernard (1925 – 2001) – One of the composers who inspired Bernard to pursue his passion for music was Benjamin Britten. Britten encouraged Bernard to continue his studies at the Royal College of Music. After that, Bernard worked for Hammer Studios; a British studio known for producing horror films. He scored the music for films such as “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), “The Horror of Dracula” (1958), “Kiss of the Vampire” (1962) and “The Plague of the Zombies” (1966). Listen to music samples from the movie “The Devil Rides Out”.
  •  Tristram Cary (born: May 14, 1925) – He is the son of novelist Joyce Cary. Cary pursued his studies at Oxford then moved to London to study composition and conducting. In 1967 he founded the electronic music studio at the Royal College of Music. He was awarded an Honorary Visiting Research Fellow position and degree of Doctor of Music by the University of Adelaide. His other awards are the Medal of the Order of Australia, SA Great Music Award and Lifetime Achievement Award from the Adelaide Critics Circle in 2005. He scored the music for “The Ladykillers” (1955) and “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb” (1971).
  •  Franz Reizenstein (1911 – 1968) – Born in Nuremberg, Germany, Reizenstein began composing when he was 5 and at 18, he entered the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik. When he was 23, he moved to London to study at the Royal College of Music where he eventually became a professor. He also taught at Royal Northern College of Music and was a visiting professor at Boston University. Among his known works is the score he did for the movie “The Mummy” (1959). Listen to music samples from the movie “The Mummy”.
  •  Benjamin Frankel (1906 – 1973) – Although his interest in music began early on, it was when Victor Benham; an American virtuoso, took him under his wing when Frankel’s musical talent flourished. Victor Benham taught Frankel for free for two years. He then proceeded to study at the Guildhall School of Music while working to support his studies. Some of his best known works are “The Seventh Veil” and “Violin Concerto.” He is also known for his musical work in the horror movie “Curse of the Werewolf” (1960). Listen to music samples from “Curse of the Werewolf”.
  • Malcolm Williamson (1931 – 2003) – He entered the Sydney Conservatorium at age 11 graduating in 1944 with a Bachelor of Music degree. Among the composers who influenced him were Igor Stravinsky and Olivier Messiaen. Williamson became the Nineteenth Master of the Queen’s Music in 1975. He is known, among others, for his stage works, film scores and operas, particularly for children. In 1976, he received the CBE (Commander – British Order of Chivalry) and AO (Officer – Order of Australia) in 1987. In 1982 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Melbourne. Williamson did the musical score for the horror film “Brides of Dracula” (1960).
  • John Carpenter (January 16, 1948) – Often referred to as “the master of terror,” Carpenter is a composer, director, producer and screenwriter. He graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema. His earlier films were of low-budget but where box-office hits. The movie “Halloween” grossed $75 million worldwide having a budget of only $300,000. Some of his other films; where he also did the film score, are “The Fog,” “Prince of Darkness,” “Christine,” “Village of the Damned,” “Halloween 1 & 2” and “John Carpenter’s Vampires.” Listen to soundclips from the movie “Halloween”.
  • Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) – He studied the violin as a child and won a prize for one of his compositions when he was in high school. Two of the composers who influenced Herrmann were Charles Ivesand Percy Grainger. He went to the Julliard Graduate School of Music on a scholarship to study composition and conducting. Herrmann founded the New Chamber Orchestra in 1930. In 1940, he was appointed chief conductor of the CBS Symphony Orchestra where he composed music for various programs. He also created film scores such as for the movie “All That Money Can Buy” for which Herrmann won an Academy Award. He is also known for the music he created for the shower scene in the movie “Psycho”. Listen to music samples from the movie “Psycho”.
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