By: Lizzy Critchlow
As a child, I was scared of pretty much everything, but especially of any scary movies. Naturally, having a good family friend who was seven years older than me, I was constantly dragged into doing things that I didn’t really want to do, including watching horror movies. As soon as the creepy introduction music started, I knew I was done for. It became routine to hide my face during the parts I expected to be especially frightening (which often ended up being the entire movie). I would rarely get any relief from doing so, however, because I could never block out the music, which I discovered was really what frightened me the most.
During one of these traumatic horror movie sessions at home, my friend muted the television. Suddenly, I felt safe. Everything I saw on the screen looked ridiculous; all I saw was a man with his face painted green, a group of stupid teenagers constantly tripping over tree roots in the woods, a flickering lightbulb in an empty hallway. None of these images were frightening to me on their own because I could see them for what they were without creepy music persuading me to make any assumptions about what they “meant”.
Normal, everyday occurrences can be manipulated through sound, and these sounds draw you into the film. Taking away the music and sound brings you back to reality as you see merely flashing images, most of them too dark to see clearly anyway, which alone are rarely frightening. After all, what would Rosemary’s Baby be without its trademark lullaby? What would The Shining trailer be without its terrifying, anxiety-inducing music? How would you perceive climactic chase scenes without the accompanying music? How different would pointed moments of horror be without the orchestral accompaniment to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, heavily hinting that something will soon jump out? How would you even know you should be scared?
To take this in reverse, try listening to orchestral tracks taken from famous horror movies. The Saw soundtrack above alone is scary enough to make me cry. I find it fascinating that music alone can give you a gut feeling such as pure terror, when you often are unable to even identify what it is that you are afraid of. The use of minor cords, dissonant sounds, and sudden loud noises are most notable features of “scary” music, but even by identifying these features, it’s hard to explain exactly why they affect us so deeply. Here is a fascinating article on why exactly these types of sounds scare us; it argues that these sounds mimic terror calls and screams of wild animals.
This Halloween, if you’re afraid of everything like I am, just put that scary movie on mute and watch it turn from horrifying to humorous.