The first time I noticed the lack of a score in a horror film was Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 – Toby Hooper) and I didn’t even notice for the first half of the film. For that portion, it’s mostly music from the car radio so it’s not even thought about. The van eventually breaks down. Wandering around, a young guy and girl happen upon a house and think this abandoned place is the best place to find gas. Once inside the house there is a moment when the would-be victim is merely twenty feet from the front door when he is quickly whacked on the head with a hammer and dragged off by Leatherface. That scene marked the first time I was genuinely unnerved as an adult watching a horror film and simultaneously made me realize why.
For many movie-goers, music is as much a character as your leading and supporting cast. It helps propel a joyful scene or sink the hooks in deeper for a sorrowful moment, but in horror the music serves a much more sinister purpose. It serves as the aid in a climatic build for a scene where a character is about to open a door that the viewer knows they shouldn’t because the killer is right behind it. Or it serves to help heighten the scare, most notably Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I’m talking about the infamous Janet Leigh shower scene. Each stab of the knife is accompanied by a stab of a violin section. Music is the indicator to the audience that something is about to go down. But what happens when that score doesn’t exist is far more frightening to me.
Real life isn’t accompanied by music, and don’t attempt to sell me on headphones and cellphone speakers, it’s not the same, so a horror movie that doesn’t have a score is too close to real life. One film I will always reference as absolutely terrifying is The Strangers (2008) because this could totally happen. You believe you’re all alone in a cabin. Maybe some harassment from bored teenagers around the parameter jangles your nerves. The doors and windows are tested from the outside and tensions start to rise. Then a record player starts to play. No score. No soundtrack. Just this one track from a dusty old record. Nope. Too much like real life.
No soundtrack? No dice. That’s what really frightens me.
Matt Raimo is the director of Geekade’s wrestling comedy video series Ring the Bell, which you can catch new episodes of every other week on our YouTube channel.