This week, let’s look at music as used in horror films. One of my favorite film directors has to be Alfred Hitchcock, the man known for his cameo appearances, use of blond actresses in his movies, and twisted plot endings. Though known for his work on many popular films including The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and The Birds (1963), today I would like to focus our attention on his 1960 hit Psycho starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh.
Composer Bernard Herrmann wrote the score for this horrific picture and many people admit that his score is more terrifying that the visual images themselves. Do you remember when we talked about diegetic and non-diegetic music earlier this month? Well, Herrmann’s score is an example of non-diegetic music because it can only be heard by viewers and not the characters on screen. Herrmann’s use of drones and dissonances when writing the score helps contribute to the physical characteristics exhibited by the actors on screen such as paranoia, anxiety, rage, and insanity . He also writes the music for a string ensemble, giving a claustrophobic quality to the sound, foreshadowing that time is running out.
It is interesting to note that the same music used to depict Marion Crane’s anxiety as she drives through the rain early on in the film is the same music that is used to accompany her death in the shower scene.
Do you think that this musical sequence characterizes Marion or does it foreshadow her fate or both?
How do you think the use of silence at the beginning of the shower scene is effective?
Have you seen the newer, 1998 version of Psycho? Here is a clip from the shower scene in this version. In your opinion, which is musically more effective (specifically listening to the music right before she enters the shower)?
Have you ever noticed the use of this “Psycho Theme” in other films? If so, which ones? Here’s an example I found from FindingNemo. People who are familiar with Psycho can certainly discern Darla’s character based on this association.