Monday, May 12, 2014

Worst to Best: Scores for Stephen King Films

I've been having fun with the recent soundtrack reviews I've been doing, and in order to prolong that fun a bit, here is a Worst-to-Best ranking of the scores to King-based movies (and television projects).  It will not be 100% comprehensive; a great many of the scores to King movies are not obtainable even via bootleg.  Or if they are, they've not been obtainable in my experience attempting to obtain them.  And since it's my experience that must (for better or worse) guide us here, that is what we are stuck with for now.
All of which means that when you notice that, say, Hearts in Atlantis or Desperation or The Mangler Reborn or whatever is missing from the list, you need not assume I have forgotten about it.  I have not forgotten; I merely did not have the means to properly judge the score at my disposal.
Let's get started, beginning with the bottom of the barrel, which I am going to identify as:

#42 -- Riding the Bullet (2004, Nicholas Pike)

I don't own a copy of that score, thank Christ.  I'd hate for anybody to know I spent money on such a thing.  I spent a bit of bandwidth on downloading it illicitly, and even that makes me a bit ashamed.

The score is pretty bad, which surprises me a bit; Pike has done a few good scores for director Mick Garris.  This one, though, has no sense of what sort of music it wants to be; it just bounces from one thing to another willy-nilly.  A sitar shows up at one point.

A fucking sitar, y'all.  Because the movie is set in the sixties, I guess.

Is this really THE worst music ever composed for a Stephen King movie?  Almost certainly not.  But of the scores I've listened to in something approximating their fullness, I'd say it's the worst.  There is almost nothing good in it.

Granted, the movie is a train-wreck, so the score probably never even had a chance.

#41 -- Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1993, Daniel Licht)


In many -- maybe even most - -ways, Daniel Licht's music for the sequel is better than Jonathan Elias's music for the original.  However, one track -- it's called "Nosebleed" -- is maybe one of THE worst pieces of film music I have ever heard, so based on that, and on a few others tracks that also use vocals to especially poor effect, I am putting this one very near the bottom of the heap.
Amazingly, there does seem to have been a score released on CD at some point.  I believe it may have been a composer promo disc as opposed to an actual commercial release, but that's better treatment than you'd expect.
#40 -- Children of the Corn (1984, Jonathan Elias) 
Jonathan Elias's score for Children of the Corn is kind of ridiculous.  No surprise, there; the movie is ridiculous.  But during the track "Barn Run," there are voices in the score that are chanting, and the words sound an awful lot to my ears like this: "CHA!!! CHA-BOOM-BAH!!! CHA!!! CHA-BOOM-BAH!!!"
It's hard to make much of a case for a score of that type.
And yet, the music is occasionally effective in a vague way.  It's not what I'd call a good score, but I'd argue that it is at least marginally better than the movie it supports.
The CD is way out of print, so good luck finding a copy that won't make your bank account bleed a bit.  But while you're splurging, buy two copies and send me one.

#39 -- The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (1996, Robert Folk)

Why is his face pixilated?  Was it to obscure the fact that Jeff Fahey had been replaced by Matt Frewer?

Conflicted, conflicted.
Conflicted on the one hand because this movie has nothing to do with Stephen King whatsoever, even less than the first movie had.  So placing it on this list at all is maybe inappropriate.
Conflicted on the other hand because ranking it this low is maybe a bit unfair.  If you were to hear the music completely free of the context of knowing what movie it was for, you would probably think it was a pretty good score.  You might even find yourself wondering what movie it came from, as it sounds like it could potentially be the sort of thing you would want to see.
Here's the thing: composer Robert Folk really went for broke with this score.  He seems to have felt that this was a great opportunity to showcase his chops, which are vaguely in the mold of John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith or John Barry.  (That last one, maybe not.)  And to be fair, he does a credible job of it.
But he does so in service of The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond fucking Cyberspace.  That movie simply did not need a score of this scope and ambition.  It's kind of laughable, like a porn star doing a DP scene while reciting lines from King Lear or something.  It's an incongruity.

So, yes, in some ways, this score probably deserves to be ranked much higher.  However, the score fits the movie very poorly, so I cannot in good conscience rank it higher, though I am tempted to do so.

#38 -- The Mist (2007, Mark Isham)

This is an awfully low ranking for such an awfully good movie, but I can't honestly say the score deserves to be any higher.  The Mark Isham music is inconsequential to the point of almost not even being present.  The movie's only musical highlight is the Dead Can Dance piece, and even it is problematic: it is overwrought, and that's being generous.  Now, if the ending of the film resonates for you -- and it does for me -- then you might be able to roll with that.

I can roll with it, but even I find myself wishing the movie had something stronger.  Moby's "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters," for example.

There is no excuse whatsoever for the fact that the CD ends with a Mark Isham piece from Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, however.  That's just plain weird.  It isn't in the movie, it sounds nothing like anything that would be in The Mist, and it's . . . just plain weird.

#37 -- Children of the Corn (2009, Jonathan Elias and Nathaniel Morgan)

 I probably ought to at least put this behind The Mist, but I'm not going to.

The score seemingly repurposes some of Elias's original Corn score, so I assume that what we have here is Morgan working off of Elias's original themes, and not Elias contributing new music.  But I don't know for sure.  I'm no expert on this score, believe it or not.

It's arguably an improvement, but it's got that weirdly loud, unnatural sound that a lot of modern scores have.  I associate that with music that is created digitally, which might or might not be accurate in this case.

Regardless, I'd argue that this new score is at least moderately less cheesy and more restrained than the 1984 original, so I'm giving it a few bonus points as a result.

Am I not generous?

#36 -- Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990, various composers) 
I would characterize the score to the movie -- which includes music by John Harrison, among others -- as being unremarkable, which means that if you put it on in the background, you will likely forget that it is playing.  This is not to say that it is bad music; merely that it is unremarkable.  John Harrison's score for the "Lover's Vow" segment arguably comes closest to transcending those confines, but it's a far cry from his grand Creepshow music.

#35 -- Salem's Lot (2004, Christopher Gordon, Lisa Gerrard, and Patrick Cassidy)


I am almost certainly ranking this score too low on the list.  I have a feeling my distaste for the movie is coloring my opinion of the score unduly.  But the fact is that I've just never responded to the music all that much.  The main title (composed by Lisa Gerard and Patrick Cassidy, whereas most of the rest of the score is by Christopher Gordon) is ostensibly evocative and memorable, but it's also kind of annoying; the vocals don't work for me at all, sounding as they do like a drag queen with a bass voice trying to do a falsetto with a plastic bag wrapped around Her head.

Skimming through some of the rest of the score convinces me that I probably am being too harsh overall, but fuck it, this is where it's staying.

I really don't like the movie at all, by the way.  Does it show?

#34 -- 1408 (2007, Gabriel Yared)

Gabriel Yared's 1408 score is like several others that appear on this list: it is functional, but does not in any way go beyond functionality.

Even while I'm listening to it (as I am right this very second), I am forgetting what it sounds like.

#33 -- Thinner (1996, Daniel Licht)

Ah, yes, the mid-nineties, when 37% of all film scores sounded as if they'd been composed by Danny Elfman (even some of the ones that actually had been composed by Danny Elfman).

Daniel Licht, of Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice fame, returned for a second King score here, and while the movie itself scarcely turned out better, it's not Licht's fault.  This is a fairly decent score, which does more for the movie than the movie does for it.  It won't make you fall in love with it or anything, but it isn't bad.

#32 -- The Shining (1997, Nicholas Pike)

It's never been released commercially, but the promo soundtrack for the miniseries version of The Shining is fairly easily found on certain websites.
It's a decent score.  I don't care for the miniseries much, so the music has no inherent appeal apart from its relation to King's canon.  But parts of the score are good, and even when it is at its worst, it is inoffensive.
#31 -- Silver Bullet (1985, Jay Chattaway) 

The scene in which Marty takes the Silver Bullet on a joy ride down the highway features a cue that is so cheesy it may constipate you.  The end credits culminate with a pop song version, too, so you've got that to look forward to.
Elsewhere, the score is rarely less good than at least mediocre, and a few tracks are rather evocative. Overall, though, this one doesn't do a whole heck of a lot for me.  To be fair, though, I've only listened to it a few times.

The CD is out of print; a reissue came out a few years back, but it was limited to 1000 copies, and one of those will run you $35 or more on eBay.  I would like to have it, but have not been able to bring myself to spring for it yet.

Composer Jay Chattaway later scored numerous episodes of various Star Trek series.

#30 -- The Tomyknockers  (1993, Christopher Franke)


Not sure where that "album art" came from; there seems to have never been a commercial release of this score.  I found it online as MP3s, though, and it's a decent early-nineties example of synth scoring from Franke, who was once a member of Tangerine Dream and who is better known (to ME, at least) as the house composer for the television series Babylon 5.  If you are a fan of that series or its scores, then this music will almost certainly sound like what you know of as Franke's style for that show.

Not great music, but not bad, either.

#29 -- Apt Pupil (1998, John Ottman)

I feel as if I ought to be fonder of this score than I actually am.  I feel much the same way about the movie, to be honest.  I like it, but not in a way that I actually feel emotional about it.  Which, if I'm not mistaken, may actually mean that I don't like it very much.
In any case, regarding the score, I suppose I have to allow that the main theme is fairly good.  But the rest of the score is mere background noise.  I feel as if I ought to be ranking it lower, but something compels me not to do so.

#28 -- Rose Red (2002, Gary Chang)

Not available commercially, but a composer promo CD leaked online at some point, and can be found by those willing and able to engage in a bit of piracy.

Is it worth it?  Well . . . if you're some sort of weirdo completist like me, then yeah, sure it is.  Otherwise, maybe not.  I'll grant you that I've only listened to it once or twice, but from what I remember, nothing in this score stands out.  It's just sort of there.  Not bad, not memorable.

Just there.

But hell, I'll take that over The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace any day.

#27 -- Dreamcatcher (2003, James Newton Howard)

Dreamcatcher came out when Howard was arguably at the height of his powers: he'd been composing highly successful scores for both M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs) and Disney animation (Dinosaur, Atlantis, Treasure Planet), and I'd become a fan thanks to those titles.  So when I read that he was scoring Dreamcatcher, I was excited; if he could do something comparable for that movie, then that would potentially be something to be excited about.

Unfortunately, his music for Dreamcatcher is nowhere near as good as those other scores I just mentioned.  No surprise; the movie itself is a piece of crap, so if Howard had managed to turn in a brilliant score, he'd have really been doing something special.

As is, the score is probably one of the film's more successful elements.  Not so much so that I actually listen to the CD very often, because the music is a bit on the bland and uninvolving side.  But the movie is aggressively stupid, and compared to "aggressively stupid," "bland and uninvolving" seems just fine to me.

Not Howard's finest hour, alas, but better than its source film.

#26 -- Secret Window (2004, Philip Glass and Geoff Zanelli)

Found the MP3s of this one online.  Amazingly, it never got an actual release, despite that fact of Philip Glass's involvement.

The score was not, seemingly, a collaboration.  The cues were not composed by Glass and Zanelli together; individual cues were composed by one or the other of them individually.  I am going to assume that this was due to a limited window of time for Glass to work on the film, but that's an example of me talking out of my ass.

The music has its moments, but it is certainly not one of the better scores by Glass that I've heard.  The cues he scored sound a bit as if he was on autopilot, and a mostly-disinterested form of autopilot at that.  Glass is a composer who frequently annoys people, but while I am by no means an expert, I like what I know of most of his work.  His score for Martin Scorsese's Kundun is wonderful, and of course, Koyaanisqatsi is terrific.  And Candyman, and Dracula.

Secret Window simply does not measure up.  In some ways, I find myself enjoying the Geoff Zanelli cues more.  They are just as bland as Glass's, but are freed of the sort of expectation that causes me to remember how great Kundun's music is.

Still, if the soundtrack is released commercially at some point, I'll be happy to buy it.

#25 -- Carrie (2013, Marco Beltrami)

Marco Beltrami is one of those guys who has been scoring films for years now, and has done some decent work, but has never really broken out.

Sadly, Carrie continued that trend.  His main theme consists of either six notes or two three-note structures.  And that's about as close as I'm going to get to trying to describe music in a technical sense here.

It isn't a bad score, it's just not special in any way.

#24 -- Cat's Eye (1984, Alan Silvestri) 
Composer Alan Silvestri was only a year away from hitting the big time with his score to Robert Zemeckis's Back to the Future when his considerably-less-effective Cat's Eye score hit screens.  Which is not to say that this is a bad score.  It's an odd one, to be sure; very synth-heavy, and arguably quite cheesy at times.  But God help me, I do kind of like it.
As far as I can tell, the score has only ever been released on LP, and is therefore quite difficult to get.  Given Silvestri's continued prominence (thanks to projects such as Captain America: The First Avenger and Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey), this smells like one that will eventually be rescued by one of the specialty soundtrack labels.
When and if that happens, I hope they remember to include Ray Stevens' end-credits song, "Cat's Eye."  Terrible song, but I love it.

#23 -- Pet Sematary (1989, Elliot Goldenthal)  

Previously reviewed right here by yours truly, Elliot Goldenthal's Pet Sematary is a score that is perfectly fine, but -- a few cues excepted -- fails to engage me.  I expect Goldenthal fans would be outraged to see it ranked behind a few of the scores behind which it will be ranked here.

#22 -- Misery (1990, Marc Shaiman) 

If I were judging these scores/soundtracks solely on how well they work within the confines of their movies, Marc Shaiman's Misery would probably rank quite a bit higher.  It does very well in the film.  Outside, listened to as an isolated experience, it is less effective.

Which is an unfair thing to say, in some ways.  After all, a film score's primary goal is to support and enhance the movie itself; any other consideration is secondary.  A lot of film-music fans -- who tend (like me!) to be a prickly, fractious lot -- will priggishly refute that claim.  They are crazy, though, and are mostly not to be trusted.

So who can you trust?

Why, me, of course...

...and I say that while Marc Shaiman crafted a very effective score for Misery, it is weakened by listening to it on its own.  Hence, I have no choice but to place it lower than it might under other circumstances deserve to be ranked.

#21 -- Sleepwalkers (1992, Nicholas Pike)

Terrible movie.  But a terrible movie that has a fairly decent score.  The main title has this slinky, dangerous little three-note refrain that works in a way the movie NEVER works.

If Misery is an example of a score that works better in the movie than out, Sleepwalkers is arguably an inverse of that.  The music is atmospheric and effective when listened to on its own, whereas in the movie, it is overwhelmed by the ludicrousness of the plot, dialogue, acting, etc.

Don't misunderstand me.  This is no masterpiece of a score or anything like that; but it is thoroughly competent, and that makes it easily one of the movie's best elements.

Bonus points for prominent use of Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk," which is inarguably one of the best pop instrumentals ever recorded.  That's right; I said INarguably.  Shuttin' that shit down right there.

#20 -- The Dark Half  (1993, Christopher Young)

Christopher Young's score for The Dark Half plays up -- although not to the extent of overstatement -- the story's fantastical, fairy-tale-esque elements.  You might be reminded a bit of Danny Elfman while listening to it, which is often not a bad thing.

The score's highlight is probably the end-credits music, which is soaring and restrained at once.  No small achievement, that. 

#19 -- Storm of the Century (1999, Gary Chang)

Yet another King score that has never been released commercially.  There is a bootleg on the internet which is quite easy to find (or used to be), and I assume it was from a composer promo CD.  Those things happen when a score is submitted for award consideration, and frequently they end up being better releases than the actual releases.

Gary Chang's music for Storm of the Century is very good, with lots of moody piano music.  It is arguably a bit repetitive, which means that it is a prime candidate for being whittled down into a personal-best-of playlist on your listening device of choice.

I'd love to see this get a legit release someday.  Better not sell out before I get a copy, though.

#18 -- The Running Man (1987, Harold Faltermeyer)


Part of me feels as if I am ranking this one a bit too low, and that the next time I listen to it in full, I will be filled with remorse and will then have to sneak onto Blogger and edit this post in the middle of the night, and then pretend like it had been that way all along.
Such is the life of a goober, I suppose.
For now, though, I am content to have it right here.  I absolutely love parts of the score (such as the prison-break sequence), but others leave me a bit cold.  Overall, though, I do like it quite a lot.  It's out-of-print as fuck, so I don't actually own it, which bums me out.

If you want to read a terrific piece ranking the themes of composer Harold Faltermeyer -- and even if you think you don't, you DO -- then head over to Dog Star Omnibus, where Bryan has the hookup for you.

#17 -- Firestarter (1984, Tangerine Dream) 
Another one that is super-duper out of print and gettable only for the sort of folks who don't mind spending quite a bit of money.  Technically, I own a copy.  On LP!  A friend found it at a thrift store and hooked me up.  He knows me well.

Urban legend has it that Tangerine Dream composed the score to Firestarter without having even seen the movie.  It isn't hard to believe that that might be the case; the music does not exactly cry "government agents pursue pyrokinetic child and her father," does it?

It's been a few years since I watched the movie, but from what I remember, the score is not used particularly well.  But listening to it on its own, I like it just fine.  It's like the eighties are being beamed directly into my ears, and pard, that's just fine by me.  If you are less enamored of synth scores from that era than I am, you will probably think I ought to have placed this one considerably lower on the list.
#16 -- Cujo (1983, Charles Bernstein) 
Charles Bernstein's score for Cujo is pretty damn solid, but has never been released commercially in any format.  The above cover is from a promotional disc that included the score to The Covenant.  I'd love to have this, but not to the extent that I would pay $67 for it (which is what at least one seller on eBay seems to feel it ought to command).

Most of the score consists of lush, melodic piano-based cues, but Bernstein has no problem whatsoever turning toward the ominous when it comes time to let Cujo off his dogleash, as it were.  He does this partially with synthesizer and bass pulse tones, which is fairly effective.  It is similar to the sort of approach John Carpenter was using in his scores around this time, albeit not as successful as most of Carpenter's music.
Overall, though, this is a strong score that is way past due for a proper CD release.  Get on that, La-La Land or Intrada!

#15 -- Maximum Overdrive (1986, AC/DC)  
It's a little bit difficult for me to judge this one without watching the movie to find out how much actual score there is (as opposed to repurposed songs); I am admittedly tempted to do just that, but can't.  What the hell, I'll throw it on the list anyways.
The "soundtrack" was an AC/DC release titled Who Made Who, which consists of the title track, six classic tunes from the band (at least some of which do appear in the film, and all of which are great), and two instrumental score tracks -- "D.T." and "Chase the Ace" -- that sound like the band working on songs before they put lyrics to them.  Those score tracks work quite nicely in the movie, though, from what I recall; and, for that matter, they are just fine outside the movie. The original song, "Who Made Who," is a terrific piece of hard rock . . . assuming you like AC/DC, of course.  If you don't, you are unlikely to find your opinion changed by "Who Made Who."

I'm unsure how much additional music the band may have created for the film.  If there is much of it, I'd love to think a proper soundtrack will eventually be released.
#14 -- It (1990, Richard Bellis)

The music sounds a bit on the low-budget side at times, and arguably has a bit too much wackadoo sound-effects use, but the main themes are quite good, and manage to not get boring across a 100-minute score.  Richard Bellis creates very effective music for Pennywise, and also does a good job with the inherent melancholy of the story.  I'm not particularly a fan of the movie itself, but that cannot be blamed on Bellis, who does fine work throughout.

#13 -- The Green Mile (1999, Thomas Newman)


The end credits music is probably the highlight of this score, which is -- understandably -- in a similar vein to Newman's music for The Shawshank Redemption.  I don't think this is quite as successful, though.  I can't claim to be too enamored of some of the lighter cues (most of which represent Mr. Jingles), which work okay in the film but sound kind of odd on disc, to my ears.

Newman is a versatile composer, and he's scored numerous fine films, but his music has only ever really grabbed me on one occasion: Finding Nemo, which is a marvelous score.  I do also like his music for Skyfall quite a bit (more than I expected to, actually).

His Green Mile is an enjoyable listen.  Not near the top of the pile for me on this list, but that ain't no crime, is it, ossifer?  Nope.

#12 -- The Stand (1994, W.G. "Snuffy" Walden) 
A very solid score, I reviewed this one in full as part of my look at the miniseries a year or so ago.  Read all about it here.

The score has several very good themes, and while it also has some profoundly bad music for the Trash Can Man, it's good stuff overall.  It is, of course, out of print, but thanks to the enduring popularity of the miniseries, we can hope that it might get an expanded reissue one of these days.
#11 -- The Dead Zone (1983, Michael Kamen) 
This one is still in print, and yet I don't own it, which seems like something I need to fix at some point.
I've never been a fan of Michael Kamen, particularly.  He did some good stuff (not least of which was his main title themes for the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon), but his music rarely captured my imagination and heart the way the scores of my favorite composers do.
And while, as you can tell, The Dead Zone does not (for me) rank quite near the top of the list of King scores, it is certainly a good piece of work.  It is -- as befits a David Cronenberg film -- a bit on the cold, reserved side.  But it also has a doomed, tragic quality to it that very capably supports Johnny Smith as a character.

#10 -- Dolores Claiborne (1995, Danny Elfman) 
Note that the above image is NOT the cover to the commercial release of the soundtrack.  I couldn't immediately find a decent image of the legit release on Google, and while I do own that soundtrack, I am feeling a bit lazy.  Too lazy to scan the front cover, for example.

Normally, I'd fight past it, but I thought I'd just post this bootleg image instead, mainly as a means of bringing up an interesting tidbit of info you might not know.

The bootleg, as you can see, advertises itself as the complete score.  As far as I can tell, that is the truth.  Where did this come from?  How did it end up on a bootleg?  I have no earthly idea.  But such treasures are not entirely uncommon in the world of hardcore film-music collecting; if you know the right websites to visit, you can even find a few of them once in a while.

As for Elfman's score, it's a solid one.  This movie was released just a few years after Elfman arguably hit his career peak with The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it does not have the energy that most of the scores that made him popular had.  I'm okay with that, because this movie is not Batman or Dick Tracy in any way, and so having a score of that nature would not be appropriate.  Instead, this is a restrained, moody work that makes you feel like you are outside in New England in the autumn, trudging your way toward another day changing some rich woman's sheets.  I wouldn't rank it as a GREAT score, but it's certainly a good one.  Whether you enjoy it outside the film depends on your interest in scores, or maybe in Elfman particularly.

I like it fine.
#09 -- Needful Things (1993, Patrick Doyle) 
If I am not mistaken, this was the first King score I bought brand-new when it came out.  Not that that matters much, but I enjoy remembering little things like that about the history of my collecting.
I have felt for years that the movie is a little on the underrated side, and I would argue that the score is also a bit underrated.  Doyle is a relatively well-known film composer, at least among film-score enthusiasts.  His best work has been for director Kenneth Branagh, but he also scored Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, turning in what is for my money easily the best of the Potter scores not composed by John Williams.
His music here is in that chanting-devil sort of mode one finds in movies like The Omen.  You can do that well (The Omen) and you can do that poorly (Children of the Corn), and I feel that Doyle's Needful Things music is deserving of being lumped into the former category.  You might not agree.  There is room to argue that the music is overblown and cheesy, and if you feel like mounting a vigorous prosecution to that effect, I'd give you your day in court. With me as the judge, though, so you'd better bring your A-game.

The CD is long out of print, but used copies seem to be much cheaper than is normally the case for out-of-print soundtracks.  This means either that more copies than usual were pressed initially, or that nobody cares about it.  I choose to believe it is the former.

#08 -- The Shawshank Redemption (1994, Thomas Newman)

I feel a bit bad to be ranking this so low.  As with Marc Shaiman's Misery, I feel that this music works better inside the movie than out.  In this case, it works better both inside AND outside the movie than Misery does, but I still think that listening to the score on its own is a less rewarding experience by far than seeing the movie and hearing the music.
That said, it makes for evocative, occasionally-soul-stirring stuff.  I especially like the "Stoic Theme" for the prison, and the end titles music is lovely.
Good music, no doubt about it, and it does a very strong job of supporting what most people seem to agree is one of the best movies ever made.

#07 -- Room 237 (2012, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes)

If you read my recent review of this score, then you know I am a big fan.  As such, I was tempted to put this one even farther up the list.  I suspect time and future revisions will take care of that for me, though, so for now, let's leave it right here.  It seems cozy enough.
The score is fantastic, and that's all I'll say about that.

#06 -- Stand By Me (Jack Nitzsche and various pop artists) 
I am arguably cheating my own concept by including this soundtrack here, since it is largely composed of pop songs.  There IS a score (by Jack Nitzsche), but much of it is based on the title song by Ben E. King, and none of it is included on the commercially-available soundtrack release.  (Some of it can be found on various internet bootlegs, which are worth seeking out if you're a big-time fan.)
Normally, I do not consider pop songs to be an actual part of a film's score.  In the case of Stand By Me, I am inclined to make an exception.  The songs are not as integral to the film as they are in, say, American Graffiti, but they do feel essential.  Try imagining the film without them if you don't believe me.
From the sublime title song to "Come Go With Me" to "Lollipop" to "Book of Love" (which I absolutely adore) to "Whispering Bells" (ditto) to "Everyday," there are quite a few fantastic songs on this collection.  So really, whether or not including it here violates my own ideas about what this list is and should be, the music for Stand By Me is terrific.  And from my vantage point, it is proof positive that one CAN feel nostalgic for an era in which one never lived.  I'd like to think that I learned my lesson about both time travel and feeling nostalgic for the fifties from 11/22/63, but then I hear "Get a Job" by The Silhouettes and I know that if I had a chance to go visit that time, I'd almost certainly take it.

A few more words about Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" seem in order: if somebody told me that they felt that would make a good candidate for the title of Best Pop Song Ever Recorded, I might be inclined to agree with them.  It would certainly be on my shortlist, right up there alongside "Like a Rolling Stone," "Let It Be," and "Mercy, Mercy Me."  I could name others that would be prime combatants in that particular battle royale, but we'd be here all fucking night.

And a great use of a night that would be, too, but it's outside the purview of this particular post.
#05 -- Salem's Lot (1979, Harry Sukman) 

I reviewed the score here not too long ago, so if you want a fuller version of my thoughts on it, you can find it here.

Suffice it to say, though, that I love Harry Sukman's music for this two-part miniseries.  The second night's music is especially good.  Really, though, it's top-notch practically from start to finish.

Especial highlights: the main title music and the music for the appearance of the vampire Glick boys at the window.

#04 -- Creepshow (1982, John Harrison and various composers)

Reviewed more fully here.
I love more or less every note of this score, especially the main title music and the cues from "Something to Tide You Over."
If there is a better score to listen to on Halloween, it can only be -- you guessed it -- John Carpenter's Halloween.  This makes a hella-fine runner-up to that one.
#03 -- Carrie (1976, Pino Donaggio)

There are elements of this score that I don't like.  Specifically, I don't care for the "homages" to Bernard Herrmann's score to Psycho.  I also have only limited tolerance for the comedic music -- "comedic" might not be precisely the correct word, but let's go with it -- that accompanies certain scenes.

But then there's the rest of the score, which is dynamite.

The best representation of the score seems to be Kritzerland's two-disc reissue, which is very much out of print.  Regardless of what form you find it in, though, the standout scenes are probably the main title music, the prom coronation music, and the music for Margaret's impalement.  I also really like the "music" -- it's debatable as to whether the word even applies -- that scores Carrie's wrath at the prom.

I have to say, I'm surprised to find myself ranking this one as highly as I am, but in trying to be objective about it, I find that this is where it probably belongs.

#02 -- Christine (1983, John Carpenter and various pop artists)

This sucker has been out of print for probably twenty years or so.  You can find used copies on eBay, but they will typically set you back several times what it would have originally been priced.  [UPDATE:  A commenter alerts me to the fact that these last two sentences are complete hogwash.  The CD is still in print, and can be got for about $13.  Where did I get this idea that it was out of print?!?  It's a mystery.  Let it be a lesson to us all: don't assume things.  Thanks, anonymous commenter!]

I found my copy in a used record store called Vinyl Solutions at some point during the early nineties.  I was browsing the used CDs, probably thinking about adding to my Bob Dylan or Miles Davis collections, but then I saw the Christine soundtrack and picked it up and walked straight to the cash register with it.  I didn't know it was rare (and it may well not have been at the time), but I knew that I had only one other Stephen King soundtrack (Stand By Me) and that this would make a fine addition to my King collection.

And so it did.

And so it still is!  I'm a fan of John Carpenter in general, and I'm certainly a fan of his scores.  This is one of my favorites, and while part of me wonders if that is because of the Stephen King connection, the rest of me knows that this would be a favorite score regardless.

I love the whole thing, but the standout music for me is unquestionably the music that accompanies Christine's attack on Moochie.  Listen to that while you're driving at night, preferably at top volume, and preferably with the windows rolled down on a chilly evening that is accompanied by a light breeze.

A reissue is BADLY needed, and I, for one, would like to see it incorporate the pop songs that Carpenter used.  From "Bad to the Bone" to "We Belong Together" to (especially) "Little Bitty Pretty One," the songs in the movie are so integral to the impact of the story that they really are just as essential as the actual score.

#01 -- The Shining (1980, Wendy Carlos and various composers)

In my estimation, there are very few directors who have ever lived who have been peers of Stanley Kubrick's when it comes to crafting a score for their films.  He often used extant pieces by classical composers; the score for 2001: A Space Odyssey consists entirely of music written (much of centuries previously) for other sorts of projects entirely.

The Shining uses a hybrid approach that melds the use of pre-existing pieces with a few original cues, in this case written by composer Wendy Carlos.  The result is sheer dark magic.  The classical pieces -- by György Ligeti, Béla Bartók, and Krzysztof Penderecki -- are absolutely nerve-wracking, in the movie or out of it.  Wendy Carlos's cues are also quite good, and the pop songs that represent the hotel's "glamorous" past are extremely well-chosen.

Amazingly, this soundtrack has never been issued on CD.  An LP was put out at around the time of the film's release, but for whatever reason, it seems to have never made the jump to subsequent formats.  I can only assume there are rights issues to some of the recordings used in the film.  Whatever the case, it is a genuine shame.

Luckily, those jolly Internet pirates will be more than happy to hook you up with some MP3s.  I would hate to be accused of contributing to such fell deeds, but coughcoughcough.
All that aside, I would point to the music from The Shining as being THE best score for any Stephen King movie.  Since it is not wholly original, this decision might vex some purists, but I would remind you that "score" does not inherently equate to "original score."  Whether the music was composed expressly for the film or not is irrelevant to me.  What I care about is that The Shining includes some of the most startlingly effective marriages of music and cinema in the entire history of the medium.  I love a great many of the scores that we discussed previously on this list, but for me, there is no choice to be made: The Shining simply IS the #1 score on this list.
And frankly, the gap between it and #2 is fairly chasm-like.
There you have it, folks.  Them's my thinks, and if ye've got thinks of yer own, there's a comments section that'll be happy to receive 'em.


  1. Wow, your turnaround time on "Maybe I'll rank these..." to fruition is impressed - well done! I sat down this morning with the intent of listening to Led Zeppelin's discography start to finish and was in the midst of LZIII when I saw this pop up. A happy interruption (and it's not like Led Zep is going anywhere I can't find them) and this was a fun blast of score snippets. (Particularly that Christine-after-Moochie bit, which you describe pretty exactly.)

    (40) I can't really defend the "Children of the Corn" soundtrack, but for years just singing "satan-i-cooooos" in an awful falsetto has brought much giggling, so I have kind of a soft spot for it. But soft spots aside, yeah, it's pretty terrible.

    (38) That Dead Can Dance sequence is, as you say, overwrought as hell. It doesn't work at all, for me, but I'm not the biggest fan of the film's ending. I do, though, think it's kind of cool we can choose between two such different endings to the story. And the movie is good enough where I don't mind all that much.

    (28) I love the sound design to "Rose Red" in general, but it could use a little tightening up. Is it "In the Mood" that plays roughly 80,000 times throughout that one? Maybe 79,000 times less would have been more effective. (I'm sure it's only played 3 or 4 times, but I remember thinking, good lord, now, cut it out, on last re-watch.)

    (26) Sheesh, I'd already forgotten that was Philip Glass. If you like his soundtrack for Koyanisqaatsi (and I love it, myself) check out Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians." Caution: may induce catatonic state, or epileptic seizure. Lovely, though.

    (24) That end-credits tune is great and gets in my head often enough. Gotta love the 80s. Stuff like that (or the end credits "Big Trouble in Little China" song) seems so what-were-they-thinking nowadays but will forever amuse me.

    (21) "Sleepwalk" is one of the greats. It and "Theme from A Summer Place" are so evocative of that era, to my ears. (Obviously not having experienced said era personally, so what do I know, but as you say for Stand By Me, it makes me nostalgic for an age I never knew, which is something. (Ditto for a lot of stuff by Johann Strauss)

    (18) I pledge to use "out of print as fuck" as often as possible from here on out.

    (15) Trying to overcome the sudden trigger of AC/DC that just ripped across my brain... resistance is futile... "Who made who, who made YOU /Who made who / Ain't nobody told yeewwwww / Who made who, who made you / If you made them and they made you / Who pick up the bill and who made whoooo / WHO! MADE WHO!! / WHO TURNED THE SCREWWWWW / YEEEAAAHHH!!"

    (11) The credits and theme of TDZ is such a wondrous thing.

    (6) Amen on all these Stand By Me thoughts. particularly "Whispering Bells," which I just stopped and put on, making my last-played YouTube songs that and the Steve Reich bit. Figure that one out, Google Algorithm.

    (3) That song that's playing when they enter the prom gets in mind a lot. "When I think back on my younger days / I really was a man-i-ac..." That would be a cool one for Oasis or some band like that to cover.

    Great job - to my knowledge, this is the only of its kind on the net.

    1. This might well BE the only such post online. That'd be cool, to be blazing new territory of some sort.

      (28) IS it "In the Mood"? I think it might actually be "Theme from A Summer Place." Or both. And yet, both are so great that even though the miniseries badly overuses one or both of them, they remain golden for me.

      (18) lol

      (15) Resistance is not merely futile, but also counterproductive, as every second spent in resistance to listening to AC/DC is a second that could have instead been spent listening to AC/DC. (A thing I need to make more time for one of these days. I'm not resistant, I'm just overloaded.)

      (3) I thought about mentioning the prom songs, and opted not to, for some reason. They are cheesy, I guess, but I like all of them. The one you mention does not seem to have ever been included on any of the soundtrack releases, which is a bit odd. It's by a band called Vance Or Towers, who -- you'll be surprised to learn... -- did not have much of a career, long-term.

  2. Not a bad list. Some of these I've known for a while, while others, like Lawnmower Man, I've never even heard of because I never saw that series.

    As for Children of the Corn, while I saw the film, the greatest music cue that still semi-stands out for me is the birthday song at the beginning (and probably for all the wrong reasons).

    The scores for Storm of the Century and Firestarter are very good though. In some ways, Chang's music reminds me a bit of a low-key version of the Lord of the Rings score, but still good. Dream's is pure 80s nostalgia. While I don't know whether or not it ties in neatly with the film, I can say it does conjure up a sound that puts me in mind of the budding horror fiction fan I was back in the early 90s. Their music seems to capture the tone of that time for me, at least a far as the content of the books I read back then (in particular I'm thinking of a series of effed up children's books called Scary Stories to tell in the Dark).

    Stand by Me was really my baptism into classic rock, which might explain why I actually don't mind pop songs on soundtracks, that is as long as they're good (the most hilarious made to order pop on a soundtrack I've heard is "Eyes of a Child, from the South Park film).

    Curiously, even having watched Misery, I can't recall much about it's soundtrack, apart from the opening featuring Booker T and the MGs....Erm, sorry. I did, however, come upon something interesting regarding an unrelated song from another movie that I'll swear sounds like it could fit right into the film.

    I'm think of Blue Lamp, by Stevie Nicks. The reason I think it fits Misery is because of how certain lyrics so neatly seem to tie into the stories themes of creativity and captivity. To list some examples:

    Don't listen to her, listen through her.

    Downstairs, the big old house is MINE!

    and not least: "If you were wiser you would get out!"

    Also the song just has a nice melodic, melancholy yet slightly panicky feel that, again, seems to fit the story. In fact, it's kind of neat to imagine the speaker of the song is none other than Misery Chastain!

    ...I'll go take my meds now.


    1. I can see how Stevie Nicks would make somebody think of Annie Wilkes, regardless of lyrical thematic overlap. Her voice is harsh and demanding.

      Oh, the "South Park" movie... One of the all-time great movie musicals, as far as I'm concerned. My personal fave is the end-credits version of "What Would Brian Boitano Do?", specifically the weird section where it veers into speed metal territory and Trey starts chanting "I've never SEEN a man eat so many chicken wings..." But the music is great throughout, and I say "great" meaning "great" and not merely "good."

      "Their music seems to capture the tone of that time for me" -- it really does tend to take you someplace, doesn't it? Me too. And I think that would be the case regardless of whether I grew up during that time or not. Can't be sure, of course, but I think it would. I should listen to more Tangerine Dream!

    2. Speaking of funny film soundtracks (and apologies if this is off topic) I just remembered another film where the soundtrack was more or less integral (and while I can't be sure of this, I'll swear they may have actually gotten Mark "Freakin" Knopfler to participate on one of the songs. The chords sound just too damn similar! :


    3. Never seen "UHF," so I have no idea. It seems like a strong possibility, though.

    4. Nice list, Christine is my favorite. The Christine score can be bought anywhere new including the Verse Sarabande site. The motion picture soundtrack from Motown with the songs like Bad To The Bone is the one out of print since the 80's. As well as the expanded soundtrack that came out over 10 years ago but that's at too high a price more than the Motown LP is.

    5. By gum, you're right! I had no idea that was still in print.

      Thanks for the heads-up!

  3. Revisiting this list, I think you're being awfully harsh on poor Robert Folk to put him in the bottom 5 like that. The man can't help it if the film sucked and by golly, he did his level best to add some vestige of quality to proceedings in the only place that he could. That's all you can ask from a film composer, really, and the list of bad films with good (or even great) scores is a lengthy one.

    But as someone who considers themselves more of a score fan than a film fan, perhaps my judgment is clouded. All I know is I listen to Lawnmower Man 2 and I hear a more than solid 90s-era fully orchestral action score of the sort I wish still existed in cinemas today but, alas, doesn't really. It's not the sort of score that screams "Stephen King", exactly (more like "Total Recall meets Jurassic Park") but as music, I dig it, and it makes me wish Folk's career had caught on a bit more to the point where he wouldn't have had to work on such garbage.

    1. I dunno, I feel like I made a pretty good case for ranking it that low. I'd argue that the score doesn't fit the movie at all, which in my mind prevents it from being considered a good score; good music, yes -- a good score, no.

      But you're right to suggest that Folk probably did deserve better. In a fairer world, this would have opened some doors for him. It seems not to have.

      I need to redo this list! A number of things have come out which need to be added in. I'll add it to the agenda for 2019.

      How's it going in the world of movie-score fandom? You buy any of those big Black Friday releases?

    2. I've never actually seen more than a few clips from Lawnmower Man 2 (nothing I've ever read about it makes me eager to experience it :P ) so can't judge how well Folk's score works in context. That's always such a weird place to come from as a film score fan. Makes me wonder sometimes if anything I ever say about film music is valid...

      I haven't been quite as on top of things as I wish I could have, but this year I've really been enjoying Solo by John Powell above pretty much anything else. Never thought it would be that easy to accept a Star Wars score from someone other than Williams (Rogue One was a decent effort but fell well short for me), but Powell really made it work, and without sacrificing his own style in the process, which is quite some trick. I actually think I'd rank it above a fair few of the Williams scores themselves.

      Speaking of - man, that Harry Potter Black Friday boxset...Be nice if I had money, and also didn't live on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Shipping costs are prohibitive. :/

    3. "That's always such a weird place to come from as a film score fan. Makes me wonder sometimes if anything I ever say about film music is valid..." -- It's 100% valid. Maybe only from a certain point of view, but if your primary interest is the music itself, then there's really no need to worry about the movie(s) all that much. My personal argument would be that the movie is why the movie exists, which makes the context in which it was created important; but that's no impediment to enjoying a score without benefit of the movie.

      "Powell really made it work, and without sacrificing his own style in the process, which is quite some trick. I actually think I'd rank it above a fair few of the Williams scores themselves." -- It's a good score; I've only listened to it half a dozen times or so, but it gets better every time. I grew to appreciate it even more after listening to Bobby Roberts' two-part podcast about it. Personally, I'd rank it dead last among all the Star Wars scores ("Rogue One" included), but that's really only because something has to be last.

      "Shipping costs are prohibitive." -- It's a real shame that there isn't a UK release of this. If I were Rowling, I'd have insisted on it. I bought one, but it hasn't gotten to me yet; and I probably won't get around to listening to it until the new year anyways.