Deconstructing Horror: Slamming Doors, Rattling Chains

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disneyalbumartHaunted Sounds

We’re very excited for this week’s edition of Deconstructing Horror, in which we will investigate how Haunted Houses have possessed the auditory arts.

When I was a kid, I was the weirdo that wanted to listen to the Disney’s The Thrilling Chilling Sounds Of The Haunted House record on the last day of school. The teacher informed us that she didn’t have it, only pulled it out during October. I couldn’t understand this, nor can I know. Some of us don’t just pull out spooky things one day out of the year.

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Let me take a moment to re-introduce the series, in case you’re joining us for the first time. I’ve titled this series ‘Deconstruction Horror’ and we’ve been looking at common themes of the horror genre (often called tropes) and what they say about us as people, as a culture, a species. Why does this matter, you might ask? Some of us are drawn towards the dark side, the video nasties; we have the urge to look, where others hide their heads behind folded hands. It is my theory that there are actual advantages to this and, anyway, we just seem to have been made this way.

So the purpose of this series is manifold, so it might seem unnecessarily confusing and convoluted. Bear with us, the central themes shall reveal themselves, like one of the haunts we’ve been looking at, these past several weeks.

The first point of this series is to reveal little known gems of the horror genre, to help despairing horror fans realize that there are many untold wonders, just waiting to be discovered. The second reason is to offer the horror aficionado a way to lose themselves in a genre, to surround themselves, to drown in the inky blackness and see what happens. This is the postmodern condition we live in, and it’s what our pulpy forefathers would be doing, if they were alive and screaming.

Which leads me to the subtext of this entire series, the hidden motivation. I would love to claim to be a Ph.D. in horror cinema and literature, but sadly, this is not the case. I am just an ordinary fan, battling the economic pressures of daily life and a caffeine-addled, ADD-riddled mind. I took the assignment, writing for Amazing Stories, figuring I’d come up with something interesting to say, and excited by the possibility. It’s a way to force myself to sit down and think about this stuff, and report back to you, our readers, with the results.

So I committed to study, to lose myself in the subject at hand, which this month is the Haunted House genre, only for the reason that it is my personal favorite and I figured it would be the easiest to write about. I’ve probably spent 100 hours, so far this month, researching haunted houses; I’m starting to jump at shadows, and I’m more reluctant to look into dark mirrors than usual.

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This installment is the one that I’ve been most looking forward to writing. See, I mainly write about music, and have only just begun to tackle other mediums. It’s been a welcome challenge, that I’ve already learned a great deal from, but it’s nice to come home.

Music is a constant companion; it comes with us everywhere. In the car, on the bus, in the kitchen; a running soundtrack makes it possible to sculpt your reality into whatever you want it to be. It’s possible to transform your life into an on-going horror movie (ask my poor, harried roommates).

Sound is one of the main ways in which the viewer is informed that they are watching a genre piece, whatever the genre may be. If it were SF, you’d have otherworldly eerie synthesizers, imitating solar winds. Action/Adventure, a John Williams score. With horror, the squealing atonal orchestral strings, are a dead giveaway that something awful is about to happen. That feeling of menace and dread, is further augmented by ominous scrapes, clatters, rattles and bumps in the dead of night, designed to recreate that childlike feeling of lying awake, peering through the darkness.

There are many different kind of haunted house story, ranging from campy ghost train rides to psychopathic demonic possession, and this range is reflected in the music that evokes the spectral. For the occasion, I’ve decided to put together a compilation, so you can hold your own seances.

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from The Shining

Listening to ghostly music is a great way to get the disembodied spirit of what is so great about this genre; it reveals it’s obsessions and hidden pathologies. As I stated in the first DH article, the main running theme in any haunted tale is TIME, time come loose, out of joint; history running rampant, memories come alive. This is best illustrated in Leyland Kirby’s work as The Caretaker, which took it’s preliminary inspiration from the haunted ballroom music in The Shining.

Speaking of The Shining, I’ve included Ray Noble‘s “Midnight, The Stars and You” with Al Bowlly on vocals, a truly beautiful big band piece, that was used during The Shining’s end credits.

To keep you in a sentimental mood, you’ll find Glenn Miller‘s “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There”, one of the first popular tunes to feature ghosts and hauntings. It borrows it’s lyrics from ‘Antigonish’ by poet Hughes Mearns.

Taking us back for some more movie music, I’ve included tracks from the Burnt Offerings and The Amityville Horror soundtracks, both noteworthy examples of the genre. The ‘Burnt Offerings Suite’ was composed by Robert Cobert, who is best remembered for composing the Dark Shadows score, and The Amityville Horror soundtrack got composer Lalo Schifrin nominated for an Oscar. Note the way that light, tinkling piano music can instantly send shivers down your spine, thanks to iconic usage in films like these.

Then, of course, you’ve got the ghostly folktale, here exemplified by the folk stylings of The Triple Tree. Folksingers are almost like ghosts, running around in modern times, remnants of an antiquated age. This song, taken from 2012’s album Ghosts, is based upon the work of M. R. James, who’s already showed up in these articles a couple of times.

Lastly, but not leastly, we’ve got dark experimental music, which will transform your waking life into an endless night, which is of course what we’re after. A lot of noise and electronic music borrows tropes from haunted houses (there is even a genre named after it, but it’s a deviation of Witch House, which I am saving for the Witch sessions.) Look up ‘Death Ambient’ if you want untold hours of this kind of thing. Here, I am including tracks from Nate Young, of Wolf Eyes fame, whose music has been described as “chillwave made in a haunted house’s wine cellar” and Atrium Carceri, whose music is frequently inspired by haunted prisons and hospitals.

This mix also features songs by The Counting Crows, The Decemberists, and John Carpenter.

Midnight, The Stars & You by Jason Simpson on Mixcloud

Another way to get lost in haunted houses is by ghost stories read aloud, old school campfire status. I am including a link to one of LibriVox’s Ghost Story collections. LibriVox is a public service, where listeners read chapters out of works in the public domain. LV is a great way to discover new ghostly tales; it’s a wonderful service that will thrill and delight. Ghost Story Collection 001

This concludes another installment of Deconstructing Horror. Next time, we will finish up looking at Haunted Houses, this time in print, probably the most extensive medium of the genre, which is why I’ve saved it for last. We hope you have enjoyed the ride! Make sure you check the Forestpunk blog, for more of your horror needs, as well as other musical and cultural rumblings. You can also follow his Tumblr, if you want to be inundated by yet more haunted imagery.

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