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Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Quarter-Century of Krueger: The Music of Nightmares

When you think of the truly classic horror film themes, there's no question that A Nightmare on Elm Street's unforgettable score comes to mind, right alongside the likes of Halloween, Psycho, Hellraiser, etc. Yet, when you think of the great composers of film scores, the name of Charles Bernstein does not immediately come to mind. It should.

Bernstein has been scoring motion pictures for 40 years now, his work gracing such pictures as the Charles Bronson cult classic Mr. Majestyk (1974), as well as a slew of grindhouse-style faves. But his work in the horror genre is what truly distinguishes Bernstein as an important composer of film music. For his material can be heard on the soundtrack of flicks like Love at First Bite (1979), The Entity (1981), Cujo (1983), April Fool's Day (1986) and Deadly Friend (1986).

But his most memorable work of all is undoubtedly the synth-laden, appropriately surreal and atonal accompaniment for Wes Craven's original A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. His brief Freddy Krueger cue (found below) is definitely amongst the most recognizable ten-note sequences in horror, if not in all of American cinema. Its warped, sing-songy flavor brilliantly sums up Krueger's character, a destroyer of childhood innocence--just as much as the iconic "One, two, Freddy's coming for you" jingle that permeates the film/series. We can forgive its '80s datedness because it possesses that most important trait of any film score--it fits the film for which it was written perfectly.

A supremely prolific and competent composer of film music, Charles Bernstein is a Juilliard graduate and gifted performer in his own right, having played jazz in the cellars of Paris, and folk music with Greeks and gypsies in the Balkans. He is the author of two esteemed volumes on movie music, and currently chairs the vice-presidency of the Motion Picture Academy with Tom Hanks.

"I have scored well over 100 films, yet when I begin working on a project it always feels like the very first one," Bernstein once said, and its that kind of approach that makes a score like A Nightmare on Elm Street--perhaps the only one for which he is truly known by casual movie fans--such an unforgettable and unique one.

Freddy's Theme


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Great post. This music score scared the beejesus out of me when I was a wee lad. Sometimes we forget that its the music score on screen that scares us just as much as the craziness that's being shown on screen.

B-Sol said...

Yes, and Bernstein is without a doubt one of the masters of generating terror through music.

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