We often think of horror and the weird in visual terms. Often, it is what we see, whether it’s the imagery in our heads, or the images on a screen, that truly creep us out. Yet, horror is an emotion, and emotions are receptive to all our senses. For film, sometimes the creepy comes from what we hear. With the written word, using sound is more difficult, though extremely useful. It’s not only the words the characters say, but the sounds they hear, the scratching, the creaking, the moaning. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than the planks of a hardwood floor shifting as someone, or something, moves across it. Or it could be that high-pitched whine you hear when everything is completely silent.
It could be a single scream, shot through the night, piercing the silence, that raises the hair on the back of your neck.
Sound design is one of the more crucial elements of speculative film, regardless of the media. Canadian musician and composer Mark Korven, is one of those artists of sound, painting pictures with music. Fluent in several instruments, Korven started in the late 70’s playing guitar in rock bands, though today he focuses almost completely on soundtracks. You’ve probably heard his music on the revival of The Twilight Zone in the late 80’s, or the PBS docu-series America at a Crossroads, though most people know Korven from his film soundtracks, most notably Cube (1997) and The Witch (2015). While relying on electronic instruments for Cube, Korven utilizes his knowledge of more extravagant instruments for The Witch, featuring a Swedish instrument called the nyckelharpa. This medieval violin was the perfect instrument to capture the setting and tone of the film. Korven also used a 20th century instrument called a water phone as well, providing some of the strange, percussive sounds in the score.
Korven’s score for The Witch is unnerving and extremely disturbing, yet hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity. The film is very primal, which allows it to operate on several different levels of dread and fear, while still packing a strong emotional punch. The score heightens the suspense to a fever pitch, often using the silent spaces to strengthen the visual cues, while never relying on the typical ‘jump-scare’ music swells we hear so often in horror films. The grating drone and shrieking tones in tracks such as ‘Caleb’s Seduction’ and ‘Caleb’s Death’ contrast with the percussive bits in ‘A Witch Stole Sam’ and ‘Witch’s Coven’ that, even when taken out of context, are guaranteed to creep you out.
Fans of original movie soundtracks should definitely have this film score in their collection. As a writer of horror and weird fiction, Korven’s score has helped me with many a scene, capturing the mood aurally that cannot compete with regular music from vocal groups and pop artists. Listening to The Witch soundtrack, one cannot help but to write something disturbing and unsettling. Mark Korven certainly knows the sounds that set your nerves on fire, and we just can’t wait to discover where he’ll show up next, which shouldn’t be long. Lakeshore International just picked up indie horror film The Wanting, staring Adam Brody, and Amanda Crew, which features a new creepy score from Korven.