How Television Is Making It Sound Like Halloween Year-Round

By  · Published on October 29th, 2015

Halloween may happen once a year, but the sound of the season has become a yearlong event. With shows like American Horror Story, Scream Queens, Penny Dreadful, and Fargo the small screen has been delivering jump scares and terrifying scores long before we started carving up pumpkins. Television shows based in horror is nothing new, but there seem to be more shows to choose than ever before. Each of these shows uses horror in a different way, but it is the music that really helps set each apart and proves that (depending on the context) any style of music can be used to strike fear in a viewer’s heart.

Fargo is not necessarily a horror show, but it has elements of horror that are delivered through the series’ brutal murders and off-putting use of music. Where composer Jeff Russo used elements from the movie in his score for the series’ first season, Russo now implores jazz elements to take the show’s second season in an entirely different direction.

Jazz is not a genre normally associated with horror, but set against Fargo’s snow covered landscape (and the gruesome crime scenes that continue to pop up there) it takes on a surprisingly sinister tone. Fargo’s second season is also moving at much faster clip than the first with multiple viewpoints captured in a single frame and the music follows suit with the quicker staccato of jazz percussion that works to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Penny Dreadful delivers more standard horror with jump scares and haunting music that never feels quite right. Composer Abel Korzeniowski utilizes a full orchestra that, on its own, would be considered beautiful, but when it accompanies the dark stories of Dorian Gray and Frankenstein the music quickly becomes terrifying. The orchestration also fits right in to the show’s setting in the Victorian era, but makes this “simpler” time feel like it was full of uncertainty and unnatural forces.

American Horror Story has always pushed the envelope, but this season of American Horror Story: Hotel uses an electronic, almost techno, score (akin to the music Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) to create an uncomfortable world of horrors.

The music of AHS: Hotel is rough and does not hold back from forcing viewers to flinch due to its unrelenting sounds and tones. From AHS: Hotel’s very first scene, Mac Quayle’s score utilizes the sound of static to make it clear entering the hotel is entering into uncharted waters. But the music of AHS: Hotel goes even further to include a slew of terrifying characters, and their accompanying themes, to make the show as much of a psychological tease as an obvious one.

Where AHS: Hotel goes right for the jugular with it’s gore and torture, Scream Queens is more tongue-in-cheek with it’s horror. Quayle is also the composer for Scream Queens and while his music here is also scare worthy, it does so in a way that does not take itself too seriously. Quayle turns up the 1980s synth element here to help the placed songs (like Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night”) fit seamlessly into the narrative and keep up the camp factor of the show.

Scream Queens is also full of over-the-top characters, but here the characters are less sinister and more daffy. However that does not mean they are not capable of real scares as Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) will suddenly burn off a house keeper’s face in a deep fryer. Or you will find Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin) lost in a Shinning-like maze (with her twin paramours) as the Red Devil chases them down with the music never missing a horrifying beat.

The sound and feel of Halloween has become an event that is no longer reserved only to October. Thanks to the diverse shows on television, you can get a dose of horror any time of the year and give yourself costume inspiration for when Halloween finally rolls around.