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Horror films which feature the clarinet

Photoshopped image courtesy of Ryan Pereira

If this is your first Jenny Clarinet Halloween, you’re in for a real (trick or) treat!

If there’s one thing I love nearly as much as clarinet, it’s Halloween. During October each year, I share the spooky side of the clarinet world, from unusual history, haunted pieces, and even mysteries of the clarinet.

First up, you can’t properly celebrate Halloween with some scary movies! Get ready for some horror films with a heavy dose of clarinet!

(By the way, I’m always looking for new horror films to watch, so if you know of any clarinet-infused scary movies you’d like me to add to this list, please let me know!)


Grab some candy corn, pour some cider, and get ready for a spooktacular Jenny Clarinet Halloween movie lineup:

Movies which feature clarinet in the plot

  • Sleepless (Non ho sonno in Italian, 2001) – In this Dario Argento film, a victim is stabbed to death with a clarinet. Death by clarinet certainly sounds like a frightening event, and I believe this scene is just in the uncut version.
  • Haunter (2013). The star of this film is a ghost in northern Ontario who is aware that she and her entire family are dead, and she’s stuck on an endless loop of the day she was murdered. There’s a scene where she practices Peter and the Wolf…but you’ll have to watch the movie to see what happens.

Movies which feature clarinet in the soundtrack

  • Frankenstein (1931) – American composer Bernard Kaun (1899-1980) includes many clarinet and bass clarinet features in this early horror film.
  • The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) – Malcolm Williamson composed the music for this film, and it includes eight clarinet parts. According to this website, Williamson said in an interview: “ I had specific ideas about the sound that I wanted to create for the film, I planned to use clarinets which would start with piccolo clarinet to double bass clarinet there would be eight in total which would be supported or underlined by strings and percussion, but things did not go entirely to plan and I was asked to add flutes and also oboe which I did reluctantly, this resulted in the sound becoming more of a conventional woodwind sound which for me completely defeated the object and diluted the sound that I was attempting to create.”
  • Hereditary (2018) – Composer Colin Stetson describes in an interview, “There is quite a bit of contrabass clarinet and bass clarinet and B-flat clarinet, for that matter. Clarinet was a huge player. There was a fair bit of my trusty alto bass saxophone strewn throughout. But, primarily, vocal basis and clarinets.”
  • Honorable mention: The Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll” features extended bass clarinet solos, accompanied by harp and celeste, written by Bernard Herrmann.

Horror films which feature the contra clarinet

Sometimes, the soprano clarinet just doesn’t cut it to create the rumbling, suspenseful sounds necessary to frighten viewers!

  • Interview with the Vampire (1994) – music by Elliot Goldenthal
  • Shallow Ground (2004) – music by Steve London
  • Hereditary (2018) – music by Colin Stetson (In this interview, Stetson describes his use of low clarinets: “So all of the heartbeat-esque things or the very grating, metallic sort of crunching percussion that can happen throughout in tension-building areas, those are all percussive sounds that come from the saxophones and the clarinets. So yes, the heartbeats are all coming straight out of the horn, and they’re tied to the rhythms that the horns are playing in those particular scenes. In one of the first major incitement scenes, there’s a contrabass clarinet piece that’s entirely built around it. There were probably 12 mics alone in that one track. There’s a number of other things orchestrating around it, but the core being the solo live-rendered clarinet piece. I was consciously avoiding conventional tropes in the genre, using the ubiquitous strings and synths to create all of the creepy sounds. All of the stuff that people hear in the score and think are strings, the vast majority of all of that is actually clarinets and all high woodwinds. So, lots of things that may sound very synth-y and all of that dirty low-end, that’s all coming from low woodwinds, contrabass clarinet, and bass clarinet. There’s a whole host of different modes of processing that happened, and then a lot of real unconventional playing of individual instruments.”)
  • 1BR (2019) – music by Ronen Landa (score includes bass, contrabass, and B-flat clarinets)

Clarinetist Paul Harvey also played contra clarinet on several horror films.


Clarinet compositions written by horror film composers

When they’re not busy writing suspenseful music to famous horror films, these composers have written solo and chamber works featuring the clarinet:

  • Bernard Hermmann (1911-1975), most famous for composing music to The Twilight Zone and Psycho, wrote his Clarinet Quintet “Souvenirs de Voyage” in 1967. According to program notes from a performance at the Sydney Opera House, “The first movement takes as its inspiration A.E. Housman’s poem ‘On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble’, while the second evokes Ireland’s Aran Islands and the final pays tribute to Turner’s Venetian watercolours. The musical scenery Herrmann builds around each of these stimuli attest to his profound understanding of the intimate interplay between sound and sight.”
  • Polish composer Wojciech Kilar (1932-2013), who wrote the score to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), also wrote Training 68, for clarinet, trombone, cello and piano (1968).
  • American composer and clarinetist Robert Drasnin (1927-2015) wrote the music to The Twilight Zone episode “The Hunt” (in addition to several other television scores). In addition to his TV music, you can hear him playing on his albums such as “Couch, Los Angeles” (Mouthpiece Records,) and “The Blue Dahlia” (Stardust Records).
  • Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996) wrote the music to over 90 films (including the horror film Kwaidan). He composed several pieces featuring clarinet, including Rain Spell, Fantasma/Cantos, Quatrain II, Waterways, and several others.

Sources

  • La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film by Mikel J. Coven, 2006 page 63
  • Film Music and Film Genre by Mark Brownrigg

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