A Jukebox from Hell: the music in Stephen King movie adaptations

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Behind a great movie there is always a great filmmaker. But there is also an exciting story, characters that attract and involve and a soundtrack able to accentuate the suggestions. And often, behind a great movie there is a great novel, conceived by a talented writer. And when it comes to writers who are capable of inspiring great films, Stephen King remains one of the best.

The list of films inspired by Stephen King’s novels or short stories is huge and full of small masterpieces: from the very first Carrie (directed by Brian DePalma in 1976) to the last remake of It (2017), passing by films remained in the heart of everybody (not necessarily horror movies, see The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile or Stand By Me), masterpieces of tension and movies entered in the history of fear. And, as often happens, a good story is able to unleash the inspiration of all the artists involved in making the movie. Including who takes care of the music.

Today we celebrate the best moments in which Stephen King’s stories have merged with the soundtracks of their movies. One by one, a very selective list that left out dozens of other great movies, of course. But you know, that’s the dark side of every selection.

Shining (1980)
Music by Wendy Carlos

Probably the most famous film adaptation originated by Stephen King. Stanley Kubrick adds a lot of his own contribution, transforming a story of ancient events that haunt an old hotel in a psychological thriller that has made history. Among the creators of the soundtrack there is Wendy Carlos, a keyboards master already author of A Clockwork Orange soundtrack, who did hit best in the opening theme. Three minutes and the suspense has already begun.

Misery (1990)
Music by Mark Shaiman

Claustrophobic and trapped by that annoying sense of impotence and inevitability, like the movie itself, Misery‘s soundtrack is complex and elaborate, able to exalt the moments of tension and amplify the twists. Perfect example of how a music is able by itself to determine the feelings of the spectator.

Precious Things (1993)
Music by Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg is just one of the many classical musicians that make up the musical accompaniment of this allegorical film about the evil that takes over an entire village, exploiting the weaknesses and opening a gap between people’s temptations and vices. The combinations between free evil acts of the characters and classical music is spectacular. You can see above one of the most significant scenes.

Secret Window (2004)
Music by Philip Glass

A writer accused of plagiarism and threatened in the depths of his intimacy by a stranger who does not intend to stop at nothing, while his life is going to fall on the wave of divorce and loss of inspiration. Secret Window is a film where the sense of danger is present at every corner, insecurity and instability are the daily constant of the protagonist. The soundtrack is edited by Philip Glass and it’s a web of hypnotic twists that seem to drag you to hell. Or inside yourself, which can be even worse.

Carrie (1976)
Music by Pino Donaggio

Famous especially for the hit in Italy’s Sanremo festival Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te), Pino Donaggio has subsequently become a skillful, internationally-appreciated composer of soundtracks, realizing music for important films inside and outside Italy. Carrie was his first take into international filmmaking as well as the first movie ever inspired by a Stephen King story. We are in 1976 and a difficult girl in her childhood is discovering a certain confidence with telekinetic powers. The music is an excellent balance between conciliation and crescendo.

Pet Sematary (1989)
Music by Elliot Goldenthal

Pet Sematary soundtrack has the imagination and courage of Elliot Goldenthal, one on those famous for the use of sounds and influences which are always different, and already recognized for Frida (where he won the Academy Award), Batman Forever and Interview With the Vampire. Here the story includes old legends that you never want to believe. At least as long as the tragedy breaks into your life and a small hope within yourself wants to convince you that maybe yes, in that remote outpost in the mountains there is a graveyard capable of resurrecting the dead. But they say they don’t come back exactly the same as they were alive…

It (1990)
Music by Richard Bellis

The music is the best thing in the miniseries dated 1990 on Pennywise, the famous clown killer who terrorizes a group of little boys from Maine, returning to threaten their tranquillity even in adulthood. A film that sinks the fingertips on the period of life preferred by Stephen King – adolescence – with a soundtrack extremely powerful and able to move. The author is Richard Bellis, who also won the Emmy award.

Apt Pupil (1998)
Music by John Ottman

Curiosity can be very dangerous. And it can awaken the evil hidden in the souls of bad people. It is what the young protagonist of Apt Pupil pupil discovers, as he starts to blackmail an old Nazi criminal, forcing him to satisfy his morbid curiosity. Until he goes too far. The music, in precarious balance between classical and modern, is made by John Ottman, who collaborated very often with director Bryan Singer, as a perfect catalyst for the suspense of the film.