In honor of the release of Jackals, my first produced feature screenplay about an evil cult, and because I am a hardcore fan of film music, I thought it would be fun to write up my five favorite "dark ceremony" music cues from film scores.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), composed and conducted by John Williams. Cue title: "Temple of Doom"
I feel like it's been virtually forgotten how big of an influence Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was on the movie landscape in the mid-to-late 80's. Cults had already been a fun/scary adversary to defeat in action-adventure films like Conan the Barbarian and Treasuree of thee Four Crowns (and it should be noted that Temple of Doom itself took a lot of inspiration from 1939's Gunga Din with its British Army versus Thuggee cult plotline), but after Temple of Doom, evil cults became the de facto bad guys for a lot of heroes. There was everything from "Dirty Harry and the Temple of Doom" (Cobra), "Sherlock Holmes and the Temple of Doom" (Young Sherlock Holmes, more on that one later), and even "Joe Friday and the Temple of Doom" (Dragnet).
For the infamous scene in Indiana Jones' controversial second movie adventure where a sacrificial victim's still-beating heart is removed from his chest, John Williams composed an ominous diegetic music cue which is an absolute highlight of the score, building in intensity from a foreboding chant to a pounding, screaming, chaotic finish that always leaves me with goose bumps.
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), composed and conducted by Bruce Broughton Cue titles: "Rame Tep" / "Waxing Elizabeth"
One of the movies that seems to solidify the "[BLANK] and the Temple of Doom" trend in the '80s is irrefutably Young Sherlock Holmes. Not only does school-boy aged Sherlock Holmes find himself attempting to unravel a mystery involving an Egyptian cult practicing human sacrifice, but the origin story is molded into a thrill-a-minute, cliffhanging action-adventure by executive producer Steven Spielberg.
I have no idea whether or not composer Bruce Broughton was actively attempting to outdo Williams' Temple chant with his own diegetic music cues for the dark ceremonies at the heart of Young Sherlock Holmes, but I feel like he succeeded regardless. Taking clear inspiration from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana", the cult chant becomes the recurring motif for the film's villains, and its multi-layered mix of choir and orchestra might be one of Broughton's greatest compositions. In my opinion, it is second only to Goldsmith's "Ave Satani" from The Omen in terms of grandiose "exultations of evil".
King Kong (1976), composed and conducted by John Barry Cue titles: "Night Wall Parts 1 & 2" aka "Sacrifice - Hail to the King"
The 1976 version of King Kong, as flawed and maligned as it is, will always be "my" version of Kong. It came out when I was a kid and will forever be the depiction of the story my mind will flash on when the words "King Kong" are uttered.
One thing that few people had a problem with regarding this misguided epic is John Barry's lush, multi-faceted score, full of adventure, romance, suspense, tragedy and spectacle. It also contains some of my absolute favorite "dark ceremony" music cues during the extravagant sequence wherein Jessica Lange's character is brought through the massive gates by the natives and offered up to Kong as a sacrifice. The rhythmic chanting of "Kong! Kong! Kong!" is accompanied at first only by crude percussion, but gradually Barry's full orchestra joins in with a portentous rendition of Kong's theme and Lange's character's theme, all of which builds to a frenzied crescendo at the glorious, first full appearance of Rick Baker's Kong.
It's an unforgettable sequence, made indelible by Barry's apocalyptic, doom-laden score.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999), composed and performed by Jocelyn Pook Cue title: "Masked Ball"
Eyes Wide Shut remains one of Stanley Kubrick's most argued over works. People either love it or they hate it. I've done both and remain utterly fascinated by it to this day. And if there is one sequence that raises eyebrows, perhaps makes or breaks the entire movie for some viewers, it is probably the lengthy, clandestine orgy scene, set at a country mansion with masked individuals participating in what might be best described as an upper-class gangbang.
The orgy is kicked off by an unusually formal, seemingly religious ceremony led by a red cloaked High Priest-type figure performing a sort of choreographed blessing while standing at the center of a circle of women, wearing only masquerade masks and G-strings.
The scene is scored by Jocelyn Pook with a hypnotic, black mass-type "dark ceremony" cue, with sampled religious text sung in Romanian played backwards over a bleak string melody. For its time, an extremely unique and innovative piece which has since inspired numerous imitations.
The Witch (2015), composed by Mark Korven Cue title: "Witch's Coven"
To say I loved Robert Eggers The Witch would be understating it. The film hit me in a way few modern horror films have with its hyper-authentic period setting, dreary atmosphere, and doomed characters on a path of destruction, believing that their very souls hang in the balance.
A huge part of the film's impact comes from Mark Korven's deeply unsettling, atonal score, utilizing strings, percussion and human voices in ways that evoke a sense of primal dread from the listener. It's as though the fears in the hearts of the characters have been given pure, audio form.
"Witch's Coven" is a jarring, nightmare-inducing piece of "dark ceremony" music that underscores the film's final, electrifying moments. It's the terrifying culmination of a film score that left me shaken, the definition of a spine-tingler.
Jared Rivet is the screenwriter of Jackals, a new horror film from director Kevin Greutert starring Deborah Kara Unger, Johnathon Schaech and Stephen Dorff. It is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and multiple digital platforms from Scream Factory. He has written, directed and acted in several episodes of Earbud Theater, an ongoing anthology podplay series (specializing in horror and sci-fi), available for free download at earbudtheater.com and on iTunes. His episodes ON THE LINE and TRAILS have been nominated for multiple Audio Verse Awards. He also co-hosts Dead Right Horror Trivia, a monthly horror trivia night in Burbank, California, with Dr. Rebekah McKendry. Jared has two cats and has survived multiple all-night horror marathons at the New Beverly Cinema.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Jared for stopping buy and sharing this peek into his life. Be sure to enter the Jackals contest by clicking the poster below!