Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “The Shining (Main Title)” — Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind (1980)

Not for nothing but here’s two things you can learn about your humble host:

  1. The Shining is my favorite horror movie of all time.
  2. Dies irae makes any musical piece sound utterly sinister

As far as #1 is concerned, that is of course entirely subjective. But few films creep me out to the core quite like Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. I probably watch it 3-4 times a year, and it never wears out its welcome. Ever.

With that said, let’s talk #2 (teehee) and about why The Shining (Main Title) is such a creepy masterpiece of film scoring. the aforementioned Dies irae (“day of wrath”) refers to a Latin melodic requiem written centuries ago by a Franciscan monk. Over the centuries it developed into a cornerstone motif of Western music

Composers like Mozart, Vivaldi, and especially Hector Berlioz employed it in their works. Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique makes particularly noticeable use of Dies irae during the “Witches Sabbath” sequence. (Incidentally, I’ve been wanting to talk about this piece for ages in our Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs series. One day.)

Lest we get too artsy-fartsy, we shall push forward a few centuries. For decades throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, multiple filmmakers used musical cues from Dies irae in their movies’ soundtracks. We’re talking such little-known nothings like Star Wars, The Lion King, It’s A Wonderful Life, Lord of the Rings, Groundhog Day, and more. Check out this video if your doubt lingers:

Which brings us to The Shining (Main Title). Composers Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind brought Dies irae to the forefront of one of cinema’s most haunting themes. There’s no mistaking it; the cue is predominant in booming, almost overpowering synth waves. Embellished within the track are wisps of electronic noises that evoke a supernatural dread. A reminder of the spirits within the Overlook Hotel shrieking in pain, anger, vengeance, and loss. The overall effect is entirely overpowering.

With little room for doubt, The Shining (Main Title) is one of the most terrifying theme songs ever written and recorded… and for one of the most chilling movies ever made.

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