THE HORROR JAR:  Music by Bernard Herrmann

By Michael Arruda

Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann



Welcome to another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature lists of odds and ends about horror movies.

Bernard Herrmann, the prolific film composer who composed music for some of Hollywood’s biggest movies during the 1940s-1970s, especially for director Alfred Hitchcock, wrote some of my favorite genre film scores.  He scored nine of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, including his most famous for PSYCHO (1960), and interestingly enough none of his Hitchcock scores were ever nominated for Oscars.

Herrmann started in radio, scoring Orson Welles’ radio shows in the 1930s, including his infamous “The War of the Worlds” broadcast in 1938.

Herrmann’s final film score was for Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976).  He was supposed to score Brian De Palma’s CARRIE (1976) but died of a heart attack just before he was start work on the film.  He was 64.

Here’s a partial look at the movies Herrmann provided music for, focusing mostly on genre films:


Directed by Orson Welles

Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles

Kane:  Orson Welles

Jedediah Leland:  Joseph Cotten

Susan Alexander Kane:  Dorothy Comingore

Emily Kane:  Ruth Warrick

Mary Kane:  Agnes Moorehead

Running Time:  119 minutes

Bernard Herrmann’s first movie score. Not a bad way to start one’s career, scoring music for arguably the greatest movie ever made.


Directed by William Dieterle

Screenplay by Dan Totheroh and Stephen Vincent Benet

Daniel Webster:  Edward Arnold

Mr. Scratch:  Walter Huston

Running Time:  107 minutes

Herrmann’s second movie score earned him his first and only Academy Award for Best Music Score.


Directed by Orson Welles

Screenplay by Orson Welles and Booth Tarkington

Eugene Morgan:  Joseph Cotten

Running Time:  88 minutes

Working with Orson Welles’ again in this troubled production which suffered from major studio meddling and last minute edits and changes.


Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Screenplay by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick

Lucy Muir:  Gene Tierney

Captain Daniel Gregg:  Rex Harrison

Miles Farley:  George Sanders

Running Time:  104 minutes

Herrmann’s personal favorite music score.


Directed by Robert Wise

Screenplay by Edmund H. North, based on a story by Harry Bates

Klaatu:  Michael Rennie

Helen Benson:  Patricia Neal

One of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores.  His music completely captures the otherworldly mood of this classic science fiction masterpiece about an alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who travels to Earth to warn humankind that unless they give up their warring ways, they will face destruction by a superior race, and to give credence to his words Klaatu brings along his all-powerful robot Gort.  This thought-provoking drama is science fiction at its best.

Herrmann’s score here was later used in several episodes of the TV series LOST IN SPACE.


Directed by Nathan Juran

Screenplay by Kenneth Kolb

Sinbad:  Kerwin Mathews

Princess Parisa:  Kathryn Grant

Sokurah the Magician:  Torin Thatcher

Special Visual Effects by Ray Harryhausen

Running Time:  88 minutes

This just might be my all-time favorite Bernard Herrmann music score.  Rousing and adventurous from start to finish, it’s the type of score that’ll stick with you long after you’ve seen the movie.  Some of Herrmann’s best work is in movies featuring the special animation effects of Ray Harryhausen.

VERTIGO (1958)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor

John Ferguson:  James Stewart

Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton:  Kim Novak

Midge Wood:  Barbara Bel Geddes

Running Time:  128 minutes

Provides the music for one of Hitchcock’s best films, the tale of a retired San Francisco police detective (James Stewart) suffering from acrophobia (fear of heights) who becomes entangled in a bizarre murder plot.


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Ernest Lehman

Roger Thornhill:  Cary Grant

Eve Kendall:  Eva Marie Saint

Phillip Vandamm: James Mason

Running Time:  136 minutes

With apologies to his work on PSYCHO, this just might be my favorite Bernard Herrmann score for an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  His rousing music in this film also ranks among his best work, period.


Directed by Henry Levin

Screenplay by Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett, based on the novel by Jules Verne

Sir Oliver Lindenbrook:  James Mason

Alec McKuen:  Pat Boone

Carla Goetabaug:  Arlene Dahl

Count Saknussemm:  Thayer David

Running Time:  132 minutes

Another of my favorite Bernard Herrmann scores, but seriously, I can say that about nearly every score he wrote.  This fantasy film adventure based on the work of Jules Verne is 1950s filmmaking at its best:  colorful, elaborate, and entertaining throughout.

PSYCHO (1960)

Directed by Alfred HitchcockPsycho poster

Screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch

Norman Bates:  Anthony Perkins

Marion Crane:  Janet Leigh

Lila Crane:  Vera Miles

Sam Loomis:  John Gavin

Detective Arbogast:  Martin Balsam

Running Time:  109 minutes

Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous shocker, and arguably Bernard Herrmann’s most famous music score as well.  Likewise, it contains Hitchcock’s most famous and most studied scene, the shower scene, which also contains Herrmann’s most famous piece of music, the loud shrill of violins as the shadowy murderer strikes down poor Janet Leigh in the shower.  Hitchcock originally wanted no music in this scene, which actually makes a lot of sense and would have worked, making the scene raw and brutal, but Herrmann argued that it needed music, and how can anyone argue with the end result?  A rare example of one brief scene capturing the finest instances of artistry of two separate artists at the same time, as both Hitchcock and Herrmann produce their signature moments in this scene.

Arguably the most famous and recognizable horror movie score of all time.


Directed by Jack Sher

Screenplay by Jack Sher and Arthur A. Ross, based on “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver:  Kerwin Mathews

Gwendolyn:  Jo Morrow

Elizabeth: June Thorburn

Running Time:  100 minutes

Once again providing music for a film with special animation effects by Ray Harryhausen.


Directed by Cy Endfield

Screenplay by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur, based on the novel by Jules Verne

Captain Cyrus Harding:  Michael Craig

Lady Mary Fairchild:  Joan Greenwood

Herbert Brown:  Michael Callan

Gideon Spilitt:  Gary Merrill

Captain Nemo:  Herbert Lom

Running Time:  101 minutes

Once again reunited with Ray Harryhausen, and once again one of Herrmann’s most memorable scores. This entertaining adventure about Civil War soldiers stranded on an island with oversized creatures is must-see viewing.  The first twenty minutes, involving a daring escape from a Confederate prison, is riveting and suspenseful, complimented in full by Herrmann’s rousing music, and this is all before they even land on the island!

CAPE FEAR (1962)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson

Screenplay by James R. Webb, based on the novel by John D. Macdonald

Sam Bowden:  Gregory Peck

Max Cady:  Robert Mitchum

Peggy Bowden:  Polly Bergen

Running Time:  105 minutes

Classic thriller about murder and revenge was a financial flop upon its initial release.


Directed by Don Chaffey

Screenplay by Jan Read and Beverley Cross

Jason:  Todd Armstrong

Argos:  Laurence Naismith

Running Time:  104 minutes

Reunited once again— and for the last time— with Ray Harryhausen, and yes, once more, another exceedingly memorable film score.  This one contains the classic sword fight between Jason and his men and Harryhausen’s animated skeletons.  The scene also includes some of Hermann’s best music.

THE BIRDS (1963)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Evan Hunter, based on the story by Daphne Du Maurier

Melanie Daniels:  Tippi Hedrin

Mitch Brenner:  Rod Taylor

Annie Hayworth:  Suzanne Pleshette

Running Time:  119 minutes.

But, there’s no music in THE BIRDS.  True.  Herrmann served as a sound consultant for this movie.  Supposedly it was his idea not to have music in THE BIRDS.

MARNIE (1964)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen, based on the novel by Winston Graham

Marnie:  Tippi Hedren

Mark Rutland:  Sean Connery

Running Time:  130 minutes

This Hitchcock drama was considered a misfire on its initial release, but its reputation has grown steadily over the decades.

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966)

Directed by Francois Truffaut

Screenplay by Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury

Clarisse/Linda Montag:  Julie Christie

Guy Montag:  Oskar Werner

Running Time:  112 minutes.

Classic novel; not so classic movie.

SISTERS (1973)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Brian De Palma and Louisa Rose

Danielle Breton/Dominique Blanchion:  Margot Kidder

Joseph Larch:  Charles Durning

Running Time:  93 minutes

Early Brian De Palma thriller.

IT’S ALIVE (1974)

Directed by Larry Cohen

Screenplay by Larry Cohen

Frank Davies:  John P. Ryan

Running Time: 91 minutes

Campy horror movie about a killer baby was a hit in the summer of 1974.


Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Paul Schrader

Michael Courtland:  Cliff Robertson

Elizabeth Courtland/Sandra Portinari

Robert Lasalle:  John Lithgow

Running Time:  98 minutes

De Palma thriller with shades of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO.  Herrmann’s score was nominated for an Oscar.


Directed by Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by Paul Schrader

Travis Bickle:  Robert De Niro

Iris:  Jodie Foster

Running Time:  113 minutes

Classic Scorsese film earned Oscar nominations for stars De Niro and Foster, as well as Bernard Herrmann who was nominated twice in the same year. Herrmann lost out to Jerry Goldsmith for his score for THE OMEN.  Herrmann’s final movie score.

Herrmann died of a heart attack on December 24, 1975, just hours after he had finished the score for TAXI DRIVER.  He was 64.

Bernard Herrmann enjoyed a long and prolific career.  For me, I will always associate his music with the fantasy films of Ray Harryhausen and the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, and if I had to pick my three favorite Herrmann scores, they would be NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO, and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

Bernard Herrmann

June 29, 1911 – December 24, 1975

Thanks for reading!




Mysterious Island posterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, now appearing in the June issue of the HWA NEWSLETTER.





We lost a master of the genre when Ray Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013.  He was 92.

No one created stop-motion animation effects better than Ray Harryhausen.  His list of credits is extensive, from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) to his final feature CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), to name just a few.  The most impressive thing about Harryhausen’s movies is they are all quality credits.  A Ray Harryhausen movie with poor special effects doesn’t exist.  He brought his “A” game every time.  Considering how long Harryhausen would spend on these effects, sometimes taking several years to complete a project, it’s no surprise the results were always exceptional.

Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT we look at the Ray Harryhausen movie MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961).

Loosely based on the novel by Jules Verne (very loosely), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND takes place during the American Civil War.  A group of Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison using a hot air balloon.  The balloon gets blown off course, and the soldiers suddenly find themselves half way across the world where they crash land on a mysterious island.

Led by their captain, Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) they forage for food and struggle to survive as they fight off various giant creatures, including a gigantic crab, a scene that is one of the movie’s highlights.  When a small boat washes ashore carrying two women, Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan) they are welcomed into the camp and join forces to try to find a way off the island.  Their presence also offers a romantic subplot between Elena and young dashing soldier Herbert Brown (Michael Callan).

Things grow even more mysterious when a man emerges from the ocean, and lo and behold, it’s Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom) from 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA fame.  Nemo provides some dramatic revelations both about his history— his submarine the Nautilus is stationed in a watery cave beneath the island— and the future of the island, a future that spells doom for anyone who remains there.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is a neat adventure, the kind of movie that grabs you at the outset and never lets go, providing thrills, chills and solid entertainment throughout.  Sure, it slows down in its second half, but it still manages to please, and that’s because in addition to Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, the movie also features an energetic music score by Bernard Herrmann, fine acting performances, and a crisp script by John Prebble, Daniel B. Ullman, and Crane Wilbur.

It gets off to a rousing start, as the movie opens with the soldiers’ thrilling escape from the Confederate prison, and then jumps right into their hazardous balloon flight through a torrential storm.  You don’t get a chance to catch your breath until they finally crash land on the island, and that’s when the fun really begins.

Some of the highlights in this one include the aforementioned colossal crab sequence, brilliantly brought to life by Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects.  That’s a real crab, too!  No, Harryhausen didn’t give it acting lessons. He gutted it and fitted it with the mechanisms needed to animate it, so it’s not a model built by Harryhausen, but the exoskeleton of a real crab.

Other Harryhausen creations in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND include an oversized bird, monster bees, and a giant squid.  The special effects also include an impressive backdrop of the island’s volcano, and the ruins of an undersea city, not to mention the Nautilus submarine.

Bernard Herrmann’s score is potent as always.  While I prefer his score to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, this one’s a close second.  It’s a major part of the movie, especially during the opening twenty minutes, when so much is happening.  It really complements the action.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND also has fine acting performances.  Michael Craig makes a strong, likeable Captain Harding, while Michael Callan and Beth Rogan make an attractive romantic couple.

Probably my favorite performance in the film belongs to Gary Merrill as reporter Gideon Spilitt.  Gideon represents the film’s moral conscience and gets to spout off commentary about the war and human nature in general.

Percy Herbert is also memorable as Sgt. Pencroft, the Confederate soldier who gets trapped on the balloon with the Union soldiers.  Once they get to the island, they put aside their differences in the interest of survival.

And then there’s Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo.  I’m a big fan of Herbert Lom’s, and there’s really nothing wrong with his performance here, as he lends credibility to the proceedings, but his Captain Nemo isn’t in the movie very much, and truth be told, there just isn’t a lot for him to do here.  James Mason in the Disney film 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) made a much more memorable Captain Nemo.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND does slow down as it goes along.  I guess this is inevitable, since the first half of the movie rocks, with the prison escape, the balloon ride, and the crab battle.  The giant bird sequence is quite good, but by the time you reach the bee scene and the battle with the pirates, director Cy Endfield seems to have run out of creative ideas, and these sequences are handled with less inspiration than the previous scenes.  And the underwater battle with the monstrous squid towards the end is not that exciting.

Of the three screenwriters, only Crane Wilbur had genre credits, as he wrote the screenplay for several Vincent Price films including HOUSE OF WAX (1953), THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954), and THE BAT (1959).

Where does MYSTERIOUS ISLAND rank in terms of Ray Harryhausen’s work?  As I said earlier, Harryhausen brought his “A” game to each and every movie he ever made, so in terms of the quality of his special effects, they’re just as good here as they are in all his movies.

I’d rate the crab sequence as one of the top five sequences he ever created.  It’s up there with the skeleton battle in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), the Medusa scene in CLASH OF THE TITANS, the Kali fight in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973), and the lassoing of the T-Rex in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969).

You really can’t go wrong with any of the movies Ray Harryhausen lent his name to.  That’s a testament to the amount of talent he brought to the table.  Yet, strangely, none of his movies ever won an Academy Award for special effects.  Go figure.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is grand entertainment.  It’s a movie that won’t leave you crabby.


My EBook IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 “In The Spooklight” movie columns, is available at