Fear music is the collective name given to the ominous incidental music that is increasingly found in every facet of modern mass media. It is said of any electronically-driven low-bass incidental music of action, horror or suspense films and primetime TV shows about crime, murder and dismemberment, of some commercials and even of pseudo-documentaries appearing on the History Channel about any subject of a violent, mysterious or speculative nature (Nostradamus, end of times prophecies, Da Vinci, Hitler and other evil historical figures, ancient torture devices, the antichrist, natural disasters, war, terrorism, disease, etc.).
In dramas, it often drowns out dialogues and announces the violent content to follow. In pseudo-documentaries, it often accompanies ominous disclaimers such as “although nobody knows for certain” and “the viewer is free to draw his own conclusions”. It is often satirized in comedy shows making fun of bad movies such as the “Scary Movie” series or The Onion.
Critics see it as “the new soundtrack of America” and indicative of the present anxious mood of the US. It is also criticized as hack work using lazy musical clichés, cheap electronic or percussive effects and low-frequency vibrations designed to give the listener the creeps while rattling his dental fillings, without ever resorting to true musical invention. Its use and development have been variously credited to James Horner and other second rate film composers.
When I heard the fear music coming from the living room, I first assumed my wife was watching the History Channel. But it turns out she was just watching an infomercial about an insect repellent.
I’m surprised “Film Score Monthly” didn’t do a cover story on fear music yet.