"Dies Irae" at the Movies
You've heard this piece before in many, many, many creepy movies, but why do we find it so creepy? First, the Dies Irae was written by 13th-century Catholic monks as a funeral dirge for the funeral mass (that's pretty creepy).
But that's not really why we find it so creepy. It's not as if we subconsciously connect a funeral dirge to creepy things. We find it creepy because the first four notes of this music are in a minor key . . . and minor keys are always creepy. In western culture, our ears are trained not to "like" those notes, especially when they are played together, or go down the musical scale.
As pointed out at Open Culture: "Of course, we know these notes from the iconic, oft-parodied Amadeus scene of Mozart composing the “Dies Irae” movement of his Requiem in his sickbed, as ultimate frenemy Salieri furiously transcribes. Once you hear the magisterially ominous sequence of notes, you might immediately think of Wendy Carlos’ themes for The Shining and A Clockwork Orange. But did you notice these four notes in Disney’s The Lion King, Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, or It’s a Wonderful Life?"
This dirge can also be heard in The Exorcist, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman Returns, and Jurassic Park at points when a creepy, scary, or sad scene occurs. The oldest example of the Dies Irae in film can be found in the futuristic Metropolis. One of the best, I think, is from the movie Amadeus when Mozart's requiem is played at his own funeral. The story goes that he was sick when he composed it (borrowing the chant) and died soon thereafter.
Can you think of other films with particularly scary or creepy musical scores? Where/when can this music be heard in the film? Would these movies be the same without music that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up?