The Music of Folk Horror – Part 8 (Conclusions).

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7.


From the analysis of only a handful of British folk horror films, it has been shown that they rely heavily on their music in order to achieve their full cinematic effect.  Altman states the following when discussing genre theory:

“Constantly opposing cultural values to counter-culture values, genre films regularly depend on duel protagonists and duelistic structures (producing what I have called duel-focus texts).” (p.24,1999).

This opposition of values has manifested in various ways throughout our case-studies, especially in their musical eccentricities.  This relationship with music has been shown to be extremely idiosyncratic and specific in order to show their ultimate adherence to the thematic logic of the Folk Horror Chain.  From the earlier hints found in Witchfinder General to the more obvious and noticeable musical trends of The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw, folk horror has been shown to be a genre with a complex relationship with diegetic and nondiegetic music.

While only three films have had their scores analysed, the sheer effectiveness of their music has left a long shadow over folk horror cinema, even over films removed from the era of the counter-culture.  The second cycle of Edgar Allen Poe films started by Witchfinder General are a great example of styles being adapted and reused in folk horror with the scores mixing Ferris’ Hammer-esque pomp with Wilkinson’s more percussion based instrumentation.  Examples of these can be found in the music of films such as Cry of the Banshee (1970) and The Oblong Box (1969) to name but two.

The more experimental sounds of folk horror found in Blood on Satan’s Claw can be heard in obscure, art-house additions to the genre.  David Gladwell’s Requiem For A Village (1975) has an extremely avant-garde score by David Fanshawe though is in itself an avant-garde film with no rigidly fixed narrative so is to be expected.  Of equal weirdness is Michael Nyman’s score for Digby Rumsey’s The Pledge (1981); a film about Gothic skulduggery but with the anachronistic sounds of the weird and the modern to accompany them.

Perhaps the best and most useful example to look at in conclusion to the use of music in folk horror is in the work of British director, Ben Wheatley.  Wheatley is the most modern filmmaker to be mentioned in this essay with his most recent folk horror only being made in 2013. His work, however, represents all of the aesthetic uses of music addressed in the first wave of British folk horror, mixing all of the musical techniques to achieve a heightened sense of the Folk Horror Chain.  In A Field In England (2013), he presents almost a homage to the films of this essay, identifying their key themes and heightening them for his own purposes.  As Newman argues, “A Field in England sometimes seems like Haggard’s film put through a blender and transformed into a rustic English take on the earthy symbolic dramas Ingmar Bergman made on his rocky Swedish islands.” (p.50, 2013).  The music is just as related, mixing the folk song style of The Wicker Man with the experimental ideas of Blood on Satan’s Claw.  This can be heard from scene to scene with one moment scored by a folk song (Baloo My Boy for example) followed by an extremely avant-garde form of anachronistic electronica composed by Jim Williams, far removed from the film’s period setting.

In this sense, Wheatley’s films can mark an end point for the evolution of music in folk horror cinema.  This essay has gone to great lengths to show what the films did with music but, more importantly, why they did it.  The fact that Wheatley uses the same ideologies in scoring his films suggests that, while he is removed from the era of the counter-culture interests that influenced our case-study films, their use of music was so effective as to become the aesthetic norms of the sub-genre as a whole.

Adam Scovell


Altman, R., 1999. Film/Genre. BFI Publishing, London.

Bennett, G., 1994. Geologists and folklorists: Cultural Evolution from The Science of Folklore. Folklore Magazine, London.

Cantwell, R., 1993. When We Were Good: Class and Culture in the Folk Revival from Transforming Tradition. University of Illinois Press, Illinois.

Chion, M., 1994. Audio-Visual: Sound on Screen. Columbia University Press, New York.

Donnelly, K.J., 2005. The Spectre of Sound: Music in Film and Television. BFI Publishing, London.

Fitzgerald, J. and Hayward, P., 2009. Inflamed: Synthetic Folk Music and Paganism in the Island World of The Wicker Man from Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema. Equinox Publishing, London.

Gatiss, M., 2010. A History of Horror [Television Program]. BBC (BBC 4), 25/08/2010.

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Ling, J., 1997. A History of European Folk Music. University of Rochester Press, Rochester.

Mundy, J., 1999. Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video.  Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Newman, K., 2011. Nightmare Movies: Horror On Screen Since the 1960s. Bloomsbury, London.

Newman, K., 2013. This Spectred Isle from Sight & Sound July 2013. BFI Publishing, London.

Pratt, V., 2013. Long Arm of the Lore from Sight & Sound October 2013. BFI Publishing, London.

Tompkins, J., 2010. Pop Goes the Horror Score: Left Alone in The Last House on the Left from Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear. Routledge, New York.

Trubshaw, B., 2010. Explore Folklore. Heart of Albion Press, London.

Young, R., 2010. The Pattern Under The Plough from Sight & Sound August 2010. BFI Publishing, London.

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