It has been some time since a Horror Icon article graced the site of The Horror Times, once again for those unaware we note on the anniversary death date of a person to review their life accomplishments, remembrance and influenced others in their careers. Although this one, does tie closely to another Icon of ours, which is Alfred Hitchcock, and who is our second horror icon this month.

Bernard, who lived a full life, even passed on at the age of 64 on December 24, 1975, was an American composer best known for his numerous film scores as well as performing as a conductor and won an Oscar for The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1941; later renamed All That Money Can Buy). However, he’s best recognized with being heavily associated with director Alfred Hitchcock, and his scores in Psycho [1960], North by Northwest [1959], The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956], and Vertigo [1957]; more on this relationship later. He had the wonderful opportunity to work with/for Orson Welles’ dramatic movie Citizen Kane [1941], although he met him earlier when he conducted live performances of Welles’ the adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938. Then after he moved to Hollywood, his first movie was The Day the Earth Stood Still [1951] an exquisite sci-fi film where he deployed many unusual techniques including the usage of the Theremin, which had a clearly unique sounding.

Please listen/watch here of the studio sessions, also to understand how much work it took to achieve the lasting eerily sound:

In addition, he worked on the romantic ghostly tale The Ghost and Mrs. Muir [1947] and stellar psychological thriller Cape Fear [1962] and continued to compose on many fantasy movies of Ray Harryhausen (RIP 2013) as well as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.

Herrmann and Hitchcock

Bernard wrote scores for seven Hitchcock films which started with The Trouble with Harry [1955] to Marnie [1964], that included some of true classic and highly acclaimed to included Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. In addition, he provided assistance as a sound consultant on The Birds [1963], if one is curious why, it’s because the film doesn’t have any actual music playing it. He also had the rare opportunity to star on screen in the Hitchcock’s remake of his own him The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956] as the conductor of the wonderful London Symphony Orchestra in the Albert Hall scene.

One must note his masterful score for the magnificent movie Vertigo, there’re plenty of scenes that Alfred allows Bernard to make creative motifs and melodies that have gone on in both cinematic and pop music influencing musicians and composers alike. Most of the motifs were used in the opening suite and for Kim Novak’s character in key scenes, of course this led to a troublesome moment for Bernard.  He often conducts his own compositions, thereby able to finalize any last minute tweaks, however due to the musician strike occurring at the time in America, this luxury was missed and instead the score was conducted by Muir Mathieson in England.

The composition for what he’s most known to do was, Psycho [1960], which had an unusual score that used only the string section of an orchestra, that well-heard screeching violin heard during the legendary shower scene shall live on in cinematic history forever. In fact, Hitchcock didn’t want any music for it, but Bernard didn’t listen to him and insisted it needed a musical enhancement and he was absolutely correct. The music for scene in the end provided tension, shock and finally doom, it definitely worked to overwhelm the audiences’ experience of 1960 and surprisingly still does today.

Herrmann had stated Hitchcock was one of the very few directors to ever invite him on the production set to discuss music for a scene, knowing it needed to marry to what the audience visually saw, to enhance their audio pleasure or fear. Alfred clearly understood the importance of a score how it worked in cutting or expanding a scene for duration of music to work exquisitely with sounding abrupt or frankly rudely ending premature.

His relationship with Hitchcock ended in 1966 with the production of another thriller called Torn Curtain, Alfred thought he was becoming dated and wanted the music to change with that of society. However, while Bernard initially agreed he later reverted back to his own conceptual design, it was Alfred who brought the uproar when realizing the music did not contain a more pop-music feel to it. Herrmann insisted he didn’t create pop-themed music, and Hitchcock didn’t make those types of films, in the end his score was rejected as well as creative control and was replaced with John Addison.

Each of these men tried later reconciling, but their working relationship was damaged, however a mutual friendship did exist though a murky thick fog, as families of each seem to muddy these men’s legacies on this topic. Hitchcock did ask Bernard to reteam with him for his final movie Family Plot [1976], however he declined because had a full slate of films among them Brian de Palma’s Carrie and Larry Cohen’s God Told Me to compose scores in 1976, sadly none came to fruition as he died near the end of 1975.

In the 1990s two of Herrmann’s scores were adapted for two remakes, first highly celebrated composer Elmer Bernstein used his original Cape Fear pieces for Martin Scorsese’s film and include his rejected score for Torn Curtain. Then, secondly film composer Danny Elfman and orchestrator Steve Bartek used Bernard’s full Psycho score for director Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot thoroughly questionable remake of Psycho [1998]. His work was also praised by Quentin Tarantino and used in his flick Kill Bill: Volume 1 [2003], sampled a whistling known as “Georgie’s Theme” from Twisted Nerve (1968) in a scene involving the assassin Elle Driver.  In fact, Lady Gaga, used Herrmann’s opening theme from Vertigo in her ‘Born this Way’ video:

Vertigo’s Opening Theme:

One can easily hear the sampling in the beginning of Lady Gaga’s song and in the pilot episode of American Horror Story “Georgie’s theme” becomes the cue of the Tate character. Clearly one sees the usage of Bernard’s skills carrying over into other composers’ work, for example Danny Elfman, who often notes Herrmann as his biggest influence, when he, as a child, first heard The Day the Earth Stood Still and realized how powerful a composer’s contribution truly is to movies. Elfman’s Batman incorporates Herrmann’s Vertigo for the Joker character and gave homage to his classic skills in Mars attacks [1996] and the film Hitchcock [2012].

Other famous composers often reference Herrmann’s works and consider him inspirations for their scores, among them most notable is first Graeme Revell, who adapted Bernard’s Psycho score for the television film Psycho IV: The Beginning [1990] and for his score on Child’s Play 2 [1990] he brought elements very similar to Herrmann’s composition of Sisters [1973], ever since then there have been times, he’s acknowledged this maestro for his creative insights. Nevertheless, one cannot omit Richard Band, who worked on Re-Animator [1985] clearly borrows from Bernard’s Psycho score.

There’s one final composer to note who clearly places distinct homage to Bernard’s work, and that is Harry Manfredini well-known for his work on Friday the 13th [1980], that continued throughout the franchise, these motifs are sometimes quite clear and at other times underlying faint notes.

In conclusion there are plenty of videos on YouTube from other composers expressing the love affair of Bernard Herrmann’s work, in thorough detail, understanding the complexities and trying to understand how his mind worked on these phenomenal scores. A documentary known as Score [2016] noted the emphasis others had for his work, and how over four decades later his craftsman still honored and studied by others and incorporated even the most subtle manner to Jaws [1975] by John Williams and Stars Wars [1977]. Hence his essence that he poured into every note still lives on in so many other productions, his music played and plays in every genre included adult films and even commercials, never to die out and rather living on to influence fellow artists.


The awards and nominations:

1941: Winner, Music Score of a Dramatic Picture, The Devil and Daniel Webster (later renamed All That Money Can Buy)

1941: Nominee, Music Score of a Dramatic Motion Picture, Citizen Kane

1946: Nominee, Music Score of a Dramatic Picture, Anna and the King of Siam

1976: Nominee, Original Score, Obsession

1976: Nominee, Original Score, Taxi Driver


Television Compositions:

For the Twilight Zone:

Opening and closing themes (used only during the 1959-1960 season)

Where Is Everybody? (first aired October 2, 1959)

Walking Distance (first aired October 30, 1959)

The Lonely (first aired November 13, 1959)

Eye of the Beholder (first aired November 11, 1960)

Little Girl Lost (first aired March 16, 1962)

Living Doll (first aired November 1, 1963)

For the Alfred Hitchcock Hour:

A Home Away from Home (first aired September 27, 1963)

Terror at Northfield (first aired October 11, 1963

You’ll Be the Death of Me (first aired October 18, 1963)

Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale (first aired November 8, 1963)

The Jar (first aired February 14, 1964)

Behind the Locked Door (first aired March 27, 1964

Body in the Barn (first aired July 3, 1964)

Change of Address (first aired October 12, 1964)

Water’s Edge (first aired October 19, 1964)

The Life Work of Juan Diaz (first aired October 26, 1964)

The McGregor Affair (first aired November 23, 1964)

Misadventure (first aired December 7, 1964)

Consider Her Ways (first aired December 28, 1964)

Where the Woodbine Twineth (first aired January 11, 1965)

An Unlocked Window (first aired February 15, 1965)

Wally the Beard (first aired March 1, 1965)

Death Scene (first aired March 8, 1965)


Feature Film

Psycho (1998)

It Lives Again (1978)

It’s Alive (1974) – Music Department

Sisters (1972) – Music Department

Endless Night (I) (1972) – Music Department

The Night Digger (1971) – Music Department

Psycho (1960) – Music Department

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

TV Series

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962–1965) – Music Department

The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) – Music Department

Sound Department

Feature Film

The Birds (1963)

Music Department

Feature Film

The Fear (El Miedo) (2006)

It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)

Grizzly II: Revenge (1983)

Short Film

Mother (2020)

Horror Movie Adventure Part II: Dead by Dawn (2014)

The Clinic (2012)

TV Movie

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990 TV Movie)


Feature Film

The Disappointments Room (2016)

Home Movie (2008)

Silence Becomes You (2005)

Paint It Black (1989)

Carrie (1976)

Secret Desire (1975)

The Naked Witch (1961)

Cat People (1942)

Thriller Films:


The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) –by Alfred Hitchcock


Feature Film

Marnie (1964)

Cape Fear (1962)

North by Northwest (1959)

Vertigo (1958)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)


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