Why this creepy melody is in so many movies

Why this creepy melody is in so many movies

Remember when Mufasa died?
Or when Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle were killed? Or even when George Bailey decided he couldn’t bear to live anymore? These are some of the most grim, tragic moments in film history, but they have something else in common. Once you start paying attention, these four notes are everywhere And we’ve been associating them with death for almost 800 years. What you’re hearing in those movies is called the “dies irae,” A Gregorian chant created by Catholic monks around the 13th century. It was used for one specific mass: funerals. [Latin chant plays] “Dies irae” translates from Latin to “Day of Wrath.” That’s the day Catholics believe God will judge the living and the dead and decide whether they go to heaven or hell for eternity. It really is the sort of fire and brimstone passage that’s talking about the day of reckoning where in essence the decision is being made whether you’re going to heaven or you’re going to hell. That’s Alex Ludwig, a musicologist and professor from the Berklee College of Music who keeps a big list of dies irae references in movies. The musical material and the text combine together to create this sort of ominous sort of sense of dread. Over the next few hundred years, the Church’s influence spread considerably, and the Day of Wrath started popping up in works of art outside the church, like Mozart’s 1791 symphony “Requiem,” influenced by the music of funerals. In 1830, French composer Louis-Hector Berlioz took the dies irae’s cultural capital to a new level. In his “Symphonie fantastique,” he lifted the melody but left out the words. Berlioz’s story isn’t set in a church or funeral — it’s about an obsessive love, in which the main character dreams that the lover he murdered has come back as a witch to torment him. The movement is called “The Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath.” And so it’s set at midnight in a graveyard and there are all these creepy spooky pieces of music, including the dies irae. What better piece of spooky music to play? Because this is a piece of music that already had these connotations behind it. Other great composers added versions of the dies irae to their works too, like Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s Totentanz, or Dance of the Dead, inspired by this medieval painting depicting suffering and death, or Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem. And then we have the early silent films. Where the dies irae is then extracted even further and used as a sort of sample or sort of reference to dark, ominous actions taking place on screen. Silent films were often accompanied by full orchestras, playing songs that helped propel soundless stories along. Like 1927’s Metropolis, a silent German sci-fi about a dystopia full of robots and destruction — which uses the dies irae in a particularly dramatic moment. As films started incorporating sound, the dies irae kept being used as a shorthand for something grim. Like in It’s a Wonderful Life and Star Wars: A New Hope. But perhaps its most iconic use is in The Shining. Everyone knows The Shining is a horror film and it’s like, that’s the perfect signifier for the dies irae. The dies irae has come a long way from 13th-century funerals to scary movies. That’s because there’s something about those four notes that makes us feel uncomfortable. Let’s talk about the music. The chant is in what’s called Dorian mode — and we don’t have to dig into all the ancient modes like that — but today if you would play those first four notes you would say that that’s in a minor mode. Minor music has always had this connotation of sadness, of darkness. If you look at the actual notes, you’ll see that F and E are half steps apart, right next to each other. Our ears are trained not to like those sounds together. Plus, the notes descend, getting deeper as the phrase progresses. Musical lines that descend are sad whereas music that ascends, that rises, is much happier. Combine these three things together and you’ve got an inherently spooky song — even without all the fire and brimstone. If you talk to a music professor like Alex, they’ll tell you the dies irae is everywhere. And it is — but maybe not in places untrained ears will catch. The phrase has become so culturally ingrained that even a modified version — like the theme to The Exorcist — or a shortened version, like the Nightmare Before Christmas can suggest the same scary feeling. It’s just that it it fascinates me that this piece of music still gets used. I’m still hearing them. I’m still adding films to my list.

100 thoughts on “Why this creepy melody is in so many movies

  1. Correction: Mozart’s Requiem isn’t a symphony, it’s a requiem: a type of Catholic mass for the dead. It was initially written for mass but later popularized and performed outside the church, as was Verdi's.

  2. As a grown up, realizing that's the melody in "Making Christmas," it gives the song more morbidness and unfortunate foreshadowing.

  3. 1:11 Korean Jesus?

  4. this is in pandora, a song our school band played. never heard it as creepy and only now gives me nostalgia.

  5. Bruh, I thought that was the papers please theme

  6. finally a video that isn’t about politics

  7. I love that melody, I play the shining intro song quite a bit 3:54


  9. Excuse me, what about one of the greatest musicals that was based hugely on the Dies Irae chant – Sweeney Todd???

  10. Me when I hear the melody: mAkInG cHrIsTmAs-

  11. So you're telling me nothing about Hollywood is original anymore, not even the music scores.

  12. Seeing this video, I think that Thom Yorke used this piece of music as a reference for many songs in his Suspiria remake soundtrack… Especially in the ballet music, “Volk”

  13. Imagine living in a generation where people simplify everything that could ever possibly be repeated or learned in history with the word “meme”.

  14. Was some part or version of this music used in the iconic scene from Game of Thrones- the one where Cercie Lannister blows up the Sept?

  15. What about the opening of Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 by Samuel Barber.

  16. It's just to me, or saying "dies irae" like a monk plays these four notes too?

  17. In Jordan Peels “us” he used the sample from “Tunez – I got 5 on it.” As a Dies irae

  18. Cape fear

  19. It's in the Bells of Notredame when Frollo chases Quasimodo's mother to the cathedral.

  20. Finding a song without those notes? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!!

  21. What's the arrangement at the end of this from? at about 5:34

  22. "Making Christmas, making Christmas"-Nightmare Before Christmas

  23. Also: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

  24. So I guess this makes "Carol of the Bells" super creepy then.
    It has a whole stanzas with nothing but this melody. 😂

  25. 1:08 Muslims have the same thing and also angels come down I think it’s called

    يوم القيامه(yom al ki-ama)

  26. the only tragic moment i have ever seen was when Mr. Bean's car got crashed by a tank

  27. The Dragon Quest VI soundtrack uses this motif as well!

  28. This is the world longest running Easter Egg

  29. anyone know the name of the last songs during the credits????

  30. Also, the beginning of Duran Duran's "Universe Alone".

  31. The Bells of Notre Dame – Stephen Schwartz

  32. Well I'll never be able to watch a film the same way again.

  33. I just realize it is also in the intro of "once upon a dream". No wonder it's kinda gloomy

  34. Also Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances & Rhapsody On a Theme by Paganini……He was a morbid guy…

  35. Wow, now that you mention it, this melody is actually used quite often in the Nightmare Before Christmas. Besides the song "Making Christmas" (as you mentioned), it's also in "Jack's Lament". So cool!

  36. Dies aries basically some random bs anime

  37. These are the 4 notes I usually hear when I browse through job postings…

  38. when you said mozart symphony… I died little bit inside

  39. .

  40. Scary, creepy

  41. i don’t want a history lesson 🙄

  42. The Don Corleone Mass shooting

  43. Can anybody tell me what's the piece that plays at the very end, over the credits? The slightly jazzy one with descending chords? It's awesome.

  44. 3:05 wait- I recognize this

  45. Random statement but old church music will forever be one of the scariest things to me

  46. It's also used in thousands of other songs as this short progression is almost unavoidable in any music written in any key that has these notes. ROOT… HALF STEP LOWER…. ROOT…. FULL STEP LOWER Of course this will appear everywhere. If you were to play the preceding and following 2 or 3 measures all of those songs would be unrecognizable as far as similarity to each other. If you were to shorten the progression down to just 3 notes you would see thousands and thousands MORE songs that use THOSE 3 CREEPY NOTES! Next do a video on just the F note and how it miraculously appears in almost every song ever written – how creepy that would be….

  47. These are amazing!!!

  48. 2:06 Is it just me or does that sound like the shining

  49. What is the piece of artwork at 4:07 called please?

  50. Ghidorah has this but like its faster

  51. Dead by Daylight

  52. MGS 1-The best is yet to come

  53. frick u vox pewdipe is best

  54. It’s also in Jack’s Lament from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
    He’s already dead anyway.

  55. this is actually so cool


  57. You have made me rethink music.

  58. If you like these kind of videos check out the channel Sideways, he does practically this video plus a bunch of other great videos.

  59. It's used in Home Alone.

  60. 5:10 Ah, I see the Exorcist theme and Chocolate Rain are very similar! Thanks Vox.

  61. This video for some reason totally fascinated me..

  62. I recognised it gg

  63. The best use of the theme is in the star wars song: Anikans betrayal. 😊

  64. I’m sure there is more stuff involved there is not many ways to arrange notes…

  65. Now currently used as the theme for both Final Space and Dead by Daylight

  66. Link to the chant at 1:00 please?

  67. It was also used in the visual novel Dies Irae (obviously)

  68. We are singing “Dies Irae” in choir

  69. 4:21 Who made this work of art? Is it a painting by Memling maybe?

  70. Hey, Vox, can we get someone to read these music ones who can pronounce Mozart's name correctly? Or Liszt's? Is that a possibility? I do not want to be too hoighty toighty, but it is hard to take this 'music expertise' stuff seriously when you cannot even pronounce the names of the figures you are alluding to correctly.

  71. Who gets inspiration from a Painting depicting suffering and death?

  72. I first heard this chanted by two choirmen in a small chapel in the first requiem I've ever attended, reading the lyrics and the translation as they sung. It was chilling, I felt at unease.

  73. 4:20 to say Dorian mode is Minor mode is like saying oranges are apples, they are completely different

  74. Lord of the rings extended it

  75. OMG my choir teacher just taught us about this! We even played a song called "dies irae" that had those 4 notes a lot!

  76. 6.6m subs but still records audio on an iphone?

  77. The theme from "10 Cloverfield Lane" uses it heavily.

  78. I believe these notes are in the new Joker movie as well.

  79. Jeez, SPOILER ALERT!

  80. "The Exorcist theme" is a stretch, given it wasn't composed for that film. It is, in fact, Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. It is possible that these notes could appear in a piece purely by coincidence (there's only four of them) – but you'd have to ask Mike Oldfield to be sure.

  81. So it’s like the lick but less funny

  82. This sounds like (I'm not sure if this is true) the Disney channel theme song but in a minor key

  83. At 20 seconds, I recognise that melody from Liszt Totentanz. It's the main theme of his death dance, used exactly like that in every variation. The melody is unchanging

  84. So, basically, this I'd the proto-lick?

  85. According to this video, using a semitone (half-step) interval, not even together but consecutively, is displeasing to the ear. Ok sure then

  86. Dramaalert is more accurate than Vox

  87. I do not feel uncomfortable listening to the Dies Irae melody. It can be very calming and soothing.

  88. So basically it was created to be apart of their nwo rituals to sacrifice to Remphan, Moloch, and Dagon. It has nasty dark undertones because that is exactly what it is

  89. Awesome

  90. 2:06 so that's where they got the shining theme.🤔

  91. My friend brought it to my attention that it's also in Clerks II as Elias is explaining "Pillow Pants" to Randal. I checked and it's also uncredited.

  92. i love it so much in the shining, it's so stark!!

  93. 5:12 The track from the exorcist (Tubular Bells) wasn't made for the movie and wasn't intended to be creepy, so it probably isn't a modified version of Dies Irae.

  94. Most iconic use is in The Shining? Who Wants to be a Millionaire begs to differ

  95. I think this was in jarassic park

  96. Di-es irae di-es irae!!!

  97. I'm singing that song in choir rn lol

  98. Did you really said LINST ?


  99. It‘s also in riverdale in every episode !!

  100. It's not scary tho

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