Chris Thomas Is Making Haunted Houses Much Scarier

Studio 360

Chris Thomas'obsession with the sound of haunted houses started four years ago when he went to the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. He was new in town, looking for something to do, and checked out all the local spookfests --- and there are a lot of them. The Hayride, he thought, "was just unbelievable. I loved it. I just had one beef with it: they had this minute and 20 second long synthy loop, playing over and over and over through the park. They had a hotline that I called, and I said, 'Hey, love your attraction, but it was undercut instantly by this terrible music.' And I get this call a couple weeks later from the owner of the park saying, 'Hey, are you the guy who called and complained about the music?'"

Hear Chris Thomas' music below.

Thomas, a composer for film and TV, got a gig writing music for the Hayride --- possibly the first original score for any haunted attraction. He's been doing it ever since. This year, the Hayride's theme is a ride through Hell on a low flatbed truck. Thomas' score acts like an invisible choreographer, setting off the scares. Twisted calliope music releases monsters from their cages, shredding guitars sends demons streaking towards you, and an ominous swell of strings raises towering crows on stilts that swoop low, flapping their wings just above your head.

No pipe organs or screaming cats here; Thomas' MO is to bring the sophistication of horror movies into live-action haunted houses. "One of my closest mentors and my composition teacher [at University of Southern California] was Chris Young, who did the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Hellraiser, Drag Me to Hell --- he's the king of Hollywood horror. He happened to be assigned to me when I was studying film music. We ended up being a great match."

Last year, requests started rolling in from all over the country for original soundtracks. Thomas has written fifteen so far, but it's not just a professional commitment: Thomas attends as many as ten Southern California haunts a week for nearly the whole month. This year he taught a composition seminar at the West Coast Haunters Convention, where he met a 14-year-old named Sam, who had taken over the family driveway to run his own haunt full-time. Thomas was so charmed that he offered to write the kid a score, pro bono. "I just absolutely love to be doing this. The moment summer hits, while everyone's out hitting the beach, I hole up in this dark little room here and just sit up writing scary music for three months. And that's the best."

Visit a haunted house scored By Chris Thomas:


Playlist: Chris Thomas' Spooky Compositions