What’s the scary music in Netflix’s ‘Ratched’, and where do I know it from?

23 September 2020, 17:14

By Rosie Pentreath

Striking music and dazzling cinematography put the ‘thrill’ in Netflix’s Mildred Ratched origin story thriller, starring Sarah Paulson. But why is that music so familiar?

In Netflix’s newest horror-thriller, Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story, 12 Years a Slave) stars as Ken Kasey’s terrifying Nurse Ratched – first introduced to us in the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest novel (1962) and film (1975).

Ratched is a made-for-Netflix, eight-episode prequel to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which aims to introduce and explain the fearsome nurse in a sympathetic origin story.

As well as some pretty spectacular cinematography – every single shot really is ravishing to look at – and stellar performances for the star-studded cast (Sharon Stone and Cynthia Nixon star alongside Paulson), a stand-out feature of the series is its music.

From the first scene of the Ryan Murphy/Evan Romansky collab, music is almost an invisible character, pushing the action along in a way that’s difficult to ignore. And – it sounds so familiar. Where do I know it from?

Read more: Netflix wanted a symphonic version of their iconic ‘Ta-Dum’. So, they called Hans Zimmer >

Sarah Paulson stars as Nurse Mildred Ratched in Netflix’s series, ‘Ratched’
Sarah Paulson stars as Nurse Mildred Ratched in Netflix’s series, ‘Ratched’. Picture: Netflix / YouTube

What is the music in Ratched and who composed it?

Turns out the guys responsible for the music in Ratched – a team of music supervisors and editors, and Emmy-winning composer Mac Quayle – took their cues from 1962 horror film Cape Fear. Including some literal cues in the form of borrowed orchestral passages.

Cape Fear’s soundtrack was composed by film music trailblazer Bernard Herrmann and reworked by another movie music legend, Elmer Bernstein, for the 1991 remake of the film. And here Quayle borrows some passages from Herrmann’s score, while composing his own Cape Fear score-inspired original music.

Think blaring French horns and shrill woodwinds in suspension, all underpinned by terrifyingly tense string shimmers. These Herrmann-esque devices drip off the Ratched score, resulting in a classic horror feel that’s immediately familiar but strikingly noticeable.

Read more: How to get your classical music fix on Netflix >

What’s the music used in the Ratched opening titles?

These opening titles are worth not skipping (for once) – mostly for the music. Because the music is Saint-Saëns’ gripping Dance Macabre, Op. 40.

That spiky pizzicato throwing to the angsty, grumbling flute solo gets us every time. And then the wonderful swelling melody in the strings – ahh. We watch the titles all the way through, all eight times, during our binge.

Good choice, Netflix peops.

Ratched is out now on Netflix.