For some reason, organ music and villainy seem to go hand in hand. Perhaps it just sounds sinister and scary. But, in any case, if a character has organ music for his Leitmotif
, it's a sure sign he isn't going to be petting any dogs
Combine this with Ominous Latin Chanting
and/or some For Doom the Bell Tolls
, and he's got Big Bad
written all over him.
Sometimes this analogy goes so far to show the villain sitting at a big spooky pipe organ, playing ominous tunes, as the heroes walk in on him. This iconic scene was probably inspired by The Phantom of the Opera
, whose villain is often similarly shown with his sinister organ. The standard music
for this scene is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
by Johann Sebastian Bach
. Bonus points, however, if they are playing their own Leitmotif
. Even better if it contains lots of diminished seventh chords.
The exception to the organs = villainy rule is if you're in a church, but the existence of the Corrupt Church
and God Is Evil
help to blur that distinction. If the organ is accompanying a good
religion, then the music is generally more subdued and ethereal rather than overtly "ominous".
See also Circus of Fear
, which is another place you'll often hear a creepy organ
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Anime and Manga
- Wolfgang Krauser plays one in the beginning of the Fatal Fury OVA and it is played at various points throughout the anime when he appears on screen or the plot concerns him.
- Kagato in Tenchi Muyo! is, well, not quite introduced, but featured, playing a series-original Bach-esque piece on a truly enormous science-fictional organ.
- Orochimaru's theme is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on a pipe organ, with some Asian flute and shamisen thrown in for good measure.
- Ominous Chanting+ Ominous Pipe Organ + Creepy Manical Shrieking= Hidan's Theme.
- Ominous Chanting times 2 plus Ominous Pipe Organ = Pain's and Madara's theme
- Mimi's rape at the hands of Big Bad Apos in Mnemosyne combines this with Ominous Latin Chanting, and takes it all the way up to What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic? when it's committed at a Buddhist Temple, with her chained and nailed to a stone lamp post, no less.
- To Aru Majutsu no Index - The theme for Stiyl's Innocentius spell, Witch Hunt King combines organ music in the spirit of Bach's Toccata and Fugue with intense electro beats and sinister choirs to great effect. It plays for instance during Innocentius' summon, during the Roman Knights' Gregorio's Choir and during the scene were Touma went insane and petrified a Reality Warper with fear.
- Played straight during the first appearance of Isaak Fernand von Kämpfer in Trinity Blood: when Abel finds him, he plays Sagrada Familia's pipe organ which he equipped with the Silent Noise system that destroys half of Barcelona in a matter of minutes, along the way killing a major character for the first time in the series.
- Lady Debonair from the second season of Magic Knight Rayearth.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, the Numbers attack to the theme of a pipe organ. And the Hard Light Magical Computer of their coordinator Uno has a keyboard that looks like organ keys.
- The Pokémon movies:
- In the original Japanese version of the first movie, Mewtwo's theme is played on the organ. Lots of diminished chords and chromaticism; following the cliches to the letter. The opening leitmotif is D-E-F-C# (Dm -> Cdim7). The score was rewritten for English-speaking audiences, removing the trope.
- In the tenth movie, Darkrai's Leitmotif contains organs and bells, befitting a Dark-type Pokemon that can literally cause nightmares. This could be considered a subversion as Darkrai is actually the hero of this movie.
- The theme for Nakazato's GT-R in Initial D is Toccata and Fugue.
- Akechi Mitsuhide from Sengoku Basara gets an Ominous Pipe Organ for his anime leitmotif.
- In Shugo Chara!, the intro to Hoshina Utau's theme song (by Nana Mizuki no less) "Meikyuu Butterfly" is this. The song itself is actually plot relevant.
- In Chrono Crusade, Joshua Christopher is a boy with holy powers who's been kidnapped by the Big Bad. Guess what instrument he plays to channel his powers?
- In Princess Tutu, one of Drosselmeyer's leitmotifs is the Nutcracker March played in minor key on a pipe organ to an unsettling effect.
- Xanxus from Katekyo Hitman Reborn! tends to have Ominous Pipe Organ music in the background whenever he turns up.
- Kiddy Grade: the last third of the series contains two closely-linked tunes, both with ominous pipe organs, that represent the main "antagonist" of the last arc.
- In Sailor Moon, Eudial challenges Haruka and Michiru to a showdown at the Marine Cathedral. When they arrive, she's playing the Bach Toccata and Fugue on the organ to help them find her, which turns out to be a recording on a tape.
- Slayers Next has a guitar tune used for exposition sequences. When it's not just "everyday" exposition but Lina learning that the Lord of Nightmares, the source of her strongest spell, is not a Mazoku but the primordial chaos itself we get the same tune, but upgraded to this trope.
- In the Second Season of Space Battleship Yamato (a.k.a. "Star Blazers"), the theme of the antagonist White Comet Empire is a dark and imposing Pipe Organ track - as if the sound the comet produces while moving (the screeching of many souls crying out in terror) wasn't enough to clue you in.
- The Read or Die OVA features an evil reincarnation of Ludwig van Beethoven playing a massive pipe organ on a rocket that will broadcast his lost Death Symphony worldwide, causing everyone who hears it to commit suicide.
- The Professor Layton and The Eternal Diva animated film tops the previous example by having a pipe organ that is also a giant clockwork orchestra, a memory storage and download machine, and a control device for a giant mecha. When the true Big Bad is revealed, he gets the Ominous Pipe Organ as background music.
- Rozen Maiden has this as well. "Broken World" fits this trope to a T, plenty of destruction foretold.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena uses the organ at certain ominous moments. Or just as elevator music for the Student Council for extra drama.
- Nasu Veronica plays the organ in Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas. While manipulating the corpses of children.
- The TV version of the Demon Sisters' theme from Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt combines this with (of course) stripper music, no doubt to emphasize their Lawful Evil (and infernal) natures. (The version from the show's first OST replaces the organ with synth sounds.)
- Jellal from Fairy Tail has this as his theme music.
- Played with Rias's Image Song in High School DXD. It starts off with one, but she's one of the heroines of the series.
- In the dub of Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Winged Dragon of Ra has this in its theme.
- One of Yoko Tsuno's adventures involves an instrument called the Devil's Organ, whose sound can drive listeners to insanity or death. The Smug Snake uses it to brainwash his uncle and try framing him for his plans. He also kills the organist who built it and discovered his intentions... but his daughter Ingrid escapes from him and reaches for the titular Action Girl and her friends.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Former Chief Inspector Dreyfus in The Pink Panther Strikes Again plays a version of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" instead of the usual Bach Toccata.
- Subverted in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, as the villain turns out to be a good guy trying to expose a murderer.
- In The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes plays Felix Mendelssohn's "War March of the Priests". On a jazz organ.
- Max, from Sunset Boulevard, plays the pipe organ rather ominously (if not very well) in the background in several scenes. This is commented on by Joe.
- "Pruit Igoe and Prophecies" during Dr. Manhattan's backstory in Watchmen.
- The original songs from Philip Glass's soundtrack to the film Koyaanisqatsi.
- In Gremlins 2: The New Batch, one of the gremlins is shown playing "Tocatta and Fugue" on an organ, complete with Phantom-style mask.
- In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the mutants sing hymns praising their god - a nuclear missile with a cobalt bomb warhead.
- In Barbarella, Durand-Durand tortures Barbarella by playing an organ-like device called the Excessive Machine with her in it. It kills people by orgasming them to death. And Barbarella overloads it.
- The opening theme of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
- The iTunes exclusive track "Outlands part II" for TRON: Legacy uses an Ominous Electric Organ. This plays in the film just before Flynn decides to find his son, Sam, at the End of Line club.
- The original Carnival of Souls is full of ominous pipe organ music.
- "The Final Conflict", which plays in the final showdown between Chuck Norris and David Carradine in Lone Wolf McQuade.
- Professor Petrie in The Phantom of the Opera (1962) plays Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" with his pipe organ as his assistant kidnaps Christine and brings her to him.
- Parodied at the beginning of Back to the Future Part III. After Doc faints in shock after seeing Marty at the end of Part II (having just sent the Marty from Part I back to 1985), Marty takes him back to Doc's house. When the latter wakes up, he recalls that event as having just been his imagination - until Marty also wakes up and Doc notices him. His response? Screaming his head off, tripping over Marty's hoverboard and backing into an organ's keyboard, which carries on wailing as Marty tries to explain what happened.
- Professor Aronnax walks in on Captain Nemo playing the pipe organ in his study, but subverts this trope in that he's actually weeping. He also plays the organ in a somewhat unusual manner, using only the black keys (what today would be the white keys).
- Parodied in Carpe Jugulum. A traditionally-minded vampire has an organ ... but it's one of Bloody Stupid Johnson's Clock Punk synthesizers, with a wide variety of screams, wolf-howls and similar Hammer Horror sound effects.
- The Unseen University's organ is another parody, especially when it's played by an ape or by a Professor of Post-Mortem Communications who would have wanted Ominous Pipe Organ music but can't get it quite right. That Ridcully won't stop calling it "our mighty organ" and pointing out "it's a Johnson" doesn't help.
- Lawrence from Cryptonomicon began playing his local church's organ because the previous performer was kicked for being "too dramatic".
Live Action TV
- Doctor Who:
- In "Pyramids of Mars", Ibrahim Namin, a sinister worshiper of Sutekh (ancient Egyptian devil-like figure) plays the organ. He's not the Big Bad, though; he gets killed at the end of Episode 1. Sutekh summons him by telekinetically playing the organ, and when Sutekh sends his Dragon to take command, Namin apparently activates the time corridor by playing the organ, thus giving the impression that Osiran technology is powered by organ music.
- In "The Seeds of Doom", Chase plays an atonal electronic instrument instead, but that's mainly for his plants' benefit.
- Countdown with Keith Olbermann uses a pipe organ playing Toccata and Fugue for its "Worst Person in the World" segment.
- Toccata and Fugue is played in Boardwalk Empire after Richard Harrow does his first assassination, which is kind of a visual joke in that Harrow looks a lot like the (post-Lon Chaney) Phantom of the Opera. Then, there's sort of a Diegetic Switch and the music is shown to be playing at a silent movie elsewhere.
- Supernatural. Spoofed in "Monster Movie". Sam enters an old movie theatre (currently showing Phantom of the Opera) and sees the sinister shadow of someone pounding away on a pipe organ. The man then presses a button and starts playing light music instead, as the 'organ' is just a digital keyboard resting on an old dresser.
- The backing track to the diabolical "Upward Infection" by Futret uses a organ.
- If the opening of Vangelis Papathanassiou's Nucleogenesis 1 (from the Albedo 0.39 album) hasn't been used for this purpose, it should.
- Siena by Turmion Katilot has a example of this at a couple of parts in this song.
- Unquestioned maestro of organ composers J. S. Bach both played this trope straight and averted it. The aforementioned Toccata and Fugue BWV 565 (probably an arrangement of a solo violin piece) certainly has a dark and evil feel to it, but Bach's other organ music (especially his chorale preludes) shows the entire array of characters possible in music.
- It should also be mentioned that there are variations in the composition itself - most shows and films only play the toccata, the most "evil-sounding" part, when the whole work (toccata + fugue) is actually over eight minutes. While the beginning of the toccata and the end of the fugue do sound quite dark, there are parts in the fugue that actually sound quite whimsicial, and even upbeat at times.
- Other Bach organ pieces that fit this trope include the "Great" Fantasia and Fugue in G minor and the "Little" Fugue in G minor. The "Little" Fugue was apparently evil-sounding enough to be used as boss music in Mega Man Legends.
- The organ solo at the climax of the third movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Sinfonia antartica".
- Nox Arcana prominently features a pipe organ in many of their songs. Melancholia and The Masque Of Red Death have arguably the most ominous tunes.
- Used in several Type O Negative songs, notably "Haunted".
- Muse's song Megalomania uses one of these. It's pretty darn ominous.
- The beginning of Rob Zombie's "Return of the Phantom Stranger".
- Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".
- In Limp Bizkit's "Counterfeit", an electric keyboard imitating an organ provides an ominous mood and feel.
- Jan Zwart's "Toccata on Psalm 146". Ominous Dutch Chanting optional.
- Vernian Process. These guys love them some Ominous Pipe Organ music. Lead singer Joshua Pfeiffer even lampshaded it at the end of a show, introducing the band then declaring "...and we like Goth music, if you can't tell!" during the one minute, eight second organ outro to their song "Vagues de Vapeur."
- The Clotho section and the start of the Atropos section from Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "The Three Fates".
- "Jane Seymour" from Rick Wakeman's The Six Wives Of Henry VIII.
- Inversion: The bridge of Styx's "I'm O.K." uses a pipe organ, but it is more stirring than it is ominous.
- In The Phantom of the Opera, the Organ is prominently featured on the playfield; players shoot balls up its face to hit a set of musical targets, which makes the Organ open up to reveal a sinkhole underneath.
- Bleak Expectations: Pip Bin's first visit to Parliament as MP for Poverty St. Mary and Dreadfulness North is less than encouraging, not helped by the fact that he arrived right on time for Scary Organ Night, as demonstrated by organ music playing in the background.
- The Cracked.com Harry Potter alternate timeline parody has a gag with this, Voldmort is sitting at an organ playing something vaguely sinister until it's revealed he's trying to play Take Me Out to the Ballgame and doing a horrible job.