The only piece of music more famous than this, in the horror genre, is "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor," which seemed to be played any time Lon Chaney sat down on his organ in "The Phantom of the Opera." It was also used in Herbert Lom's Hammer update of that movie, and turns up performed by organist-Satanist Boris Karloff in "The Black Cat" and by the little spook Peter Lorre in "Mad Love."
Everyone knows who wrote "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor." Bach. Not Gary Brooker. The composer of "The Villain's Theme" is much more obscure, and sometimes the piece is credited to the wrong person. Back in the silent era, a lot of professionals offered up generic sheet music that theater pianists could use. For example, there was a piece called "Burglar Music" by the prolific composer Zamecnik, published in 1913. Some also call it "The Villain's Theme," but it ain't.
"The Villain's Theme" (aka "Mysterioso Pizzicato") is the work of James Bodewalt Lampe, and was first published in 1914 in the "Remick Folio of Moving Picture Music, vol. I." Just why it wasn't recorded on a 78, or given a rousing 45 rpm version via some Halloween single by The Ventures or Duane Eddy, is pretty mysterioso. I found it on an album called "Music from the Silent Films," which I found via bargain bin in October of 1966, having been nearly small enough to fall into the cardboard box. Released via the budget Parade Records company, there was no credit on the back cover for the performers, just "featuring Mike Di Napoli" on the label itself. Decades later, the album had a vinyl re-issue from Omega Records. There's also a CD called "Silent Film Music" by Al Weber, released in 1992, one of the few other ways of getting the dastardly ditty.
The reason it's on the blog now, instead of in October for Halloween? If you were Poe, you might call it "the imp of the perverse." lt's a musical tonic for this most nefarious time of year…when monsters creep around in Santa Claus hats, haunting you with demands about giving to charity...while even more hideous villains use Christmas music in radio and TV adverts brainwashing you to BUY, BUY, BUY!
By God, this evil minor key melody is the real music for a hellish time of year...reflecting the ghouls, goblins and goons that stalk you with greedhead grossness, and hellishly howl with fiendish enthusiasm over the trifecta of terror that is Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. So here's something you can play after a trip to the mall has fractured your skull with "Let it Snow," "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," "Sleigh Ride," "Feliz Navidad," and "Wonderful Christmastime..." and the rest of the obnoxious music that Jesus hates so much he will NEVER come back again.
And no, that's not a Snidely Whiplash puppet popping out of the nun's habit, it's Beany & Cecil's arch enemy Dishonest John.