Often times, a good horror movie soundtrack can get buried underneath all the goring, gutting, and slutty sex happening on screen during a good horror movie. They also have a tendency to get lost in time, seeing as how people typically don’t want to remember tunes that actually freak them out a little bit. We did our best to rectify this in time for Halloween by presenting the ten best horror movie soundtracks.
10. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The nerve-frying subtlety of Riz Ortolani’s score accentuates scenes of brutal violence, gore, and, well, cannibalism. Ortolani mixes up the pace of the film’s soundtrack and vexes your emotions and senses like a demonic ecstasy trip. Songs like ‘Massacre’ and ‘Adulteress’ Punishment’ are both lush and overwrought, while ‘Savage Rage’ is quirky and impish. As a whole, the soundtrack isn’t as implicitly aggressive as others on this list. It’s beautiful, which makes it all the more darkly poetic considering the subject matter.
9. 28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle was the first guy to figure out—hey!—zombies are a whole lot scarier if they can run fast. The soundtrack so perfectly encapsulated the movie’s sense of isolation and paranoia that it was used again for the sequel, the slightly inferior 28 Weeks Later. ‘In The House – In A Heartbeat’ is the one people remember, a slow-building instrumental with a resounding crescendo that trails off ambiguously, like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.
8. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Lilo Schifrin utilizes suspense with a children’s choir providing background vocals to what’s mostly a two-note theme that oscillates between tumultuously suspenseful and calm, like being in the eye of a hurricane. Except in this case, the hurricane is a haunted house.
7. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick selected an assortment of classical songs and left music editor Gordon Stainforth in charge of deciding which passages would go with what scenes. Like Cannibal Holocaust, the soundtrack evokes a spooky irony, where an orchestral show tune like ‘It’s All Forgotten Now’ can be heard faintly below the dialogue in the scene where Jack listens to the previous caretaker talk about how he chopped up his family. The whole soundtrack played out through the movie has a diabolical knack of lulling you to sleep in preparation for bloodshed.
6. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Christopher Young won a Saturn Award for Best Music for this sequel’s hellishly atmospheric score. Every track, from ‘Hellbound’ to ‘Chemical of Entertainment’, is laced with bad intentions and macabre origins. Young makes ample and chilling use of interspersed voices on ‘Leviathan’ that sound demonic enough to have come from the monsters that were inside your closet when you were a kid. A guy with nails uniformly punched into his head could not have been taken so seriously without this soundtrack.
5. Candyman (1992)
Philip Glass deserves a golf clap for not taking the easy way out by under-girding America’s first black slasher and his squalid urban haunting grounds with gangsta rap, or something similar people might’ve expected from him. ‘It was always you Helen’ and ‘Helen’s Theme’—the two main tracks a horror movie fan might recognize— are delightfully eerie pieces of choral writing with lead piano melodies prim enough to give you goose bumps.
4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
This score nearly saved the movie from Keanu Reeves’ reprehensible British accent and Gary Oldman’s ridiculous makeup. Like #1 on our list, it has an epic, thrashing, old-world danger to it. Wojciech Kiler’s tracks are operatic, ominous, and heavier than a guilty conscience. The highlight, of course, is ‘Dracula—The Beginning’, a rousing symphony of brass horns, kettle drums, and organs so nightmarish that the actual movie doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
3. Halloween (1978)
Director John Carpenter composed Halloween’s theme music himself, using a very simple piano meter that is totally devoted to his slasher. Carpenter’s score isn’t anything a 3rd grader who owns a Casio keyboard couldn’t play, and that’s precisely why it’s great. It’s simple and unrefined, like a maniac in a molded William Shatner mask. The repeating rhythm adds exactly the right amount of psychological depth, and is a pitch-perfect pacemaker for a narrative about a man that always walks, but never runs his victims down.
2. Jaws (1975)
It wasn’t just the shark that made you think twice about even taking a bath ever again. Da dum. Da dum. Da dum. Da dum da dum da dum…The alternating two-note rhythm composed by John Williams is doubtlessly the background music anybody invokes whenever they think of the dark side of nature—a simple, razor-sharp beat that never over-saturates the action being presented on-screen. Spielberg once said that Jaws would only have been half as successful without that specific theme. That’s a contention nobody can dispute.
1. The Omen (1976)
The Omen’s soundtrack is probably what you hear in hell before Adolf Hitler walks you down the same hallway from Silence of the Lambs and introduces you to Satan. It gave composer Jerry Goldsmith the only Oscar of his career, a swell reward to atone for whatever psychological torture he must’ve experienced while writing it, especially main track Ave Satani: ‘We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan’—all of which sounds infinitely more terrifying being chanted in Latin.
Did we miss out on some that should’ve made the list?