The Top 10 Greatest Horror Movie Soundtracks

September 16, 2010

Most great films are nothing without the right soundtrack. This seems to be most apparent in the horror genre. Every single one of the greatest horror films ever made has a soundtrack that is just as recognizable as the films’ characters and storylines.

Source: Warner Bros.

10. The Lost Boys

Source: Warner Bros.

Clown all you want, the entire score and soundtrack that plays throughout The Lost Boys is one of the best horror has to offer. I know it has a ton of ‘80s cheese in there, but it works perfectly with the film and has even aged pretty darn well over the last 20 years.

Thomas Newman’s original score of eerie orchestra and organ arrangements in The Lost Boys helped create a whole new feel for the vampire genre. We're talking about the same guy who went on to do the original scores for The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, and WALL-E. The guy is no lightweight. Echo & the Bunnymen’s cover of The Doors’ classic "People are Strange" was also a nice touch in the beginning of the film. The only suspect song in the entire movie is Tim Capello's cover of The Call's "I Still Believe." I honestly don’t mind it at all, but I’m sure a few snobs out there don’t have any love for an Schwarzeneggeresque juicehead playin’ the saxophone on the beach. Haters.

 

9. Suspiria

Source: Blue Underground

Not only is Suspiria one of the best and most underrated horror films of all time, the original score crafted by director Dario Argento and Italian rockers Goblin is straight up off the charts. Now I know a few of you out there may think Deep Red deserves to be on this list instead of Suspiria, but in terms of the music interweaving with the images on screen, Suspiria is just a smidgen above the competition. Argento’s unique ability to match disturbing off-the-wall images with unnerving musical compositions is second to none. The man just knows what’s going to make audiences squeal. It you have yet to see Suspiria or Deep Red, go rent them ASAP. They’re both mandatory horror movie viewing. Thanks for haunting our dreams, Mr. Argento.

 

8. Dawn of the Dead

Source: Laurel Group

Based on the fact there are various edits of this classic horror masterpiece, we’re just gonna stick to the music used in the original U.S. version of Dawn of the Dead.

The numerous scores in Dawn of the Dead are absolutely all over the joint, but each piece is utilized perfectly if you ask me. From wacky polka tracks like “The Gonk” to Goblin’s epic “Tenement Cellar,” George A. Romero did a bang-up job inserting the right melodies over his rancid zombie images. Gotta love that Pittsburgh polka music.

 

7. The Exorcist

Source: Warner Bros.

Works by Krzysztof Penderecki and Jack Nitzsche were used throughout 1973’s The Exorcist, but Mike Oldfield’s Exorcist theme “Tubular Bells” is the only composition we really need to be talking about when it comes to this list. Not only is it one of the most spine-tingling pieces of music used in a film, The Exorcist theme somehow always takes you back to the cold, dark bedroom of Regan MacNeil. Oldfield’s music in general has always been groundbreaking, but the use of the Tubular Bells opening in The Exorcist might be his crown jewel.

 

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Source: New Line Cinema

Out of all the themes on this list, Charles Bernstein’s A Nightmare on Elm Street score still gives me the creeps to this very day. I’m not totally sure why, but there’s just something about his synthesized keyboard wizardry that makes me afraid to hit the sack each and every time I listen to it. Like the Halloween theme, there’s a serious nostalgia about this musical score that grabs you by the guts the second it hits your eardrums. From the creepy main title to the little girls singing “1, 2, Freddy's coming for you,” I double dog dare you to turn off your bedroom lights and put this soundtrack on without peein’ your pants just a little bit.

 

 

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5. Friday the 13th 

Source: Paramount Pictures

The thing that makes Harry Manfredini’s musical work on the original Friday the 13th so amazing is the way he was able to manipulate audiences into to thinking the killer was right under their very noses any time the music hit. Inspired by John Williams’ work on Jaws, Manfredini perfectly crafted a score that represented Pamela Voorhees stalking her prey when she was absent from the audience's view. We all know that the greatest aspect of the Friday soundtrack has to be the use of the now-famous "Ki ki ki, ma ma ma." When anyone hears this eerie piece of music, they automatically think of Jason Voorhees and his giant bloody machete.

 

4. The Shining

Source: Warner Bros.

There’s a lot going on when it comes to the music in The Shining. Duh. It’s Stanley Kubrick we’re talkin’ about here, people. Nothing he ever did was simple. I can’t even begin to try to elaborate on the non-original music used in the film, but I will say that it’s utilized perfectly from start to finish. It’s good to mention the brief electronic score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, but Krzysztof Penderecki’s "De Natura Sonoris No. 2" and György Ligeti’s “Lontano” are two of the obvious musical standouts throughout the film. The way Kubrick mixes one of Penderecki’s masterworks during the classic “Here’s Johnny” scene is simply one of the best moments cinema has to offer. 

 

3. Halloween

Source: Sony Pictures Entertainment

As far as slasher films go, John Carpenter’s classic theme from his landmark film Halloween is simply the greatest of all time. Even though it’s one of the simplest musical compositions around, the Halloween theme works on so many levels and still somehow never gets old. The theme for this film is so good that I went to go see Halloween 4 and 5 just based on it being in the trailers for the film. That’s how much hype this score can create. The second that 5/4 piano melody hits, you automatically get sucked in and transported back to Haddonfield, Illinois in the blink on an eye. If the theme from Halloween doesn’t give you chills every time you hear it, you might just be Michael Myers himself.

 

2. Jaws

Photo: Nancy Ostertag/Getty Images

Out of all the movie themes on this list, John Williams’ work on 1975’s Jaws might be the most recognizable.

Even though the unstoppable main "Shark Theme" is just a simple alternating of the E and F notes, the movie would not be the same without it and probably would have never have been as successful. Even Steven Spielberg has admitted this in interviews. Why? Because Williams just has a way of perfectly matching music to moving images, as well as to the emotions of a film’s characters.

Jaws is one of the best examples of this. When Williams described the Jaws theme as having the "effect of grinding away at you, just as a shark would do," he really hit the nail on the head. I also have to give credit to Spielberg for telling Williams that Jaws was a pirate movie because it was the perfect note to give a composer as talented as John. Think about it, people. What would this movie be without John Williams’ music? It would just be Robert Shaw getting eaten by a giant mechanical shark.

 

1. Psycho

Source: Universal Studios/Getty Images

This is the one that started it all, y’all. Bernard Herrmann’s groundbreaking work on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho set the standard for what a horror soundtrack should be made up of. Hitchcock himself even said that "33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music." It may be even more than that. Not taking anything away from one of the greatest directors of all time, but without Herrmann’s all-string masterwork during the famous shower scene, Psycho wouldn’t have made nearly the same impact. Hitchcock’s direction of the images and storyline were way ahead of their time and in a class all their own, but Herrmann’s addition to the film helped create one of the most unique, disturbing, and important movie moments of all time.

An artist is only as good as his tools and Herrmann was one of Hitchcock’s most significant pieces of hardware.

 

 

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