Music accompanies us all our lives and plays a vital role in our moods. We listen to it at leisure, in cafes, visiting concerts of our favorite bands, listening to it while watching movies, and playing online games. Music is significant for films and games, as it sets the appropriate mood depending on the type and genre of a game or movie. Watching movies online has become very easy thanks to the vast number of sites on the Internet, although they are often full of ads akin to “play the best online casino in Texas“.
Music is far more inherent to horror movies than to any other genre (except, of course, musicals)! It plays an essential role in the horror genre as it creates suspense, uncertainty, and anxiety. The composers responsible for such an incisive piece deserve special attention. They masterfully evoke strong emotions in the viewer with, for example, the violins or the pounding orchestral sound. And it is worth listening to the soundtrack separately from the film to realize that its chilling power is palpable by itself.
A few things can turn an unforgettable horror film into an iconic one:
- the writers’ gripping and original imagination;
- a franchise-worthy serial killer;
- stunning effects.
But the most crucial element of a successful horror movie is the one that cannot be experienced only by seeing a poster, casting, or even trailers. The horror movie soundtrack, from the catchy central theme, the main part that creates the atmosphere of the scenes, all the way up to the closing credits, can elevate a good movie to an iconic one that will stand the test of time.
We’ve compiled the 22 best horror movie soundtracks of all time with that in mind. The composers’ names range from James Horner, Danny Elfman, and Philip Glass to the one-name bands like Goblin, Magnet, and Disasterpeace. Although we’ve covered a few decades here, there’s still a chance we missed your favorite horror movie. But we are sure you’ll find something new to watch in this article. You might even want to add some tracks to your Halloween party playlist!
So, here are the best horror movie soundtracks of all time! Enjoy listening!
«Vertigo» by Bernard Herrmann (1958)
The composer’s job is to transform what they see on the screen into music that enhances the audience’s emotional response. Bernard Herrmann’s dizzying music for «Vertigo» movie reflects both the psychological problems of the main character, John “Scotty” Ferguson, and the twists and turns of the movie’s unfolding plot.
«Fear in the city of the living dead» by Lucio Fulci (1980)
When synthesizers were at the height of fashion, many began to abuse them. But Italian zombie maestro Lucio Fulci and composer Fabio Frizzi used synthesizers moderately. Taking the baton from ’70s exploitation cinema, in “Fear in the city of the living dead,” Frizzi mixes sexy guitars, choirs, and wood and brass instruments with electronic music. As a result, the soundtrack runs like blood and has wholesome plasticity in its veins.
«Suspiria» by Dario Argento 1977
Is there a creepier soundtrack to a horror movie than «Suspiria», from the ’70s cult classic by Italian maestro Dario Argento? The chants and inscrutable whispers scattered throughout this goblin-composed score paint the corridors of an occult ballet school red. Dario Argento composed and recorded the music together with the rock band Goblin’s eerie for this movie. He turned the volume on the set during filming as high as possible to get the actors genuinely frightened and act on edge.
The title track is an eerie classic, with atmospheric chimes that make you look away every time you hear a rustle. The Italian prog-rock band also delves into manic synths and percussion that remind you of ritual ceremonies. Even a delightful little piano sound is a nightmare, and Claudio Simonetti wrote all the music in a day. What’s the result? One of the greatest horror soundtracks ever recorded.
«Candyman» by Bernard Rose (1992)
«Candyman» is an unconventional slasher movie. It’s a mature and languid horror, a slow, poetic one that blends romance and urban legend with incredible precision. Thus, inviting Philip Glass, one of the most revered and influential composers of the last century, to write the score was a stroke of genius. Glass used organs and chorales that evoke horrific, hypnotic feelings, consistent with the Candyman myth inspired by Bloody Mary. His music is alternately horrifying and mesmerizing, guiding, and sometimes just elegantly with a steady build-up of despair.
«The Exorcist» by William Friedkin (1973)
The music in «The Exorcist» movie has probably faded into the shadow of the film’s stunning plot and its success among the audience, yet it’s widely recognized today. Lalo Schifrin’s work on the score was initially rejected by William Friedkin, partly because of studio pressure. To soften the soundtrack, which greatly intimidated the audience, Friedkin eventually added a few more modern classics, the most famous of which was Mike Oldfield’s 1973 play Tubular Bells, which was also chosen as the title theme.
«The Wicker Man» by Robin Hardy (1973)
If you haven’t seen «The Wicker Man», don’t worry about spoilers. Paul Giovanni’s music performed by Magnet is not awful. Indeed, if you listened to this cheerful music and lulling nursery rhymes without the accompanying narration, you’d never guess that «The Wicker Man» soundtrack is from a horror movie. When the melodic, cheerful songs are combined with the creepy plot, the dissonance lingers with you long after the movie ends. Just like the inhabitants of the island where the movie events develop, Giovanni’s grief is deceptively simple. It ends with a shocking anthem, the jubilation of the locals in the face of the protagonist’s torment that remains long in the memory.
«The Nightmare Before Christmas» by Henry Selick (1993)
Elfman’s four Oscar nominations may have been for his musical work in feature films, but Tim Burton’s «The Nightmare Before Christmas» is undoubtedly his most exciting achievement. Of course, his themes for the animated series «The Simpsons» and «Batman» are more recognizable, but how often do you sing them during the holidays? So, this record stands out on our list as the soundtrack you and the whole family can chill out in the car, enjoying the beat of «This Is Halloween» with the catchy repetition of «What’s This?» or the funky flow of an Oogie Boogie song.
Henry Selick’s movie may showcase the dark side of Halloween, but Elfman’s scoring brings «The Nightmare Before Christmas» back to the light. Bonus: Danny Elfman did all the vocal parts of Jack the Pumpkin King!
«Wolfen» by Michael Wadleigh (1981)
It’s one of the earliest soundtracks by the late James Horner. When you turn it on, you’ll hear some of the motifs he repeated in the blockbuster «Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan», the movie «Wolfen» the following year, and «Aliens» five years later.
«Wolfen» is an ecological detective horror that features several different types of music. Horner uses a classic combination of strings, piano, and tuba during the investigation, while in the werewolf attack scenes, the strings get an up-tempo twist. But the best part is that «Wolfen» is one of the first films where we can look through the beast’s eyes as if through a night vision device, and for such moments Horner plugs in the drum rumbles with low trombones and tubas. It’s a very memorable scoring, and it’s easy to get why Horner was eager to repeat some of its motifs in his more giant studio films.
«The Thing» by John Carpenter (1982)
According to John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone recorded the entire orchestration for the film without watching a single episode! However, Carpenter realized that the tense moments could be enhanced with a different approach when the music was incorporated. So, the director recorded some electronic instruments himself to complete the movie’s atmosphere.
«Resident Evil» by Paul W.S. Anderson (2002)
In the same vein as Clouser’s music, but with the addition of the world-famous Manson, who makes “Resident Evil” movie sound more intense. It doesn’t mean that Oscar-nominated composer Marco Beltrami didn’t pull it off. Still, where Beltrami is a skilled industry professional with a long list of musical works, Manson brings something extra to the theme. He permeates the entire movie, seeping into every scene like a slow but irresistible fog. While the «Resident Evil» movie is far from perfect, it is much more watchable by its catchy soundtracks.
«Scream» by Wesley Earl Craven (1996)
There are many moments in Marco Beltrami’s soundtrack that unite all four franchise films together. The theme of «The Game Begins» is a blur, beginning with an eerie, playful vibe and ending with an eventual descent into some deeply threatening material. «Sidney’s Lament» is also an outstanding track for how it contributes to the movie’s atmosphere, and next, for sure, we have «We All Go a Little Mad», which takes us through the bulk of the movie’s finale. Although many people will remember the theme playing when Sidney is hiding in the police car trying to lock up, the piece is fantastic. The entire scenario is gruesome enough, but there’s no doubt that Beltrami’s music enhances the situation tenfold. Then we get those unique strings when Sidney returns, and the maniac disappears. There are so many bold, unique musical cues that perfectly fit the film’s action that it’s impossible not to imagine what’s happening on screen, even when listening to the soundtrack itself.
«Land of the Dead» by George A. Romero (2005)
Sinister synths and electronics join a tornado of strings and menacing percussion for the soundtrack to the fourth of six George A. Romero films. If you intend to listen to this, you’d better do so with the lights on.
«Dracula» by John Badham (1979)
John Williams is widely known for his iconic work on blockbusters such as «Star Wars», «Alien», and «Superman». However, he has also dipped his foot into the murky waters of horror. Thus, in the film «Dracula» the composer masterfully portrays the grim romanticism of the main character.
«Blade» by Stephen Norrington (1998)
Live orchestration collides with electronic elements to provide the most spot-on voice for Blade’s dark underground world. The Marvel superhero goes on a mission to protect the world from vampires, and Mark Isham’s soundtrack flawlessly embodies the extravagant bombast of the comic book and superhero genre.
«A Clockwork Orange» by Stanley Kubrick (1971)
Stanley Kubrick’s classic film was accompanied by excerpts from symphonies by Elgar and Beethoven, interwoven with electronic transitions by composer Wendy Carlos. The music immerses the viewers into the anxious mind of the criminal.
«Hellraiser» by Clive Barker (1987)
The soundtrack from «Hellraiser» is unusual as it’s based more on sad, haunting beauty than on chaotic orchestration. The film’s theme revolves around love and desire, courage and blood. Composer Christopher Young has created an atmospheric soundscape with a blood-chilling effect.
«Dawn of the Dead» by George A. Romero 1978
The soundtrack for «Dawn of the Dead» has a veritable smorgasbord of musical styles, some of which sound absolutely horrific. Nevertheless, horror electro-prog icons Goblin reflect the chaos of the zombie apocalypse through a collection of carelessly eclectic and daringly experimental compositions.
«A Nightmare on Elm Street» by Wes Craven (1984)
Composer Charles Bernstein uses synthesized orchestration to absolutely terrifying effect. With melodies that sound almost like lullabies but with a terrifyingly piercing sound, the «Nightmare on Elm Street» soundtrack will literally cause nightmares.
«Saw» by James Wan (2003)
You may not know Charlie Clouser, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard his music: from 1994 to 2000, he was a member of the industrial-rock band Nine Inch Nails.
Clauser brought a modern sound to horror movie soundtracks, combining classic melodies (his theme from «Dead Silence» sounds like a child’s music box playing a variation on «The Exorcist» theme) and aggressively rhythmic synths, his pulsating scoring inseparable from the «Saw» franchise.
It’s hard not to think of «Saw» without imagining the incredible twist ending. It’s even harder to imagine its end without the track «Hello Zepp». Variations of this song appear in one form or another in every «Saw». This song has become the unofficial theme for figuring things out. All the secrets of the movie’s plot were revealed during the playing of this incredible track. Every horror fan imagines this song when they start picking something up. Applying the theme to everyday life is a power that few horror movies have, but «Hello Zepp» is the best example.
«It Follows» by David Robert Mitchell 2014
Composer Richard Vreeland, better known by his pseudonym Disasterpeace, chose retro-electronic music for his debut soundtrack for the film called «It Follows». Rumbling, heavy bass synths intertwine with piercing orchestration and quiet electronics as the tension rises and falls.
«The Omen» by Richard Donner (1976)
Jerry Goldsmith’s music for the film «The Omen» brought the composer the only Oscar of his distinguished career. While most orchestral compositions illustrate the unremarkable life of the Thorn family, the chorus pieces become more chaotic. The title song features the sinister chant, «Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani» or «The blood we drink, the flesh we eat, raise the body of Satan».
«Rosemary’s Baby» by Roman Polanski (1968)
The film’s soundtrack has a distinct jazz flavor, courtesy of Polish composer and jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda.
Interesting fact: the composer wrote this soundtrack a year before his death.
«Psycho» by Alfred Hitchcock (1960)
Most of the «Psycho» soundtrack is calm and even soothing. However, as the narrative unfolds, the tension grows in the music of composer Bernard Herrmann. Finally, it culminates with one of cinema’s most recognizable musical scores, showing Janet Leigh meeting her terrible end in the shower.
«Cannibal Holocaust» by Ruggero Deodato (1979)
«Cannibal Holocaust» is a horror movie by Italian director Ruggero Deodato, made in a pseudo-documentary style with a script by Gianfranco Clerici, telling the story of a small film crew that disappeared without a trace in the Amazon jungle. The film is considered the first example of the found footage film technique.
«Cannibal Holocaust» was so convincing that the Italian authorities believed its reality! However, Riz Ortolani’s score contrasts sharply with its unforgiving blood, which fits into jazz-funk, electro-lounge, and folk ballads.
«Jaws» by Steven Spielberg (1975)
Though the pivotal soundtrack from «Jaws» consists of only two notes, it’s still one of the most recognizable pieces of music in movie history: tense, ominous and evoking a sense of imminent terror. John Williams described the music as gnashing at you like a shark would do: instinctive, relentless, unstoppable.
«Alien» by Ridley Scott (1979)
«Alien» is considered one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best and most successful projects. The goal was to create musical material that reflects the dark and hostile atmosphere of the film. However, only fragments of the soundtrack were used in the movie. The complete soundtrack became available only in 1999, 20 years after the movie’s release.