The Twenty Best Horror Soundtracks—A Guide To A Spooky Halloween

By James Li, Feature Photo Via NewNowNext

Halloween is approaching, meaning it’s the perfect time to delve into a horror movie (or a video game, or a Netflix binge). If you want a truly scary experience, make sure to find a movie with a great score. A good director understands how sound and music are just as important as visuals in startling or unsettling a viewer – after all, you can close your eyes, but you can’t stop listening. Whether you get your thrills from zombies, aliens, or serial killers; analog synths, string ensembles, or industrial soundscapes, this list should have something for everyone.

20. Brooke and Will Blair—Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier, 2015)

This thriller about a punk band held hostage by neo-Nazi skinheads is a must-watch for any music fan. The score is an eclectic mix of tense electronically-driven ambience, hardcore punk and extreme metal, and includes a very spirited cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.”

19. Riz Ortolani—Cannibal Holocaust (dir. Ruggero Deodato, 1979)

Cannibal Holocaust is one of the bloodiest exploitation films of all time, but Riz Ortolani’s string-heavy score is syrupy sweet, providing a shocking counterpoint to all of the man-eating and animal cruelty on screen.

18. S U R V I V E—Stranger Things (dir. Matt and Ross Duffer, 2016)

Netflix’s small-town sci-fi horror series is a love letter to the works of the two Steves—King and Spielberg. Its already iconic opening credits invokes the 80s perfectly, propelled by Austin band S U R V I V E’s vintage synth theme.

17. Tindersticks—Trouble Every Day (dir. Claire Denis, 2001)

Tindersticks’ understated chamber pop lends itself well to the movies—they’ve scored six films for the French director Claire Denis, including this grisly cannibal romance. The tender strings and frontman Stuart Staples’ sombre baritone lend grace to this slice of New French Extremity.

16. Broadcast—Berberian Sound Studio (dir. Peter Strickland, 2013)

No other film on this list pays tribute to the importance of sound in horror as much as this film about a sound designer working on an Italian horror film. Broadcast frontwoman Trish Keenan sadly passed away while working on the score, but her take on library music is a haunting swan song.

15. John Murphy—28 Days Later… (dir. Danny Boyle, 2002)

One of the opening scenes of this zombie apocalypse movie is a panning shot of London set to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. John Murphy handles the rest of the score, but the surging drones of electric guitar could easily be mistaken for the Canadian post-rock band.

14. Fabio Frizzi—Zombie (dir. Lucio Fulci, 1980)

Zombie, also known as Zombi 2 or Zombie Flesh Eaters, is one of the goriest and sleaziest z-movies ever, but Fabio Frizzi’s choral synth-heavy score adds some class to the whole affair—as classy as a film with eyeball impalements and zombies wrestling sharks can get.

13. Ennio Morricone—The Thing (dir. John Carpenter, 1982)

John Carpenter scored most of his films, but for his first major studio film, he enlisted the legendary Ennio Morricone. Morricone’s eerie minimalist score lends itself well to the film’s isolated Antarctic setting, but the pulses of synth suggest something otherworldly lurking nearby.

12. Kryzstof Komeda—Rosemary’s Baby (dir. Roman Polanski, 1968)

The Polish composer Kryzstof Komeda died after falling from an escarpment at the age of 37. A few months before, he scored Rosemary’s Baby. The score is a mix of jazz and 60s pop, but at the heart of the score is a chilling lullaby motif, sung by lead actress Mia Farrow.

11. Howard Shore—Videodrome (dir. David Cronenberg, 1983)

The lines between man and machine get blurred in Cronenberg’s body horror, and Howard Shore’s score represents that synthesis. Shore wrote the score for an orchestra before rendering it with a synthesizer, making it hard to tell where the organic ends and the synthetic begins.

10. Paul Giovanni—The Wicker Man (dir. Robin Hardy, 1973)

No, not the Nicholas Cage remake, but the original, which was a landmark in British folk horror. Both the film and the soundtrack borrow heavily from Scottish folklore for inspiration, especially from the poems of Robert Burns.

9. Disasterpeace—It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell, 2014)

Plenty of horror movies serve as allegories for the dangers of sex, but It Follows takes that concept and cranks it to 11. Maybe that’s why Disasterpeace’s maximalism works so well here, as an amplified, glitched-out take on an 80s horror score.

8. Philip Glass—Candyman (dir. Bernard Rose, 1992)

Philip Glass is better known for scoring highbrow films like Koyaanisqatsi and The Thin Blue Line, but the minimalist composer also lent his talents to this offbeat slasher. Glass’s focus on timbre and repetition shine through on the music box-inspired theme.

7. Akira Yamaoka—Silent Hill 2 (dev. Konami, 2004)

The early 2000’s were a wellspring for Japanese horror, maybe even more so for video games than movies. Akira Yamaoka uses a diverse palette—from splashes of electric guitar to undertones of trip-hop—to paint a bleak atmosphere, in one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time.

6. Bernard Herrmann—Psycho (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

Hitchcock originally planned for Psycho’s shower scene to have no music, but changed his mind and asked his frequent collaborator Bernard Herrmann to score it with only strings. Herrmann’s musical cue is just as iconic as the shower scene—featuring repeated stabs of the “Hitchcock chord.”

5. Mica Levi—Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

There’s barely any dialogue in this cryptic alien film, so Mica Levi’s avant-garde score does most of the talking. Centered on a dissonant viola motif, Levi’s score alternates between creating a suffocating atmosphere of dread and letting a little bit of humanity peek through.

4. Tobe Hooper & Wayne Bell—The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974)

Other than some diegetic blues and country songs, the soundtrack to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is barely musical. Tobe Hooper and sound recordist Wayne Bell created a collage of sound effects to simulate being inside a slaughterhouse, featuring animal sounds, broken violins, muffled screams, and of course, the constant hum of a chainsaw.

3. John Carpenter—Halloween (dir. John Carpenter, 1978)

John Carpenter is proof that sometimes less is more. He kicked off an entire genre when he created Halloween on a shoestring budget. Halloween’s score is another example of his genius under constraints—the entire score was written in three days, and the ominous 5/4 theme was based on a simple drumming exercise.

2. Angelo Badalamenti—Twin Peaks (dir. David Lynch, 1990)

David Lynch’s work explores the space between dreams and nightmares, especially on his ABC series Twin Peaks, where the death of a teenaged girl sets the stage for a supernatural conflict. Angelo Badalamenti’s lounge-inspired score and Julee Cruise’s intoxicating vocals capture the mystical atmosphere of the Pacific Northwestern town of Twin Peaks perfectly.

1. Goblin—Suspiria (dir. Dario Argento, 1977)

This film about a ballet school run by witches is a full-blown assault on the senses, with luridly colourful sets that could only be described as “the Grand Budapest Hotel in hell” and an overwhelmingly loud score from Italian prog rock band Goblin. The soundtrack is a clash of guitar, drums, organ, celesta, chants, and hushed breaths (the film’s title is the Latin word for “sighs”).

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