Music is a key part of any film. It’s what takes a good scene and elevates it. Many composers out there have been able to take mediocre movies and make them extraordinary simply through having the right music. Horror films are more dependent on the music than most. The wrong scary track can completely sink a horror film. So here are the Top 10 Best Horror Film Themes. The ones that elevated their moves through the music. The ones that really stick with you.
Honorable Mention - 28 Days Later
First, the honorable mention. “In the House, in a Heartbeat” is a wonderful song. 28 Days Later revolutionized the zombie film and this song is an excellent example of that. Starting with a soft piano riff that slowly morphs in a a frenzied guitar solo which brings a feeling of immediate danger to the forefront. It’s a great song.
10. The Shining
Wendy Carlos gave us a haunting synth score for Stanley Kubrick’s film that has become iconic. The opening shot of the camera flying over the lakes and mountain surrounding the Overlook Hotel fills the viewer with dread. Is this a spirit flying around? Is it evil personified? We don’t know, but what we do know, is that something is out there. And the music is terrifying.
9. Friday the 13th
“Chi-chi-chi-chi, Ha-ha-ha-ha”. Derived from the insane ramblings of Pamela Voorhees talking through the spirit of her dead son, “Kill her mommy” became the disturbing pseudo music, pseudo sound effect that defined one of the longest running horror film franchise of all time.
The most modern soundtrack on the list, but none-the-less, the song “Hello Zepp” has become a modern horror theme classic. Every viewer waited with bated breath for this song to play at the end of each Saw film, and with it, the horrifying twist! Now, any time this song is heard, you expect something terrible to be revealed.
Clive Barker directed this adaptation of his own novel, and changed horror forever. If epic sounding music is your thing, then you MUST listen to the soundtrack to Hellraiser. A tale of Cenobites needs a demonic sounding score, and Christopher Young does not disappoint. The chorus fills the screen with a large sound that really evokes the feeling of Hell. Sam Raimi even used it as his inspiration for the music during the birth of Doc Ock scene in Spider-Man 2. “What is your pleasure, sir?”
Another film based on a story by Clive Barker. The music for the first two Candyman films is unlike any other horror film score. The organ breathes epic life into the disturbing fairy-tale that is Candyman. It makes you feel the scope of the injustices Tony Todd’s character has suffered and yet still scares the daylights out of you. It’s the perfect combination of beauty and terror.
5. The Thing
Ennio Morricone is one of the greatest film composers who ever lived. He single handedly gave us the sounds of the Spaghetti Western, but he also gave us the dreadful sounds of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The droning baseline fills the viewer with constant dread and hopelessness. There is nothing you can do to stop the THING, and this music lets you know your attempts are in vain.
4. The Exorcist
“Tubular Bells”, the main theme from the film The Exorcist, is such a wonderful piece of music. Both haunting and sweet, it’s melody perfectly captures the feeling of innocence being corrupted. This film is more than just a scary movie, and the music helps relate that.
3. Psycho (Re-Animator)
Alfred Hitchcock gave us one of the most chilling and tense horror films ever. Norman Bates has become iconic, not to mention the famous shower scene. This film technically has TWO iconic horror film themes: The classic strings that made everyone terrified to take a shower is obvious. But it’s opening music is also extremely well known, and has been copied or slightly changed countless times. The most well known may be its inclusion in the music from Re-Animator.
John Carpenter gave us the most frightening and iconic horror movie in Halloween. But the film was notoriously lacking in scares until he laid down the chilling piano theme. And once October hits, you can rest assured that you will hear this song everywhere.
John Williams made an entire generation afraid to go into the water with two simple bass notes. The theme music from Jaws will make anyone swimming look twice, and has gone down in history as not just the most iconic horror film score, but one of the most iconic film scores, period.