There was a time not that long ago when soundtracks in horror movies actually played an important role and were treated like major characters. Each score had its own distinct personality and complemented all of the onscreen action. In slasher films usually, a series of well-placed sound cues from an orchestra or a pulsating synth rhythm would signal the killer is close by, or that the victim is about to triumph over his or her attacker. What you saw on screen and heard both worked together to create the desired thrills and chills. But sadly, not the same can be said about the majority of soulless “film scores” being churned out today. The current crop of horror composers aim for cheap scares by using loud, random noises to get a reaction out of the audience. There isn’t any kind of build-up to create tension or a feeling of dread in horror films of the new millennium, just musical punch lines that arrive way too soon and don’t end up paying off for the audience. Instead of having memorable themes like “The Shape Stalks” from “Halloween” or the “Main Title” from “Jaws” that made your heart race the first time you heard them, “music” in recent horror movies has been replaced by generic, headache-inducing distractions that totally take you out of the movie experience.
But don’t worry, Ghouls and Ghoulettes. We have put together a list of classic horror soundtracks from different eras (when movie music still mattered) that are guaranteed to make your Halloween party festive and extra creepy this year.
1. Trick ‘r Treat
Douglas Pipes (“Monster House“) delivers a surprisingly creepy film score that, along with the film, perfectly captures the spirit of Halloween. At times his composing style will remind you of the late composers, Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann. The whole soundtrack is overflowing with eerie goodness, but standout tracks are “Main Titles”, “To The Quarry”, and “Pumpkin Shooter/Meet Sam.”
2. Damien: Omen II
This soundtrack can easily be considered one of composer Jerry Goldsmith’s masterpieces. With each track you can hear the forthcoming sense of doom that is simmering just beneath the surface. His mixture of dark mass chants and startling electronic sound effects would make even Jason Voorhees cry for his mommy.
As far as horror movie anthologies are concerned, “Creepshow” is one on the best. And John Harrison’s spooky film score has one of the best opening tracks that I’ve ever heard on a horror soundtrack. Listening to each track will make you feel like you are watching the movie all over again. The CD features previously unreleased music from “Mansions of the Moon“, “Shoobie Doobie Moon“, as well as some music from the “Tales from the Darkside” TV show.
4. Psycho (1960)
Another personal favorite soundtrack of mine. Bernard Herrmann composed this iconic score which has sent a collective shiver down the spines of fans spanning many generations. The stabbing string section on the track “Prelude” still cuts just as deep today, even though the music is almost 50 years old. Now let me go, because I think I hear “Mother” calling me.
Christopher Young’s spine-tingling masterwork is the perfect compliment to Clive Barker’s nightmarish directorial debut. Young has created a score that features some of the most hauntingly beautiful music that I’ve ever heard in a horror movie. I couldn’t imagine watching “Hellraiser” without hearing his music.
You can’t have a top ten horror soundtrack list without including Italian Prog Rock band, Goblin, which has consistently composed some of the most unique sounding and memorable music for horror movies. At the request of director Dario Argento, three of the four original members from Goblin reunited to create a hypnotic and energetic score filled with enough up-tempo tracks that will surely have any wallflowers at your party cutting a rug.
This is another movie that just wouldn’t have the same impact if it had different music. Composing duo Fred Myrow and Malcom Seagrave collaborated to create my all-time favorite movie soundtrack that perfectly frames Reggie’s and Mike’s life-or-death struggle against the evil Tall Man.
8. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Goblin creates another wildly inventive score using a variety of instruments and sound effects for Romero’s fan favorite zombie film. When you hear the tortured moans of the undead on track 2, “Zombi”, you’ll want to quickly lock all of your doors and board up every window to protect yourself from the coming zombie invasion.
9. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Nominated for an Academy Award, master composer Lao Shiffrin’s soundtrack is the scariest part of the movie. Without his pulse-pounding music, “Amityville Horror” would’ve been even more of a snoozer.
10. The Thing
If after listening to this score you mistakenly thought John Carpenter did the music, don’t beat yourself up too much. Because just like how the parasitic alien in the movie was able to imitate other life forms, composer Enio Morricone masterfully emulated Carpenter’s distinct style when he created this bleak, minimalist soundtrack that will chill you to the bone.