When it comes to classic horror movies, the soundtracks have played a significant role in heightening the fear factor and creating a mood. The iconic composers of these soundtracks have helped define the genre and become legendary in their own right. Here are some of the best classic horror movie soundtracks that have stood the test of time.
Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann
Director Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller, Psycho, had a score that was as shocking as the film’s twist ending. Bernard Herrmann’s innovative music, which utilized string instruments and unique arrangements, helped create an unsettling and eerie ambiance that perfectly fit the psychological horror film’s tone.
Herrmann’s unforgettable shower scene music, with its violent and frenzied stabbing, is nothing short of iconic and has been referenced and parodied in countless films and TV shows.
The Exorcist (1973) – Mike Oldfield
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which is often regarded as one of the greatest and most terrifying horror films ever made, has a hypnotic soundtrack by Mike Oldfield that complements the movie’s dark tone and satanic themes.
The opening score is a hauntingly beautiful arrangement full of choral chants and orchestral drama that sets the tone for the film’s impending doom. Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” is another memorable musical piece that has become a pop culture staple.
Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter
John Carpenter both directed and composed the score for the legendary horror film Halloween, and it was a match made in horror movie heaven. Carpenter’s simple yet effective synth-based soundtrack helped create the pulsating and suspenseful feelings of the film that made even the most mundane of activities, such as walking down the street, seem terrifying.
The continued repetition of the iconic theme, with its brooding piano melody and haunting synth lines, and the staccato sound of a fast, heavy breathing, creates a sense of dread that continues to scare audiences to this day.
Jaws (1975) – John Williams
Though Jaws isn’t a horror movie per se, its classic score by John Williams is still as frightening as any slasher film soundtrack. The music is full of guttural sounds, ominous string arrangements, and suspenseful brass sections that seep into your skin and get your heart racing.
The piece is so effective in ramping up the tension that even audiences who have never seen Jaws before can feel their blood pressure rising whenever they hear the iconic “dun-dun…dun-dun” theme.
The Shining (1980) – Wendy Carlos
Wendy Carlos composed the score for the classic Stanley Kubrick masterpiece The Shining, a movie that is often regarded as one of the most terrifying thrillers of all time. Carlos’s minimalist approach to the score perfectly captures the film’s eerie atmosphere and Jack Nicholson’s descent into madness.
The haunting and ominous soundscape created from synthesizers and string arrangements feel like an inescapable trap, much like the film’s Overlook Hotel. The score is eerie and understated, but equally terrifying, and adds a new level of depth to the already mind-bending and disturbing movie.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) – Various Artists
George A. Romero’s classic zombie thriller Night of the Living Dead had a unique soundtrack with a mix of borrowed library music and public domain classics. While the score wasn’t as cohesive as some others on this list, it helped define the soundscape of the zombie movie genre.
The use of funeral march music, including “Goblin Market” by Elizabeth Griffith, creates a melancholy feel that captures both the film’s bleakness and the somber state of the world it is set in. Additionally, the use of repetition in “The Gonk” by Herbert Chappell added a driving rhythm that supports the film’s tension.
The Omen (1976) – Jerry Goldsmith
The score composed by Jerry Goldsmith for The Omen, Richard Donner’s classic horror movie, remains a staple in the genre. The music packs a punch with its eerie choir chants and sharp and discordant tones, adding another layer to the story’s devilish and doom-laden themes.
The main theme used throughout the movie is chilling, and Goldsmith manages to create a sense of unease in moments of the movie where no visible threat presents itself. Elements of the score have been sampled in other works of art, notably the “Ave Satani” choir, which has been used in some pop and metal songs.
Classic horror movies would not be the same without their iconic and impactful soundtracks. The scores discussed above have had a significant impact on the genre, influencing filmmakers and composers to this day.
From the ominous string arrangements of Psycho to the minimalist chilling synths of The Shining, these classic soundtracks remain relevant and continue to scare audiences with each new generation.