I’ve said it many times before, music (or lack there-of) makes a horror film. Over the past 50 years, the horror genre has pumped out some of the most iconic film scores of all time. Songs that send chills down your spine and make you think of impending doom every time you hear their ghastly melody.
I love a good horror soundtrack, it’s a big appeal for me and something that I think modern horror has lost a sense of. In this here article, I’m going to list some of the most iconic (as well as some of my favorite) horror theme songs that you may, or may not, have heard of.
10. The Shining – Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind
What a beautifully haunting main title. As the Torrance’s little VW Bug winds its way through the jagged Rocky Mountains, we’re subjected to a collection of sounds that sound both human and supernatural. It is a perfect indication of the fear and trepidation that the film instills on its viewers as it progresses to its rocky finale.
9. The Twilight Zone – Marius Constant
This is probably the most iconic television theme song of all time. It was composed for the second season of Rod Serling’s seminal hit television show by Marius Constant and it has become a staple of many lives, mine included. Every time I hear that fantastic little jingle I get excited about whatever strange and wonderful journey I may be going on, even if seen the episode a hundred times already. You can almost see the swirling, hypnotic background when you hear it.
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street – Charles Bernstein
Considered by Rotten Tomatoes to be one of the best films of 1984, Wes Craven’s Freddy Krueger sliced his way into horror fan’s hearts forever as one of the crudest, rudest and generally hilarious slasher villains out there. The theme is another great, haunting and melodic, and funnily enough, heavily inspired by Gary Wright’s Dreamweaver (seriously, check it out here).
7. Poltergeist (Carol Anne’s Theme) – Jerry Goldsmith
This is one of my absolute favorite themes in the horror world, because it’s the exact opposite of what you would expect with the theme for a horror film. It’s a beautiful song, and it perfectly exemplifies the sweet innocence of our protagonist, Carol Anne. It’s sweet melody, sung by a choir of children, soothes the heart in the oddest of ways and helps you realize that maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright.
6. The Omen (Ave Satani) – Jerry Goldsmith
A double-whammy for Jerry Goldsmith, then again he’s one of my favorite horror composers, this being my favorite of his compositions (however, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum). This is the theme for Damian, the son of Satan, in the amazing occult film The Omen. “Ave Satani” features a choir singing a Latin chant that translates to “We drink the blood, we eat the body, raise the body of Satan. Hail! Hail, Hail Anti-Christ! Hail Satan!” It’s dark shit, and it’s exactly what The Omen needed. I remember being immediately taken with this score when I first watched the film some 12 years ago. It played a huge part in my future fascination, and borderline (who am I even kidding) obsession with the horror genre.
5. Hellraiser – Christopher Young
Clive Barker had original commissioned a the soundtrack from his breakthrough film from the industrial band Coil, however he later rejected it. The job then fell upon the shoulders of Christopher Young, who created the eponymous theme song, and Lemarchand’s Lullaby that makes us all immediately imagine chains flying at us from all directions. I fucking LOVE this whole soundtrack, it sets up the film with a grandiose feeling of dread and wonder.
4. Suspiria – Goblin
Suspiria is one of the most talked about horror films of all time. I feel as if I’ve always heard people referencing this film, in some way or another. It’s a fantastic film, more art house than anything, that tells the story of a young American girl who attends a prestigious dance school in Italy only to discover that it’s no mere dance school (forgive the cliché ridden summary). The reason I find this theme so intriguing (aside from the fact that it’s really just pretty damn awesome) is that it is so regularly used in pop culture references that most people probably don’t even realize they’ve heard it, and would recognize it almost immediately. Finnish rock band HIM, used it as intro music for their American tours for years, as an example.
Who made the final 3? Head inside to find out.
Who made the final 3? Head inside to find out.
3. The Exorcist (Tubular Bells) – Mike Oldfield
Who hasn’t heard this? This is the only one on the list that was not only the theme song for the most terrifying horror film of all time, but it also managed to break through to the pop music market and become a hit as well. How the hell does that work? I don’t know, but Tubular Bells needs no introduction, it’s just pure unadulterated awesome. While it was originally released on Mike Oldfield’s debut album (when he was only 19), it was chosen as the theme for The Exorcist that same year, which garnered it great amounts of exposure.
2. Psycho – Bernard Herrmann
While Herrmann initially refused to score the film due to a lowered budget, he managed to work with it and created one of the most iconic horror film themes of all time, if not the most iconic. That trademark screech of the strings, Jesus. I mean what is there to even say without sounding repetitive and trite? It’s Psycho. This film changed the world, it changed the genre, and the score is fucking great. That’s all there is to say about that.
1. Halloween – John Carpenter
There can be no list of great horror theme songs without this one topping it. I don’t care what anybody says, this is THE horror theme song. Composed by John Carpenter using only a keyboard, it’s the simplicity of it that makes it so great. There is no huge symphony, no orchestral mastery used to make the music for Halloween, it was simply a man and a keyboard and he was able to create not only one of the most iconic horror films of all time, but one of the greatest horror themes of all time. There is not one person who lives a normal life in this day and age who has not heard this theme, and that is why it tops this list.
So now, there was my list. What’s yours? What horror soundtrack rustles your jimmies and makes you want to rush home so you can pop in the DVD and revisit your old friends?