We picked the top 10 scary movie soundtracks that will send shivers down your spine

10 scariest horror movie soundtracks

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Our favorite scary movie soundtracks with full movie scores

In horror movies, it’s often the horror music that hooks us right in, turning our movie-watching experience into a nail-biting venture. The creators of these spine-tingling tunes — composers like Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, and Christopher Young, among others — have a knack for crafting sounds that linger in our minds long after the credits roll.

It’s the way the strings in Psycho make us tense or how the simple two-note motif in Jaws can send shivers down our spines even without a shark in sight. These scary soundtracks don’t just create music; they craft an atmosphere, building suspense and dread with every note, which resonates with the fear we feel, making the scenes feel a touch too real.

Through the decades, these maestros have shown us how well-composed scary movie music can become a character of its own in a horror flick, adding layers to the narrative and making our hearts race a bit faster.

So, the next time we find ourselves jumping out of our seats or feeling the goosebumps creep up our arms, let’s tip our hats to these musical virtuosos who masterfully tune into our deepest fears, making our horror movie experience deliciously terrifying. Below your find our top 10 scary movie soundtracks, complete with videos of the entire movie score.

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1. Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann

The score of Psycho by Bernard Herrmann is truly a cornerstone in the world of horror movie soundtracks. The tracks, especially the piercing strings in the infamous shower scene, have become synonymous with suspense and horror.

Herrmann’s mastery in using high-pitched strings to mimic the slashing of a knife was not just innovative but showcased a deep understanding of how horror soundtracks can evoke fear and enhance on-screen drama.

This wasn’t about creating a melody that viewers could hum along to; it was about constructing a soundscape that could drive the suspense and intensify the terror. The discordant screeching of violins in that scene didn’t just add to the horror; it became the horror.

And it’s not just us; even Alfred Hitchcock acknowledged the impact of Herrmann’s score, stating that “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.” Through Psycho, Herrmann demonstrated that music in horror films could do so much more than just set the mood — it could manipulate our emotions and leave a lasting impression.

2. Jaws (1975) – John Williams

When we think about the music from Jaws, it’s almost impossible not to hear the iconic two-note motif by John Williams that’s become synonymous with impending danger in the water. This simplistic yet effective composition is a prime example of how minimalism in music can evoke a maximum sense of dread.

The beauty of this horror movie music lies in its ability to signal danger while still leaving much to our imagination. With each repetition, the music builds up the tension, making our hearts race a little faster. Not only does this technique enhance the suspense, it practically carries the narrative — letting us know when the menacing shark is nearing.

And it wasn’t just us who felt the chills! The impact of William’s score was recognized widely, even earning him an Academy Award. The Jaws soundtrack reminds us how a simple tune, when well-placed, can become a powerful storyteller, creating a lingering sense of danger that keeps us on the edge of our seats.

3. Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter

In Halloween (1978), John Carpenter not only directed the film but also composed the legendary horror soundtrack that’s become a cornerstone in horror cinema. Primarily driven by a simple piano melody, this repetitive, hypnotic theme has a way of crawling under our skin.

The repetitive nature of the tune crafts an atmosphere of impending doom, reminding us that Michael Myers could be lurking around any corner. The use of synthesizers adds a modern touch to the otherwise straightforward melody, creating a sound that’s as timeless as it is unsettling.

The Halloween soundtrack didn’t need complex orchestrations to frighten us — it did so with a sparse, rhythmically driving melody that echoes the relentless pursuit of the masked killer. Carpenter’s genius lies in his understanding of how less can indeed be more when it comes to evoking fear through music.

4. The Exorcist (1973) – Mike Oldfield

The music for The Exorcist brought a new layer of discomfort to an already disturbing narrative. Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” which is featured in the film, isn’t just a composition but a character in its own right.

The iconic theme from “Tubular Bells” wasn’t initially intended to be in The Exorcist. The director, William Friedkin, decided to use the haunting opening section for the soundtrack, and it turned out to be a perfect fit, adding to the overall sense of unease and foreboding that permeated the film.

The steady progression of notes, seemingly innocent at the outset, becomes a harbinger of the chilling events that unfold. Mike Oldfield may not have composed “Tubular Bells” specifically for The Exorcist, but its inclusion in the film was a master stroke. The minimalistic melody complements the atmosphere, making our fear feel all too real.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Charles Bernstein

In 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street brought us face to face with one of horror’s most recognizable characters, Freddy Krueger. The soundtrack, composed by Charles Bernstein, played no small part in making our skin crawl.

The score weaved through the surreal scenes with an unsettling ease. It’s an electronic composition that manages to capture the essence of fear and dread, creating a ominous atmosphere that lingered long after the movie ended.

Bernstein’s approach to the music was straightforward but effective, using synthesizers to craft sounds that felt as surreal and disturbing as the visuals on screen. Every note seemed to echo the danger that awaited the characters, and by extension, us, as we navigated through the twisted alleys of Freddy’s dream realm.

6. Candyman (1992)

The soundtrack of Candyman (1992) is a blend of choral and orchestral music composed by Philip Glass. His score, filled with Gothic influences, mirrors the film’s macabre narrative beautifully.

The repetitive structures in the music, matched with the film’s sinister undertones, create a resonance that sticks with us. As the movie progresses, the music seems to pull us along, its haunting chorus echoing the desperation and terror faced by the characters on screen. The way the soundtrack aligns with the film’s supernatural theme is nothing short of masterful.

Glass’s compositions encapsulate the otherworldly horror that Candyman aims to evoke, adding layers of intrigue to an already compelling story. Each musical cue in Candyman feels deliberate, intended to draw us further into the film’s unnerving tale.

7. The Shining (1980) – Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind

The soundtrack of The Shining is a masterful concoction of sound that transports us into the corridors of the Overlook Hotel. Composers Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, along with director Stanley Kubrick’s selection of existing classical pieces, created a soundscape that resonates with the isolation and impending doom encapsulated in the film.

The synthesized score, paired with classical music, adds a layer of unsettling contrast, reflecting the mental disintegration happening on screen. The soundtrack doesn’t just accompany the scenes — it defines them, amplifying the unease as we watch the characters spiral into madness.

Through The Shining, Carlos, Elkind, and Kubrick remind us how a well-crafted soundtrack can make an already chilling narrative all the more harrowing, causing our fear to reverberate through the corridors of the Overlook long after we’ve left the cinema.

8. Friday The 13th (1980)

The soundtrack of Friday The 13th, crafted by Harry Manfredini, holds a special place in the world of horror movie soundtracks. Manfredini came up with a unique musical solution to convey the killer’s perspective, a technique that added a layer of suspense to the scenes.

The “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” vocal motif, derived from the movie’s dialogue, became an audible trademark of impending danger. Not merely a tune, it was a warning for the audience. Every time we heard it, we knew something bad was lurking around the corner. This simple, yet effective tune added a whole new level of tension.

The music in Friday The 13th was about setting the stage for fear, making our pulse race a little faster with every beat. Manfredini’s approach was clever — by using sound to represent the unseen danger, he created a sense of dread that was hard to escape. His soundtrack didn’t just set the mood; it was an integral part of the storytelling.

9. The Omen (1976) – Jerry Goldsmith

The soundtrack of The Omen is a masterpiece composed by Jerry Goldsmith that significantly contributed to the film’s terrifying atmosphere. Goldsmith’s composition earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1976, a testament to its brilliance and effectiveness in augmenting the narrative of the film​.

One of the hallmark features of this soundtrack is the incorporation of choral voices and religious themes, ingeniously blended with classic horror and suspense motifs. The requiem mass forms, as interpreted over centuries, notably find a place in the composition, making the music resonate with a sense of ancient dread intertwined with the unfolding horror on screen.

Among the tracks, “Ave Satani” stands out with its Latin lyrics composed by Goldsmith. This piece, along with others like “The Piper Dreams,” not only sets the tone but goes a step further, almost announcing the malevolent presence lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. The arrangement of the music by Arthur Morton and vocals by Carol Heather Goldsmith in “The Piper Dreams” adds to the ambiance, making the soundtrack an integral part of the storytelling.

10. It Follows (2014) – Rich Vreeland

The soundtrack of It Follows, composed by aka Rich Vreeland, seamlessly melds with the terrifying premise of the film, enhancing the dread-filled atmosphere that envelops us as we follow the protagonist’s nightmarish ordeal.

The indie horror flick directed by David Robert Mitchell became impactful with Rich Vreeland’s deeply unsettling score. Mitchell, being a fan of Rich Vreeland’s work on the Fez soundtrack, brought him on board, marking the beginning of Vreeland’s career as a film composer.

As the story unfolds on screen, the score, with its volatile yet slow-burning tunes, envelops us, intensifying the ambiance that makes It Follows a memorable horror experience.

Other Notable Mentions

The importance of soundtracks in heightening the horror aura of movies is immense. They set the tone, evoke emotions, and sometimes become characters in their own right within the narrative.

Though they didn’t make the list, the soundtracks from Annihilation (2018), Berberian Sound Studio (2012), and Vertigo (1958), deserve honorable mentions.

In Annihilation, the horror movie music by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow leaves a lingering unsettling effect that accompanies the visual terror of The Shimmer. It’s known to induce feelings of dread even outside the context of the movie, reflecting its potency in creating a haunting atmosphere​.

The 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio has its horror movie music crafted by the British band Broadcast. This soundtrack accompanies a narrative filled with unseen horrors, reflecting a unique approach where the music for a fictional film within the main narrative was created, adding layers to the horror that unfolds on screen​​.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo showcases Bernard Herrmann’s musical prowess, where the soundtrack not only enhances the suspense and mystery but becomes a crucial part of the narrative. This score marked a significant phase in Herrmann’s career and is often regarded as one of the greatest pieces of film music ever released, illustrating the timeless impact a well-composed soundtrack can have on a horror narrative​.

These scary movie soundtracks underline the diverse approaches composers take to augment the horror in films, enriching the viewing experience for us. Got any favorites we didn’t mention here? Tell us about it in the comments! 👻

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