It's no secret that just about every great horror offering has an amazing theme song or score to go along with it. Whether it's a singular theme that has stamped a trademark on the project or an entire score, music plays a powerful role in the art of filmmaking. Especially in the horror genre, a musical or sound cue could mean the difference between life and death for a character or might simply set the perfect spooky mood for the story. Music is also utilized to build or release tension between characters or within the plot.
With this list, we will focus on the 10 best horror themes. These themes invoke a sense of terror on their own, which is what made them perfect choices for the films they're attached to. Bear in mind that while the films featured have full musical scores, the following are specific clips taken from the score.
Proceed with caution as these might just keep you up at night.
10. 'Suspiria' (1977)
This theme is just plain creepy. It gives a somewhat mystical sense of rhythm to the viewer and the listener. That mysticism goes hand in hand with the actual story of Suspiria, so it's a perfect companion.
9. 'The Shining' (1980)
Composers: Rachel Elkind and Wendy Carlos
The Shining is a film full of mystery, suspense, and quite a few spooky visuals. This theme adds to the tone of the story and the simplicity makes the creepy moments you visually see on film even creepier.
8. 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' (1984)
Composer: Charles Bernstein
This theme is one of those that has a distinct melody that sticks with you even after the film is over. As if the slow burn of low tones make you feel uneasy enough, just hearing that melody gives you enough of Freddy Krueger to make you want to stay awake for a while longer.
7. 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968)
Composer: Krzysztof Komeda
Lullabies are usually meant to be a happy moment and they are even better coming from your mother. This lullaby from Rosemary's Baby is one that just gives you the creeps as you continue listening.
6. 'Carrie' (1976)
Composer: Pino Donaggio
Carrie has a couple of distinct themes, I have always found "For the Last Time We'll Pray" the most unsettling. If you've ever seen the film, you know the events taking place while this theme plays and despite the beauty of the melody, you can't help but picture the visuals. That's how you know a piece of music has done its job well.
5. 'Jaws' (1975)
Composer: John Williams
Easily one of the most recognizable theme songs in all of cinema history, the theme from Jaws is just a classic. It gives you a sense of urgency and suspense that can only work in a setting like this. Plus, you tend to stay away from water whenever you hear it.
4. 'Saw' (2004)
Composer: Charlie Clouser
Saw is another similar to Carrie in the sense that has a few different themes that have run throughout the franchise, but "Hello Zepp" has been the most consistent and most recognized theme from all seven films. It adds a sense of modernism with the electronic/industrial element mixed with acoustic instruments. Not to mention it's very unsettling to listen to, especially when you're alone in the dark.
3. 'The Exorcist' (1973)
Composer: Mike Oldfield, George Crum, Hans Werner Henze, Krzyszstof Penderecki
This theme came from the "Tubular Bells" composition from British composer Mike Oldfield, but the full score was completed with the help of three more composers. This haunting melody gives a sense of innocence and mischief that is present in the film. It's almost as though it takes you through the loss of innocence Regan experiences.
2. 'Halloween' (1978)
Composer: John Carpenter
This theme from Halloween is probably one of the most recognized and utilized themes within the horror community. It's instantly recognizable among audiences as the definition of Michael Myers. Not to mention its simplicity makes it creepy as hell.
1. 'Psycho' (1960)
Composer: Bernard Herrman
Bernard Herrman's score for Psycho is no doubt one of the most influential and recognizable scores ever composed. The way he handles tension, resolution, and climax within the music is a testament to not only his talent, but the talent that Alfred Hitchcock possessed. I know I still get goosebumps when I hear those shrieking strings.
What is your favorite horror theme?
Composer: Danny Elfman
This one is a bit subjective as not everyone considers Beetlejuice to be a textbook horror film. However, it does contain enough spooky elements to at least be mentioned. Plus, no one can deny that Elfman's score as a whole is brilliant.