Horror movie soundtracks – or any soundtrack for that matter – can make or break a film. These 11 horror films managed to completely nail the musical side of their productions, mostly thanks to clever employment of horror movie stand-bys: creepy synths and gothic rock. What’s better, they sound just as creepy without the visuals accompanying them. Put these on at your Halloween party and you are guaranteed not just to unsettle your guests, but possibly clear the room too.
Unbelievably, it only took John Carpenter three days to write the score to Halloween, and being a musician isn’t even the venerable director’s day job. Comprised of a bone-chilling piano motif and dramatic swathes of synths, the soundtrack suits the slow, suburban horror of the original slasher movie, one of Carpenter’s finest pieces of work.
The Return Of The Living Dead
With a castlist of deathrock, punk and goth groups including The Cramps, The Damned and The Flesh Eaters, the soundtrack to comedy horror Return Of The Living Dead, a semi-sequel to Night Of The Living Dead, is probably one of the coolest horror soundtracks out there. Who doesn’t want to watch a zombie invasion accompanied by the sweet rockabilly sounds of ‘Surfin’ Dead’?!
Trick Or Treat
If you’re a fan of heavy metal, ’80s film Trick Or Treat will have you checking your record collection for monsters. The storyline revolves around a dead rocker and a hapless metalhead who invokes his murderous ghost – by playing his album backwards. It features appearances from Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons, but it’s former Motorhead guitarist Eddie Clarke whose band Fastway provide the windmill-worthy soundtrack. Perfect for adding a bit of wailing metal to fright night.
The Wicker Man
Robin Hardy’s ’70s pagan horror, revolving around the creepy community living on a remote island, could only be soundtracked by weirdy-beardy folk music really. And so, Paul Giovanni and Magnet’s score is made up of tracks like ‘Corn Rigs’, an intricate, acoustic song that begins: “It was upon a Lammas night/When corn rigs are bonnie”. It’s ‘Willow’s Song’, however, sung by the landlord’s daughter (Britt Ekland) while trying to seduce Edward Woodward’s puritanical policeman, that’s taken on a life of its own, and has been covered by artists as diverse as The Mock Turtles, Sneaker Pimps and former Belle & Sebastian member Isobel Campbell.
Dawn Of The Dead
Dawn Of The Dead saw zombie maestro George A. Romero working with cult Italian director Dario Argento, and it’s Italian prog-rock band Goblin, who soundtracked Argento’s 1977 movie Suspiria, who provide the krautrock-influenced sounds for this 1978 classic. Moving from motorik beats and whirring synths to ominous drones, there’s menace in this music.
It Follows might not be old enough to yet be considered a classic, but its soundtrack takes its inspiration from masters such as John Carpenter. Composed by Disasterpeace – aka electronic musician Rich Vreeland, better known for making video game soundtracks – It Follows is his first venture into the film world, and it’s a triumph. His retro-style synths, thundering percussion and chaotic sound effects combine to make something that’ll have you looking over your shoulder in panic.
The soundtrack to David Lynch’s surrealist horror film Eraserhead only contains two pieces of music. One is the snatches of organ music by Fats Waller. The other is ‘In Heaven (Lady In The Radiator Song)’, which was written for the film. It’s a simple song, with a slow and steady organ line droning under the lady in the radiator singing “In heaven, everything is fine/You’ve got your things and I’ve got mine“. It’s as intriguing as the film itself.
Minimalist hero Philip Glass is behind the score to this ’90s classic, unusually bombastic for a horror film thanks to its monastic choirs and dramatic piano. It’s the next scariest thing to saying the C-word three times while facing a mirror.
Halloween III: Season Of The Witch
Just as Halloween III doesn’t feature masked killer Michael Myers, the theme tune used in the franchise’s previous two films (see above) isn’t on the score. Instead, composers John Carpenter and Alan Howarth got rid of the piano and replaced it with tense electronic beats and spooky synths. It, and the rest of the score, are creepy as fuck, even if the film was notoriously disappointing to people expecting a third hit of Myers.
The Lost Boys
As well as a classic horror combo of orchestral and organ stanzas, The Lost Boys also employs some quintessentially ’80s-sounding tracks from the likes of INXS and Roger Daltrey. The highlights, though, are Echo & The Bunnymen’s jaunty and mad version of The Doors’ ‘People Are Strange’ and the theme song, Gerard McMann’s brooding, towering ‘Cry Little Sister’.
Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ wasn’t written for purpose, but its repetitive arpeggios can bring a spooky atmosphere to any situation. It’s become synonymous with the once-banned horror classic The Exorcist, which Oldfield probably hates given he’s voiced disapproval of how his music was used in the film.