From intense, psychological horror films that’ll have you questioning the way you live your life, to terrifying, gore-soaked flicks punctuated by jump scares, all great scary movies need great music to match. So, to celebrate Halloween, we’ve listed the 20 best horror soundtracks for you to sink your pointy, blood-stained teeth into…
28 Days Later (2002) – John Murphy
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is a zombie film with ambition, and John Murphy’s grandiose soundtrack matches the scale of the film blow-for-blow. From that sprawling, disorientating opening sequence in a seemingly-deserted London to the many close calls and near misses that pepper the urgent film, the epic music constantly gives 28 Days Later a feeling of palpable drama.
Play it… when walking through London in the early hours of the morning
Candyman (1992) – Philip Glass
Candyman may have been released at a time when slasher films were losing their edge, but the Bernard Rose film still took itself very seriously. While the plot tackled ideas of racism and self-destruction, Glass’ soundtrack used pop melodies and big choral movements to create a feeling of otherworldly uneasiness.
Play it… when you want to bring a touch of romance to Halloween
Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter
Taking a minimalist approach to the soundtrack to the game-changing Halloween, John Carpenter kept viewers on the edge of their seats with tense, piano-led melodies before making them leap out of them with a well-deployed burst of screaming synths. Simple, but effective with the main theme going on to be sampled by Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre and Insane Clown Posse.
Play it… when you want everyday chores to feel like a life-or-death situation
It Follows (2014) – Diasterpeace
A sex-driven version of tag with the added bonus of grisly murders, the soundtrack to It Follows is just as paranoid, intense and creepy as the film it scores. Disaterpeace uses his background in chiptune and video game music to create an ominous, electronic soundscape that gets right under your skin.
Play it… when you want to feel extra anxious
Jaws (1975) – John Williams
Jaws is often cited as one of the most suspenseful films in cinema history. You don’t see a whole lot of the very hungry shark, but you’re always waiting for him to pop up and eat some poor, unsuspecting holiday maker. Most of that dread comes from John Williams‘ incredible score. The main, two-note motif is proof that simple is effective while the masterful use of absolute silence only amps up the trepidation
Play it… when you want an excuse not to go for your Saturday morning swim
Jennifer’s Body (2009) – Various Artists
It may have taken a decade for Karyn Kusama’s dark comedy to become a celebrated cult classic but the soundtrack has always banged. A coming-of-age movie about friendship, identity and demonic possession, the Stephen Barton and Theodore Shapiro-curated soundtrack featured the very best of the noughties emo scene with tracks from Panic! At The Disco and Paramore’s Hayley Williams. Fictional indie rockers Low Shoulder may have worshiped the devil but they clearly knew their way around a brooding rock anthem. It gave the film a level of relatability, despite the outlandish premise.
Play it… at the perfect pop-punk revival party
Maniac (1980) – Jay Chattaway
There’s a grubbiness to William Lustig’s Maniac. A bulk of the film had to be shot Guerilla-style, with permits to film in New York too expensive for the budget movie while scalp-happy serial killer Frank Zito is a brutal, brooding baddie. Jay Chattaway’s new wave soundtrack is very much a product of the times, with sleek synths rubbing up against droning electronic beats, giving the grime of New York city a horrible sense of dread.
Play it… when you want something stranger than Stranger Things
Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann
Psycho’s series of brutal violin stabs have become one of the most recognisable musical cues in cinema history but Herrmann’s whole string-based score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a masterpiece in tension and creeping dread. Weaving in easter eggs about plot points and tricking the audience into feeling fear before anything outwardly disastrous happens on screen, it’s the stuff of absolute nightmares that elevates an already brilliant horror.
Play it… when your flatmate goes for a shower
Saw (2004) – Charlie Clouser
Before the Saw franchise turned into a gore-fuelled showcase of blood, guts and gizmos, the original film toyed with trust, morality and karma. Set in a basement with nothing but a handful of rusted tools and a corpse, Charlie Clouser’s score added a wave of industrial terror to the slowly unfurling story with bursts of nu-metal thrown in for good measure.
Play it… when you’re feeling playful
Scream (1996) – Marco Beltrami
A very good slasher film that satirises slasher films at the same time, Scream ushered in a new, self-aware era of horror films. Because of this, Marco Beltrami’s soundtrack used every trick in the book to raise tension, toy with expectations and get creative with misdirection.
Play it… when you know they shouldn’t open that door
Silent Hill (2006) – Jeff Danna
A lot of video game adaptations go wrong because they stray too far from the source material and director Christope Gans was only allowed to create a film version of Konami’s iconic Silent Hill after he wrote to the studio, telling them how important the horror games were to him. Composer Jeff Danna apparently held the games in equally high regard, reworking music from across the Silent Hill franchise to give the psychological horror film the necessary amount of creeping dread.
Play it… at a Halloween party with a gamer-heavy guestlist
Studio 666 (2022) – Foo Fighters
What do you do if you’re comfortably the biggest stadium rock band in the world? Well, if you’re the Foo Fighters, you make their own musical comedy horror film. With vocalist and Nicest Guy In Rock Dave Grohl transformed into a brutal murderer, the film may have been a bit silly in places but the 8-track album created by fictional metal band Dream Widow is crafted with the same passion and skill that’s gone into every Foo Fighters release.
Play it… at the start of your spooky metal playlist
Suspiria (2018) – Thom Yorke
An homage to the 1977 original, Suspiria sees an American woman (Dakota Johnson) join a prestigious dance academy that is actually run by a coven of witches. Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke created the bleak, Blade Runner-inspired score before a majority of the movie had been filmed and focused on the hypnotising power of repetitive music. It allowed Yorke to embed his first feature film soundtrack into the fabric of Suspiria, giving the film an uneasy intimacy.
Play it… when nothing is in its right place
The Keep (1983) – Tangerine Dream
The Keep is a high-concept horror that’s big on melodrama, as a group of Nazis disturb an ancient demon in Romania before it befriends a Jewish historian. While the plot wrestled with notions of good and evil, the troubled production saw a hastily scraped together ending and plenty of cuts. Fortunately the moody, heavy-metal soundtrack by German electronic band Tangerine Dream managed to smooth over a majority of the cracks.
Play it… when you want to evoke a feeling of impending doom
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Danny Elfman
Yes, it counts. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas not only imagines a world where all sorts of demonic creatures actually exist, but they hold the power to wage war against the more joyful festive events. It’s scary stuff that’s brought to life via an infectious Danny Elfman score that’s so good, both Billie Eilish and Phoebe Bridgers have got involved with arena concerts of it.
Play it… when you want to have halloween at Christmas
The Shining (1980) – Gordon Stainforth
After working so well together on A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick’s second time collaborating with Wendy Carlos and her producer Rachel Elkind wasn’t such a success, with most of their score not making it into The Shining. Instead, Kubrick and music director Gordon Stainforth assembled a collection of tracks from a variety of outlandish, experimental composers, giving The Shining a turbulent, queasy score that only added to the feeling of inevitable dread.
Play it… when all work and no play makes Jack a dull playlist
The Thing (1982) – Ennio Morricone
The Thing may be a cosmic horror about a creature from another world, but Ennio Morricone’s score does its very best to ground the premise. Bass guitar is used to replicate a heartbeat, while haunting strings, electronic drones and plenty of musical chaos gives the film an even grander sense of paranoia.
Play it… when you feel like the whole world’s after you
The Wicker Man (1973) – Paul Giovanni, Magnet
Away from the film, the soundtrack to The Wicker Man can be seen as a charming, folksy collection of tracks that wouldn’t be out of place at a quaint village fete. Those old fashioned ballads and upbeat jigs take on a far more sinister feel when set against the insidious town of Summerisle and its pagan residents. You’ll never look at a maypole in the same way.
Play it… when you’re craving a scream tea
Under The Skin (2013) – Mica Levi
Considering Under The Skins sees Scarlett Johansson as an otherworldly figure who kills men via a mysterious pool of black liquid, Jonathon Glazer’s sci-fi horror shows surprising restraint. The soundtrack, created by Mica Levi of indie pop band Micachu And The Shapes, only adds to that feeling of isolation and sparseness, with industrial jabs and urgent, twisted soundscapes.
Play it… for a more cinematic brand of scare
Us (2019) – Michael Abels
Jordan Peele’s Us took many familiar horror tropes and cut them with the unexpected. Michael Abels score followed suit, as the unsettling soundscapes and battle-ready choral moments were blended with reworked pop hits like a slowed down version of Luniz’s 1995 breakout track ‘I Got 5 On It’. The whole thing was strange, disconcerting and constantly arresting.
Play it… for a thoroughly modern fright