Dead List: Top 10 Horror Soundtracks of All Time

Can music make a film?  Break a film? Raise the hairs on the back of your head?  Make you curl up in a ball and weep? You bet your bottom dollar!

Currently, not only are we in the golden age of the rebirth of horror films, we’re also amidst one of the more complete appreciations of the horror soundtrack!  With record companies like Wax Works, Death Waltz, Mondo, Sound Stage Direct, and Turn Table Lab — to name a few — horror soundtrack aficionados have dug deep in the crypt and discovered some truly bonkers and sadly forgotten soundtracks.  Things like C.H.U.D., Tenebre, House 1 & 2, Altered States, and even From Beyond are finally getting their proper treatment: vinyl.

Soundtracks have been around since way back when in 1927 when the Jazz Singer kicked it all off.  Little did Al Jolson know that his seminal work would literally give birth to C.H.U.D. on vinyl.  Well, that might be a pinch strong, but you get the point.  Film is important to music, and music is important to film.  A match made in bowels of hell and one that will be eternally be grafted together in a sinister coven.

In Episode XX we answered all of your nagging questions including: strings? synth? piano? Which instrument is the scariest?  Which is the most oft used?  Which is the one that takes that creepy scene straight on off the cliff?

Open you ears and tune in to the ten most evil soundtracks your little ears ever did hear!

ATMOSfx! Woo!

1. Jaws, 1975. Directed by Steven Spielberg

Now part of our collective conscious.  Young children who’ve never seen the film wander around repeating the droning phrase “nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh…na na na.” It’s come to mean that you’ll soon be met with dread and terror. No horror soundtrack — scratch that… soundtrack — is so instantly identifiable. None. Maestro John Williams took two simple notes E and F and repeated them over and over with brutal relentlessness. It’s almost as if a shark made the conscious effort to concoct his very own personal soundtrack. The soundtrack even garnered Williams an Academy Award and a spot on the American Film Institute’s sixth best sound track of all time. Not too shabby. 

2. The Omen, 1976. Directed by Richard Donner

If it’s freaky religious chants and over-the-top atmospherics you’re after then famed composer Jerry Goldsmith has you covered.  Kicking things in to gear with the most disturbing intonation you’ve ever heard — Ave Satani, or HAIL SATAN — this soundtrack never gives up. We’re no experts in Latin, but according to those that are, the lyrics behind Ave Satani boil down to “We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan.” Mix these off-putting religious sounds with a demonic young boy and you’ve got a recipe for EVIL. 

3. It Came From Beneath The Sea, 1955. Directed by Robert Gordon

Music and film have been fast friends ever since the Jazz Singer came on the scene in 1927.  A handful of years later and Hollywood had dialed in the power of the soundtrack.  This score, put together by Mischa Bakaleinikoff, is the godfather of big stompy monstrous sounds. If you’ve ever watched a 1950s atomic age monster movie you’ll know this score and its importance. Tubas, kettle drums, and a piercing string section all come together in ominous mayhem. Out of primordial depths to destroy the world.  You got that right!

4. Phantasm, 1979. Directed by Don Conscarelli

From one of the composers who brought you Soylent Green, comes the haunting keyboard-driven soundtrack to Phantasm.  Put together by two composers. Fred Myrow (Soylent Green) and Malcolm Seagrave (Phantasm IV and Phantasm Ravager), this soundtrack came hot on the heels of John Carpenter’s equally chilling, and somewhat similar, soundtrack to Halloween. But Myrow and Seagrave took it a bit further with fully fleshed out songs, weird church organs, bleeps, bloops, and some seriously funky disco drum breaks.  Phantasm would hardly be the movie we’ve all come to know and love without this soundtrack. The repetitious nature of the keyboard sound still sends chills up and back down our spines.

5. The Thing, 1980. Directed by John Carpenter

Speaking of John Carpenter, he really is something of a renaissance man.  He does it all. He writes, he directs, and he puts together some incredible sounds for audiences to feast on. But unlike his masterclass in soundtracks with 1978’s Halloween, Carpenter didn’t score this one, but he did pick one of the all time greats to shake us to our core, Ennio Morricone.  According to those know-it-alls over at IMDB, Morricone was a part of 521 film scores.  Yes, you read that right, 521.  Much like Jaws, Morricone creates simple patterns and droning.  The impending doom is real. The keyboards are creepy and never-ending. Morricone’s spooky sounds will really have you wondering whether the people around you really are who they claim to be. 

6. Zombi 2, 1979. Directed Lucio Fulci.

This soundtrack was concocted by not one, but four Italian composers — Giorgio Cascio, Fabio Frizzi, Adriano Giordanella, and Maurizio Guarini. Collectively, these four were responsible a significant chunk of the sounds that came to you courtesy of the grind house era. With Zombie, AKA Zombi 2, the soundtrack is truly of the time. Synth, synth, and more synth. While soundtrack is synth-heavy, it also offers some mild reggae, jungle drum beats, and some droning repetition akin to Tangerine Dream or Jean-Michele Jarre. This little slice of brilliance will have you wanting to throw on some flip-flops, crack open a Dos Equis, and fight zombies to the death!

7.  Candyman, 1992. Directed by Bernard Rose

Haunting with a capital H. The Candyman score brought to you by one of the greatest composers of all time, Phillip Glass, is simply beautiful.  Full of piano-driven dread, orchestrated synthesizers, and a fully realized vision of the Candyman mythology. Sadly, it doesn’t appear Glass is terribly enthusiastic about his relationship with horror.  In 2014 interview with Variety magazine, he noted “Once I even did a slasher movie called “Candyman”. It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year.”  He’s right about one thing — Candyman is a classic and it was his score that helped push this also-ran slasher over the top.

8. The Shining, 1980. Directed by Stanley Kubrick

If it was up to us this would be the soundtrack to every single horror made, but that might be a little repetitious. The Shining is everything a horror soundtrack should be. It’s evocative, spooky, and it will certainly have you checking behind the couch every five minutes to make sure there’s nothing there. Largely pulled together by the brilliant Wendy Carlos and approved by uber-control-freak Stanley Kubrick, the music to film selection process was thrown to music editor Gordon Stainforth.  Even more weird is the fact that very little of Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s composition made it in to the final cut. The hyper-perfectionist Kubrick instead leaned on György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki to make this creep show as creepy as possible. 

Sadly, the licensing of the soundtrack on vinyl has been through its fair share of challenges, and while it’s possible to listen to numerous version online, if you want to track down a copy of the original, expect to pay a pretty penny. 

9. Deep Red, 1975. Directed by Dario Argento

No horror soundtrack list would be complete without eerie prog-rock stylings of the legendary GOBLIN! While earlier versions of Goblin existed as Oliver and later the Cherry Five, it wouldn’t be until 1975 when prog would come to us by way of the world of horror.  Part rock, part synth freak out, party gritty 1970s exploitation — all genius. This soundtrack is all gas and no brakes.  Certainly Argento threw plenty of color for us to ingest — but all that color, those black leather gloves, and the creepy giallo elements go down so much more smoothly when paired with Goblin. If it’s rock you want, then Goblin delivers. 

10. Wickerman, 1973. Directed by Robin Hardy.

You wouldn’t think it but folk music can be pretty damn creepy. A peculiar familiarity intermingled with cult-like verbiage and ancient instruments is just the right mix for a quick jaunt to the isolated island of Summerisle. The entire soundtrack was conceived by  Paul Giovanni and performed by British psych-folk outfit, Magnet. Sometimes horror music is all about lonely and desperate notes on a piano, sometimes it’s about shrill and violent string sections, but sometimes the horror comes from the familiar. On its face the Wickerman soundtrack seems like an ill-fated adventure, but the deeper you wander in to this flute-driven cult freakout the more these sea shanties will have you quivering in fear. 

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