This season means pumpkin spice everything, cooler (hopefully) weather, and, of course, jack-o'-lanterns, fake blood, Halloween parties and horror movies – lots of horror movies. Every horror buff has their own particular taste, but what can often make or break a scary movie is the creep-factor of the soundtrack.
The best horror scores play an integral part in the movie-watching experience, building tension, suspense and, at their best, conveying a sense of actual terror. Some horror movie soundtracks are so good that listening to them in the dark with headphones is an unnerving experience all on its own.
We think that's the case with most of these classic horror soundtracks. So add these to your playlist to get into the mood during this spookiest of seasons:
The Shining (1980)
Many consider the Shining's soundtrack to be one of the most effective at creating an eerie and horrific atmosphere for the film – and for good reason. Each part of the soundtrack is perfectly placed within the movie. High pitched, almost droning strings linger during some of the movie's most suspenseful moments, keeping you on edge along with the characters. Unsettling, darker ambient pieces fill the quieter moments in the film.
The Entity's score, by composer Charles Bernstein, uses everything from violins, cellos, and double basses to electronic synthesizers and drum machines. A fast arpeggiated riff is the musical backbone and recurring theme for the film, a musical symbol the actual entity itself. It makes you feel like something is stalking you. Pounding electronic bass and distorted midi guitars swing into action when The Entity actually attacks or interacts with the characters.
The music that accompanies The Thing perfectly captures the isolation, mystery and fear that the characters experience throughout the movie, with a dark, ambient opening written and preformed by Ennio Morricone using only bass guitar and synthesizers, setting an eerie tone early on.
This one is probably the strangest one on the list. The soundtrack is densely layered and noisy, a nightmare-inducing sonic journey. The mood of the soundtrack seamlessly changes styles throughout the film. Like the movie itself, the soundtrack is strange, terrifying, and unnerving, reinforcing the apocalyptic and frightening imagery on screen.
While director William Friedkin himself selected a bunch of modern classical pieces to serve as mood music for the film, he'd also originally hired composer Lalo Schifrin to pen an original score. When the film's original trailer was shown with part of Schifrin's score, viewers freaked and producers worries the music might have actually made the movie too scary. Legend has it that when Warner Brother's eventually made Friedkin tone down the soundtrack, he hated it so much he threw the tapes from a second-story window into the studio parking lot – eerily evocative of a scene from the film itself.
Still, what made it into the film was certainly creepy enough.
Cannibal Holocaust has a simple score, composed by Riz Ortolani, that leans on a variety of styles, ranging from gentle melodic string compositions to energetic and upbeat electronics. With unusual, almost alien-like sounds, it makes for an eerie backdrop for discovering a new society – of, you know, cannibals.
Composed by Jerry Goldsmith, the soundtrack is more just sounds than motifs and themes. Like the movie, it's also bleak, full of dissonance and has an eerie dark tone, perfect for a horror movie about being hunted in outer space.
Written by Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda, this soundtrack is comprised of mainly classical orchestral scores and jazz – oh, and creepy-ass lullabies
that keep popping up at key moments in the film.