Imagine a dark, empty house. Well, almost empty save for the lonely teenage babysitter waiting quietly inside for the parental units to return. She hears a noise and decides for the sake of the children asleep upstairs that she better investigate. As she slowly tiptoes down the hallway, tracing the wood floor beams with her bare feet, an unsettling silence overcomes the house. Suddenly, a dark figure emerges from around the corner and lunges at her.
Now, as you read that, did you insert a scare chord when the figure came forth? Was there a banging of piano keys, a wailing of piercing horns or some shrieking violins perhaps? Maybe you went ’70s style and it was some obscure synth sound used to empower the jolting image. Take a moment now to imagine the same scene without the scare chord. Are you doing it? Well, once you’re done being not scared, we’ll continue.
After partaking in that fairly unnecessary experiment, we can clearly see that which has already been written about countless times: horror films are nothing without their musical scores. More than any other genre, the horror film depends heavily on those precious syncopated notes to build tension, add to the terror and – quite simply – make it scary. What would Jaws be without those low rhythmic pulses?
So let’s take a minute and examine some of the genre’s most celebrated scores, as well as some lesser-known and criminally-underrated ones. Not all the titles in this list are great films necessarily, but they have all inspired exceptionally terrifying music.
And now for a disclaimer: any film with a soundtrack comprised of music not originally written for the film itself has been omitted. For example, The Exorcist will not be mentioned despite its inspired use of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. With that in mind and without further ado, here are some haunting melodies to accompany your nightmares.
“The children of the night, what music they make.” –Dracula (1931)