Horror and Halloween are inseparable. In an ever-changing world, this is a constant. The month of October becomes one big excuse to watch every horror movie you could get your hands on. It’s the one time of the year where people who can’t stomach it won’t judge you for staying up until 2 in the morning on a weekday to watch five slashers. Or maybe they will, but either way that doesn’t matter, because we’re all adults here.
Regardless of your personal taste, everyone can appreciate a strong movie score. Different from the soundtrack, the score is the original music composed to set the mood. And there aren’t many genres that allow the freedom for experimental scores the same way horror does.
So whether you’re looking to get pumped for Halloween, something to listen to while reading a Stephen King novel, or something to fall asleep to—no one’s judging—here’s a list of top 10 horror movie scores that might be of some use.
- Insidious (2010)
Composer: Joseph Bishara
The pluck, pluck, pluck, the distant whining—Insidious sets out to make you uncomfortable, afraid of what’s behind you, (it’s probably that red-faced demon.) Its experimental cacophony of frantic strings and ghostly whaling dipping in and out is a textbook example of a score that supports whats on screen without distracting from the terror of the story. It is both atmospheric and wildly entertaining on and off screen.
- We Are What We Are (2013)
Composer: Philip Mossman & Darren Morris, Nick Garrie and Jeff Grace
A slow burn movie about a disturbed family of cannibals, We Are What We Are doesn’t require anything flashy. It excels at building dread. With a gentle whirring, crickets, whispers, and a tragic piano, the soundtrack as a whole has such a strong sense of place. Where are you? You don’t know, but you’re standing in a field, overcast just after rainfall. Something’s wrong, but you can’t say what. Less is absolutely more.
- Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Composer: Charles Bernstein
A classic for a reason, Nightmare on Elm Street’s soundtrack posses all of the terrifying fun of the movie. It’s 80’s synth-flare never stopped being blood-pumping, and—in today’s age of 80’s nostalgia—creepily charming, for the lack of a better word. Filled with surprises, you’re not sleeping. Which, of course, is the point.
- The Exorcist (1973)
Composer: Various Artists
While some may say, “the scariest movie of all time” doesn’t hold up—which is arguably not true—The Exorcist soundtrack absolutely does. It makes you wait, playing with your anticipation. Every track ebbs and flows, confusing you. Understanding that the scariest part of horror is the unexpected, The Exorcist exploits it. Serving as inspiration for many of the scores on this list, The Exorcist simply does it best.
- The Witch (2015)
Composer: Mark Koven
A slow burn in the style of We Are What We Are, albeit more successful, The Witch does not require anything flashy either. With inspiration from many of the scores before it, The Witch finds a way to seamlessly combine them while simultaneously fusing a historical sense of place with modern familiarity. Feeling as if something is toying with you, the soundtrack is haunting with its sudden clacking, melodies, and chanting. Somehow, it’s terrifying and beautiful.
- Halloween (1978)
Composer: John Carpenter
Absolutely iconic, the score itself feels like October, trick-or-treating, watching horror movies in the dead of night. We can all recognize the theme, but every track shines. It begs to be listened to with it’s building dread, frantic melodies. And while its tropes are very familiar, its sound is so closely tied to the late 70s-80s style of filmmaking and the fun of slashers, it is uniquely its own. Nothing says Halloween like Halloween.
- The Omen (1976)
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
The Omen will instill the fear of God into you. Something evil, stronger than us brews beneath every track. Frightening, twisted and demented, the score grows and grows to terrifying heights. Rightfully so, the Catholic motifs of the movie are infused into its score. With the occasional gentle track, the score itself flows like the calm before the storm, only to damn you to hell.
- Amityville Horror (1979)
Composer: Lalo Schifrin
Possessing some kind of child-like quality, Amityville Horror’s score feels very much of its time. With almost playful ghostlike voices and piano, there is a dreadful curiosity. The entire score feels like the feeling in your gut as you descend the stairs to a dark basement. You know you need to investigate, but it just might kill you. It is the musical embodiment of yelling at the screen, “Turn around! Go back home!”
It’s a surprising choice for a haunted house movie, but perfectly fitting.
- Suspiria (1977)
Composed by Italian prog-rock group, Goblin, Suspiria morphs the Tubular Bells melody of The Exorcist with the disturbed whispers, chantings and the screaming of “Witch!” to create something uniquely horrifying. It is an assault, frightful and demented. You are being dragged to hell as the skies open up to the heavens. It is the cornerstone of horror scores. You simply do not feel safe.
- It Follows (2014)
It’s hard to pick a score better than Suspiria, and while It Follows may not be “better,” it is most definitely different. And in this case, different goes a long way. While there isn’t anything revolutionary, It Follows stands out from the crowd of horror scores. It doesn’t set out for the scares–although it does excel–but instead captures a haunting coming of age. Feeling painfully familiar and odd, Disasterpeace has somehow managed to exploit a shared nightmare. It is a score absolutely worth listening to and picking apart.