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The 20 Scariest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

06 October 2017 | Features, Other Lists | by Luis Bevilacqua

Suspiria

Soundtracks often provide additional danger, mystery and scariness to a movie. This technique is mostly common in Horror movies or Thrillers in which hair-raising moments are essential parts.

Some movie scores became immortal because they were so spooky that only listening to them is enough to bring back the movie memory. Some are such masterpieces that without them the movies would not be as remarkable and creepy as they are. This list presents 20 movie soundtracks that are true classics in the art of scaring the audience.

 

20. Halloween – John Carpenter

halloween laurie

John Carpenter took only 3 days to compose the soundtrack of his classic first Halloween. The 5/4 theme piece was something that he used to bash out on his bongos. The combination between 5/4 beat and piano provided the sense of urgency and evilness necessary to the score, along with his trademark the creepy synthesizer.

 

19. Maniac – Jay Chattaway

Maniac (1980)

This 80’s slasher classic achieved a cult status over the years due to its qualities and its excesses (graphic violence provided by the genius Tom Savini). The soundtrack is a brilliant low budget effort by Jay Chattaway. Hypnotic synth noises provide tense background for the murders committed by Frank Zito. Its theme is an incredible piece combining a beautiful flute melody, creepy music box lines and a dreamy bass line.

 

18. All the Colors of Dark – Bruno Nicolai

Bruno Nicolai was certainly not famous as his musical partner in many scores’ projects: Ennio Morricone. He did not have the same recognition as Morricone, Nino Rota, Riz Ortolani and other great Italian soundtrack composers, although he was an immensely talented composer.

This Giallo flick directed by Sergio Martino was not the best (as any of his movies were). However, the soundtrack is an absolute masterpiece. It is hard to imagine an instrument like a sitar, usually related to peace of mind, meditation, etc, used in a devilish way. Alessandro Alessandroni, who also played the famous “surf-rock” guitars for Ennio Morricone’s scores, plays it like a satanic raga. The incredible Edda Dell’Orso also provides wordless screams and moans adding up to the hallucinatory atmosphere of some avant garde dreamy tracks.

 

17. The Beyond – Fabio Frizzi

Phantasm

Legendary Italian director Lucio Fulci once proclaimed, “Violence is Italian art”. If that’s true, Fabio Frizzi is together with Fulci one of the best exponents of this art. Their partnership produced many horror classics such as Zombi 2, Sette Notte in Nero and Manhattan Baby. In terms of soundtrack, there’s no matching to The Beyond, a truly masterpiece of scariness.

The soundtrack is full of textures and there is a wide range of instruments providing diverse rhythmic patterns and moods. The scariest moments are the piano and synthesizer driven “Verso L’Ignoto”, the satanic chants of “Sequenza Canto e Orquestra”, the Goblin-esque creepy groove of “Sequenza RItmica e Tema”.

 

16. Nosferatu – Popol Vuh

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Krautrock masters Popol Vuh have worked in many projects with director Werner Herzog. In Nosferatu, their music is originally from their album Brüder des Schattens – Söhne des Lichts. It is not a typical scary sound: the score is full of ambient music containing acoustic guitars, sitars, synthesizers and chants.

There is no leitmotif or characteristic melody; there is a constant feeling of loneliness, isolation and coldness. Much rather than causing sudden shock, it causes an uncomfortable feeling of fear in the audience.

 

15. The Boogeyman – Tim Krog

This score is a low-key classic gem from the 80’s. Taking from John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream pioneering with synthesizers, the movie soundtrack offers a vast array of possibilities with only analog synthesizers delay and reverse tape effects the score provides melodies and ambience for this sordid slasher, another great moment of synth horror in the 80’s.

 

14. Cape Fear – Bernard Herrmann

Cape Fear 1962

Bernard Herrmann’s score for this fantastic thriller starring the original “bad boy” of Hollywood, Robert Mitchum, is a masterpiece. Full of tense arrangements and interplays between strings and brass sections, Cape Fear soundtrack is such a masterpiece that even Elmer Bernstein used it in Martin Scorsese’s remake of the movie.

Bernstein was Herrmann’s friend and he was so much fond of Cape Fear’s soundtrack that he stated, “That first film was not up to the strength of that score. That score is a monument.” Along with Psycho, Cape Fear is the creepiest music Herrmann composed in his career as a soundtrack composer.

 

13. The Andromeda Strain – Gil Mellé

The Andromeda Strain

Along with Louis and Bebe Barron “Forbidden Planet” soundtrack, Gil Mellé’s Andromeda Strain is one of the most original electronic soundtracks ever made. However, differently from the Forbbiden Planet’s score, which only focus is providing alien sounds, Andromeda Strain’s score is completely creepy.

Mellé invented some instruments for this soundtrack (such as the Percussotron) and combined them with old moog synthesizers. The result is a non-musical score, a chilling avant-garde abstract masterpiece.

 

12. Shock – Libra

shock-1977

Italian horror legend Mario Bava hired the progressive rock band Libra to score what would be his last movie: Shock – Transfer Suspense Hypnosis. His original idea was to hire Goblin, the legendary band that scored many Dario Argento films. However, they were working with Argento at the time, so Bava hired Libra, a band that had 3 previous Goblin members in it.

The Soundtrack is a masterpiece, containing groovy tracks, delicate acoustic atmospheres up to completely dissonant and avant garde atmospheres. Shock’s score is in fact richer in varieties than Goblin soundtracks for Argento’s movies, which tended to be very concise sometimes.

 

11. The Keep – Tangerine Dream

The Keep

German krautrock masters Tangerine Dream composed this soundtrack for a considered minor film in Michael Mann’s career. After the success of their partnership in The Thief, the Edgar Froese collective group composed the soundtrack for this Lovecraft-esque horror flick. Despite the movie quality, this soundtrack does a great job in tying up the messy final edition.

Tangerine’s Dream trademark (the slow synthesizer sound) is mixed with tons of ambience evoking mystery, tense drumbeats as in the amazingly creepy The Journey and even some scary Gregorian chant in Tangerine Dream’s version for the 1554 song Puer Natus Est Nobis.

 

 

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  • Jules F. Melo Borges

    ‘The Omen’ is totally expected, and absolutely right. It just can’t go beyond it.

    Didn’t expected to see Andromeda Strain here.
    Great score indeed.

    Yet, I must complain about Jaws. Although it is an Excellent score… I’m not sure is that “Scary”. It goes, like the movie itself, more into the ‘Thriller’ realm than Horror.

  • Terek Brajan

    Halloween should be much higher, at least in top 3…..

  • Mortimer

    Where is Jerry Goldsmith’s ‘Alien’ ?

  • Cinema Phenomenology

    Charles Bernstein – Nightmare on Elm Street, Joseph Bishara – Insidious, Conjuring, Dark Skies

  • Allister Cooper

    Sinister, especially the moment when Oswalt is going over the footage of what happened to the slain families. Creepy as hell.

  • SupernaturalCat

    An odd list full of subjective favorites…that I seriously doubt you’d find broad support for among genre fans in general. But whatever. A few I’d agree with being included. Others, ha, well, not so much. Halloween (1978) is so iconic and simplistically eerie that I’d rank it in the top 5, easily. Another favorite of mine is Carpenter’s The Fog (1980).

    I’d cite Phantasm (1978) as one of my favorite horror soundtracks, although I doubt I’d specifically cast that one as a “scariest” soundtrack. It’s just really cool. Incidentally, the soundtrack for Dead Silence (2007) is reminiscient of Phantasm.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKoOJNtdnic

    Legend of Hell House (1973) has a fantastically creepy soundtrack.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJqWTdXjOCY

    Another for creepiest soundtrack would be Eyes Wide Shut (1999) …particularly György Ligeti’s “Musica ricercata.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEx9aZeqJhQ