With the dark joys of the witching season upon us, it feels entirely appropriate to select some of the finest horror movie soundtracks in the world for your pleasure. Whether metallic and bombastic, or orchestral and delicate, these scores are guaranteed to scare the ever-loving bejaysus out of you…
Salem’s Lot (1979)
Let’s put music wholly aside for just one moment, and focus on the fact that Salem’s Lot is one of the scariest things ever committed to celluloid. The traditional frilly-collared vampire is quite a dull beast, who wanders around moaning about his own immortality, but the vamps witnessed in this TV mini series are properly terrifying.
This is mainly because they tend to be children who float eerily through the air and scratch at your bedroom window. Brrrr. And hooray for Harry Sukman, whose wonderful orchestral soundtrack really helps ruin your life, by making sure you’ll never sleep with the curtains open ever again.
Friday The 13th (1980)
One of the all-time most iconic horror soundtracks. The music itself is fabulous, and perfectly suited to this slasher movie classic, but one detail stands out above all others: the repeated use of the creepy phrase “ki ki ki, ma ma ma”. But why? Composer Harry Manfredini explains it thusly: “There’s a scene towards the end where there’s a close-up on Mrs Voorhees’ mouth.
It goes between the sound of Jason saying, ‘Kill her mommy!’, then the mother’s voice, and back and forth. So I got the idea of taking the ‘ki’ from ‘kill’ and the ‘ma’ from ‘mommy’, but spoke them very harshly, distinctly and rhythmically into a microphone and run them through this ‘70s echo thing. It came up as you hear it today! So every time there was the perspective of the stalker, I put that into the score.” So now you know.
The Lost Boys (1987)
This vampire movie made a whole generation fall in love with vampires, long before it helped to inspire Buffy. While not the scariest horror movie you ever saw, it nevertheless had everything a teenager could want: sexy vamps who looked like rock stars, lots of laughs and a soundtrack that could hardly be much more 80s, just like the film.
Metal fans came out empty-handed, but there’s plenty of rock to be heard here. INXS and Jimmy Barnes collaborate on a couple of tracks, while Lou Gramm contributes Lost In The Shadows and Roger Daltrey croons Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. Which proves he isn’t a vampire.
Before It was reborn as a 2017 box office smash, it made its screen debut as this mini series which the ABC network made for US TV. And of course, before that, it was Stephen King’s barnstorming door-stopper of a 1000-page novel.
In every incarnation, this is the story of kids who are terrorised by the shapeshifting clown Pennywise (The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Tim Curry, in this 1990 version), who preys on their worst fears.
Composer Richard Bellis must’ve loved getting three hours’ worth of work, and he rightly won an Emmy for his impressively varied creations. The style ranges from soft piano to orchestral music to trumpets, and then to electronic music when the movie turns scary. Which it often does.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Give Nine Inch Nails supremo Trent Reznor the job of creating a movie soundtrack, and he’s never going to come back with typical results. Mind you, according to Reznor, the film’s director Oliver Stone always wanted something different – something to mirror the crazed MTV-edit feel of the serial killer flick itself, perhaps.
“We had edits of about 50 or 60 songs layered on top on each other,” Reznor has said. “There’s a couple of Nine Inch Nails songs, Bob Dylan, Rage Against The Machine… a full barrage of different stuff! We tried to make it like a real soundtrack, but layered with dialogue. Oceans of noise!” The result is one of the decade’s most interesting soundtrack albums.
When this amazing serial killer thriller came along, it felt like a film that didn’t play by the established murder-movie rules. Appropriately enough, then, the soundtrack wasn’t exactly your usual soundtrack ever. It was the ultimate mixed bag of styles, ranging from Marvin Gaye to Haircut 100 to Billie Holliday.
The sole slab of rock came from industrial soundtrack journeymen (and early Nine Inch Nails sound-alikes) Gravity Kills with their decent track Guilty. Truth be told, though, the real cream of this album comes courtesy of composer Howard Shore’s suite of majestically dark scores.
The Conjuring (2013)
Saw director James Wan followed up the excellent Insidious (2010) with this equally creepy piece of work, about paranormal researchers coming to the aid of a family who are being disturbed by ghostly goings-on.
Sadly, Megadeth’s incredible track The Conjuring did not feature on the soundtrack: Dave Mustaine probably wouldn’t have let them if they’d asked, since he’s seemingly disowned both that song and Black Friday. Boo, we say. Boo.
Still, Insidious composer Joseph Bishara’s brass-heavy score does the job very well, and the film also features the odd song, like Time Of The Season by Brit rockers The Zombies.
Friend Request (2016)
This film was a notably international production. It’s an English-language German psychological horror flick, shot in South Africa and scored by an Englishman in the shape of Gary Go.
The story centres on a popular college student named Laura, who accepts a Facebook – yep, you guessed it – friend request from lonely campus student Marina. Before too long, Laura finds herself really regretting that move.
While known more for his heartfelt guitar ballads as a solo artist, composer Go does himself proud with a nicely dark and understated electronic score. Definitely one to hit Like for.
Lights Out (2016)
This one’s genesis was a very modern phenomenon: Lights Out started life as a short horror movie created for a film competition. Amusingly, it didn’t win, but ended up going viral anyway, thanks to scaring the Christ out of viewers with its original and ingenious use of darkness. The people had spoken.
Londoner Benjamin Wallfisch handled the score, which much like Friend Request, generally favours a low-key and creepy orchestral approach over a slam-bang-scare-you-ma’am attitude. Not that he’s above sonically punching your lights out when it comes to one of the film’s many jump scares.