What makes a good horror film? Mind-blowing special effects, for one, plus a creepy premise or a menacing serial killer. A healthy mix of those details is important, but any striking horror film must have one key element: a stellar score.
It's what gives those moments when the killer's about to strike or an unsuspecting protagonist enters a seemingly fatal scenario — the extra thematic weight that leaves viewers on the edge of their seat. Similarly, if you want to make your Halloween weekend haunting, yet memorable, some of horror's most iconic soundtracks are worth parsing through.
Ahead of Halloween, here are seven horror movie soundtracks worth considering for a bone-chilling playlist.
What makes Steven Spielberg's Jaws all the more terrifying is its use of the great white shark — or more accurately, the lack thereof. The shark barely appears on-screen, partly because of problems with the mechanical shark, which ended up being a blessing in disguise for the film.
The shark's malfunctioning also allows John Williams' iconic Jaws soundtrack to take the spotlight, most notably in the movie's chilling opening scene (in which an unsuspecting swimmer is attacked by the shark at night). It's a convincing terror combo that went on to make the Jaws theme synonymous with anything scary happening underwater.
Unlike its follow-ups, which use the sci-fi setting for a more action-oriented narrative, the original Alien is a pretty straightforward horror film. Its soundtrack, by contrast, is anything but.
Director Ridley Scott actually clashed with 20th Century Fox as to who would compose the movie's score: He wanted Japanese composer Isao Tomita, but the studio opted for sci-fi maven Jerry Goldsmith. The actual score used in the film is a combination of Goldsmith's work with a temporary score Ridley and co. worked on, but the end result is, rather fittingly, more than a bit unsettling.
It really fits the movie's iconic tagline: "In space, no one can hear you scream."
Perhaps no other horror film score is as intrinsically linked to the movie than that of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The score uses sharp crescendos to illustrate when the leering Norman Bates attacks one of the his unsuspecting victims.
However, the real hero of Bernard Herrmann's memorable music is the staccato strings that have since been used in a variety of horror films. But their origin — much like many iconic horror tropes — originates from Psycho and its memorable shower scene.
How integral is the soundtrack to John Carpenter's Halloween? Well, turns out, if you take away the soundtrack from the film — as Carpenter reportedly did during one screening for a 20th Century Fox executive — it's not scary at all.
Without the terrifying score from Carpenter, we likely wouldn't have been treated to a bevy of (sadly disappointing) sequels featuring Michael Myers.
It Follows borrows a similarly synth-heavy score to Carpenter's Halloween, which is fitting given the film's throwback vibe to horror films from the '70s and '80s. A strong soundtrack is necessary, too, when the eponymous It can only be seen by the person it stalks.
In the case of the film's chilling opening scene, even the audience isn't provided a glimpse of the "monster." The horror is entirely reliant on quick camera cuts and the swooning score. It Follows is one of the best horror movies of the 2000s, and its score is a big reason why.
The soundtrack to Suspiria, an Italian horror film that's become a cult classic, is as eclectic and unsettling as it is terrifying, and its unconventional swoon of vocals, drums and synths are a big reason why.
The score was helmed by Italian progressive rock group Goblin, in what's perhaps one of the only horror movie soundtracks that could still be performed at a live concert, since the band is still together. But if you listen to some of the chilling tracks, you'll understand why.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
If you're intent on creating a Halloween playlist, but children will be involved and you don't want to give them nightmares, Danny Elfman's score from Tim Burton's The Night Before Christmas is worth your consideration.
It's not scary, per se, but it fits the Halloween aesthetic much more so than its Christmas-inclusive title might indicate. The "This is Halloween" track is not only catchy, but could be quite literal, depending on when you play it!