Horror films with great musical scoring

My husband (pro musician) has an opportunity to score a horror film. He wants to do some homework, which, of course, means we get to load up on horror movies to get ideas. Yay! I love horror flicks.

I’ve been trying to think of which ones I’ve seen where the music really contributed to overall creepitude. So far I’ve thought of The Ring (American) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original), and maybe The Devil’s Backbone.

What else should we check out for good ideas?

The music from the original “The Bride of Frankenstein” is wonderful, but I’m not sure how much it will help someone writing a score for modern tastes.

Just off the top of my head:
A Touch of Evil (Mancini)

The Omen and sequels (J. Goldsmith)

Alien and sequels (J. Goldsmith)

Psycho (Herrmann)
Check out the horror and mystery section in Netflix.


The Exorcist

But those might be dated, too.

How about The Orphanage, if it’s playing in a theater near you.

Oh. How about Session 9?


The Shining


Probably not what you’re looking for but The Wicker Man has an amazing soundtrack - not a “score” per se, but actual songs which are played by actual musicians in the movie at various points. It’s almost as if they tried to combine the genre of musical with that of drama, but in a way completely free of any campiness. Most of the songs are performed by a little musical group composed of young people who are natives of the island of Summerisle in the movie, who recur throughout the course of the film, which is a nice touch because it makes you feel like you know them. Like a little minstrel band that’s always around to provide music for the occasion.

The Landlord’s Daughter


Gently Johnny

Funny how that movie actually makes you wish you lived on Summerisle instead of being afraid of it.

Dario Argento’s Suspiria, with music by Goblin. Absolutely blew me away when I first saw the movie.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. Effective, if not overly complex.

A nod to John Carpenter, mentioned above.

He wrote the theme to Halloween. Not overly complex but evocative and veeerrrry creepy. :eek:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula had some good, creepy music. (The movie itself blew chunks, of course.)

Not a horror movie, but the soundtrack to Nostradamus (1994) also was rather scary even though it was just medieval/early-renaissance music.


Thank you. THE definitive answer.

Brilliant movie, but not straightforward; not for the dilettante. Music was, yes, awesome, with Diamanda Galas screaming in the dark spaces between the music.

Wow, and I’ve never even heard of it. I will absolutely check it out.

Thanks for all the recommendations. This is going to be fun!

Well, it’s kinda specific (because it’s somewhat historical and native-themed piece), but music for Ravenous is really what made the film. It was made by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman. IMO worth checking out.

Jaws, though your husband is probably already familiar with that one.

Howard Shore is great at setting a creepy mood. Dead Ringers (all of David Cronenberg’s films, really) and Silence of the Lambs come to mind.

Thirding Halloween. Memorable theme that is simple, yet chilling.

Good points. The director, Robin Hardy, surprised the cast and crew one day early in the filming with the announcement that **The Wicker Man ** would be a musical! (Whether it truly meets the conventions of a musical is debatable, but there are a lot of songs and they are used to propel the story forward to its inevitable conclusion.) The music, mostly diagetic (or generated on-screen) is superbly well integrated into the story as a whole, with the songs illustrating aspects of the villagers’ lifestyle and religious beliefs, and with the songs and choreography aiding with foreshadowing and character development. Also, some of the music is cast in a Lydian mode and/or played with traditional and exotic instruments, further heightening the impression of the idyllic, unfamiliar, traditional, and eerie. And several of the songs use centuries-old lyrics (either anonymous or that of Robert Burns), and one of the songs is a sexually-themed [pagan] desecration of the Christian hymn “Greensleeves”.

There’s an impressive Webring of WM-related arcana out there; here’s a great place to start researching the soundtrack (BTW, original vinyl copies of which are now very expensive collector’s items!) And if your husband decides to check out the movie, he really must find the extended version, because that’s the one with the song “Gently Johnny” and the full-length “Willow’s Song”. If “Willow’s Song” sounds familiar to him, it may be because it’s been covered – badly – by the bands The Sneaker Pimps and Doves.

Beadalin, what is the movie’s setting and plot? Does your husband aspire to write a groundbreakingly original score, or one that conforms with the expectations and conventions of that subgenre? What are the expectations of the director and producers for the score? And how much time will he have?

There’s certain cliches that I hope he’s eager to avoid recapitulating – yet what is breathtakingly original is often not all that far removed from the most exhausted motifs. Often what succeeds as brilliant and original (for its time, at least) is basically a cliche with a big kink or an added twist. For example, in satanic/occult horror, probably the paramount cliche is “Black Mass” music or chanting, often including a sample from Orff’s Carmina Burana or a near knockoff. Wojciech Kilar’s score for **The Ninth Gate ** uses some [original] Latin-Black-Mass-sounding choral work, but supplements it with soaring vocalise solos for opera singer Sumi Yo in both a driving, rhythmic high-tension motif (where Balkan meets his end) as well as a soothing, poignant melodic solo reminiscent of an oratorio (closing credits theme).

Or take another cliche: that of banjo music (esp. “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”) for a spirited backdrop to scenes of chases, robberies, or general chaos, in al sorts of movie genres with backwoods settings in Appalachia or the Deep South. A brilliant counterpoint is the way the Albarn/Nyman score for Ravenous uses traditional instruments like the squeezebox and banjo in the service of both traditional-sounding and avant-garde motifs – with the banjo carrying the lead (a repetitive metronomic-like rhythmic pizzicato in two notes, six eighths in one tone, followed by seven in a higher tone) in the 13/8 theme (the lead character’s journey theme).

Or, to take a final example, the Age of Antiquity scores of Lisa Gerrard (with or without a co-composer) in such movies as Gladiator follow a now-formulaic modus operandi: take what could more or less pass for the folk-spiritual songcraft of the ancient Middle East or Mediterranean, but cast in in non-verbal vocalese and fill in with abundant New Agey synth washes. I don’t mean that disparagingly; her work is enormously effective both on an emotional level and as evocative of a profoundly foreign time and place. The Gerrard-style score is becoming rather cliched now, but only because her style of simulating ancient music has proven so popular and influential, with less-talented imitators further diluting her style.

So my general advice to your hubby (and congrats to him for the opportunity!) would be to approach the score rather like the way Bugs Bunny navigated on his longest road trips. He should keep that established destination (those musical tropes) in mind, but not fret if he ends up taking a wrong turn back at Albuquerque, if he really wants to cover some new musical ground.

Tale of Two Sisters

It’s a Korean horror film. If I remember correctly, the music was used incredibly well throughout the movie.

Slight Nitpick, Scrivener - *Greensleeves *is no hymn.

Oh, and Gerard rips off Voix De Bulgares so much it hurts - check out Time of The Gypsies for an original take on that soundtrack (non-horror).

Me, I’ve always been partial to the soundtrack of a little-know British movie called Hardware. And I’d second The Omen and Exorcist.