Music that scares the crap out of you

Scary music. There are songs and compositions that, either by design or by sheer happenstance, inspire pure terror and fear. They have a “pucker factor” that cranks up to 11.

What pieces have that effect on you? Share them here, so that all of us have a chance to experience existential discomfort and dread!

I will be the first to share a composition that terrifies the bejeezus out of me: “Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima”, by Penderecki. Hell in the form of sound, using nothing but strings.

Enjoy! (For certain values of “enjoy”, that is). Here is the link:

I don’t know about scares, but what creeps me out is that circus music


There Once Was a Woman All Skin and Bones

The choral version of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.” The instrumental version is spooky enough, but the choral version is a witches’ orgy from hell!

I’ve always been partial to the opening ballad of Sweeney Todd (original Broadway version), which is marvelously menacing.

My dad was a big fan of Verdi’s Requiem, and “Dies Irae” scared the crap out of me as a kid. Still does.

Gyorgy Ligeti’s Atmospheres. You’ve probably heard it, even if you don’t recognize the name, or the composer’s name. It’s used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the scene where they investigate the monolith on the moon.

I was a kid (teenager) when I saw that movie, but I was fascinated by that music. I eventually found out what it was, and that led to a lifelong love of Ligeti’s music.

Kubrick used Ligeti’s music again in Eyes Wide Shut. That two-note piano music is the second movement of Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata. It’s pretty creepy.

The theme to Psycho.

Also, the sound track to Koyaanisqatsi is disturbing, but somehow in a good way.

Black Sabbath

I used to interpret in churches a lot. Once in a while there was a hymn that would creep me out. There was one where they kept singing about being “Washed in the blood of the lamb,” and another one with a different verse about each of Jesus’ wounds, and it got really specific. Then there was one where the chorus was the Jews saying “His blood be on us and our children.” I got really uncomfortable during that one.

The one that gets me from that film is another Ligeti piece, “Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra”. It was also used during the HALO jump sequence in the 2014 Godzilla film.

The Beatles “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” always gave me the willies, for some reason.

Maybe “scares the crap out of you” isn’t the right phrase, but Nirvana’s “Nevermind” has always creeped me out, from start to finish.


Throbbing Gristle’s “Hamburger Lady”. Don’t go there if you don’t have to. Trust me on this.

The score from Donnie Darko, especially “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” does it for me.

Good god yes. I heard it first in college and just freaked. When I was told that Penderecki was trying to evoke the feelings of skin blistering off in an a-bomb attack, I was like “yeah, that sounds about right.”

When it comes to rock songs, it’s funny - Peter Gabriel has a song called The Intruder off PG3. It’s about what it sounds like: a guy breaking into a woman’s room and preparing to rob and assault her. It’s creepy with a great scary feel - and I can listen to it just fine. I mean, it’s Peter Gabriel, known good guy and assumer of roles in his songs, so I can keep it at arm’s length.

But the song by The Toadies, Possum Kingdom, freaks me right out. It’s another song written from the criminal’s perspective, a rapist/killer seducing his prey with promises and lies. I love the groove - the non-4/4 time keeps it off balance, and it just rocks overall - but I can’t listen to it anymore.

And the video - ugh:

The Beatles Revolution 9

Tom Waits’ cover of “Heigh-Ho (The Dwarfs Marching Song)”

This is actually a bit unnerving. I don’t know if it is because it reminds me of the Shining, or just because there is something about this particular type of music that is unsettling and that is why the Shining used it.

Looking into it, the composer did most of the music for the shining. Ah.

Eh. I just listened, it sounded like someone mumbling while I played Excite bike on NES and had a fan running.

Dueling banjos

Xiu Xiu’s entire “A Promise” album. It just sounds like the sonic equivalent of descending into madness. The entire album just creeps me out–I mean, I like it, but it’s just a very stressful listen, with instrumental minimalism, punctuated by brutally glitchy-machine like beats, and a wavering, emotive vocal that sounds like someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Here’s one track, “Apistat Commander.”