the exorcist

Scores that Scare: Top 5 Horror Movie Themes

Let’s face it, music can make or break a film. Saying this is true for the horror genre is the understatement of the year. As trends change so does the music. Remember the melodramatic themes of the 50’s? The industrial soundscapes of the early to mid 00’s? For the most part, the music has been engaging but a choice few have a certain… je ne sais pas that enables them to crossover beyond the genre fans and out into the unwashed masses to wreak their harmonious havoc.

Here’s our list of the Top 5 Horror Movie Themes. How will they rank against your own?


5. Friday the 13th (1980) – Harry Manfredini


Harry Manfredini’s theme for Friday the 13th (1980)¬†is frantic and frenetic while still maintaining an atmospheric ambiance that sets the mood for the isolated Camp Crystal Lake and the faceless, silent killer stalking its grounds.¬† To me, I hear a Bernard Herrmann influence but Manfredini has stated in interviews that it was more of a Jerry Goldsmith vibe that he was digging when he composed Friday’s score. Whatever the influence, no one can deny that when you hear the ki ki ki ma ma ma cue, you know exactly what you’re in for.


4. The Exorcist (1974) РMike Oldfield

William Friedkin’s The Exorcist has a plethora of creepy visuals within its two-hour¬†and two-minute run time, but what we saw on-screen wasn’t the only thing keeping us up at night. Mike Oldfield’s hypnotic theme for the film etched its way into our psyches with ease with repetitive brilliance. The busy bass line and hooky piano immediately transport the¬†viewer into a state¬†of uneasiness. If it happens to be your first time watching it, the score also doesn’t spoil the visual horrors to come. Every time I hear it, I still get goosebumps.


3. Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann

It can be argued that this theme laid the groundwork for things (or should I say themes) to come. Even in its composition Bernard¬†Herrmann’s manic theme to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho foreshadows themes of countless films that followed. Right out of the gate the score races with staccato violins and screeching¬†strings before settling into a¬†soaring bridge that replaces the urgency of the piece with a feeling of hopelessness. And let’s not forget the music from the shower scene, the forefather to the jumpscare stingers of today’s cinema.


2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Charles Bernstein

While the “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you” rhyme used in the film is iconic in its own right, all you need to hear are those four notes,¬†A , D, A , G# and you’ll know that Kreuger is near. Charles Bernstein’s electronic score for Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street helped catapult Freddy into our ears as well as our dreams and with the low rumbling pads and jangly synth stings, the boiler room was never more sinister. Nine, ten, never sleep… again.


1. Halloween (1978) РJohn Carpenter

You knew this one was coming. I mean, how can you do a list like this and NOT have Carpenter’s Halloween theme at the number one spot? There is that old story of a young doe-eyed John Carpenter delivering his freshly-cut first film to producers sans music, waiting in anticipation to hear their thoughts only to be met with words ‘its boring.’ Perhaps desperation can lead to great things because Carpenter went back and scored the film delivered it for another screening and motion picture history was made. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard this theme in one context or another. It is known the world over and its repetitive piano notes and relentless kickdrum thump more than adequately solidify this as one of horror’s greatest themes.


The horror film world is rich with iconic music. What are some of your favorites? What would you top five look like? Comment below to let us know, or continue the conversation over in our Horror Group on Facebook!


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