What makes horror movies so terrifying is as much as what's happening on the screen as what's going on in the film's sound design. At a base level, jump scares can look pathetic and goofy if the right sound isn't there to back up the terror. Beyond editing and effects, the right music is instrumental in building tension, and conveying a setting's importance to the viewer in a very visceral way. Or, if it's a movie bent on delivering pure action-horror cheese, a well-sourced soundtrack can make moments feel huge and truly aggro. In the spirit of Halloween creeping up, we've asked you to rank the best of the best, whether it's a licensed soundtrack, original score or something in the middle. Behold your choices in the ranked list below.
Everything about the score to 1976's The Omen is maximalist, taking each emotion displayed on screen and wrenching it to an insane degree. Some of the music is melancholy to the point that if one would isolate it from the rest of the movie it could sound like soap-opera schmaltz. But it's all necessary for the film's main theme, filled with demonic chanting that drives tension to a near-breaking point, resulting in a tune that embodies the movie's high-stakes battle between life, death and eternal damnation.
An eclectic mix of popular metal, alt-rock and hip-hop of the time, the music of 1995's Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight proved far more memorable than the film itself. Pantera's mournful power ballad "Cemetery Gates" soars into Ministry's rhythmic industrial-rock anthem "Tonight We Murder"; Megadeth's operatic ode "Diadems" sits cozily among the sludge and groove metal of the Melvins and Machine Head — it's a mess that somehow works perfectly (kinda like the mid-Nineties). The sole non-rock track comes from hip-hop collective Gravediggaz. Known for their dark humor and horror-centric lyricism, the group's contribution "1-800 Suicide" provided the perfect close to the film's soundtrack.
Horror classic The Exorcist will always be remembered, for its story, visuals and otherworldy soundtrack. Composed by Jack Nitzsche, the music for the 1973 film oscillates between truly unnerving and utterly memorable sounds. One moment in the movie there might be a twisted violin or string section wreaking havok on screen, and the next moment could be a reprise of the classic main theme. Despite reports that the original score was dropped for sounding too deranged, Nitzsche's final product still found a happy medium that managed to create a legitimately terrifying and exciting experience.
Dario Argento's 1977 masterpiece Suspiria is brimming with moody, brooding artistic visuals, and what makes it all the more terrifying is the killer soundtrack from the masters of prog-horror, Goblin. The Italian band's score tugs at your heart and paranoia throughout the duration of the film, amplifying the terror and turning Suspiria from an art piece to a full-blown nightmare.
The soundtrack to director-composer John Carpenter's groundbreaking 1978 movie, Halloween, isn't just a stellar piece of material, it also launched an entire genre of music that continues to flourish to this day (SURVIVE, Carpenter Brut, etc.). Terrifying in its minimalism but maximum on scares, John Carpenter broke the mold in film and music on this landmark achievement.