7 Horror Themes That Chill You To The Bone

A horror movie is only as good as its theme music. More so than any other genre, horror films are reliant on music to establish a certain mood that creates a deep sense of disquiet, lulling the senses into state of unease all with the expressed goal of scaring the shit out of you. Try watching a horror film with the sound off and see how scary it is. It’s not. Music is not essential in every film (No Country For Old Men remains one of the tensest films ever made, with next to no music), but it is essential for horror films. So in the spirit of Halloween, here are seven horror films with scores that chill you to the bone and would make great background noise at your Halloween party.

Halloween (dir. John Carpenter 1978) Music by John Carpenter



Probably the most iconic bit of music on this list, John Carpenter’s theme for his own film is a classic. Consisting of little more than two piano melodies accompanied by a synth and some killer sound effects, the theme for Halloween is able to instill a deep sense of dread that lets you know that the night that Michael Myers comes home will not be a pleasant one.


The Exorcist (dir. William Friedkin 1973) Music by Mike Oldfield



This one is actually a bit of a cheat. The most iconic bit of music from The Exorcist is a snippet of much larger piece called Tubular Bells written by Mike Oldfield. Oldfield’s Tubular Bells spans both sides of a single record and was actually the first album released by Virgin Records back in 1973. Friedkin used a snippet twice in the film, however he did so very poorly. He used it first when Ellen Burstyn’s character was walking down the street, and then again briefly before the final credits hit. In fact The Exorcist is a film that doesn’t use music very well at all, but despite its use in the film Tubular Bells is a haunting piece of music.


Dawn of the Dead (dir. George Romero 1978) Music by Goblin


Arguably the best Zombie film of all time (which is not high praise considering how awful most zombie films are. I still can’t believe high functioning people enjoy The Walking Dead. Seriously, that show is for mongoloids) Dawn of the Dead opens in a panicked newsroom, with a group of frantic people trying to make sense of the zombie apocalypse unfolding outside. Goblin’s synth heartbeat score pulsates as we drift through the chaos, establishing a sense of dread and doom that permeates the film as the world falls apart and gives way to zombies who just want to eat brains.


Suspiria (dir. Dario Argento 1977) Music by Goblin


Continuing on the Goblin train we have their other famous horror theme for Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Suspiria tells the tale of a dancing school that is a front for a coven of witches in Eastern Europe. Suspiria is film with atmosphere to spare, filled with horrifying imagery and inventive kills. There’s never a moment that doesn’t feel unsettling and Goblin’s score has a lot do with that. Half lullaby, half chant, Goblin’s score is all foreboding.


Rosemary’s Baby (dir. Roman Polanski 1968) Music by Kryzstof Komeda

Rosemary’s Baby also capitalizes on the idea of using a lullaby as a horror theme to great effect. Polanski’s film tells the story of a woman unknowingly used by a group of Satan worshippers to carry the son of the devil. It plays on the natural fears of pregnancy and childbirth, and what better way to get to the heart of those fears than by using a lullaby. At once sweetly beautiful and utterly horrifying at the same time, it’s impossible to listen to Komeda’s haunting theme without feeling at least a little unsettled.

Twin Peaks (dir. David Lynch 1991) Music by Angelo Badalamenti
SPOILER NOTE: This song/clip appears in the finale and while there isn’t much context to spoil anything for those who have not seen Twin Peaks, it’s still from the series finale, so you might want to avoid if you plan on watching the show but haven’t seen it.

Twin Peaks is the only television show on this list and it may be in fact the scariest work yet. Lynch doesn’t make true horror films in the normal sense, but no other director has been able to chill me to my core quite like he has (save for possibly the other David, David Cronenberg.) Twin Peaks remains Lynch’s magnum opus, and while he didn’t direct every episode, he directed the best ones. Twin Peaks details FBI Agent Dale Cooper as he investigates the murder of prom queen Laura Palmer in the quaint northwestern town of Twin Peaks. What starts as a slightly quirky investigation takes a very dark turn into the supernatural, and it contains some of the most horrifying imagery ever conceived.


Phantasm (dir. Don Coscarelli 1979) Music by Fred Myrow

Phantasm is without a doubt the most epic (in the classical sense of the word) horror series yet conceived. There are big ideas at work in the film and the music needs to be just as grand to accommodate. The music for Phantasm is dark and eerie, but it is also rather grandiose. Just by listening to the theme you get the impression that there is something bigger at work than just your typical hack-and-slash or monster-driven horror film. The Tall Man wants more than just to kill you; his plans are much larger than that.

More on Phantasm in my post next week!

There are plenty of other horror themes that I missed out on. What do you think needs to be up on my list?

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Categories: Film, Music

Author:Colin Holmes

I love movies. I love watching them and I love writing about them. My taste ranges from Jean Pierre Melville to Jean Claude Van Damme and everything in between as long as it isn’t mediocre. I’ll take a crazy failure of a movie over a middle of the road one any day. I'm an American currently living abroad in Oz and am relishing how my accent makes me sound like a cowboy to everyone I meet here.

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3 Comments on “7 Horror Themes That Chill You To The Bone”

  1. 10.24.11 at 4:52 PM #

    This is now the soundtrack to my morning.


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