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Music to Our Ears: The Scariest Movie Scores of All Time

These soundtracks are undeniably creepy.

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  • Photo Credit: Brett Jordan / Unsplash

As all horror fans know, there’s more to a scary movie than things that go bump in the night. Part of what makes horror so evocative is an effective storyline coupled with a palpable atmosphere that’s so well-rendered, it feels like it’s reaching out from the screen to attack our senses. So much of the atmosphere comes down to the blend of visual and aural, with the director’s aesthetic choices and the composer’s musical compositions working in tandem.

The scariest movie soundtracks elevate an already frightening narrative into something wholly its own. For your listening pleasure, The Lineup has gathered some of the scariest and most recognizable examples.

The Thing 

Composed by Ennio Morricone

horror movie soundtracks
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  • Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

One of the best horror films of all time, the 1982 classic by John Carpenter holds up remarkably well today due to masterful special effects and a soundtrack that preys on suggestibility. Carpenter had sought out Ennio Morricone as the film’s composer, believing that his project needed a European flair. Morricone ultimately wrote over an hour of music, most of which didn’t actually make it into the film. An experienced composer himself, Carpenter used some of his own music in addition to a piece from Morricone that was woven throughout the film. It was altogether an unusual process, given that Morricone hadn’t seen any footage before writing the score.

Related: Master of Horror: 10 Most Terrifying John Carpenter Movies 

Then again, maybe it had to be this way. Morricone managed to excel in capturing his impression of what the film would be, making adjustments along the way to match Carpenter’s soundtrack sensibility. Like the movie’s experimental approach with special effects, the soundtrack uses a lot of orchestral sweeps and countering sound effects that almost seem industrial at times. In the end, once you hear the memorable “Humanity – Pt. 2,” with that iconic heartbeat rhythm, you’re strapped in and ready for one of the scariest tales ever put to film. Few scores get the mind racing and the nerves tensed like Morricone’s score, the entirety of which was later released as part of the film’s soundtrack.


Composed by John Carpenter

best halloween horror movies
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  • Photo Credit: Compass International Pictures

With a flutter of piano laced on top of doom-bleached synth, the main track of Halloween has become the quintessential example of a simple yet effective horror score. A testament to John Carpenter’s genius and versatility across creative mediums, he wrote the entire musical score for his own film, and in only three days! Carpenter cited Dario Argento’s Suspiria and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist as inspirations for this score. Some critics praised its effectiveness, while others claimed it was trite. Yet perhaps complex polyrhythms and music that clamors for your attention might not be the best fit for one of the first major slasher films ever. In hindsight, Carpenter’s soundtrack might be one of the boldest and most memorable aspects of the film. All I know is I can’t listen to the main theme without it getting stuck in my head for days.


Composed by Jay Chattaway

horror movie soundtracks
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  • Photo Credit: Analysis Film Releasing Corporation

Everything about this movie makes one’s skin crawl: the creeping feeling of being watched; of knowingly overstepping into one’s personal space while they are oblivious to your presence, your breath close enough to tickle the back of their neck. Maniac really came out of nowhere when it entered theaters in 1980; its low budget and gritty film grain, coupled with the unabashed subject material, made it a taboo slice of horror to savor.

Related: The Scariest Movies Made Popular Through TikTok 

With its story about a serial killer who murders women, scalps them, and affixes them to mannequins, Maniac naturally became the subject of controversy and censorship. However, one might wonder if the soundtrack had some part to play in the public’s discomfort, as well as the unrelenting despair that drapes over every single frame of the film. Jay Chattaway uses an array of flutes, keyboards, and other instruments to create what might be fantastical and airy musical scores if listened to outside of context; but when combined with the film itself, it creates a truly claustrophobic, highly uncomfortable effect.


Composed by David Lynch, Fats Waller, and Peter Ivers

horror movie soundtracks
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  • Photo Credit: Libra Films

This list of horror movie scores wouldn’t be complete without somehow ending up in the orbit of a David Lynch film. Like the film itself, the soundtrack to the breakout cult favorite, Eraserhead, largely consists of ambience and caustic industrial drone. Peter Ivers provides the lone song, “In Heaven,” which features lyrics written by Lynch himself, with Fats Waller adding in organ music. Perhaps what makes this soundtrack so frightening is how it captures its own window into the withdrawn. Listen to the soundtrack on its own, and you might truly believe that you’re hearing sounds and aural atrophies from Hell itself. Simply stated, there’s nothing quite like it.

Related: 13 Scariest Horror Movie Scenes of All Time 


Composed by Christopher Young

horror movie soundtracks
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  • Photo Credit: Blumhouse Productions

Love it or hate it, this movie undeniably has an unsettling style. Much of it can be credited to the ingenious concept and Christopher Young’s ability to achieve an ever-present sense of menace. Sinister is about a demon called Bughuul that exists in film, and can only continue to exist as long as people watch the films that he happens to reside in. Much like Freddie Kruger, he targets the most impressionable audience: children. 

The kids call the demon Mr. Boogie, and are soon influenced to methodically design and kill their families, filming every single step of it. The soundtrack effectively captures the, well, “sinister” tone of the film by letting go of the usual soundtrack formalities. Gone are traditional instrumentation in favor of gross samples and computer-generated tribal trance. The soundtrack of Sinister shines because it’s not trying too hard to be liked; it’s just trying to get your attention, and maybe even infect your mind.

Silent Hill

Composed by Akira Yamaoka

horror movie soundtracks
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  • Photo Credit: TriStar Pictures

The film based on the popular PlayStation game Silent Hill is often cited as one of the better game-to-film adaptations. Much of that honor could be due to the story staying faithful to the game’s trajectory, but really, who are we kidding? It’s because of the rendition of the titular town and the amazing soundtrack. 

Related: 13 Terrifying Horror Video Games You Can Play Tonight 

Written by composer Akira Yamaoka, the film score acts like a best-of collection, lifting tracks directly from Yamaoka’s contributions to the first four Silent Hill game iterations. Yamaoka has been working on the series from the beginning, acting as in-house composer and producer at Team Silent, the group behind the game’s success. The best way to describe the film’s soundtrack is demonic, rife with religious undertones and a whole lot of heavy-chested chanting. Yamaoka knows how to undercut the darkness with some ominous strings and guitar to capture the more forlorn moments of the film.

It Follows

Composed by Disasterpeace

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You’ve got to love it when a horror soundtrack works double duty to scare you senseless while also rocking out. Composer Richard Vreeland, who writes under the moniker Disasterpeace, created the heart of the 2015 breakout hit It Follows. Using a lot of industrial and synthetic sounds, the ever-creeping dread that comes from the unnamed and impossible-to-destroy monster at the center of the film is wonderfully woven into all the retro-fitted music. 

At times you might think you’re watching Stranger Things or another throwback horror sendoff that opts for nostalgia and style instead of terror. But not here. In one scene near the end, the cast of characters is at their wit’s end. As they drive through a bleak landscape, Disasterpeace’s musical score perfectly captures and heightens their terror and uncertainty. This soundtrack just plain rocks.

Featured photo: Brett Jordan / Unsplash