Horror is one of the most visceral genres of film, which is why music is so important in a scary movie. Music helps to set the mood, accompanying visuals and other aspects of cinema that go into sending a chill down your spine.
These five theme songs are some of the best scores horror has to offer, and they fit the astatic of their films perfectly.
5) “Friday the 13th” (1980)
The story of how Pamela Vorhees (Betsy Palmer) killed off groups of councilors to keep Camp Crystal Lake close after the death of her son has come a long way. Starting with the first sequel, her son Jason makes his debut as the antagonist killer, in the third part he dawns a hockey mask for the first time, years later he goes to Manhattan, and later on even space; the music has there through all of it.
This is the best orchestrated piece of music and it seems a little chaotic, but once you get to the instruments drop out and the ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma starts up, it will all make sense. The warped sounds of someone utter “kill her mama” which isn’t spoken until late in the film have become a series staple, even though the “mama” they’re talking about dies at the end of part one – kind of spoiler, but after over 30 years, not really.
The “Friday the 13th” franchise has been criticized for its lack of originality and oversaturation, with twelve films in total, and eight coming out between 1980 and 1989, but no one can discredit the series initial popularity. Jason Vorhees is one of the most iconic characters in film, and has even made appearances on late night talk shows, but just as well known as the hockey-mask wearing maniac is the theme that follows him as he slowly stalks those pot-smoking, promiscuous teenagers.
The theme was composed by Harry Manfredini, who has since worked on all the “Friday the 13th” films except the “Nightmare on Elm Street” crossover, “Freddy vs. Jason” and the 2009 reboot of the series.
4) “Phantasm” (1979)
Despite having something of a cult following, “Phatasm” has drifted into obscurity since it was released in the late 70’s. The psychedelic horror movie about the grave robbing Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who turned the bodies into dwarf slaves and sending them to his home dimension – trippy – has more appeal within the horror community than with mainstream film goers for obvious reasons, but anyone can get into the theme.
The music, like the movie is a little on the strange side, and fits right into the era. Any movie about inter-dimensional undertakers and flying killer-orbs has to have a weird theme, and the synth jam that goes on during “Phantasm” is exactly what complements the film best.
The theme was composed by Fred Myrow, who went on to do the music for all four “Phantasm” films, and Malcolm Seagrave who departed but returned for part four “Oblivion.
3) “Saw” (2003)
In 2004, American audiences were introduced to what some call torture porn. “Saw” made way for movies like “Hostel” and “The Collector” showed audiences the most elaborate ways to take a human body apart, and didn’t skip on any of the detail, but none did it like “Saw.”
A cancer patient who is determined to make people value their lives by giving them post-traumatic stress disorder or having them die, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) has one of the most intense killer themes around. The orchestra over electronic song comes on as the film starts to unveil the inevitable twist that occurs at the end of all seven installments.
Charlie Clouser composed the epic score that fits the “Saw” series well, but could also be tacked onto trailers for other dramatic films outside of the horror genre. The “Saw” franchise closed in 2010, but after seven straight Halloween’s with Jigsaw, one has to wonder if it will start back up again.
One of the first modern horror films, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is a masterpiece of cinema that grips audiences in suspense until they scream. One of the first times audiences saw graphic violence like a knife going into skin, not to mention a toilet.
The theme for this classic could carry even a lackluster horror film, and this is far from that. The score composed by Bernard Herrmann, who also has been credited for the music in “Taxi Driver” and “Citizen Kane,” could be the best work of the composer.
The opening theme sets the mood for the movie that would inspire most horror films that came after it. Sections of the song play throughout the movie as we see our characters experience paranoia, which could by caused by just listening to this collection of notes and tunes.
When John Carpenter first screen “Halloween” to producers without music, they told him his movie wasn’t scary and to reedit. The master of horror decided to write up some music in a few quick sessions and add it to the film, making “Halloween” what it is today.
Every year it plays in costume shops and out of people’s houses, not to mention when the “Halloween” movies play on TV. The original version of the song even made a comeback to theaters in 2007 during the opening credits of Rob Zombies “Halloween” remake.
Carpenter had a lot of work to do on set: he composed the music, co-wrote wrote and directed the film, as well as being an unaccredited producer and the voice of Paul, Annie’s boyfriend while he’s on the phone. The film was and remains a huge success, and is remember for starting the slasher genre, introducing the world to Jamie Lee Curtis, and its spooky theme.