It’s Halloween-time, so time to look at horror film scores/theme songs. To keep this apples-to-apples, I’ll only be including original compositions (otherwise this list would include a lot of classical works, and as much as I love Swan Lake, that’s not what I’m looking for today). That means no Tubular Bells, the music that tricked millions into thinking The Exorcist was a good film.
I’m also am avoiding songs with lyrics as that feels like a different list, so no Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys or Willow’s Song from The Wicker Man (if The Wicker Man is a horror film).
First, a few Honorable mentions. There are some great themes that sound a bit too much like ones that I’ve chosen for my list, so I’ll just give honorable mentions to all of John Carpenter’s work that isn’t on my list, multiple themes by Goblin, and the Re-Animator Theme. I’m also giving honorable mentions to a few songs that don’t quite make it on my list on their own, but really fit their films: The Lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby, and The Omen Theme.
So, to the scores/themes, starting with:
#13 The Werewolf of London (Karl Hajos)
The also-ran of early Universal monster films, The Werewolf of London had a distinctive score that adds greatly to the work. Written primarily by Karl Hajos, it also contains cues from Heinz Roemheld’s scores for The Invisible Man and The Black Cat; borrowing was very common for studio music departments for the next twenty years. This music is hard to find and I’m unaware of any official release.
#12 Resident Evil (Marco Beltrami & Marilyn Manson)
The basic repeated theme is memorable (I used it as my ring tone for several years) but the addition of Marilyn Manson as co-composer created an unsettling sound that elevated the theme and the movie to something sinister.
#11 Sleepy Hollow (Danny Elfman)
Elfman‘s distinct style nearly got him on this list twice, the other time for Nightbreed. Here he worked with his frequent collaborator, director Tim Burton, to make a haunting and beautiful score.
#10 “The Myth” – Cat People (Georgio Moroder)
It’s a theme for ancient gods, myths, and sadness, which is exactly what the film is about. A surprisingly subtle work from techno-man Georgio Mororder. The pop hit recorded by David Bowie that was made by adding lyrics is…less subtle.
#9 Phantasm (Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave)
Songs with a quickly repeating “plinking” sound dominated low-budget horror films from the mid ’70s through the ’80s. Phantasm‘s is one of the best.
#8 Psycho (Bernard Herrmann)
Ah, Bernard Herrmann, one of the great film composers. This is more than being a great theme; it sticks with you and rattles you.
#7 Halloween (John Carpenter)
Another of those quickly repeating “plinking” songs. John Carpenter directed some of the greatest genre films of the ’80s, and then scored them just to make the rest of us feel unaccomplished. While all of his scores are good, this early one stands out.
#6 Godzilla (Akira Ifukube)
The Godzilla franchise fell apart pretty quickly, but it started with a masterpiece. The one thing that never dropped was the score. The music carries the feeling of overwhelming power (such as a nuclear bomb), the need to fight even when doomed, and military heroism.
#5 The Bride of Frankenstein (Franz Waxman)
Franz Waxman was one of the great silver screen composers and here he manages to mix uneasy horror and warped reality with a lilting dream.
#4 Candyman (Philip Glass)
Who do you call when you need to express nihilism in music? Philip Glass of course. Where else will you find the pure beauty of nothingness. The universe has no meaning. Embrace that. Love it. Philip Glass did.
#3 The Wolf Man (Hans J. Salter & Frank Skinner)
The greatest of the silver screen horror themes, and the most often repeated (Universal used it in every horror film they made for the next decade), the music from The Wolf Man is tragic, and then at times exciting and hopeful just long enough for it to sway back to tragedy.
#2 Hellraiser (Christopher Young)
Such melancholy. So much pain. Yet, there is a bit of wonder in it. Christopher Young bottled despair and longing in this powerful piece.
#1 Jurassic Park (John Williams)
Don’t think Jurassic Park is horror? Watch it again. My wife dug her fingernail into my arm during the entire raptor in the kitchen scene. The theme edges more toward awe than toward fear. It is also perhaps John Williams‘s best work, which is saying quite a bit.