Villains & Monsters Week – Scott Guest’s Favourite Horror Film Scores

With the Halloween season upon us, I’ve been asked to remind our loyal followers of some of the great movie themes from horror films.  So without further ado, here are some themes to put you in the Halloween spirit:

The Exorcist: This is a haunting movie theme as it is a score that definitely reminds people of the film, but if you were listening to the music with no knowledge of The Exorcist, I bet you would think it would come from sci-fi film.  To me, this score is made better because of the film and not the other way around, but that’s not to say that it is not great, because it is.

Halloween: The piano theme to Halloween is eerie and haunting, but it is never bold and in your face. There are never any moments in the score that jump out and cause any terror.  Instead, when you hear this theme, even if Michael Myers is not on the screen when it plays, you just know that something bad is going to happen.  I’m sure most of you to this site know this upcoming fact, but just in case you didn’t, director John Carpenter also composed the music for the film.

Jaws: Two notes are all it took for people to instantly recognize that they shouldn’t go into the water.  There is more to the score than the opening two notes, but it’s amazing to think of how recognizable the film is because of it. The score is a good one, not just because of how recognizable it is, but because if you listen to it, without letting the movie influence you, you definitely feel that you are in for a ride, which is what a good horror film should deliver to the viewer, at least I think so.  The crescendos, the decrescendos, the quiet parts, the loud parts, it’s definitely a blockbuster score.  John Williams has written many fantastic scores and the one to Jaws is one of his best.

Fantasia – Night on Bald Mountain: I may be cheating when I include this, because this was not written for the film, but man, this is a frightening score.  Even without the images of Fantasia to go with it, this just has a feeling of evil to it.  It’s mean, it’s loud, it’s unapologetic and as a kid, this score used to scare me.  Add in the images from Fantasia (which fit the score very very well, because that image of the devil is the defining one for me in film history), and this is a great piece of music from an animated horror short.


Psycho: Bernard Herrmann’s score sets the tone from the opening credit sequence.  Have a listen here. It’s an urgent opening score that grabs your attention, and lets you know that you’re in for an unsettling ride.  The piercing sound of the strings is a theme that will come back later in the film, but it is haunting enough that you remember it.  When the famous shower scene takes place, the fact that it is so quiet and silent in the lead up to the scene (we just watch Marion Crane get into the shower) that it’s disconcerting for the viewer.  We know that something is going to happen and we are scared at what that might be.  Then, when the mother appears and rips the curtain back, the strings return with that piercing sound and the shower scene goes into high gear.  Every sound of the strings makes the viewer feel like Marion is getting stabbed, even though there is not one shot of a knife piercing Marion’s body.  It is a masterful job of editing, and really Bernard Herrmann’s score makes the violent act seem more vile than it actually is.  Here’s the scene for your viewing pleasure: 

The theme returns a couple of more times in the film, but the shower scene is the most effective use of it.  The biggest compliment you can get is when you get parodied, and the Psycho shower scene and the music that goes along with it has been parodied numerous times in pop culture.  The score and images together make for a perfect marriage, and that is why the theme to Psycho is the scariest piece of music in horror history.

Well, that concludes my look at some horror movie themes. Did I miss any great themes?  Do you think I’m way off the mark?  Let me know as I’d love to hear from you.  Until then, have a Happy Halloween!

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