Halloween is coming, and that means costumes, trick or treat, parties, decorations and horror movies galore. Every holiday needs holiday music, though, and there are only so many times you can listen to “The Monster Mash” or “Purple People Eater” without going seven shades of crazy. Here, instead, are 10 examples of wonderful music from horror movies to get you in a festive spirit. Kinda.
1. Cannibal Holocaust, Riz Ortolani
The legend of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is such that the mere mention of the movie’s title horrifies even those who have never seen it. The controversy is understandable: The movie pushes boundaries to a degree rarely seen prior to its release, and animals genuinely were killed on camera. But damn, the movie is beautifully shot and the overall message of “Who are the bigger monsters?” still hits hard. The scene toward the end, which sees the tribe take their bloody revenge on the grossly intrusive and abusive documentary crew, is framed by Italian movie composer Riz Ortolani’s dreamy score. The graphic imagery we’re presented with contrasts harshly with the beautiful music, to great effect. Somehow, the gentle noise makes the whole thing so much more disturbing. If the aim of a horror soundtrack is to amplify the terror, Ortolani is the master.
2. The Exorcist, Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield apparently wasn’t particularly pleased with the fact that William Friedkin used the introduction to “Tubular Bells: Part One” following a visit to Atlantic Records, as he considers the movie too scary. Too bad, Mike. The music has become linked to the film on a fundamental level, despite appearing in only two scenes. Friedkin was right to scrap the original Lalo Schifrin score, too; Oldfield’s music works perfectly and it’s hard not to recall it when thinking of those famous foggy outside steps.
3. Halloween, John Carpenter
It’s astonishing that John Carpenter not only co-wrote and directed the original 1978 Halloween but also composed and performed its score. Coming five years after The Exorcist, there is something mildly Tubular Bells about Carpenter’s simplistic, repetitive keyboards. But also like The Exorcist, the music works perfectly with the family home horror.
4. Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Dokken
Some of these pieces of music are included because they complement their movie so wonderfully, as a score. Others are just great songs, blasting out over the closing credits. Like this one. The third in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise came out in ‘1987, and by this point Freddy Krueger had fully transformed from a shadowy dream demon to a wisecracking slasher. That said, the third movie, set in a mental health facility, was and is a lot of fun. Freddy terrorizes a bunch of teens (no surprises there) in a variety of impressively imaginative ways, before hair-metal giants Dokken throw a suitably noisy cherry on the whole thing. Magnificent.
5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Wayne Bell & Tobe Hooper
It’s no exaggeration to say that the soundtrack to horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the original, not one of the masses of sequels or reboots), composed by director Tobe Hooper plus Wayne Bell, sounds ever so slightly like nails on a chalkboard. It really does. Like old machinery that needs oiling. Like metal grinding on metal. It’s also incredibly effective and disconcerting. If you’re ever on a road trip, driving through a quiet, dusty town, and want to freak out whomever is in the car with you, cue up this score.
6. The Omen, Jerry Goldsmith
Ah, yes, that Latin chanting. Demonic kids are scary as shit already — the addition of a Latin choir wailing “corpus edimus” (we eat the body) and “ave Satani” (Hail Satan) only amps up the creepy factor. Goldsmith’s score is a masterpiece from beginning to end, and it’s a good thing; if Damien is going to bring about the end of times and signal the reign of the Lord of the Flies, he needs some good tunes.
7. Suspiria, Goblin
Italian prog-metal band Goblin scored the 1978 George A. Romero masterpiece Dawn of the Dead (co-written by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento), the sequel to Night of the Living Dead. But prior to that, the group worked with Argento on the soundtracks to Profondo Rosso (or Deep Red) and the classic Suspiria. The music for the latter is typically disorienting, disturbing and complex — perfect for Argento.
8. Jaws, John Williams
John Williams can do no wrong when it comes to film scores. From Star Wars to Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the man knows how to write music that not only complements a movie to perfection but sticks in the mind of the viewer/listener for a lifetime. And Jaws is a perfect example. It’s essentially two notes, starting slowly and gradually speeding up, but the sense of dread they evoke is tangible. To this day, that music is the last thing you want to listen to while taking a bath.
9. Pet Sematary, Ramones
Like Dokken with the Nightmare on Elm Street 3 soundtrack, the Ramones (a favorite of Stephen King) provided the title song to this 1989 adaptation of one of King’s best novel, which played over the closing credits. “I don’t wanna be buried, in the pet sematary” sings Joey, and by God he’s wise. The last thing any of us needed were reanimated, evil versions of the veteran punks, post-mortem. The movie’s score, incidentally, was provided by Elliot Goldenthal, while another Ramones song, “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” appears earlier in the film.
10. Martyrs, Seppuku Paradigm
Similar to the way Riz Ortolani’s sweet music worked so effectively on the dramatically grotesque Cannibal Holocaust, so French electronic duo Seppuku Paradigm’s gentle, poignant score is perfect for Pascal Laugier’s 2008 French horror masterpiece Martyrs. If you haven’t seen this film yet (not to be confused with the terrible American remake), enter carefully. It’s a traumatic gut-punch of a movie. But then, isn’t all of the best horror? Even so, there are scenes in Martyrs that will live with you long after the final credits. You’ve been warned.