Best original scares
13 seminal horror scores to chill the blood1. "Psycho" (1960)
The granddaddy of all icy horror scores, Bernard Herrmann's "black and white sound" score for strings still chills the blood and produced the most famous and oft-imitated murder music ever written. "He did so much with limited means," John Carpenter says. "He didn't use anything but strings on that score and it's classic."Adds Eli Roth: "It's the first time you really felt like the instrument was representing the weapon of the killer. Those stabbing strings somehow got into your gut and you felt the murder."
2. "Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
Roman Polanski's classic chiller pitted innocent Mia Farrow against the forces of Satan, and Komeda's wistful lullaby score captures the heroine's fragility and self-delusion. "That little lullaby's pretty," Carpenter says. "Very effective." Roth agrees: "The music has that wonderful creepiness of making you try to look around the corner the way Polanksi does with his camera in the movie."
3. "The Exorcist" (1973)
Mike Oldfield, et al.
Director William Friedkin tossed Lalo Schifrin's original score; it was his choice of Mike Oldfield's minimalist piece "Tubular Bells" that captured the public's attention. "It's the signature sound of that movie," says Roth. "I love it when someone can take a piece of music that might not be inherently terrifying and associate it with something terrifying."
Maybe it's more thriller than chiller, but John Williams' thumping bass heartbeat for the great white shark is one of the most primal horror signatures ever written. "Composing is tricky and those scores he did for 'Jaws,' 'Close Encounters' (1977) and 'Star Wars' just give you chills -- they're just incredible," Rob Zombie says. Tyler Bates stands in awe of the simplicity of a score like "Jaws." "How often does film music cross over into the culture where every kid is humming that music? That was pure genius on the part of John Williams."
Bristling with electronics, percussion and unsettling vocal performances, rock group Goblin's score for this Dario Argento chiller set a new course for horror music. "I love 'Suspiria,'" Carpenter says. "My son watches that and he says the music's scarier than the movie." Coscarelli notes the unusual, but prescient combination of horror and rock. "It played against type by using a pounding rock score -- which was rather unprecedented and very sinister and strange."
6. "The Omen" (1976)
Goldsmith's mastery of the orchestra made him a natural for horror and he hit numerous entries in the genre out of the park -- "The Mephisto Waltz" (1971), "Poltergeist" (1982), "Alien" (1979) -- but he won his only Oscar for this Richard Donner tale about a young antichrist. "His unique use of chanting voices was the key reason the film was so scary, says director Don Coscarelli.
Maybe Carpenter's choice to score the film himself with a keyboard was a budgetary decision, but his syncopated theme for Michael Myers has been tingling spines ever since. "John Carpenter's score is one of the best," Zombie says. Coscarelli says he's seen its effectiveness in action: "I witnessed an audience burst into applause when the first few notes were heard during a screening of the recent remake."
8. "Alien" (1979)
Jerry Goldsmith practically disowned this effort after Ridley Scott and editor Terry Rawlings tracked some sequences in the film with music from Goldsmith's 1962 score to 'Freud' and replaced his end-title music, but the composer's still-substantial contributions are some of the most innovative and disturbing he ever wrote. "Beautiful score, by one of my favorite guys," Carpenter says.
9. "Friday the 13th" (1980)
Manfredini created an indelible motif for his low- budget slasher movie score: a whispered, hissing effect for masked killer Jason Voorhees that alerts viewers to his murderous presence any time it plays. "When you think of 'Friday the 13th,' you think of that hissing echo motif for Jason," Roth says. "But I even love the music on the lake at the end -- this soft piece of romantic music before Jason jumps out."
10. "The Shining" (1980)
Wendy Carlos, Krzysztof Penderecki, et al.
Although electronica composer Wendy Carlos wrote some new material for the film, including an arrangement of the seminal "Dies Irae" death theme for the opening titles, Stanley Kubrick took his usual approach of tracking concert works, including clashing, dissonant pieces by Bela Bartok, Gyorgy Ligeti and Penderecki, into the movie. Says Roth: "Kubrick used that music in 'The Shining,' where it's technically music, but it's more about creating a mood and an atmosphere."
11. "Hellraiser" (1987)
Like Jerry Goldsmith, Christopher Young established himself early on as a master of horror music, eventually penning scores like "Species" (1995), "Urban Legend" (1998) and "The Grudge" (2004). His often delicate but deeply creepy score for this uncompromising Clive Barker chiller remains a landmark. "'Hellraiser's a great score," Roth says. "I'll always have a soft spot for '80s horror movie scores." "What made that score creepy was that it had to make people scared and at the same time have some sick romanticism at its heart," adds Young.
12. "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992)
Polish composer Wojiech Kilar's Holst-inspired, lush score for Francis Ford Coppola's interpretation of Dracula added immense power to the film and inspired countless movie trailers and temp tracks. "It's serious concert music and the female vocal melody is such a gorgeous melody," says composer Nathan Barr. "That's the highest example of someone who has the chops to integrate everything before him into something that was just so great. If I could write one score like that in my career I would be really happy. That to me transcends the genre."
13. "Scream" (1996)
Beltrami's supercharged stings and high energy terror music raised the game and influenced horror movie scores for half a decade. "When they were smashing the car in (2002's) 'Cabin Fever,' I used 'Sydney Escapes' from 'Scream' -- I love that Beltrami score," Roth says. Adds Beltrami: "A lot of the tonality I used in the score was tuning of the orchestra from bigger spaces on the bottom to tightly knit clustered stuff up on top that gives you a really piercing attack and energy."