The Most Memorable Horror Movie Theme Songs of All-Time

Horror movie themes are instantly creepy. They’re skillfully composed to conjure up the worst of our gut reactions, visceral emotions, and instinctive flight reactions. The best horror genre theme songs are those which accompany the most iconic films…the ones that we think of first because the music and movie are vividly linked in our memories. Some of the musical motives are powerful enough that we think of them even without their films. When a horror movie theme song is used as a cultural reference outside of its film, it becomes part of popular expression, and we realize its greatness. Such is the power of exceptional music.

Here are five horror genre classics. Their music merges the theme of the movies with the musical scores so successfully that fans will often immediately hum the tune or tap the rhythm when the movie title is mentioned.

Rosemary’s Baby

A lullaby to lull a baby to sleep. Sad and wistful, this simple, pretty song has haunted many since the classic horror film was first presented. It successfully evokes mistrust in the most significant human connection — the one between mother and child.

The Omen

Nothing spreads fearful unrest like this. Jerry Goldsmith, legendary film composer, created this chilling score.

Halloween

John Carpenter both directed the film and wrote the score. This terrifying theme song includes sounds of heavy breathing, whimpering cries, repetitive notes, a driving tempo and dramatic outbursts of synthesized bass chord progressions. It features an unrelenting steady beat, ominous minor key and extensive chromaticism; all building tension. It mimics the accelerated pulse rate of the truly terrified, and that’s one reason it’s so very gripping.

Jaws

Composed by John Williams, everyone instantly recognizes this theme song. A study in suspense, the compelling two note musical motive is Wagnerian leit motif use at its best. Anyone watching this movie in the theater automatically knew that the shark was coming when these iconic tones were played. Hearing the tones caused anxiety even before a shark was seen.

Psycho

This classic film includes one of the definitive music motifs of the horror genre. It is instantly recognizable.

Bernard Herrmann’s superb film score for Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece:

The legendary shower scene music which has permeated culture:

Here are eight more themes too good to ignore, bringing the total to the classic number thirteen. These are the best of the rest, with distinctive musical themes to match their gripping stories.

The Exorcist

Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield is generally considered to be the theme of this classic. Originally, Lalo Schifrin composed the working score, but it was rejected because audiences who saw the original film trailer were too frightened by hearing it paired with the film images.

The Thing

The ostinato bass pulses like a heartbeat, while synthesized strings flood harmonies above it. Ennio Morricone composed this chilling theme for director John Carpenter’s first large studio movie.

Dead Silence

It begins simply enough, with a tender music box melody…. A childhood favorite sound. But, the music box tones of this theme are eerily interrupted with full orchestra and choir howling sounds of wraiths.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

A plethora of scratchy, alien dissonances peppered with percussive noises. Charles Bernstein’s score set us up for fear from the very beginning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-_Xx9Dn0aI

The Shining

This electronic music composed for the film is based on a phrase from the 5th movement of Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz. Director Stanley Kubrick preferred classical repertoire because he felt it complemented the atmosphere of Gothic horror characteristic to his film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgCejsyS0t8

Saw

Hello Zepp by Charles Clouser completely embodies the frantic fear in this brutal horror story.

The Ring

Eternally gloomy music by Hans Zimmer utilizes piano and orchestra to paint a picture of horror, luring viewers into the landscape with suspicious calm, and attacking with rhythmic intensity.

Hellraiser

Christopher Young composed this brooding and epic operatic theme, which musically alludes to the “He’ll tear your soul apart.” subtitle describing Hellraiser.

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