Vic’s Top 5: Horror Film Scores

Bernard Herrmann
Bernard Herrmann
Ennio Morricone
Ennio Morricone
Jerry Goldsmith
Jerry Goldsmith
John Williams
John Williams
John Carpenter and Alan Howarth
John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

This one won’t be easy and there is a list of film scores for Honorable Mention. I have tried my best to include scores that have changed the way horror films are perceived and scores that have set the bar very high.

I may be leaving some important scores off but I do respect many composers for even trying to participate in scoring a Horror film. A genre that today still struggles to be important and relevant. They are not in any particular order either. Thanks.

NO. 5

Ennio Morricone

“The Thing” (1982)

Carpenter takes a break from composing for his first big budget studio film. Though the outcome of having Italian Composer Ennio Morricone do this eerie and string infused masterpiece didn’t save the film at the box office, it still went way above and beyond in the music department. Many tracks were never used in the final cut, (my fav is “Sterilization” which is used in a deleted scene) and at times when the score is heard on it’s own we wish it were. The tracks “Beastiality”, “Eternity” and “Despair” are very creepy, low toned pianic nightmares that paint a very unique picture on Carpenter’s sci / horror canvas.

“Humanity” Part 1 is a slow burn that has a great mid-section where we are introduced to a serene bit of sanity then it all goes into Carpenter’s two note world. “Humanity” Part 2 is a one-two punch of musical genius. Highly Recommended score. Here is a tid- bit below. Enjoy.

NO. 4

Jerry Goldsmith

“The Omen” (1976)

Where do I begin on this marvelous piece of musical terror? A score that is just as iconic and renowned as the film that it belongs to? Goldsmith (Star Trek The Motion Picture, Dr Kildare and TV’s The Twilight Zone) was hired by Richard (Superman The Movie) Donner to do a very religious type of film that can inspire a feel for the holy and at the same time invoke terror and a fear of the very evil that surrounds us. Even in the form of an unholy child. Goldsmith won the only Oscar (a damn shame) of his career for the very terrifying “Ave Satani”.

Goldsmith evokes such fear and evil when utilizing Latin Chant and Choral arrangements. His peaceful tracks that play during the more serene and happy moments in the Thorn’s life are hugely contrasted by horrifying tracks like “The Fall” and “Beheaded” Also, Ave Satani refers to the anti-christ as a force to be worshipped and hailed. It is a score I listen to occasionally but afterwards I feel like I must say the Lord’s Prayer or a few Hail Mary’s.

No. 4

John Carpenter

“Halloween” (1978)

One of the greatest reasons for the immense popularity, significance and status that “Halloween” has achieved is the brilliant minimalist score by Composer John Carpenter. Carpenter, having no classic training in music (besides having a father who was a renowned musician) dropped this bombshell of a soundtrack on us after studio execs told him the movie wasn’t just that scary.

He then put his hands to keyboard and banged out a killer 10/8 or complex 5/4 meter that resulted in creeping us all out and solidifying Carpenter’s film as a brilliant piece of art. The 2000 Anniversary CD is a stunning release with over 10 new tracks of music from the hallowed score. Very Recommended.

No. 3

Bernard Herrmann


Hitchcock pulled no punches with this film and he had garnered a rep by the early 60’s as being a very in control and masterful artist that used all of the cinematic tools in his movie toolbox to accomplish greatness. Music was one of them. I just learned that Hitch insisted on Herrmann for this film and he had trouble reconciling a fee since the film had a substantially lower budget. I, for one am so glad it all worked out because Psycho remains at the top of the horror film score heap.

It is a brazenly scary, sexy and eerie score the permeates every scene and nuance of the film. The lower budget brought out a unique musical piece from Herrmann with more dynamic tones from an absolutely powerful string orchestra. The title track alone sets tone, tension and dread. Strings drive the piece forward and despite a jazzy tone (which Hitch wanted) the score, as is, remains a solid entry by Herrmann in Hitch’s filmograpghy.

No. 2

Harry Manfredini

“Friday The 13th”
(Thanks Brian for making me see the light on this one)

Man, this score is all over the place. And in a very good way. Strings, bass, low trumpet and even some very funky sound effects (ki ki ki ma ma ma. not ch ch ch ha ha ha) that creeps us right the fuck out. Sean S. Cunningham was seeking to provide a lofty score for his horror film and even wanted a chorus to provide such a score. Well, as it turns out budget always plays a part and when he finally got Manfredini involved it was a match made in heaven.

According to the director they did not want to “manipulate the audience” with the music and in some scenes throughout the film where there are surely some scary parts there is no music to be had. Then when something does or is about to happen Manfredini cuts the cue and lets the audience relax a bit. Also brilliant is how the killer is never seen until the end but the composer does a brilliant job of setting up the scenes (without the killer being seen at all) using his cues with such horrific finesse. A fantastic score that is very relevant today. Enjoy.

No. 1

John Williams


Yep, my favorite film of ALL time. I truly feel that this movie, in very true regard, can be considered a horror film. Williams single-handedly created the scariest 2 note musical theme to accompany a movie. We never see the shark for a very long time but we FEEL it by listening to William’s brilliant music. A classic alternating E and F motif (Or F and F sharp) that has become synonymous with any kind of deep, dark impending danger. The music is the heartbeat of the film (or the shark as many have proposed). Spielberg once said that “Jaws would never have been as successful as it is without John’s music.” I agree.

It went on to win an Academy Award and Williams went on to score another very capable and strong piece for “Jaws 2” The score, according to Williams “Grinds away at you, like a relentless shark would.” and the great tuba playing credit goes to the talented Tommy Johnson. Oh and who can forget the great opening to “Airplane” Not me. In the year 2000 the score had 2 versions released by Decca / Universal.


Yes, this should have probably been a Top 10 list. But it didn’t work out that way…Here are some other great scores for mention here.

Silence of the Lambs – Howard Shore
Dawn of the Dead – Goblin (Yes, Brian, I agree. Pure classic cheese)
The Exorcist – Various Artists
The Shining – Wendy Carlos and Various Artists
The Ring – Hans Zimmer
Candyman – Phillip Glass
Prince of Darkness – John Carpenter
Horror of Dracula – James Bernard
Rosemary’s Baby – Krzysztof Komeda
28 Days Later – John Murphy

I know I have missed some, gang. So, please sound off!



  1. Great choices. Not sure on my list, but Halloween, Omen and Psycho would probably make it. Well Halloween for sure.

    I love all the picks, but I kinda favor European scores. I just love the music in Argento’s films. My all time favorite score would probably be Halloween. Sure it’s a cliched choice, but a great one.

    I also love Friday the 13th. It might lose some points for being a little too much like Psycho. But great nonetheless. Not sure though I could narrow a list like this down to 5. Good work.

    By the way thanks for tweeting my Welcome to the Grindhouse posters.

    • my pleasure on the RT. Your posts have been epic. thanks for the great feedback on the top 5. it was hard. I need to get more into euro scores as well. so many scores so little time.

      – Vic

  2. I have to agree with you almost entirely. Right off the bat, the only other score I think would fit on the list is The Exorcist. Otherwise, it’s perfect. Each are recognizable and each have their own sense of fear, without even having to watch the movie itself.

    The Halloween score… f**k I hate it and love it so much. Makes me so freaked out every time.

    • The score to The Exorcist was hard to keep off this list for sure. Tubular Bells is so iconic. I’m glad you agree with my choices. This one was fun to do. Thanks for stopping by! – Vic

  3. Great choices all around. Great description of Quint’s death in “Jaws”! I always cringe when you hear that BLOYT sound as the shark clamps down on his bellyflesh, then you can see the wads of his fat dangling from the teeth when it comes to get Brody.

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