Horror Soundtracks

As a film genre, horror may often be maligned as schlocky or exploitative, but some of the soundtracks it has spawned over the years have been home to some of the most atmospheric, inventive and ground-breaking music ever to find its way onto the big screen.

Two records loom large in the field: the first being Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, featuring some of the most recognisable cues in cinematic history and incredibly only released in full in the 90s, and The Wickerman, composed by US songwriter Paul Giovanni and performed by the specially assembled folk combo Magnet, which stands up as a landmark album entirely in its own right.

Many of these records have an allure of their own when extricated from their source material. You can enjoy much of Philip Glass’ work for the original Candyman without losing a wink of sleep, whereas the same couldn’t be said for Italian prog rock outfit Goblin’s masterful terror fest on 1977’s Suspiria (on the subject, there is a list in itself to be made solely on Italian horror soundtracks of the era).

Often because of limitations of budget, artists were pushed to try ever inventive ways to heighten the tension on screen using little more than an early synthesiser and maybe some found sounds, resulting in some genuinely ground-breaking records (see English director Harry Bromley Davenport’s score for his own Extro, which is infinitely more rewarding than the film itself).

Indeed, some of the finest horror soundtracks were made for cinematic stinkers. Few would recommend watching 1977’s disappointing sequel to The Exorcist, but only the cloth-eared would dismiss a score from Il Maestro himself, Ennio Morricone. Similarly, you may not have much of a stomach for video nasty gore, but Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack to 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust is playful, funky and at times quite moving.

From the high camp of Hammer Horror stalwart James Bernard to Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s score for director Luca Guadagino’s 2018 remake of Suspiria, here are 20 horror soundtracks to thrill the ghoulish and the faint-hearted alike.

Chris Catchpole

Kwaidan cover


Toru Takemitsu
Psycho cover


National Philharmonic Orchestra, Bernard Herrmann