There are a lot of things that come to mind when a horror fan thinks about their favorite scary movies, and why they love them so much. But there is one important thing that hasn’t really ever come up in my discussions with fellow horror fans—something that is quite often overlooked…
That thing is music. Music plays a very important part in horror movies; whether it’s the score overall, or the score during a particularly suspenseful, intense moment in a movie. But the biggest role music plays in horror movies are those rare, famous themes—particularly instrumental music that defines a film or franchise, and becomes synonymous with the killer and his (or her) legacy.
Here is a list of some of that famous music that has shaped some of horror’s best moments, and some of the best horror movies out there.
- 1. Halloween: Let’s just go ahead and get the most obvious choice out of the way. Not only is Halloween itself basically the Michael Jackson of horror movies (the one movie that everyone knows about; the one common thread that pretty much all horror fans have in common), but its theme is the definitive horror movie theme song—in fact, it’s the definitive theme for the holiday of the same name. That piano music is so creepy, and even if I went the entire month of October without watching the movie, I could listen to that theme song every day for the whole month, and not get tired of it.
- Friday the 13th: To some, the sound goes ”Ch-Ch-Ch, ah-ah-ah.” For others like myself, it’s “Kill, kill kill; die, die, die.” And then there is the (probably correct) theory that that the noise is really “kill-kill-kill-ma-ma-ma”—a shortened version of “Kill, mommy”. Either way, when one hears that sound, you know that Jason is nearby—and so is trouble. It helps build suspense right before the big chase scene. This is another one that is obvious, because it’s a classic.
- Prom Night (1980): This one is semi-tricky. The theme song from this movie is so cheery and upbeat; it directly contrasts with the creepy tone the film attempts to have. But in my mind, the association of that song with the images of long, drawn-out chase sequences with a creepy, masked figure, fit absolutely perfectly together. It qualifies as a great horror theme because it emphasizes the one thing this film has going for it; the concept of the greatest night of one’s youth turning into a murder rampage nightmare.
- Scream: This one is another odd choice. But there is something about the Scream composition that is somewhat of a masterpiece. It almost has an operatic tone to it, and the theme just so happens to be featured in all the most pivotal moments in the film. As soon as one hears that female voice and that identifying Scream music, you know that you are either about to get a vital piece of information, or something intense is building up.
- Saw: This theme is such a big deal, it even has its own name (Hello Zepp) and tons of variations (such as the one that hardcore Saw fans such as myself know as Shithole Theme). I’ve seen this theme used in a couple of other things, but it doesn’t change the fact that it will always be the Saw theme. It’s a bone-chilling, tense instrumental, and the obvious thing that makes it so significant is that it always comes at the end of the film, with the twist and the montage that ties everything in the film together.
There are a ton of others, and as October is just around the corner—and with it, many, many horror film viewings ahead—they are the thing I look forward to the most about the upcoming month, and Halloween itself.