Photo: 28 Days Later (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Memorable theme songs are as much a part of the horror genre as the scares. Composers have perfected the art of drawing audiences in, then jarring them with disturbing music that makes their skin crawl or forces them to jump out of their seat. Our ranking of the 10 best horror movie and TV theme songs includes established classics as well as modern themes that are creeping out a new generation of horror fans.
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John Williams’ iconic Jaws score is arguably the most recognized horror theme of all time. Although the movie is over 40 years old, every kid who has swum in a pool has heard the classic “dunnn dunnn” sound. Whenever the theme begins to play during the movie, you know our favorite sharp-toothed villain is lurking in the murky depths waiting for his moment to strike.
9. The Twilight Zone
There are plenty of episodes in the classic television series that ran from 1959 to 1964 that will haunt you. The Twilight Zone‘s iconic theme helped bookend those scary experiences, complementing the series’ legacy as one that effectively mapped the template of future storytelling.
If you decide to stream the series on Netflix, don’t be confused if you don’t come across the theme music right away. The famous score created by composer Marius Constant isn’t introduced until season two. And if you just haven’t had enough Twilight Zone in your life, Jordan Peele will be hosting the latest revival of the series for CBS All Access.
Jaws made people afraid to go swimming; Psycho did the same for the shower. Who hasn’t replayed the horror in their mind when stepping into a shower? Ironically, the infamous shower scene leaves a lot the imagination as director Alfred Hitchcock relied on composer Bernard Herrman’s chilling theme to do most of the dirty work.
7. 28 Days Later
John Murphy created a masterpiece with his theme song for 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. Each movie has two slightly different versions of the same Murphy theme. The first, entitled “In the House, In a Heartbeat,” was followed by “Don Abandons Alice” in the sequel. Much like other horror features, the music plays at pivotal points in the movie, amping up the intensity of some of the most terrifying, climactic, and emotional sequences.
6. American Horror Story
The original American Horror Story theme song is easy to fall in love with. Over the seasons, the theme has taken on new variations, especially after season four, AHS: Freak Show. What’s so great about it is that it forever reminds you that you are about to watch the most delightfully strange macabre series on TV. It’s also pleasing that the current eighth season of the anthology series, AHS: Apocalypse, has gone back to its musical roots.
5. Stranger Things
Netflix’s Stranger Things easily garnered a large following of fans who were drawn to the likable characters and its love letter to supernatural classics of the ’80s. The theme song draws back to its roots with a synth-heavy, vintage sound that brings to mind John Carpenter.
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4. The Walking Dead
There is no other modern horror TV series with a more recognizable theme song than Bear McCreary’s The Walking Dead. The theme has remained consistent for nine years and the sound is as much a part of the show as the comic book threads that inspired the AMC series. Even though it doesn’t have words, you may catch yourself humming along to the aggressively eerie composition.
Charles Clouser’s Saw theme song, titled “Hello Zepp,” will get your heart racing and goosebumps spreading the second you hear it. The already iconic theme song has conditioned Saw fans like Pavlov’s dog: when this music starts playing, you know shit is about to go down, and it is going to end badly for some poor soul.
2. The Exorcist
Before Halloween hit the scene, Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” haunted audiences as much as the movie itself. Far more than just a staple of The Exorcist, the terrifying and ominous song was reworked for the film and slightly revised from Oldfield’s original score. It’s hard to think of anything but that demonic head-spinning scene whenever you hear this classic theme.
One of the most recognizable scores in any film is John Carpenter’s Halloween theme song. The director’s spine-chilling score was the first sign that this overlooked B-movie would go down as one of the scariest movies of all-time.