What follows is a list of my Top 10 Modern Horror Soundtracks. Now, “Modern” is a bit of a subjective term when it comes to music and film, so for the purposes of this article I went with anything recorded in the 21st century. Well, almost….
A horror soundtrack is an extremely powerful thing. It truly has the ability to make or break a picture. Don’t believe me? Then try this little experiment: Go grab your copy of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
Now throw it in the ol’ Blu-ray, DVD player, or VCR (yes, I still have one and use it regularly). Now mute the sound and watch the movie. If you’re actually trying this, good for you, but if you don’t have the patience to go through with it let me fill you in on the point of the lesson. The movie isn’t as good. In fact, it’s kinda just…meh. What gives Halloween its coverall-clad legs is Carpenter’s brilliantly simple yet menacing score, pounded out on a keyboard in five four time. Today, the Halloween theme is one of the most recognized pieces of music from the last century.
That’s the power of horror soundtracks. So with that in mind, here’s my list of the top 10 horror soundtracks of the last 17 years.
Honorable Mention: Ravenous (1999)
I decided to start my horror soundtracks list off by completely blowing your mind, and believe me; if you’ve never seen and/or listened to the soundtrack for Antonia Bird’s Ravenous, your mind will certainly be blown. The music that accompanies this sadistic cannibal flick simply does not fit, and that’s what is so damn cool about it! You’re watching a fairly gruesome cannibal movie, but you find yourself cheerfully tapping time to the soundtrack as if you’re strolling through Walt Disney World’s Frontierland.
10). A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is an eclectic little noir vampire film with an equally eclectic soundtrack. The film has no composed soundtrack of its own, and instead gives us a unique blend of music from traditional Iranian artists like Kiosk, Radio Tehran, and Federale. The result is an eerie and fun compilation that is equal parts Tangerine Dream and Ennio Morricone.
9). Session 9 (2001)
I’ll admit that I’m not a giant fan of Session 9, the film, but this is the first soundtrack on the list that’s pure horror. And it’s for good reason…
The dark ambiance of the music is chilling, and helps to conjure up images of long abandoned hallways in an insane asylum, and what might be waiting there, just beyond the reach of your flashlight…which is almost out of battery life…
8). Room 237 (2012)
Room 237 is an insanely detailed documentary on Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece, The Shining. The film reviews seem to be at one extreme end of the spectrum or the other–fans either love it or hate it. One thing’s for sure though; the soundtrack is excellent! It’s chock full of eerie synth tunes that do a fantastic job of recreating the same kind of tension we got in the original film score.
7). The Witch (2015)
Robert Eggers’ The Witch is another of those films that gets a lot of mixed reviews. Some people found the film absolutely terrifying, while others say that it didn’t raise their heart rate one bit. To those in the later group I pose this challenge: Drive yourself out to the old cemetery on the edge of town in the middle of the night, park on the side of the road, and listen to the film’s soundtrack in its entirety.
The film’s composer, Mark Korven, has created a chilling score that plays on dissonance and claustrophobia. The end result plunges the listener into the strict, Puritan mindset of the 17th century, where every young girl in town is looked upon with suspicion.
Trust me, this one is creepy as hell…
6). Trick `r’ Treat (2007)
Let me just get it out there: in my opinion, Michael Dougherty’s Trick `r’ Treat is one of the greatest horror flicks we’ve been graced with in the last decade or so. Hell, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s probably the greatest horror anthology since Creepshow.
Now that I’m done fanboying over the film, allow me to discuss the soundtrack. I find it equally as awesome. The film does a brilliant job of constantly juggling the viewer between light and airy and downright terrifying. Sometimes we’re smiling as a third party, looking in on the quaint little celebration in Warren Valley, and other times we’re plunged directly into the shoes of the victims (and killers….). Composer Douglas Pipes accomplishes the same kind of dichotomous feel with the soundtrack.
Both the film and it’s score have become cult favorites, and I, for one, don’t plan to take either off my shelf any time soon.
5). Maniac (2012)
Number 5 represents my favorite horror film of 2012, and it should be worth double because it’s a remake. (Like you, dear reader, I generally hate horror remakes…)
Ok, so I have a thing for synth, electronica, and progressive rock. In fact, lucky for you this is titled Top 10 MODERN Horror Soundtracks, because otherwise I would write a 30,000 word essay on Goblin and their work on the Dario Argento films of the 70’s and 80’s.
Maniac’s score was composed by a man known simply as Rob in most circles, (actually he’s a French musician named Robin Coudert). His final product is a synth lover’s dream! Every note and chord is an homage to the 80’s slashers and exploitation flicks we all love. Combine an incredible soundtrack with an incredible film and a shit ton of gore and you’ve got one hell of a good time!
4). John Carpenter’s Lost Themes I and II (2015 and 2016, respectively)
OK, so I’m cheating a little bit here. Technically, none of the tracks on the John Carpenter’s Lost Themes albums have actually appeared in any horror films (with the exception of a short film called The Puppet Man, directed by Jacqueline Castel and featuring a cameo by the master of horror himself). However, these albums are just too badass not to include on this list.
Carpenter is no stranger to composing music, having delivered to us some of the most epic horror and sci-fi soundtracks of all time in Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, and Escape From New York., to name just a few. The Lost Themes albums give us the same progressive, synthesized yumminess we’re used to hearing in a John Carpenter flick. I, for one, pick up on hints of Escape From New York, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China, and Prince of Darkness. The beautiful thing about projects like this is that Carpenter fans can conjure up their own images when listening to these tunes, and we can only hope that they someday find themselves in future film projects from one of the genre’s greats.
3). It Follows (2014)
Like many of the entries on this list so far, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows gets a mix of reviews. Some fans hail it as one of the greatest horror films of our time, while other’s call it a boring dud. The good news is that no matter which side of the fence you fall on, the film’s soundtrack is a winner all the way.
When I’m not writing reviews for Horror Geek Life I write original horror fiction, and I ALWAYS have music playing when I write–normally instrumental stuff. My It Follows vinyl is my go-to soundtrack when I need to knock out some serious word mining.
The soundtrack is a perfect example of how a film’s score can sometimes be a character in and of itself. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you can listen to certain tracks and you immediately get a sense of “holy shit, run! Something’s coming!”
That’s pretty impressive.
2). Insidious (2010)
I have a fear of creepy old women, and the film’s composer, Joseph Bishara, does a brilliant job of personifying that very thing in one of the soundtrack’s prominent riffs. Those of you that have seen the film will know exactly what I mean. There’s a recurring pattern throughout the score where violins almost sound as if they’re screaming maniacally. Add to that the recurring dream I have whereby a horde of crazy old witch women chase me down an endless hall, and the fact that my wife constantly tells me that “the old woman from Insidious” is hiding in the house somewhere when I get up in the middle of the night for a drink of water, and it’s no wonder that this score gets my heart pumping.
And it’s also no wonder that I need therapy….
1). Evil Dead (2013)
Here it is, my numero uno pick. Does it surprise you?
As we’ve established, it’s rare that I enjoy remakes, but this happens to be one of the few exceptions. The balls to the wall gore and practical special effects certainly have something to do with that, but the soundtrack is absolutely compelling in my opinion. There are hints of early Harry Manfredini work strung throughout, and other parts conjure up memories of my teen years, huddled over my first Gateway desktop playing Phantasmagoria and living on a steady supply of Captain Crunch and Mountain Dew.
Anyway, depending on the scene, the score can be creepy as hell, mysterious, almost sweet, and at times downright intense. It gets it right every single time, too. You have to respect that. Whether you love or hate the film, the soundtrack is a must have for any horror fan, and that’s why it’s at the top of my list….
…..at least until something new and horrifying comes along.
There you have it folks! What you’ve just read represents hours and hours of deliciously horrifying audio fun. For you seasoned horror geeks out there take my advice and pick up some (or all!) of these on vinyl–it’s the purest way to enjoy them. For you young pups who have no idea what vinyl is, don’t worry; you can still download all of these digitally onto your device of choice.
In the meantime, let me know what you think of the list in the comments, and if you have a favorite that I left out, tell us about it!