The Scariest Horror Movie Scores Of All Time

By Brian Myers | Updated

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The cinematic score is a crucial, if not sometimes underappreciated, layer to any movie genre. The score sets the tone and mood in ways that the sets and dialogue cannot visually translate and is the one element in filmmaking that can drastically alter a scene’s meaning and feeling if it is omitted or replaced with one that is of a different style. The world of horror would be a greatly different one if film scores were not used in the way that they are, prompting us to give credence to the scariest horror movie scores of all time.

The Omen

The Omen (1976 ) starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner. Score by Jerry Goldsmith.

The scariest horror movie scores of all time wouldn’t be complete without the Oscar-winning composition by Jerry Goldsmith. The choral lyrics are about as Satanic as you can get, the low horn notes foreboding, and the strings plucked and bowed in a way that invokes a type of emotional jarring most viewers are taken aback by.

The Exorcist

the exorcist

The Exorcist (1973) starring Elly Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair. Score by Jack Nitzsche, original song “Tubular Bells” by Michael Oldfield.

Though it was Nitzsche that was accredited with the score, it’s Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells'” that have become the sound synonymous with what many regard as the greatest horror film of all time. The dreamy sounds are not anything that most would consider to be spine-tingling in any sense of the word. But the singular and rhythmic notes certainly strike just the right chord with the dark imagery and cinematography, all of which combine for a hair raising sensation.


scariest horror movie scores

Suspiria (1977) starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, and Flavio Bucci. Score by Goblin.

Suspiria‘s entry on the scariest horror movie scores of all time is unique in that it was composed and performed by a band rather than a singular person. Director Dario Argento’s instruction was for Goblin to give highly intensive notes and chords to orchestrate the sense of danger throughout the film, even when there was no peril on the screen. The band’s extensive use of the Moog synthesizer and the addition of light human whispering adds layer upon layer to the tension and the eventual horror it builds up to.

The Amityville Horror


The Amityville Horror (1979) starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, and Rod Steiger. Score by Lalo Schifrin.

The music behind one of the greatest haunted house thrillers of all time is like none other on this list, but its place on the scariest horror movie scores of all time is well-earned Schifrin’s use of bouncy choral harmonies give it the overtone of being a light and innocent score. But the low, atonal chords plucked beneath the youthful symphony of voices set the perfect chilling undertone.


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Halloween (1978) starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, and P.J. Soles. Score by John Carpenter.

In what is perhaps the least complicated score on this list of scariest horror movie scores, John Carpenter’s minimalist synthesizer notes create an intense atmosphere from the very first frame of the film. The quick, minor keys and atonality are enough to set most any viewer on edge.

The Shining

scariest horror movie scores

The Shining (1980) starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Cruthers, and Danny Lloyd. Score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind.

Lastly, the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece was elevated to levels far beyond even this famed director’s scope. The percussion (particularly the use of a timpani) in the opening credits gives an effect that combines with the camerawork to be wonderfully dizzying and a forewarning of what is to come. The synthesizers, stringed instruments, and short bursts of choir notes build later scenes to terrifying crescendos that chill to the bone.