10 Essential Horror & Suspense Soundtracks: 'Vertigo,' 'Midsommar,' 'Halloween' & More – The GRAMMYs

Be the first to find out about GRAMMY nominees, winners, important news, and events. Privacy Policy
Photo: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Many musicians have created memorable works in horror and suspense. GRAMMY.com rolls tape on 10 frighteningly beautiful film scores, from the prog-rock influenced 'Suspiria' soundtrack to the familiar fear of 'Jaws.'
Scary movies are as old as cinema. This makes plenty of sense, considering that film is based on a precarious illusion, a trick of the light — still images posing as motion — an alternate sensorial universe of hidden corners and menacing shadows.
Horror knows no bounds; it finds nourishment in our deepest phobias, and liberates both creator and viewer. The same applies to the composers entrusted with the difficult task of expressing the abhorrent and ghostly in sound and melody. From Bernard Herrmann to Jerry Goldsmith and Pino Donaggio, many musicians found in horror and suspense the spark to create some of the most memorable work of their careers. These 10 soundtrack albums set the scene for some of film's most visceral frights — press play and move to the edge of your seat.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 tour de force often appears on critics’ lists as the greatest film of all time. A sumptuous meditation on memory, erotic obsession and the power of film to hypnotize sensitive viewers, Vertigo works its magic in circular, self-referential patterns. And once you catch onto the inevitability of its tragic ending — this happens about halfway through — it becomes unbearably painful to watch.
In reality, the plot is an elaborate magic trick, and part of the spell is cast through Bernard Herrmann’s hyper-romantic score. Marked by ominous brass, bombastic drum beats and sinister harp lines, the score is as self-obsessed as the film itself.
The most disturbing element of Psycho is not the inner world of Norman Bates, but rather the glee with which Hitchcock can transform a savage murder in the shower into a beautiful ballet of screaming faces and blood spiraling down the drain in inky black and white.
Following his epic work on Vertigo and North by Northwest, Bernard Herrmann was on a creative roll, and this particular score is the final installment in a sublime trilogy of romance motivated suspense. The shrill dynamics of the shower sequence are memorable, but the escape of Marion Crane with the stolen loot and plenty of remorse is brilliantly punctuated by a restless chorus of strings and an exotic melody that keeps moving the plot forward.
Before Star Wars and Jurassic Park, before Indiana Jones and Harry Potter, John Williams showcased his genius with his two-note tuba impersonation of a shark inching closer and closer to its prey. Williams has always borrowed liberally from Debussy and Stravinsky, and at times his score assumes the joyful grandeur of an old style pirate flick. The lonely, aquatic harp notes following the attacks are gorgeous.
An opera of witchcraft and entrails told in saturated primary colors, this masterpiece by Italian director Dario Argento is one of the most unsettling and surreal horror spectacles ever made — it defined the very essence and anarchic tendencies of the splatter genre.
The music was equally memorable, created with Argento’s input by progressive rock band Goblin. A combination of trippy psychedelic effects with clanging industrial noise and exotic melodic patterns, the soundtrack achieved legendary status and is often performed in concert with a live screening of the film. A botched 2018 remake — with music by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke — only underscored the utter brilliance of the original.
The idea of a film director composing the score of his own movie was a rarity when John Carpenter turned American horror upside down with the raw, low-budget, female-centric scarefest that was the original Halloween. Stylistically, it followed on the brutality of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), but with a more mainstream sensibility. The awesome score — a sequencer, odd time signatures, a creepy electro keyboard line — spawned many imitators but remains unsurpassed to this day.
Pino Donaggio’s music for Brian de Palma’s love letter to Psycho — a vulgar film tribute if there ever was one, but still brimming with garish delights — may well be the most perverse horror score in history. Donaggio was a ‘60s pop hitmaker in his native Italy, which accounts for his talent for syrupy melodies.
In Dressed to Kill, the strings tower and linger, caressing the ears with soft-core female choruses while the screen is soaked in blood — the elevator sequence is sickening and operatic at the same time. De Palma envisions horror as sensuous liturgy, and Donaggio is definitely on the same page. Their collaboration would continue with equal intensity on Body Double.
Critically panned when released, The Thing found director John Carpenter on a creative high. A movie unlike any other, its narrative festers on layers of distrust, paranoia and repulsive visual effects.
The film benefits tremendously from a glacial orchestral soundtrack by Italian master Ennio Morricone. Not all of it was used in the final product, as Carpenter decided to enrich some of the scenes with electronic tones of his own creation. The blend of symphonic and abstract is fascinating.
There are echoes of Vertigo in Angelo Badalamenti’s sweeping intro to the darkness of Blue Velvet. David Lynch’s magnum opus offers delirious psychological terror, an authentic slice of American gothic laced with unforgettable characters and the sweet promise of redemption lurking just around the corner.
At its best, the movie hints at an ever engulfing darkness beyond human imagination. When sunlight returns, Badalamenti’s minimalistic melodies — coupled with a carefully curated selection of oldies — become especially poignant.
A walking contradiction of a thriller, Basic Instinct is unrepentantly trashy, but can also turn slick, eerie and sophisticated when the mood strikes. It is the tension between the film’s Hollywood histrionics and the arty impulses of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven that makes it such compelling entertainment — together with Sharon Stone’s star-making performance. Verhoeven found a trusted ally in veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith (celebrated for 1976’s The Omen.) His sinuous opening theme is unforgettable, evoking the majestic frisson of a Hitchcock classic.
Beware of Scandinavian pagan rituals. Writer/director Ari Aster wrote this deeply disturbing, hallucinogenic nightmare of a film while listening to Excavation, a 2013 electronica album by British composer Bobby Krlic (aka The Haxan Cloak.) In a case of poetic justice, Krlic ended up writing the layered score to Midsommar – and the music itself plays a lead role in the narrative. Horror has rarely sounded this beautiful.
10 Essential James Bond Theme Songs: From Shirley Bassey To Sam Smith & Adele
Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images
Vevo LIFT program expands to add Bay Area event after four years in the U.K.
Three of today’s hottest up-and-coming artists we’ve spoken to recently will all come together in the Bay Area next month for Vevo’s special Halloween Event when Khalid, Julia Michaels and Aminé, join Jesse Reyes at San Francisco’s Craneway Pavillion on Oct. 28, as Vevo’s flagship Halloween event makes its American debut.

For the past four years, Vevo has presented this event in the U.K. with great success. This year’s U.K. show will take place in Manchester at Victoria Warehouse on the same day as the U.S. event. Performers for the U.K. event include Jonas Blue, JP Cooper, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and Yungen.

The U.S. show will offer 4,000 fans the chance to see this lineup of four of tomorrow’s stars as part of Vevo’s LIFT series, with a fifth performer still yet to be announced.
A statement from Vevo outlines the experience: “In addition to a night jam packed with new music, Vevo Halloween guests can expect to take a journey into the Other World, a parallel universe where nothing is quite what it seems, a place where reality and nightmares collide. There are sounds coming from the darkness. There are objects moving in the shadows. Something is watching and following your every step.”

Tickets are up for presale on Sept. 14 for only $5, available on Vevo’s site.
Exclusive Interview: Noah Cyrus on NC-17, Katy Perry
Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor
Photo: Brian Killian/WireImage.com
NIN frontman teams with GRAMMY-winning partner for a disturbingly modern take on the 'Halloween' theme
Among the creepiest pieces of music ever composed, John Carpenter’s main theme for 1978’s Halloween represents a perfect example of the seamless marriage of music and film. 

As if the theme couldn’t get any more disturbing, GRAMMY winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have reinterpreted the odd time-signature-based horror theme, giving it an eerie modern makeover.
Reznor and Ross’ version is among the tracks on Carpenter’s previously announced anthology, a set featuring both his classic film compositions and some newly recorded versions. Carpenter is also set to launch a mini tour to promote the project, kicking off Oct. 29 in Las Vegas. 
“To me, music is something you do to enhance the film,” Carpenter told the Los Angeles Times about his composition philosophy. “I didn’t think of it as an end to itself. I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to support the image.’ It was always utilitarian. I never thought that anybody would pay much attention to it.”
John Carpenter To Play Movie Themes On Tour
Explore how these soundtracks steered their films and left their mark on pop culture
It’s no secret that the 2017 crime film Baby Driver, directed by Edgar Wright, has steered its way into the zeitgeist, largely thanks to its killer soundtrack. And like a legacy of film music before it, Baby Driver‘s music is changing the soundtrack game.
Whether it’s the ’80s hip-hop of Do The Right Thing or the disco-driving tunes of Saturday Night Fever, music can often provide the boost to push the film into a class of its own. Covering more than 60 years of film music, check out this list of seven soundtracks that influenced generations of pop culture.
A heist-gone-wrong film, Wright’s Baby Driver taps heavy hitters from the ’70s with tracks from Queen, Beck, Barry White, and the Beach Boys, among many others — a total of 35 songs made it into the film. “You could describe Baby Driver as a car-chase movie set to rock and roll,” writes Variety. “Or, conversely, you could think of it as a playlist that happens to have a crime film attached.” And the film’s title? It’s Simon & Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver” from their Album Of The Year GRAMMY-winning Bridge Over Troubled Water — not to be confused with the KISS song of the same name.
This Coen Brothers classic follows three convicts who escape from a chain gang and chase buried treasure through 1930s Mississippi. Hilarity ensues, but what makes this film unique was its soundtrack based on music from the deep south, including folk, country and bluegrass. Produced by GRAMMY winner T Bone Burnett, O Brother, Where Art Thou earned an Album Of The Year GRAMMY for its participating musicians, including Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and the Fairfield Four. 

Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” read like a who’s who of rock royalty on Pulp Fiction‘s soundtrack. “The mixture of surf, soul and s*-talking that Quentin Tarantino assembled for Pulp Fiction‘s soundtrack played out like one of the world’s coolest mixtapes, which made it an instant classic,” writes Rolling Stone. While the soundtrack made commercial waves when it peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard 200, its lasting legacy comes from the retro surf-rock vibes of the film’s opener, Dick Dale’s 1962 breakout single “Mirislou,” which still sounds fresh decades later.
Hip-hop was still primarily an underground genre in the late ’80s, but Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing changed all that when Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” blasted first during the film’s opening credit roll, and then later straight from Radio Raheem’s boombox during the film’s climax. “Peppered with ‘new jack’ era slabs of wax from the likes of Public Enemy (the iconic “Fight The Power”), summer party staples from E.U. (“Party Hearty”) and Teddy Riley (“My Fantasy”), and deep slow jams from Perri and Al Jarreau, it’s the perfect background for a hot night in the city,” writes AllMusic.com.

From subcultures to the main stage, there was no better catalyst for disco than Saturday Night Fever. The primarily Bee Gees-penned album caught fire, earned four No. 1 singles and five GRAMMYs, including Album Of The Year for 1978. But what Robert Stigwood, film producer and head of the Bee Gees’ label RSO Records, effectively did was bring the genre to a white-hot peak. “Disco made an unexpected leap in the culture, from popular musical style to genuine phenomenon,” writes The Dissolve.
Behind the soundtrack: Saturday Night Fever
Shaft, in a word? Blaxploitation. Composer Isaac Hayes’ classic soul double album may contain primarily instrumentals, but that doesn’t lessen the soundtrack’s impact. The memorable “Theme From Shaft” — one of only three tracks with vocals on the LP — not only won composer Isaac Hayes a GRAMMY, it also earned him an Oscar and became the best-selling record for Stax in its history. Shaft paved the way for other greats in the Blaxploitation genre, such as Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly, and, as A.V. Club says, “fomented a soundtrack revolution.”
If you aren’t creeped out by Psycho‘s iconic murderous shower screen, complete with high-pitched scratching violins courtesy of composer Bernard Herrmann, you’re stronger than we are. No stranger to Alfred Hitchcock films, including Vertigo and North By Northwest, Herrmann turned up the dial to 100 for Psycho with just spooky stringed instruments. The film’s music has become synonymous with terror, and even Hitchcock had to admit, “33 percent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.”

Which film soundtrack do you think made the biggest impact? Vote below!

Slipknot at the 2006 GRAMMYs
Photo: Danny Clinch
Happy Halloween! Check out this epic reel of some of the most Oct. 31st-ready looks from across the years at the GRAMMYs
Today may officially be Halloween, but the artists in the below video prove you can rock your spookiest and most outlandish outfits anywhere, including on the GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMYs red carpet and stage. If you’re still in need of a last-minute Halloween costume, this video will provide plenty of inspiration.
In the video you’ll spot Lady Gaga‘s famous golden egg, which she was carried in across the 53rd GRAMMY Awards red carpet, giving birth to a fabulous “Born This Way” performance later that evening. You’ll also find Sia rocking one of her iconic giant face-obscuring wigs and Daft Punk and the Blue Man Group (at the 2012 Latin GRAMMYs) just being themselves as they walk the carpet. 

There are so many electric and eccentric looks packed into the one-minute video, so let’s review a few more. The chrome and gold versions of the elusive French electronic duo’s helmets were the ones they looked sleek in on the carpet at the 56th GRAMMY Awards in 2014. Evidently, being a robot is probably harder than we think, and they later changed into white helmets and suits for their funk-filled performance with Stevie Wonder, Nile Rogers and Pharrell Williams. This dynamic crew later took home Album Of The Year and Best Dance/Electronica Album, among other wins, for Random Access Memories.
Near the end of this video, you’ll find Williams donning his infamous sky-high tan hat with a red Adidas track jacket, his GRAMMY look that year. In this reel, you’ll also see CeeLo Green being CeeLo, on stage in a Carnival-meets-Knights-at-the-Roundtable ensemble during his performance of “Forget You” at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards, which also featured the Muppets and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The one and only Madonna channels a matador and Marie Antoinette at the 57th GRAMMYs, while Kanye West and Jamie Foxx suit up for the marching band during their performance of Ye’s GRAMMY-winning hit “Gold Digger” at the 48th GRAMMY Awards in 2006. You’ll also see funk legend Bootsy Collins posing with metal guitar slayer—and KFC bucket wearing—Buckethead, as well as fellow mask-concealing hard rockers Slipknot, who pose with their gramophones for Best Metal Performance in 2006. Finally, it would be sacrilegious on this day to not pay tribute to Nicki Minaj serving up Little Red Riding Hood couture in her 2012 Versace gown, alongside a Pope look-alike.
Happy Halloween!
Sir Babygirl On Her Brand Of Surrealist Pop, Covering Kesha & “Being A Little Elf Playing Flute In The Fkin’ Forest”
@ 2022 – Recording Academy. All rights reserved.
Some of the content on this site expresses viewpoints and opinions that are not those of the Recording Academy and its Affiliates. Responsibility for the accuracy of information provided in stories not written by or specifically prepared for the Academy and its Affiliates lies with the story's original source or writer. Content on this site does not reflect an endorsement or recommendation of any artist or music by the Recording Academy and its Affiliates.


About Summ

Check Also

The best movies leaving Netflix, HBO, and more in March to watch now – Polygon

Use your Google Account Forgot email?Not your computer? Use a private browsing window to sign …