OcTerror · Reviews

Pumpkin Songs: 31 Terrifying Tunes


One of the key aspects of a horror movie is the soundtrack. The right music can turn a scary scene into a bite-your-nails-off fright fest. The right music can juxtapose a person being murdered with a children’s lullaby. The right music will serve to elevate the movie to a new level of horror, to comment deeper on its theme, or to highlight what it going on without distracting. There are a million and one great examples of this happening, but this list will try to eliminate the more obvious examples—Tubular Bells and the themes from Halloween and Friday the 13th—and help expand your horror movie music.

    1. “Emergency” by Aimee Allen from Sorority Row. The soundtrack for this film is full of club-ready, heavy-bass music to elevate the party atmosphere that serves as the background for most of the action. This song plays after the climax of the film, where the Final Girls strut across the grass all epic-like, and is a great elevation of the situation.
    2. “Hello Zepp” by Charlie Clouser from Saw. Everyone who’s a fan of the gore porn series will recognize this song the second it begins. Usually signaling some kind of plot twist near the end of any of the movies, “Hello Zepp” manages to convey terror, intelligence, and a plan come to fruition. In any of the sequels, the second it begins it starts a heart-thumping montage of horror.
    3. “Perfection” by Clint Mansell from Black Swan. I’m a sucker for climactic music obviously, but this one works at two levels. A) It borrows from the finale music of the ballet itself and B) It takes all of the musical levels of the film and elevates them to the next level. The action is beautiful to watch and it ends the film in a beautiful, suspenseful, and, well, perfect way.
    4. “Happy Together” by Filter from The Stepfather. While I have not yet seen this film, this song from the soundtrack is one of those covers that takes a happy, normal song and makes it terrifying. You don’t want to end up together with the singer of this song, and what should be romantic lyrics are screamed in a possessive and terrible nature.
    5. “Through the Trees” by Low Shoulder from Jennifer’s Body. While this song serves as a plot device it also is a larger metaphor for the story itself. The soundtrack for Jennifer’s Body is one of my favorites, and this song is catchy as hell. The initial scene with the song serves as the inciting incident of the film, but it’s played throughout in a variety ways (even as elevator music).
    6. “Cry Little Sister” by G Tom Mac from The Lost Boys. Serving as the opening for one of the most iconic vampire films of all time, this rock ballad contains children singing and lustful lyrics. It’s a winning combination. While this song was covered by Aiden for the sequels, the original has that 1980’s rock vibe that reinvigorated the vampire genre and made way for Lestat and others.
    7. “Promise (Reprise)” by Konami Kukeiha Club from Silent Hill. This film was lucky in that it had music from its inspiration to borrow from. One of my favorite video game adaptations, this lullaby-like piano music is both calming and creepy. It’s great to listen to while walking in the snow and you feel as if creepy creatures will pop up at any moment.
    8. “Rosemary’s Baby” by Krzysztof Komeda from Rosemary’s Baby. The great thing about this classic horror theme is that it’s both calming and suspenseful at the same time. Rosemary’s singing serves as a balm for the pain to come, but the sharp notes that jump out of the song suggest that something is wrong. There is a creepier cover by the band Fantomas, but the original is still the best when it comes to the tone and theme of motherhood throughout the film.
    9. “Ear of the Corn” by Jonathan Elias and Nathanial Morgan from Children of the Corn. Using the horror music trope of children singing, this theme works to elevate the creepiness of the kids in Galveston while also paying homage to the religious aspects of the film. While the main theme is changed up a little for each of the sequels, the more electronic version and the original are my preferences.
    10. “I Put a Spell on You” by Marilyn Manson from The Cabin in the Woods. Used in the trailer for one of my favorite horror films, Marilyn Manson’s cover of this spooktastic song serves to hint at the subplot of the film while also matching beats with the action that’s played. It’s an amazing cover of the song and seems more possessive and threatening than the more romantic versions.
    11. “Sweet Child of Mine” by Taken by Trees from The Last House on the Left. Also used in the trailer for this film, this lullaby cover of the Guns ‘N Roses song emphasizes the things parents will do for their children. It’s a sweet song on its own and wouldn’t be considered scary without the violent footage it goes with. I’m a big fan of covers and this is a good one with or without the film.
    12. Ave Maria” by Schubert from American Mary. Used throughout the film, this classic opera serves to juxtapose the violence and gore that goes with it. It’s a beautiful track, emphasizing the physical beauty of protagonist Mary, but it also makes the violence seem more elegant and righteous.
    13. “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed from You’re Next. While the song used in the film is different from this one used in the same scenes in the trailer, I think that this one is better. They both juxtapose the violence, but this one also comments on the idea of perfection and what happiness really is. The family at the core of the film seem like the kind of people this song would apply to, but the act of breaking apart their perfection makes it oh so satisfying.
    14. “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds from Scream. This is pretty much the de facto theme for the series and Nick Cave did a separate edit of the song from his own original. It’s a playful, yet creepy song that heightens the tension of a town plagued by a serial killer. It’s used a few more times in other parts of the series, but its first appearance is still the best.
    15. “Lie, Lie, Lie” by Serj Tankian from Fear Itself. While not an especially popular or long-lived show, Fear Itself had a creepy opening sequence that used this song by System of a Down’s lead singer. While only the chorus and music is used for the opening, the song as a whole is pretty darn creepy. The images that go with it are timed nicely and I honestly can’t imagine a different theme song.
    16. “How Can I?” by Charli XCX from Elfie Hopkins: Cannibal Hunter. Used for the end credits of the film, this song contributes to the final atmosphere of the film. There’s a sense of hopelessness to the lyrics that fits well and it works better for the film than the other song that Charli XCX contributed. While this British horror film didn’t make much of an impact overseas, the music and cinematography helped make this one a winner for me.
    17. “Hip to be Square” by Huey Lewis & the News from American Psycho. When most people think of this film, they think of the scene between Jared Leto and Christian Bale that involves this song. This is juxtaposition at its finest and the character of Patrick Bateman does a wonderful job of explaining its own significance to the action at hand. Definitely one of those songs that you’ll never hear the same way again, but it’s worth it for the horrifying laugh that will come out of your mouth.
    18. “Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Boogeyman” by Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra from Jeepers Creepers. I’m sure that once upon a time this was an innocent, cute song that wasn’t creepy or terrifying. That time is over. It will never not be creepy now. Thanks in part to this film and our contemporary love of taking vintage songs and making them horrifying, Henry Hall’s song about how to defeat the boogeyman seems like lame advice.
    19. “The Door Opens” by Marco Beltrami from The Woman in Black. The score for this film is really well done and it was hard to pick a single tune for the list, but I remember well how terrified I was when this song began. Using the accompaniment of a rocking chair, Beltrami amplifies the suspense of the moment and draws it out to a jump scare conclusion.
    20. “The X-Files” by Mark Snow from The X-Files. No song has terrified me for longer or harder than this one. I’ve never even seen the show. There’s an early episode of The Simpsons where this song plays and when I was little I’d run under the bed for the entire duration. I don’t know what it is about the song that just inspires such horror, but I do know that it makes me think of aliens and what’s out there beyond our knowledge.
    21. “Requiem in D Minor, K 626, Lacrymosa” by Mozart from The Lords of Salem. While this is not the song at the center of the film, Mozart’s piece definitely elevates the scene it takes place in. It makes what’s happening more surreal and imaginative, but also beautiful in a twisted way. While Rob Zombie frequently uses his own music in his films, I think this selection worked out in a surprising way.
    22. “OMG Really” by Jacqueline Irvine from Scream the TV Series. Used in the series promo after the first episode, this song helped to place the contemporary setting and played with that tongue-in-cheek, viewer knowledge that has defined the Scream series. It doesn’t have the same effect of “Red Right Hand” but did a nice job with what the show has going for it.
    23. “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by Harry Belafonte from Beetlejuice. While there are two Harry Belafonte songs used in the film, I made the more obvious choice and went with the possession scene. This is probably one of the funnier uses of juxtaposition and matches the tone of the film well. It’s one of the more memorable aspects of the film and is a delight to watch and listen to.
    24. “End Credits” by Bruno Coulais & The Children’s Choir of Nice from Coraline. Like many of the films on this list, Coraline has a killer soundtrack. It’s a playful, fun track that matches the adventure, creep factor, and fun of the film that comes before it. It sounds like spiders going up and down the walls and pin needles stitching through fabric.
    25. “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes from The Final Girls. Most modern horror films won’t touch music from the 1980s because it’s hard to make it scary. While the scene that contains this song isn’t really horrifying, it’s a touching and beautiful moment that fits with the thematic use of the song within the film. It’s also catchy as hell. There are other great music moments from The Final Girls, but this one is the best and will be the saddest striptease you’ll ever watch.
    26. Tonight You Belong to Me” by Patience and Prudence from American Horror Story. There is a lot of popular music to choose from in the six seasons of this show, but I chose the first song played in the first episode because it set precedence for what to expect. It took a cute song and turned it into a killer bookend for the first season that speaks about what and who owns us.
    27. “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC from Final Destination 2. Remember as one of the best car crash sequences in cinematic history, the suspense and horror couldn’t have built without the use of his classic rock song. It’s literally a highway to hell that the characters are riding on and can’t exit off of. It’s a fun song and goes well with the unique type of horror that the Final Destination films offer.
    28. “This is Halloween” by Danny Elfman from The Nightmare Before Christmas. What kind of October music list would be complete without the pumpkin song? One of the best openings of any kid’s Halloween film, it introduces us to the world and characters in a fun, spooky way. There have been great covers of this by Panic at the Disco and Marilyn Manson, but Danny Elfman is the true O.G. behind the soundtrack and deserves the credit.
    29. Bad Moon Rising” by Mourning Ritual from Green Room. The use of this cover in the trailer helps to advertise it as an adventure/horror film with an emphasis on bad luck and survival. It’s a backwoods tune that makes this stand-off between Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart seem more epic, and it definitely sells the film.
    30. “Waterfalls” by TLC from Scream Queens. Matching the parody nature of the show, the ongoing emphasis on “Waterfalls” to the plot and flashbacks gives it a higher placement than some of the other tracks used with success in the series. It also delivers one of the funniest scenes and reminds us that nothing gets between a sorority girl and her jam. Scream Queens just gave us another good excuse to listen to this amazing song.
    31. “Beautiful Dreamer” by Unknown from The Green Inferno. I couldn’t find any information on who performs this cover, but this track used in the trailer for the SJW-bashing film makes a gorgeous companion to the images of a plane crash that traps a bunch of young people with a cannibalistic tribe. It’s beautiful and sounds like good intentions taken to the wrong place.

This October make sure to listen to some terrifying tunes to get in the mood for horror movies and trick-or-treating. It’s not hard to find thousands of soundtracks, scores, and songs to mix into a playlist, but I’ve done some of the work. Find the playlist here (warning there are some spoilers) and sit back, don’t relax, and be scared.

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