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In the Shadows: The Changing Nature of Horror Music

Darin Bradley

Modern horror composers really know how to get under your skin. Find out how they do it, then elevate your Halloween projects with our handpicked royalty-free tracks.

The horror and thriller genres have inspired some of the most memorable film scores in history. Think the ominous choral chants in Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen soundtrack. Of course, who can forget Bernard Herrmann’s violin stingers from the shower scene in Psycho? The technique elicits a primal reaction — almost as if the high-pitched slashing violins are stabbing us, the viewers.

In the Shadows: The Changing Nature of Horror Music — Psycho

Image via Psycho (Paramount).

Like any form of music, film scores have evolved over time. Today, horror and thriller soundtrack composers strive to affect viewers on a subconscious level. Rather than going the traditional orchestral-only route, they get under your skin with creative, unnerving musical techniques.

By taking more of a “sound design” approach, contemporary horror and suspense composers use unique and unexpected sounds to mimic breathing, heartbeats, creaky floorboards, and more. Such an approach means that viewers may not be aware of the score while watching the film; rather, it has a deeper, more primal effect.

In the Shadows: The Changing Nature of Horror Music — Sicario

Image via Sicario (Lionsgate).

The late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score to Sicario is an excellent example. His relentlessly thrilling soundtrack simmers just under the surface with heartbeat drums, unexpected instrumentation, and the occasional explosive synth effect to make you jump out of your seat.

Or for full-blown horror score examples, take a listen to Marco Beltrami’s A Quiet Place or Annihilation by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. Both scores harness the contemporary “sound design” approach — and both will definitely stay with you long after the end credits roll.

In the Shadows: The Changing Nature of Horror Music — Annihilation

Image via Annihilation (Paramount).

To help amplify the frights in your horror and thriller videos, we’ve curated a seriously chilling soundtrack of our own. Inspired by modern film score trends, these tracks are bound to take your work to dark places. Scare your viewers with the ominous synth drones of “The Portal” or with the unsettling distorted drum effects used in “Dark Robot.” Take a listen to the full hand-picked playlist below.

In the Shadows
In the Shadows
Up the tension with unnerving, modern horror music.