The very best film music can thrive without the film…even if the film cannot thrive without it. Don’t believe me? Try watching Blade Runner without those lush synthesizers from Vangelis, then we can talk.
The music from many of the greatest horror and sci-fi films is more available than ever these days on Spotify, who has been leading the way in putting much of this amazing, hard to find music right at our fingertips. So whether you’re a star gazer or a night creeper, you are sure to find just what you need. Below is a list, in no specific order, of the greatest ORIGINAL scores Spotify has to offer from many of the best horror/sci-fi films ever made.
If Spotify is not your thing, many of these titles have also been issued on vinyl in recent years and I have taken the liberty of noting that for you, so hit up your local record store and ask. Trust me, that guy with the Carrie tattoo behind the counter would love to tell you all about the genius of Pino Donaggio. Happy listening!
Maniac (2012) – Rob
Who the hell is Rob? I had no intention of seeing this remake of the classic sick-fest from 1980, but then I gave this score a listen and that changed…which is the highest praise available. Rob plays with the synth sound of the 80’s and drags it straight through the gutter, but always with a delicate sense of regret. It’s a unique and disturbing sound that elevates a pretty good horror into another category all together. Available on frosty 180g vinyl courtesy of Death Waltz Records.
Serenity (2005) – David Newman
When Joss Whedon resurrected his little-seen TV show Firefly into this movie, he got pretty much everything right. That includes using this original score from David Newman, who keys on shorter bursts of ambience and tonal layers here, occasionally drifting into proper thematic elements that truly resonate. All efforts are made in the pursuit of not stepping on Whedon’s crackerjack dialogue, and to great effect. Sadly no vinyl here. Maybe they will release it with a long awaited sequel? Hold your breath.
Eraserhead (1977) – David Lynch & Alan R. Splet
Moody and uneasy, this is not so much a score as it is a collection of despairing thoughts translated through a prism of musical tones, yet there is nothing else that could match and even enhance the pitch black tone of Lynch’s first feature. The world was not ready for the music in Lynch’s head and it never will be. This is great headphone music for a late night walk. No really…it is. What? This was issued most recently on 180g vinyl by Sacred Bones Records in 2012. Lots of special features with this one as well.
Moon 2009 (2009) – Clint Mansell
This would have been a very good Sci-Fi film without Mansell’s score. With it, it’s one of the best films of any genre from the past decade. Great film composers understand that they are chiefly responsible for helping maintain a specific atmosphere. The thick, percussive, two-note theme Mansell contributes here really beefs up the isolated tone of this film, but never draws too much attention to itself. Rumor has it that Mansell recorded this music entirely on his own, and that sense of isolation really shows through. This is currently available on vinyl from Black records and is totally worth you dropping some coin on.
Alien (1979) – Jerry Goldsmith
Speaking of isolation, it’s time I got to one of the big dogs of genre scores with Goldsmith’s work on this film. A fascinating musical achievement, the music is asked to work a both as sci-fi and horror score. That it achieves both, utilizing nothing but acoustic instrumentation makes this one of the more fascinating musical exercises in film history. That it was mostly undone in the final film by a bullheaded filmmaker is a story unto itself. That the film and music still work so well in spite of that tinkering is the true testament to Goldsmith’s achievement. The streaming version is the 2007 release, fully restored to the composer’s original vision and is well worth a listen. This version was also issued on vinyl from the fine people at Intrada.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) – Perry Boykin
I was 8 when I snuck out of bed to watch this movie on late night HBO. Let’s just say that Christmas that year was…difficult. That I still remember how bonkers the music was so many years later is something that surprised even me. Somehow, Boykin managed create a score both cheery and menacing. It’s the sort of stuff that sticks with you. I was stoked to find this little gem on Spotify so I could once again face those Christmas demons. Hi-fives to everyone at Death Waltz Records for putting this one out on vinyl last year. Here’s a little taste if you’re interested.
Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977) – John Williams
It’s impossible to make a list of sci-fi scores and leave John Williams out. It is not impossible, however, to leave out Star Wars. I’m choosing Close Encounters here because the success of the film seems to ride so completely on the shoulders of the 5 notes Williams chooses for our point of first contact with, you know, alien life. I simply cannot imagine the fights between Spielberg and Williams deciding just which notes were right…but they nailed it. Those notes do cast a shadow on the rest of the score, though, which is a shame as it’s some of Williams’ best work. This one can probably be found on vinyl with a little bin-diving at your local record store.
Suspiria (1977) – Goblin
Dark and heavy, Goblin’s score for Dario Argento’s strongest work begins with the lullaby you probably had nightmares about as a kid…and it only gets heavier from there. The score is relentless in its terrifying pursuits and is matched only by the intensely visual world Argento places it in. It’s also a fantastic album on it’s own and well worth a listen. Available on vinyl, but you might actually have to kill someone to get it.
The Matrix (1999) – Don Davis
Oh shut up. You still love this movie as much as I do and you know it. It’s a movie that changed the game and Davis’s deeply paranoid orchestral-techno vibe really gave the film some extra depth and helped push it beyond pure eye candy and pseudo-philosophy. I still get chills when I hear those opening horns. No vinyl here, but that’s sort of the point I think.
Les Revenants (2012) – Mogwai
Mogwai!!! I absolutely adore this band. Their output in the last decade in particular has been quite fascinating. So, while I wasn’t surprised when they decided to score a French zombie drama, I continue to be surprised by just how effective their music is in it. A show drowning in a deep sense of loss and dread and Mogwai tailor their particular brand of post-rock grandiose to fully flesh out (this is totally a pun) those darker nuances in the story telling. The opening title theme is a killer. Great headphone music and also available on vinyl from Mogwai’s own label, Rock Action.
Donnie Darko (2001) – Michael Andrews
Too much was made of the soundtrack to this movie as not nearly enough was said about the score. A deeply moody and daring film, Andrews’ finds a completely original soul for it in the dark corners of every room, every mind and every reality. Nothing is off limits here for Andrews and he uses every tool at his disposal while creating a world that is both known to us and a complete mystery. And then he tops if off with a devastating cover of the Tears for Fears classic Mad Word, featuring vocal work from Gary Jules. This is best enjoyed through in a dimly lit room. I was pleased to find that this one is available on vinyl from Everloving Records. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
Primer (2004) – Shane Carruth
Time-travel storytelling at it’s best. Carruth’s uber-low budget, wholly DIY masterpiece is bolstered by the twinkling tones he composed himself. Admittedly, he’s not the strongest composer on this list, but he’s one of the most effective. Mostly confined to the background, it’s film music at its simplest and most involving with a deep sense of dread and an even deeper sense of wonder. This is a small film with lofty ideas and the music sits firmly in your psyche throughout. No vinyl here. Count yourself lucky this is available at all.
Let the Right One In (2008) – Johan Söderqvist
Swedish vampires are dark, man. Really dark. The film itself is dense, surprisingly sweet and pretty much flawless. Söderqvist’s compositions are it’s equal and then some. The songs here capture what it means to be young, to be alone, to not be alone, to have regret and to be in love. It’s overwhelming stuff emotionally, but it’s also moody and creepy as hell when it matters. Death Waltz proudly released this on vinyl in 2012 and it’s totally worth a little bit of your money. Here’s a taste.
Under the Skin (2014) – Mica Levi
My vote for most unnerving score in history. A film heavy on visual tones and physical performances it’s also really light on dialogue. Something extra was needed to help convey the deep sense of doom that infests this world and Levi swings for the fences here. Scotland has never felt so bleak. Opening track Creation sets a jarring and eerie tone for the film and walks us straight into the void from whence it came. Levi’s work here is a daring, destructive and ultimately heartbreaking ride. Available on vinyl from Milan Records if you are feeling brave.
Halloween (1978) – John Carpenter
In my opinion the greatest horror film ever made, it also features my favorite horror score from Carpenter himself. The main title theme is the stuff of legend, but go back and give a listen to the rest of the music here and you may be quite pleased, or completely on edge. My personal favorite is Laurie’s Theme. It’s dark and dangerous and not at all what you would think for the virginal hero of the film. Carpenter pulled no punches on this, his 3rd film, and even if he’s pulled a few since, this one was well worth it. It’s available on vinyl, but it is pricey and even the 2013 re-issue is a bit hard to find. A little digging on Discogs may be in order.
Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann
It’s good to be the king, and that’s just what Herrmann is. The composer of so many of films greatest and most eerie music (he scored Citizen Kane,Taxi Driver and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad for pete’s sake!) he is probably best know for his work on this classic thriller. If you’ve seen the film, then you know why this is here. If you haven’t, well, you probably wasted your time reading this article. Apparently long out of print, this one is being released on vinyl March 17th courtesy of Doxy records.