I find it difficult not to give the number one spot over to that classic slasher film that birthed the infamous killer known as Michael Myers, and tonight is no exception. The rightly-celebrated Halloween theme is as iconic as Bernard Hermann’s Psycho or John Williams’s Jaws. If Alfred Hitchcock can credit Hermann for 33% of the frightening effect of Psycho, Carpenter can credit himself for saving his movie with a terrifying score. Even divorced from the film, those quick, high piano notes overlayed with long, low tones (and that ever present staccato chirp underscoring the whole thing), instill a feeling of dread and foreboding.
The orchestrations of prior horror films, most notably the Hammer Studios films, were frenetic and uptempo, something more suited to an action movie today. Williams mostly avoided this zealous use of horns and frantic strings, preferring instead the sweeping romanticism that has since become a hallmark of the Dracula story.