Shrieking violins, plaintive cellos, and spooky percussive sounds are surely emanating from your television set, now with Halloween around the corner. These 11 scary movie scores use classical music, or classical composers to bone-chilling effect. (Please note that the video clips may not be suitable for young children, or those with a low threshold for spookiness.)
1. ‘The Shining’
Stanley Kubrick used Bela Bartok’s crystalline and unnerving Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta in “The Shining,” as its main characters wander the haunted halls of the Overlook Hotel. Krzysztof Penderecki’s Polymorphia also added disturbing audio.
2. ‘Silence of the Lambs’
Bach never seemed more cool and calculated as when it’s savored by psychotic serial murderers. In “The Silence of the Lambs,” the Goldberg Variations accompany Hannibal Lecter’s finely tuned escape plan.
Among his more than 40 film scores, Philip Glass composed the music for the 1992 slasher flick, “Candyman.” Glass’s signature style amplifies the hypnotic powers of the eponymous antihero. More cheerfully, the score continues to provide the composer with royalty checks.
4. ‘The Exorcist’
Numerous 20th century compositions helped creep out audiences in William Friedkin’s 1973 classic, most notably the spine-tingling George Crumb’s Black Angels, and several eerie contributions by Krzysztof Penderecki.
Without its great Bernard Herrmann score, Alfred Hitchcock’s great masterpiece, “Psycho,” may never have petrified generations of Americans, and made them particularly wary of stepping into showers.
6. ‘A Clockwork Orange’
Whereas other films use music as accompaniment to the onscreen action, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a force in itself in this Kubrick masterpiece, motivating violence and destruction.
7. ‘Black Swan’
With Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at the center of this Darren Aronofsky suspense flick, it’s no surprise that the chilling transformation of the main character into her evil self plays out to the Act IV climax in the score.
8. ‘The Hunger’
Tony Scott turns Delibes’s dreamy “Flower Duet” from Lakme into a much more nefarious refrain in this steamy horror film from the 1980s, starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Sarandon.
9. ‘Shutter Island’
Consider us surprised when Gustav Mahler got a shout-out in Martin Scorcese’s movie about a mysterious insane asylum that dredges up memories of concentration camps.
10. ‘Mephisto Waltz’
Named for the eponymous Franz Liszt composition, this 1971 horror film stars Alan Alda as a music journalist who befriends and is later possessed by a pianist and member of a satanic cult. Liszt’s music courses through the film.
This Japanese anthology, which roughly translates to “Ghost Stories,” was meticulously and sparingly scored by the acclaimed avant-gardist Toru Takemitsu, who, like Bernard Herrmann, turned his music into a standalone and very scary suite.
Watch a creepy clip below and tell us in the comments: What’s your favorite use of classical music in scary movies?