How to Create Background Music For the Horror Film Genre

How to use music soundtrack to underscore Fear, Horror, Evil

The most effective and frightening example of background music I can think of is from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho.  Famed soundtrack composer, Bernard Herrmann, created a chilling effect using piercing and screeching violins played in their highest registers.  As the film progresses, when you hear that sound cue repeated, you know something really bad is going to happen.

Another famous cue that works in a similar way is the 3-note phrase in the low string orchestra that announces the presence of the killer shark in the first Jaws film.

Soundtrack moments like the one in Psycho are great for portraying outright evil and horror but underscoring the feeling of fear can be done in subtle ways too.

Ordinary Actions become Extraordinary

Sometimes the background music notifies the audience that what they are seeing has a darker meaning.  The soundtrack for the movie Michael Clayton does this very well.  The on-screen events are quite ordinary – a woman is getting dressed for work – yet she is accompanied by a chilling soundtrack.

The music acts against the scene, contrary to it.  It is telling us that these events are not ordinary and have importance beyond their outright appearance.  In fact, the music is telling us that these normal events are somehow scary.  Something terrible is going to happen.

The Audience Knows a Secret

Sometimes the audience is let in on a secret, maybe a dark secret, that the central characters in the story don’t yet know about.  You watch as events unfold and you see them getting further and further into trouble.  Here again, a dark or suspenseful underscore can work wonders by building the tension against what is happening on screen.

The Inner Struggle

Let’s say, in your story, your main character, a salesman, is boarding an airplane but we in the audience already know he has a terrible fear of flying.  The flight attendants are welcoming families and other travelers on board the plane.  The airplane cabin is filled with rather innocuous, but pleasant background music.  Then we cut to the main character boarding the plane.  Now the music changes to full-on frightening, horror soundtrack.  The music portrays his inner psychology – his feelings of fear.

News Event/World Crisis

If you create documentaries or news programming, then you may need, at times, to show painful footage from current world events.  This is another time where dark underscore works well.  It sets the underlying emotional atmosphere for the accompanying footage.

Part of every media producer’s soundtrack arsenal includes the ability to underscore fright, fear, and events that are difficult or harrowing.  Horror music tracks are like the dark colors, the dark shades in your soundtrack toolkit. Using them paints a chilly or terrifying picture.

Some horror soundtracks from UniqueTracks.com.  These stock music soundtracks also work for any Halloween productions you may be working on.


Premium Stock Music for Film, TV, Advertising and Interactive. Editor-selected, Easy Search, Fast Results UniqueTracks has a vast library of music loops and grooves plus a large selection of classical production music available for licensing into your production.

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