12 nigh-on-unlistenable soundtrack cues to freak you out this Halloween

Punish your brain with our selection of some of the nastiest, most disturbing cacophonies from anime, film, and video game soundtracks. You’re welcome!

By Thomas Quillfeldt

It’s that time of year when right-minded people get the itch to freak themselves out with scary games, films, books, etc.

Since we published a straightforward Halloween playlist last year, and more recently highlighted some hellish game music to celebrate the physical release of the DOOM (2016) soundtrack, we thought we’d go a bit broader this time — broader, and a bit nastier.

Below are some truly awful music cues from across films, games, and anime that are knowingly horrible — like a cheese grater on the eardrums. We listened to every second of every track, and now need a mental enema.

A quick musical observation: it seems to be the string section of the orchestra that composers utilise the most to aurally freak out an audience. Perhaps this is the continued legacy of Bernard Herrmann’s famous use of violins to underscore that scene in Psycho.

Here’s a handy YouTube playlist of all the tracks below, carefully curated to provide the absolute minimum of listening pleasure.

"Lonely Void" from Under The Skin

Film // Composer: Mica Levi

Sounds like: Fingers scraping on a chalkboard whilst a drunkard thumps plastic pots with animal carcasses

Bit of background:

Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 sexy-ish sci-fi film Under the Skin sees Scarlett Johansson seducing isolated Scotsmen — for sinister reasons, alas, not out of sympathy. A bit of a box office flop, the film apparently wasn’t cheap enough to make it ultra-profitable, nor mainstream enough to attract a wider audience.

The classically-trained Mica Levi (aka Micachu) principally used the black sheep of the string section — the viola — in a number of sonically interesting ways to create disturbing music for a disturbing story. As a soundtrack album, it’s a surprisingly compelling listen, if you’re in the mood.

"Terror in the Tunnels" and “Wings of Hell” from the Silent Hill series

Game // Composer: Akira Yamaoka

Sounds like: A building site overrun by killer robots who’ve decided that buzzsaws and other power tools would be an efficient way to dismember their victims

Bit of background:

Akira Yamaoka is a staple of our horror-focused lists because of the twin musical strands of his brilliantly effective Silent Hill scores: on the one hand, he creates anxious, downtempo electronica and rock tracks beloved by fans; on the other hand, his brand of industrial noise is key to selling the series’ hell dimension.

Yamaoka’s range of clanging horror cues starts at ‘unpleasant’ and ends up at ‘Guantanamo Bay means of torture’. Mind you, “Terror in the Tunnels” is a warm and fuzzy nursery rhyme compared to “Wings of Hell”.

"Pete's Boogie" from Eraserhead

Film // Composer: David Lynch and Alan Splet

Sounds like: A stoned hammond organ player meets a lost whale in a trainyard at night

Bit of background:

David Lynch’s first feature — Eraserhead — released in 1977, and it’s a challenging watch in part because of its relentlessly dark tone and body horror. The film’s reputation has soared in the decades since, and it has influenced creators including H. R. Giger, Stanley Kubrick, and Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man).

The director worked with sound designer Alan Splet to evoke the post-industrial decay of Philadelphia — think abandoned warehouses beneath overcast skies. He said of the city: "...when I was there it was a very sick, twisted, violent, fear-ridden, decadent, decaying place." The industrial soundtrack was clearly one of the inspirations for Nine Inch Nails’ sound and image; indeed, Trent Reznor and Lynch have gone on to work together a few times in various capacities.

“Gravelord Nito” from Dark Souls

Game // Composer: Motoi Sakuraba

Sound like: An orchestra, a choir, and a harpsichordist walk into bar… But it’s not really a bar, it’s a portal to hell

Bit of background:

Of the ‘Soulsborne’ series by From Software, Bloodborne’s aesthetic and soundtrack is the most obviously horror-inspired. However, this cue from Dark Souls, which accompanies a boss fight at the bottom of the Catacombs with the Lord of Death, is not exactly sunlight and kittens.

Sakuraba uses all sorts of techniques across all his musicians to get the darkest sound possible. Particularly effecting is when, at 0:40, the choir recreates the ghostly effect of the wind howling through an old, empty building.

“T1000 Terminated” from Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Film // Composer: Brad Fiedel

Sounds like: A toddler randomly pressing keys on a synthesiser, whilst the composer patches in the nastiest  sounds possible

Bit of background:

This is a bit of a personal favourite, mainly for some of the particular sound effects built into the score.

The sound-world of The Terminator universe was well established by the sequel — all brooding synths, industrial noises, and percussion stabs. When Robert Patrick’s terrifying T1000 finally meets its end at the denouement of Judgement Day, amidst the choral Sturm und Drang are elements of mysticism and alienness in the score. As far as the music suggests, the lethally effective metallic hunter is somehow more than a machine: it’s an ancient creature from the underworld.

“Terror from the Water II” from Resident Evil: Revelations

Game // Composer: Kota Suzuki

Sounds like: A school’s broken heating system shrieks violently into echoing, empty hallways, as hordes of rats squeak their displeasure at being rudely awakened

Bit of background:

Resident Evil: Revelations was a post-Resi 5 attempt to bring the series back to its horror roots; as well as produce a good-looking handheld entry in the series on the new (at the time in 2012) Nintendo 3DS.

This cue, by one of the game’s three composers, emulates the metallic cacophony of the Silent Hill series; adds the shrill strings of horror cinema; and underpins it with a layer of bass mush that sounds like Kota Suzuki sat on all 20 of the lowest piano notes.

“Saber-tooth” from Made In Abyss

Anime // Composer: Kevin Penkin

Sounds like: A seven-foot tall rampaging Yeti with blood around its maw finds you cowering behind the woodshed; you scramble to run away through the snow, gradually slowing as the deep snow saps your strength

Bit of background:

Australian composer Kevin Penkin recently produced a beautiful, delicate score for the mobile hit Florence, developed by Monument Valley lead designer Ken Wong. He’s also worked with original Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu on various projects.

Penkin’s also been making a name for himself in the anime world, having composed the Crunchyroll Anime Award-winning original score for Made in Abyss. Based on a Manga of the same name, the show is about an orphan and a robot descending into a giant pit on a rescue mission. The soundtrack has many different emotional colours to it, including, as evidenced by “Sabre Tooth”, the musical equivalent of the statement: ‘we’re definitely about to get ripped to shreds and have our intestines gnawed on’.

“Bilge Pump” from Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Game // Composer: Jessica Curry

Sounds like: A group of putrescent giants drag enormous heavy metal objects across a factory floor

Bit of background:

And you thought Jessica Curry’s music was all touchy-feely, la-di-da, English country garden flowery fluff, right? WRONG!

Here she is scraping your eardrums like the low-down, dirty, anarcho-noize artist she was clearly born to be. The Chinese Room’s second game (sandwiched between Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture) was a sequel to the landmark survival horror title Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Machine For Pigs focuses on themes of ‘madness, industrialisation, and the darkest secrets of the soul’ on the eve of the 20th Century. So that’s nice.

“Dive-bomb Blues” from Mandy

Film // Composer: Jóhann Jóhannsson

Sounds like: An industrial metal band’s writing session the day after the respective spouse of every single band member leaves them, casting all into a black despair

Bit of background:

Panos Cosmatos’s action horror film Mandy has met with critical acclaim for being off-the-wall bonkers, and it also features one of the last film scores by the celebrated composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.

The Golden Globe-winning Jóhannsson sadly passed away in 2018 due to a drug overdose — a tragic loss for the film world given that he had established himself as one of the very best, bringing a dark, Scandinavian sound to films like Sicario and Arrival; and a deft, lyrical touch to the score for The Theory of Everything.

“Photographer Fights Peaches” from BioShock

Game // Composer: Garry Schyman

Sounds like: A nightmare in which you’re trying to hide from an accordion-playing psycho killer who continues to whistle after they’ve cut off your feet; you try to escape whilst limping along on raw stumps

Bit of background:

Everyone and their dog knows that 2007’s BioShock was a masterclass in creating atmosphere, from the very first moment the player finds themselves able to swim to the lighthouse amidst the plane wreckage.

Especially revelatory was Garry Schyman’s landmark score, which, when combined with licensed jazz songs of the early 20th Century, sold the idea of Rapture as a sub-aquatic metropolis of murder. Also, Schyman is surely the undisputed master of string writing in video games, harnessing every technique available to the string section to freak players out. Some of those techniques include glissando (sliding between notes), pizzicato (plucking), and col legno (hitting strings with bow wood).

“Mort De La Pieuvre” from The City Of Lost Children

Film // Composer: Angelo Badalamenti

Sounds like: Tied down, your stress levels increase to breaking point as the sewer water slowly reaches your chin... and keeps on rising

Bit of background:

Angelo Badalamenti is no stranger to weirdness, having worked with director David Lynch on a number of projects including Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Other repeated collaborations for the composer include those with French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, known for his visually disorientating works including Amélie and Delicatessen.

Jeunet co-directed the slow, beautiful science fantasy The City of Lost Children, which, as well as enjoying its own point-and-click game in ‘97, clearly served as inspiration for games series including Dishonored and BioShock.

“Mort De La Pieuvre” — ‘death of the octopus’ — starts off gently enough in the strings, before an ugly-sounding organ rudely interrupts at 1:08, leading the whole cue in madness, darkness, death.

Have a Happy Halloween!