Halloween is nearly here and that marks the perfect opportunity to royally scare the pants off yourself by indulging in one of the sea of horror movies currently flooding Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, and the ilk.
But if you want the most terrifying experience possible, and have the hardware to do it, we urge you to ensure you consider the importance of audio in horror.
Whether it was the rumbling sound of Leather Face’s chainsaw creeping closer in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the bumps in the night happening around the house in The Amityville Horror, sound has been a constant tool in any good horror director’s arsenal for decades.
And that’s why movies in the horror genre lend themselves so well to Dolby Atmos – a surround sound technology that lets compatible hardware deliver a 360-degree, “dome of sound" experience – and are often a staple part of our Atmos system and soundbar testing.
Here to help you find and enjoy the best we have personally experienced we have created this handy guide detailing the best horror movies to test your Dolby Atmos system.
Editor’s note: Due to the focus of this article the below entries may contain minor spoilers detailing parts of the movies’ plots.
IT is an iconic horror story by genre legend Stephen King that has been adapted into movies twice. Both follow the story of children in a small town attempting to fend off a clown-shaped monster, known as Pennywise.
The original IT with Tim Curry was a masterpiece that scared almost any child born in the 1980s. But the updated 2017 version in Atmos makes it look and sound like a children's birthday party and is definitely responsible for a fresh Coulrophobia pandemic.
Mixed in Atmos, IT is full of terrifying scenes where the added dome of sound effects is masterfully used to inspire a fresh level of terror. The best example of this is in a key scene we use while testing Dolby Atmos systems and soundbars to this day.
Specifically, it’s the infamous garage scene where Pennywise morphs out of a projector screen. Putting aside how terrifying the imagery is, the scene is a great example of how Atmos can level up the terror level of any horror movie, with Pennywise's horrific dialogue tracking with his and the children's movements around the garage.
Hearing Pennywise get closer as he emerges from the screen before rushing forward gives the movie an added layer of menace and is sure to make even the most seasoned horror buff jump out of their seat.
A Quiet Place
The original A Quiet Place is a masterpiece horror movie that came out in 2018 and remains one of the best Atmos mixes we have had the pleasure of experiencing.
This is because the premise lends itself oh-so-well to the "dome of sound" experience, with it telling the story of a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world plagued by mysterious creatures that hunt their prey through sound.
There are loads of great moments that do a great job using Atmos, but our favourite, and most horrifying, is the birth scene. In it, Emily Blunt’s character attempts to give birth in total silence as monsters encircle the basement they are in.
The entire tense scene offers wonderful directional nuance in Atmos, with the sound of the monsters scuttling and thumping above her, before moving down the stairs. The sense of direction makes you physically feel the tension as they edge, closer and closer to Blunt, offering a layer of fear that's simply not there without Atmos.
Starring Florence Pugh and directed by Ari Aster Midsommar was originally released in 2019, with 5.1 surround sound. But it was later picked up and had an Atmos mix, which is available now on Apple TV and Blu-ray.
The movie is the incredibly creepy tale of a group of Americans taking a trip with a friend to take part in the midsommar festival in a Swedish village.
The movie does a fantastic job using sound to drive tension. A sweeping soundtrack and the use of ambient noise from the wind and people taking part in the pagan festivities in the background constantly leaves you on edge.
The Atmos mix ramps all of this up to 11 and makes some of the movie's already terrifying scenes even more horrific.
Whether it was hearing Pugh’s character’s sister appearing behind her, or the dome of sound experience you get from the chanting cult members during the hard-to-un-see Copulation Ritual, Midsommar is a great example of what Atmos can do.
Starring Natalie Portman, Annihilation was one of Netflix's best original movies when it launched in 2018; to this day it’s a fantastic example of how to use Dolby Atmos properly.
The movie focuses on a group of cellular biologists as they investigate “the shimmer”. This is an area of Earth that has seen strange phenomena and mutated plants and animals appear in the aftermath of a meteor strike.
The movie uses sound to put viewers on edge from the outset, with creepy chirps and rustling constantly firing at you from every direction, making you never fully at ease during its two-hour run time.
One of the best scenes to truly ramp up the fright level occurs when a monstrous “scream bear” appears. The creature is a grotesquely deformed bear that’s got the lovely ability to reproduce its victims’ dying screams.
The scene finds the team tied up in a remote cabin with a scream bear. Watching the bear stalk around them, with the sound matching its position, as it creeps behind them. The added sense of direction from the audio puts the hairs on the back of our reviewers' necks every time we play it in our test rooms and is one of the most terrifying in the entire film.
The Conjuring 2
You may question why we have the second film in the Conjuring-verse in this list over the original or one of the new Anabelle or Nun movies. But the reason is simple: though it may not be the scariest visually, its use of Atmos is a cut above the rest.
The movie tells the story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, as they battle to help a London family plagued by ghosts.
Though the audio is great throughout the movie, there are a couple of standout scenes that really are masterclasses in how to use Atmos in horror. Early on, one sees one of the children in the haunted house get a glass of water. The film then uses sound to ramp up the scare levels, with one of his toy fire engine’s sirens blasting off in the distant background, masking a later jump scare when one of the ghost’s voices suddenly booms directly in front of you.
The use of direction extends into a later scene when The Crooked Man ghost’s voice can be heard moving around the room as his spirit rages against the Warren’s presence in “his house”.
Though the movie itself is a little hammy for most of our testers’ liking, its use of audio is unquestionably good and a reason we still use it in some of our system and soundbar testing.
Pretty much any Jordan Peale movie is a masterpiece in many of the What Hi-Fi? reviews team’s mind, but Nope is the best you’ll find if you want to experience horror in Atmos.
Telling the story of a farm beset by strange goings on in the sky, the movie does a fantastic job of using sound to maintain a constant sense that something is wrong.
But the most notable we regularly use when testing Atmos systems happens early on in the film. Unlike many of the scenes listed on this list, it’s a quiet moment in the movie, showing one of the characters riding out into the desert and then dismounting.
In it you will hear sounds in the distance echo around you, before a growing strange sound starts to emanate above you before the movie delivers one of its many jump scares with dramatic effect and impact.
It’s this use of direction throughout the movie that makes it one of the most immersive you will find – and a great way to put any Atmos system through its paces.
These are the best Dolby Atmos soundbars we have tried and tested
Check out our picks of the best surround sound systems
Looking for a top-end TV? These are the best OLED TVs we have reviewed