One of the key aspects of a horror movie is the soundtrack. The right music can turn a scary scene into a bite-your-nails-off fright fest. The right music can juxtapose a person being murdered with a children’s lullaby. The right music will serve to elevate the movie to a new level of horror, to comment deeper on its theme, or to highlight what it going on without distracting. There are a million and one great examples of this happening, but this list will try to eliminate the more obvious examples—Tubular Bells and the themes from Halloween and Friday the 13th—and help expand your horror movie music. We’re expanding beyond last year’s list and adding another month of songs to the playlist for your listening terror.
- “Jeepers Creepers” by Paul Whiteman and His Swing Wing from Jeepers Creepers. Using the juxtaposed/anachronistic soundtrack in films wasn’t exactly a thing until the early 2000s, right around when Jeepers Creepers found two tracks to transform from fun bandstand ditties into I-can-never-listen-to-this-again-without-looking-over-my-shoulder nightmares. The titular song inspires the mythos of the Creeper character, and serves as his calling card—remember to run when you hear this song.
- “Little Ghost” by The White Stripes from ParaNorman. Choosing a White Stripes track for the credits of this quirky Laika film was a good choice. It’s playful and odd, but speaks to the paranormal aspects of the film while carrying on the ending tone in a satisfying way. It also matches surprisingly well with the comic-book style credits, and it’s just weird enough to end everything on a good note.
- “Honky Tonk Woman” by The Rolling Stones from “Birthright” from Criminal Minds. Essentially, all you need for background of how this classic song was twisted is that a serial killer made girls dance to it a la Buffalo Bill. It’s just the right kind of sick that I can’t help but remember the scene every time I listen to the song (which is often; it’s one of my favorites), but it’s not that far out there that you’ll never want to hear it again—or dance to it.
- “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr. from Ghostbusters. Who you gonna call? This song is over thirty years old, but it’s still fun and catchy as all hell. While I did enjoy the cover in the Ghostbusters reboot, the original can’t be topped in terms of how much enjoyment I get out of it still. It’s one of those timeless movie themes that’ll make you want to watch it all over again.
- “Zydrate Anatomy” from Repo! The Genetic Opera. This song from the cult classic rock opera serves as catchy exposition to explain the drug-addicted underworld of surgery to the naïve protagonist. It features the deep, sensual vocals of Terrance Zdunich and an appearance from Paris Hilton, back in her acting days. It’s slick, sleazy, and one of the best tracks on the 30+ song album.
- “This is Halloween” by Marilyn Manson from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I don’t count it as cheating to include a cover of a song from last year; goth kids have been rocking out to this version as well as the original since the song came out. While Danny Elfman’s version is a welcoming introduction to Halloween Town, Manson’s shrieking vocals tell you in no uncertain terms that you’re in Halloween Town now, bitch, so sit down and enjoy the scares. One of the best ways to start October is by blaring this song out your car windows while driving down a busy street.
- “House of the Rising Sun” by Lauren O’Connell from American Horror Story: Coven. This slowed down, mournful cover of The Animals’ original was what got me super hyped for season three of American Horror Story. It’s a great introduction to the house and the witches inside, their games and power plays, but also how a newcomer might have some regrets later about stepping into that house.
- “The Wolf” by Fever Ray from Rings. If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss this song during Rings. The only reason I recognized it is because I’ve had it on my iPod for years now, and I was super excited to hear its synth vibes being blasted alongside Samara’s creepy crawl. It’s got a heavy drumbeat throughout that makes your heart pound like you’re being chased by a wolf and I thought it fit nicely into the film despite its brief appearance.
- “In Da Club” by 50 Cent from Happy Death Day. We’ve had old songs, musicals, and acoustic covers, but there aren’t too many horror films that have the guts to take a beloved hip-hop track and associate it with fear. I have to give credit to this film in that regard (whether it’s any good or not, we’ll have to wait and see) and it’s an excellent song choice to match their Groundhog/Birthday theme that they’ve got going on. Plus, it’s a great excuse to throw some 50 Cent on the playlist.
- “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Songs about cannibalism really are a niche these days, but this lovely number performed by Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp makes a point for why we should have more. It’s an analysis of how different professions may taste, a scheme in the making, and it’s definitely one of the best tracks off of the soundtrack.
- “Death” by White Lies from Jennifer’s Body. As I said last year, Jennifer’s Body has one of the best horror soundtracks around and I’m sure that I’ll be pulling from it for years to come. White Lies’ track is used right before the climax of the film, and its fast-paced drums and great lyrics add to the thrill of the chase. It also works well on a symbolic level as well—like many of the other songs on the album.
- “Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sun Shine In)” by Cowboy Church Sunday School from The Autopsy of Jane Doe. I think this is the film that perfected the old-song-used-in-a-modern-movie trope. Not only is the song creepy as hell on its own, but the visuals that it’s paired with and the significance it plays in the narrative make it an omen that you never want to hear on the radio ever again. It was probably a cute song at some point in history, but that was before Jane Doe got her hands on it.
- “The Unquiet Grave” by Abel Korzeniowski from Penny Dreadful. This is a lovely song that perfectly captures the Gothic aspects of the show, the relationships between the characters, and the atmosphere of the moment. It’s played twice, and both versions are lovely but carry different contexts. The second time it’s played—after all hope has been lost—is particularly heavy.
- “Introduction” by Danny Elfman from Sleepy Hollow. Danny Elfman’s introduction to this American legend moves along at a relative pace before speeding up and slowing down and moving along again. It’s creepy and easily recognizable, which is a great thing for a score to be. It works well as an introduction to the town of Sleepy Hollow before things get darker, and definitely has that Halloween sound a person should look for in a score this month.
- “In All My Dreams I Drown” from The Devil’s Carnival. Although the scene with this song was included post-credits in the film, it’s my favorite track from this musical. Again, Terrance Zdunich’s sensual vocals tempt the listener to go to sleep, relax, and drown in the fiery waters of hell. Jessica Lowndes does a fantastic job with the lead vocals on this track, and it’s a sinfully good duet that I highly recommend.
- “Fright Night” by Ramin Djawadi from Fright Night. This is a fantastic introduction score to a vampire film. It’s dark and gothic, but romantic in a mild way and it hits all the right notes. While the original film and its score have their merits, I’m a little more sold on this one and the chills that it gives me.
- “Looking for the Magic” by Dwight Twilley Band from You’re Next. Last year, I used the song that was played in the trailer—now here’s the song they actually used in the film. The more I listen to it, especially on repeat just like in the movie, the more that it grows on me. Apparently hipsters went crazy when they heard one of their grassroots groups getting credit in a horror movie, but when it’s due it’s due. It’s such a toe-tapping song that it seems almost criminal to murder people with it playing as background music.
- “Bloodfest (From Mizumono)” by Brian Reitzell from Hannibal. This is one of the best ten minute scores in the history of television—period. It’s a gorgeous track on its own, but when you watch the episode and see the action, the emotional feels that accompany the music will never go away. It sounds like rain falling, like endings and new beginnings, and perfectly captures the essence of the season two finale.
- “Voodoo in My Blood” by Massive Attack & Young Fathers from The Snowman. I’m loving the selection of trailer songs lately; people have been upping their game. Here we have a heavy drumbeat, chanting, synth, and much more going on until it all builds and builds—just like it seems Harry Hole’s case with the mysterious Snowman will. This song helped sell me on seeing the movie, and that means it did its job.
- “Turn Around, Look at Me” by The Lettermen from Final Destination 3. This song is played several times throughout the third film in the everybody-dies franchise. It’s almost like Death’s calling card, and it works to great effect. Once upon a time, this was a romantic do-op ditty for swooning but no more. It’s just creepy now and the title basically predicts what you’ll do anytime the song comes on.
- “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” by Chris Isaak from Sorority Row. Used in the trailer but not the film, this rock song sums up the crime of the girls in Theta Pi. They did a bad thing—oops. To that effect, it works really well in the trailer, and the film soundtrack itself is loaded with other fantastic songs. I still wish they could have found a place for it in the actual film, because it’s fantastic.
- “Title” by Disasterpiece from It Follows. Remember that synth score that soundtracks in the 1980s used to have because that was generally how music was? Well, we’re bringing it back to the 2010s and making it popular again. Two years before Stranger Things further upped the game, It Follows has a revolutionary score that was like nothing we’d heard in this century. It fits the anachronistic feel of the film, and is creepy in a way that harkens back to the heyday of horror.
- “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” by Tiny Tim from Insidious. This is when the old-song-in-a-modern-movie trope got ridiculous. Honestly, I can’t hear Tiny Tim without thinking of Spongebob so the odds were already stacked against this match, but it’s also just a little too silly of a song choice. There’s creepy old and creepy-in-context old and this ended up being neither. It’s just silly, but maybe that’s what makes it special to audiences.
- “Every Breath You Take” by Denmark + Winter from Blair Witch. (Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s the real artist. It can be hard to track down singers who do covers for trailers). Back when Blair Witch was being advertised as The Woods we got this incredibly creepy take on an already kind of creepy song. It turns out if you slow down a stalker anthem, it gets even worse and you can feel their breath on the side of your neck. Either way, it’s an effective track and sells the movie and what it’s about all over again.
- “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” by Josh Mobley from Victor Frankenstein. While the film itself was (as usual) untrue to the source material, I appreciate that their song choice followed Frankenstein’s desire to “break on through to the other side” of death. It really amps up the international trailer for the film, showing us that this is a Frankenstein film with stakes we haven’t seen before, and it’s a decent cover in general.
- “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James and The Shondells from 10 Cloverfield Lane. I love how the jukebox is used in this film and how the scene with this song, while not overtly sinister, quietly builds the world and its mundaneness. It’s a great play on the title in terms of a possible apocalypse, questions what the word ‘we’ means in this situation, as well as ‘alone’, and it seems too nice to be true—which is the same for the film.
- “Twinkle Twinkle” from Dead Space. While I haven’t played the video game this track is from, I don’t know if I ever will because this song is terrifying. A haunting cover of a children’s song, spliced with static and noise, and set against some backdrops of horror in space, I can see this song fitting with any number of science fiction horror scenarios, i.e. Alien.
- “Pet Sematary” by Ramones from Pet Sematary. Apparently this track only took an hour to write in Stephen King’s basement, but it’s pretty brilliant for the quick work. Most of Kings’ work, while touching a lot on rock music and pop culture, doesn’t get a real soundtrack to go with it—just score. (The exception, of course, is Maximum Overdrive, but we won’t speak of that). So it’s great that one of his favorite bands was able to write a song for one of his films, and that it’s pretty awesome. On a basic level, the lyrics just point out the obvious horror of continually being buried and brought back to life and wouldn’t that just suck? It’s also the Ramones so you know it’s good.
- “How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths from The Craft. Most people probably recognize this as the theme song from Charmed, but I’m selling it under The Craft because that film is way scarier. I mean, snakes everywhere—nightmare fuel. The Smiths probably didn’t mean to write an occult hit, but it seems that since witches are misunderstood it fits that they want to declare that they’re human and want to be loved.
- “Personal Jesus” by Marilyn Manson from Horns. Another Marilyn Manson track, because he’s one of the rock gods of horror. The scene that involves this song is just hilarious as reporters just duke it out over the possibility of an interview with the protagonist, Ig. I didn’t see it coming, but I couldn’t imagine the scene without it now. “Personal Jesus” also touches nicely on the religious themes within the film, but especially within the book that weren’t addressed as much.
- “Want Your Body” by Kevvy from American Mary. We all know that surgeons pick some weird music when they’re performing, right? Well this is an excellent example. As Mary Mason, patron saint of body modification, begins surgery on a pair of twins, another surgeon puts this song on. They nod, tap their toes, and begin to saw limbs off. I’m not sure if, in the same scenario, I’d want this song to play or not. It’s catchy and fun, a pop beat that is fit for dancing, but it’s forever associated with surgery and arm swaps now.
This October make sure to listen to some terrifying tunes to get in the mood for horror movies and trick-or-treating. It’s not hard to find thousands of soundtracks, scores, and songs to mix into a playlist, but I’ve done some of the work. Find the playlist here (warning there are some spoilers) and sit back, don’t relax, and be scared.
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