October 19, 2014

Play That Freaky Music - Popular Songs Linked Forever To The Horror Movies That Appropriated Them

      Sometimes a filmmaker does such a fine job selecting just the right song to accompany his images that it becomes almost impossible to separate a song from the association.  Here are nineteen songs I'll now forever associate with the horror movies that used them.  I'm sure I've missed a few, so please feel free to add your own favorites in the Comments section below.

An American Werewold In London"Bad Moon Rising" and/or "Blue Moon
Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sam Cooke, respectively 
Used in An American Werewolf In London (1981) 

     Director John Landis has always displayed a gift for selecting the right songs for his movies, as well as for juxtaposing said songs with visuals that seem incongruous.  Sam Cooke's soulful version of "Blue Moon" will forever be joined in my mind with the spectacle of David Kessler screaming in agony as he transforms into the titular werewolf for the first time.  Even so, for some reason it's the use of the Creedence track "Bad Moon Rising" just before that scene that always pops into my head first when I think of the flick.  Bonus points for the  doo-wop version of "Blue Moon" by the Marcels that plays over the end credits.

Halloween II
"Mr. Sandman"   
The Chordettes
Used in Halloween 2 (1981)

     Why does this one stick in my head?  Well, I was only eleven when I saw Halloween 2, and the movie's finale was nerve-wracking to me.  This bouncy version of Mr. Sandman was my signal that the tension would finally subside.  Then that deep male voice - Mr. Sandman - says "Yes?" in response to the girls' addressing him in the song, and I peed a little.  To this day I cling stubbornly to the belief that the voice of the Sandman is disproportionately loud in the mix, and intentionally so.  In my mind, Michael Myers would sound exactly like the Sandman if he spoke. 
Donnie Darko
"Head Over Heels"
Tears For Fears 
Used in Donnie Darko (2001)

     Okay, I know Donnie Darko isn't really a horror movie, but it's damn sure creepy.  I suppose the Gary Jules version of "Mad World" is the haunting song placement here, but it's the brilliant and surprising marriage of the less dour sounding "Head Over Heels" with the montage earlier in the movie that made an impression on me.

The Convent
"You Don't Own Me" and/or "Dream Weaver"
Leslie Gore and Gary Wright, respectively
Used in The Convent (2000)

     I've written before about what a nifty little flick The Convent is, and one of the things it has going for it is not one but two fantastic utilizations of pre-exisiting pop songs.  A Catholic schoolgirl in sunglasses and leather mows down a gaggle of nuns (it is gaggle, right?) to the tune of Leslie Gore's "You Don't Own Me" in the movie's opening momentsPerfect and unforgettable.  We get "Dream Weaver" as part of Frijole's shroom trip later in the movie.

Dawn Of The Dead
"The Man Comes Around" and/or "Down With The Sickness"
Johnny Cash and Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine, respectively
Used in Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

     I genuinely believe that "Down With The Sickness" playing over the getting-used-to-our-post-apocalyptic-mall-life montage is one of the most inspired cinematic appropriations of preexisting music ever.  It's rare that I find myself scanning the end credits looking for song info, so it obviously worked for me.  Even more inspired, though, was using the Johnny Cash song "The Man Comes Around" to accompany clips of the world going to hell in a handbasket during the opening credits.  With its biblical references about the end times intoned as only the inimitable Cash could have, it quickly and effectively lets us know that the shit just got real.

Return Of The Living Dead
"Surfin' Dead" and/or "Burn The Flames"
The Cramps and Roky Erickson, respectively 
Used in Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

     There really aren't any bad song choices in Return Of The Living Dead.  One could just as easily have pointed to "Tonight (We'll Make Love Until We Die)" by SSQ that accompanies Trash's strip tease, or even "Partytime (Zombie Version)" by Grave 45 that accompanies the resurrection of a graveyard full of zombies.  Obviously, "Surfin' Dead" gets the nod because it's The Cramps.  Who can argue with The Cramps?

     It's "Burn The Flames" by Roky Erickson that's really used to fantastic dramatic effect, though.  It accompanies the scene in which Frank removes his wedding ring and then feeds himself to the crematory fires rather than face his inevitable gruesome end.  For anyone reading who's never seen the movie in any form other than the U.S. disc releases, do  yourself a favor and track down a foreign disc on which the soundtrack hasn't been bastardized.  There are a lot of things that are just flat wrong about the soundtrack on those U.S. discs, not the least of which is that the effectiveness of Frank's scene is ruined by the choice to alter the timing of "Burn The Flames" and then fade it out too early.

I Know What You Did Last Summer
Kula Shaker
Used in I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

     "Hush" gets a mention more for its effective use in the advertising campaign for I Know What You Did Last Summer than for any use in the movie.  The somewhat inexplicable choice to use a cover of an old Deep Purple song in the ads just feels right.

Tales From The Crypt Demon Night
"Hey Man Nice Shot"
Used in Tales From The Crypt: Demon Night (1995)

     Good use of a good song in a good movie.  I'd never heard of Filter before this, so "Hey Man Nice Shot" is linked to its use here during the opening segment of the story proper for me.

House On Haunted Hill"Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)"
Marilyn Manson
Used in House On Haunted Hill (1999)

     Marilyn Manson's very Mansonesque cover of this cold and clinical sounding old Eurythmics song "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)"  works perfectly wed to footage of everyone making their approach to the titular haunted house.  Manson's tortured and melodramatic delivery just seems to match the mood of this segment.  Each troubled soul making his or her way to the house is doing so in the hopes of securing a million dollar prize for staying overnight in the spooky mansion.  Manson couldn't make that sweet dream of a life altering financial windfall sound any less appealing if he tried.

"Dueling Banjos" (aka "Feudin' Banjos")
Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell Arthur
Used in Deliverance (1972) 

     "Dueling Banjos" is an almost perfect example of sound wed to cinematic vision.  Originally composed and recorded by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith as "Feudin' Banjos" in 1955, the use of the Weissberg/Arthur version in Deliverance sans proper attribution ultimately led to a lawsuit.  It had to be, though, because the disconnect between the viewer's expectations based upon the obviously in-bred appearance of the backwoods banjo player and his virtuosity with the instrument sets the stage for all the ugliness that follows.  It's just not wise to encroach upon another's domain and presume superiority, and the "civilized" weekenders from the city pay dearly for their hubris.

From Dusk Till Dawn
"Dark Night"
The Blasters
Used in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

    As is typical of  the track selection for most any movie soundtrack involving Quentin Tarantino, the choice of the decidedly creepy tune "Dark Night" to play over the stylized opening credits of From Dusk Till Dawn is spot on perfect.  The guitar driven aggression of the track following the tense and violent pre-credits sequence just works.

Shaun Of The Dead
"Don't Stop Me Now"
Used in Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

     Fan fave Shaun Of The Dead is another movie that seems to make all the right musical choices.  Who can forget Shaun and Ed's drunken rendition of "White Lines" outside the Winchester pub?  It's the choice of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" that's integral to the success of the scene in which it's used though.  Watching the movie's principals enthusiastically beat the zombified pub owner with pool cues while the track plays loudly in the background is both incongruous and comical.

The Devil's Rejects
"Free Bird"
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Used in The Devil's Rejects (2005)

      I know I'm firmly in the minority in preferring Rob Zombie's House Of 1000 Corpses to its follow-up.  Still, there's no denying that The Devil's Rejects has its share of powerful moments, not the least of which is Otis, Baby, and Spaulding - down but not quite out - barreling toward the police barricade destined to finally end their murderous crime spree as Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" blares in the background.  I've never cared much for Zombie's choice to so blatantly try to mythologize three such irredeemable characters, but Skynyrd's classic rock mainstay was the right song to accompany the sequence.

The Silence Of The Lambs
"American Girl" 
Tom Petty
Used in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

     Everyone remembers Buffalo Bill doing the tuck-and-dance to the Q Lazzarus song "Goodbye Horses", but how often do you ever hear the song "Goodbye Horses" in any other context?  On the other hand, Tom Petty's "American Girl" - which plays as Bill abducts a senator's daughter - is still on the radio constantly.  And what do I think of every time I hear it?  Yes, "American Girl" is now forever tainted by the dark and ominous association.

The Exorcist
"Tubular Bells" 
Mike Oldfield
Used in The Exorcist (1974)

    The minor key piano motif we now all immediately associate with The Exorcist was not expressly written for the movie, and it's actually only a small portion of a much longer recording.  It wasn't conceived as a spooky piece of music, but "Tubular Bells" has now been damned by association such that most folks only think of it as "The Theme From The Exorcist".

"Bad To The Bone" 
George Thorogood and The Destroyers
Used in Christine (1983)

     I can't stand the recordings of George Thorogood, but that's mostly because my mother always thought it was funny to wake me from a hangover by playing Thorogood's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" at deafening volume.  Still, there couldn't be a more perfect song than "Bad To The Bone" to accompany the evil 1958 Plymouth Fury's introduction as she draws first blood before she's even done rolling off the assembly line.  Before some car aficionado calls me on it, both the Plymouth Belvedere and the Plymouth Savoy were also used to portray Christine in the movie.  Apparently the Plymouth Fury didn't actually possess all of the features described in Stephen King's novel.  We all know the "real" Christine is a Plymouth Fury though, right?

American Psycho
"Hip To Be Square" 
Huey Lewis and The News
Used in American Psycho (2000)

     I'd have absolutely no use for Huey Lewis and The News had the uber-psychotic Patrick Bateman not paused to school me before offing Paul Allen for having too nice a business card.  The only thing scary about the annoyingly poppy "Hip To Be Square" is that Bateman obviously holds the song in such high esteem.  If only I knew how to create a GIF, because the odd little shimmy the raincoat wearing Bateman performs while waxing philosophical about the brilliance of the song is priceless.

"Red Right Hand"
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Used in Scream (1996)

     Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" is a creepy song in its own right that references a line in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost about the vengeful hand of God.  It's really not surprising that it turns up in a number of genre movies and television shows.  I first came across the song on an X-Files compilation.  Despite all of its other genre associations, though, it's the brief use of the song backing footage of a deceptively tranquil looking Woodsboro near the beginning of Scream that most resonates.

The House Of The Devil
"One Thing Leads To Another"
The Fixx
Used in The House Of The Devil (2009)

     What can I say?  I just like watching a pretty young girl from the Awesome 80s bop around a spooky old house listening to  The Fixx on her Sony Walkman.  Who doesn't?

Movies At Dog Farm Pre'Ween 2014 logl


  1. Excellent list, Amigo! Allow me to add a couple more tunes to the fire!

    Sleepwalk by Santo & Johnny - which of course was used in the Stephen King based film Sleepwalkers!

    I Fall To Pieces by Patsy Cline - I will forever remember that tune being in the film Phantoms to fairly creepy effect!

    Those are the two that are popping out in my head the most right now, but if I think of any more, I'll add them!

    1. I caught one! Score one for comment bait! If there's only one certainty in a blogger's life, it's that posting a list always results in comments about what you shouldn't have included, what you should have included, and why you're wrong. I was counting on it! lol Seriously, though, neither one of those tracks ever crossed my mind when compiling this. I'm anxious to see how many others people come up with. I now feel a little guilty that I wasn't industrious enough to provide links to all the referenced film segments.

  2. Blue Öyster Cult, “Don’t Fear The Reaper” from “Halloween,” 1978
    Gene Kelly, "Singin' in the Rain" in 'A Clockwork Orange", 1971
    Bobby Vinton, "Blue Velvet" in "Blue Velvet", 1986
    Roy Orbison, "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet", 1986
    "I Wanna Be Loved by You" in "House of 1,000 Corpses", 2003
    Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire" in "Silent Hill", 2006
    The Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman" was also used in "Halloween H20"

    I could go on...

    1. "You could go on..." I'm picturing that meme of Willy Wonka looking dreamily rapt. You know the one. Good calls all, though. However, given how few horror films you claim to have seen in the last decade or so, I'd go easy on confessing the intimate familiarity with Silent Hill. You'll ruin your street cred. ;)

    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHfIdSiwcWE

  3. Don't Fear the Reaper also worked well in the beginning of The Stand. I also like the Metallica song at the start of Zombieland.

    Great minds think alike. I was leaning towards an article about music but for 80s films. I will get around to that one day, but I enjoyed this article immensely. Bad Moon Rising has to be one of the best uses of songs in a Horror film.

    Isn't it funny to think of how Johnny Cash wrote such grim lyrics that they fit into horror films so well?

    1. It's a shame you didn't write that article at the same time. It would have been like Armageddon and Deep Impact, or maybe Dante's Peak and Volcano. lol

      I never really appreciated Johnny Cash until he was gone. Now I think he's amazing. He had a real talent for interpreting other people's songs, too. I'm a Nine Inch Nails fan, but I still prefer Cash's version of "Hurt" by a wide margin. He found an identifiably human core to that song that makes it a gut punch. Reznor wishes he was as dark as Johnny Cash. lol

  4. I Remember You by Slim Whitman during that slow motion massacre in House of 1000 Corpses leaps to mind.

    Not in a movie, but of a childhood trauma suffered by yours truly... In the early 80's my family went to the local drive in quite often. One night We were in the concession building when a then popular song was playing. At that same exact moment, my 5- 6 year old eyes caught glimpse of the most terrifying movie poster of my young life. It was a woman's head on a silver platter (I've come to realize it might have been Tales That Witness Madness). So my mind for years associated this popular song with that gruesome image to the point that I didn't listen to that song until my mid twenties.

    The song...Angel of the Morning.

    1. Hats off, Dan. Even though I mentioned House Of 1000 Corpses, that particular segment had entirely slipped my mind. And man, that's an effective segment. Phil mentioned "I Wanna Be Loved By You" from House, as well. I'm claiming mini-stroke.

      That's an awesome anecdote about "Angel Of The Morning". I had a similar thing with The Doors "Riders On The Storm" and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Throughout my youth, the two were inexorably linked in my mind. I even went so far as to make a mix tape once that started with the voice-over at the beginning of TCM, with the rain that starts "Riders" fading in behind it.

      "A killer on the road. His brain is squirming like a toad. ...If you give this man a ride, sweet memory will die. Killer on the road."

      Seriously, how is that not the Hitch-hiker in TCM? The song predates the movie, so maybe Tobe Hooper drew inspiration from it. I like to think so in my own little horror oriented imaginary world.

  5. HOLY CRAP! I can't believe that I forgot a couple! Now, they aren't exactly songs that were appropriated by the films....in fact they were written specifically for the film, but if we're going to talk about songs that are synonymous with their respective horror films, then we certainly cannot forget:

    He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask) by Alice Cooper from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

    Dream Warriors by Dokken from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

    How did I not think of these!!!!!!!!

    1. Now you've done it, Matt. lol I intentionally left off songs recorded specifically for their movies, but that could easily be another article by itself. Now that we've started down that road...

      "House Of 1000 Corpses" - Rob Zombie

      "Pet Sematary" - The Ramones

      "Who Made Who" - AC/DC - also from Pet Sematary

      "The Blob" - The Five Blobs - opening credits of original (and freakin' awesome!)

      "Killer Klowns From Outer Space" - The Dickies

      "In The Flesh" - Blondie - from Videodrome

      "Green Slime" - Charles Fox

      "The Ballad Of Harry Warden" - Paul Zaza - end credits, My Bloody Valentine

      "I Was A Teenage Zombie" - The Fleshtones

      "Chop Up Your Mother" - The Sic Fucks - from Alone In The Dark

      Any more? Pretty much all of these (and many from the post) are on my eight hours plus Halloween Monster Mix.

      The Pre'Ween Halloween Monster Mix

      Here's hoping may attempt to make a link with HTML in the Comments actually worked!

    2. My bad. Reading my own post would have reminded me it's more like seven hours - enough to go from dusk till midnight.


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