I love the use of pop music in horror movies. The juxtaposition of something nice with something horrible always works for me. . Think “Hip to be Square” in American Psycho – a delightful piece of music playing over an axe murder. But pop music can be used to bring us to the right period or even build the character’s personality more than a score can. It’s a useful tool not often used in horror movies.
And I’ve realised, that many of my favourite scenes in horror movies revolve around music in some way. So why the hell not throw a little list together about it? I’ve chosen these particular scenes for many reasons: they make me laugh, they flesh out the plot, or its just excellent to watch horrible things happen to good music.
Now I’m not counting original scores here because that would be a list all on its own (the gialli soundtracks alone earn a list). And I’m also not including theme songs (that means no Dokken) because that would also be an excellent list.
The band on the Night Train to Terror (1985) perform “Everybody But You” by Joe Turano
“What kind of train is this?”
Night Train to Terror is SUCH a mess. A lovable mess, but a mess all the same.
The 80’s cult film was essentially an anthology movie pieced together of three different films (to be honest, those bits aren’t really important). Tying them all together was the titular train ride. On board is Satan and God, but also a random rock band making a music video.
The movie isn’t great. It’s certainly very weird. But more importantly, it gave us this:
The awkward dancing. The air guitar. The strange bit where they’re all swaying. That being said, this song is such an earworm. This is not only my favourite music moment in a horror movie, but probably my favourite movie moment ever. If you’re having a bad day, chances are this can work its magic on you.
“Sittin’ Here At Midnight” – Reggie Bannister Bill Thornbury’s (as Reggie and Jody) jam session in Phantasm (1979)
Phantasm is a dark movie, as in it nearly all takes place at night or inside Morningside mausoleum. It’s haunting and filled with nightmares, but it’s also funny and has a great cast of characters. This particular scene is less than a of couple minutes, but it perfectly encapsulates the wonder of small-budget film making: many moments just feel really…real.
The score for Phantasm is pure excellence, but I will always love the guitar jam session between Reggie and Jody. It builds the authentic friendship between the two characters, which helps the ending become all that more compelling.
Actor Bill Thornbury, who wrote the song, still performs it live. You can watch a full live version here.
Angela’s dance to “Stigmata Martyr” by Bauhaus in Night of the Demons (1988)
There’s something wrong with Angela.
Night of the Demons is one of the quintessential 80s horror movies. And it would be nothing, absolutely nothing without the character of Angela. When a group of high schoolers go to an abandoned mortuary where they take turns being possessed and getting killed on Halloween night.
There are many iconic moments. The lipstick, the razor blades. But Angel’s strobe-lit dance is one of the best.
Actress Amelia Kinkade is a trained dancer, and she uses that training to great effect. In some ways, its similar to the Return of the Living Dead scene with Linnea Quigley’s character Trash dancing on the tomb. Its sensual, yet threatening. But the scenes use their actors in different ways: Linnea’s to build up a party mood (to quickly be crashed) and Amelia’s to build a sense of foreboding.
You’re dancing in The House of the Devil (2009) – “One Thing Leads to Another” by The Fixx
Many contemporary horror films try to replicate the feeling of an 80s or 70s horror movie. Most of those fail. But The House of the Devil does it really, really right.
One of the best ways to set a period for a film is music. When student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) gets a babysitting job “watching” an older woman, she soon finds herself bored. And what better way to spend the time than dance around to The Fixx on your Walkman?
It’s a fun scene, and Donahue really captures the jubilant dance moves of the 80s well (Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy would be proud). But while it is meant to show her casual boredom and youth, the scene still manages to be slightly menacing. It also works by making the viewer feel relaxed, only to shatter the illusion of safety.
Pretty much all of Slumber Party Masscre II
I love the Paisley Underground sounds used in the soundtrack for Slumber Party Massacre II. There’s a lot of great music moments to choose from in this one, but the girls singing “Tokyo Convertible” is easily my favourite bit.
It may be a weird pick considering the main baddie is a manifestation of a greaser rock star. He has a bunch of great songs. I even love the selection of Wednesday Week as the sound chosen for the friends’ fictional band. But there’s something very jubilant about this scene. It’s a fun bit of friendship-building.
Oh and the song is seriously excellent.
Its Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – “Hold Tight” car scene in Death Proof (Grindhouse, 2007)
My best friends loves this soundtrack. Its a test of your nerves driving to this soundtrack with the movie’s imagery in mind.
Like many of Tarantino’s movies, the whole Death Proof soundtrack is excellent. They’re key to bringing the scenes to life. But in this case, the song is a mocking warning to the women whose lives are about to be cut short.
It’s gruesome, and the song is great.
“People are Strange” in The Lost Boys (1987) – Echo & the Bunnymen
The right song is essential when introducing a new location. We need to know how a place feels, and we can pick up cues not only with visuals, but with sound. If you’re introduced with the slogan “Murder Capital Of the World” and a haunting Doors cover, chances are – you’re not a very nice place, but you’re probably cool.
The early scene in The Lost Boys shows Michael, Sam, and Lucy entering their new city of Santa Carla for the first time. And compared to the safe little town they came from, the people here really are strange. It’s certainly a literal take, but by using a cover by the Bunnymen, the take is slightly elevated.
I also want to put in a good word for the saxophonist scene with Tim Cappello. It’s so good, it’s a close second. Ultimately, though, I went more with scene-setting than pure enjoyment.
Bonus choice: “Sensuous Tiger” from The Capture of Big Foot (1979). NEVER FORGET!