If you’re a regular visitor here on the site, then you’d probably know how much I love music and soundtracks, particularly to horror movies. But looking beyond traditional scores, if there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a catchy pop theme song or ballad! If it somehow features the title of the movie as a key phrase in the chorus, then it’s an automatic win for me.
I started mulling over and cultivating a list of some of my favorite horror movie pop songs, and as I started putting it together, I knew I’d have to consult my fellow soundtrack enthusiast, Mike Williamson. As soon as I thought of him, I knew that I couldn’t possibly do this proposed list as much justice as he would, so I invited him to be a guest contributor so that he can guild you towards some killer tunes to ease you into the weekend.
Williamson has plenty of genre cred having written and directed the shorts DEATHLY with Alan Ruck and IN THE WALL, the soundtrack for which is available on vinyl by Death Waltz Recording Company. He also fronts the band JR JUGGERNAUT and curates the monthly Secret Sixteen screenings here in Los Angeles.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: The overlooked gems of horror soundtracks
By Mike Williamson ( @WilliamsonMike_ )
The Various Artists soundtrack; music from and inspired by. A curious subgenre of music in which, oftentimes, legitimate artists are commissioned to write songs around potentially ludicrous themes. Imagine legit 80s hair metal band LION in the studio having to sing in earnest, “Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons!”
It makes for some really fun songs. I adore this shit.
The 80s and 90s saw a big boom of hard rock and hip hop theme songs from popular (and sometimes not so popular) musicians. We all know Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” and Alice Cooper’s “Man Behind the Mask” like the back of our hands. Here’s a sampling of some neglected tracks that deserve to have the light shined back on them.
GOO GOO DOLLS “I’m Awake Now” from FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE
This one’s a personal fav from an unfairly maligned entry in the Nightmare series. (Yeah, it’s not serious horror like the original. We’re 5 sequels deep, people. Get over it and dig the Looney Tunes via Cryptkeeper vibe!)
GGD deliver a smart, tuneful rocker from their prime era when they were like a more refined REPLACEMENTS but still had a little bite. “I’m Awake Now” is of the soundtrack songwriting school where it’s clearly written for a specific movie, but is vague enough that if you weren’t aware, you’d enjoy it as just another song in an artist’s catalog. This is a smart move for those who want to cash the New Line check, but not have a good song become instant camp with a Freddy Krueger sound bite in the mix.
Check out the awesome video, which has Krueger threading up a 35mm projector and showing the band some clips from the movie. (Clearly going full camp, and negating the attempt at class in the song.)
RUN DMC “Ghostbusters” from GHOSTBUSTERS II
Clearly not wanting to stray too far from the original film’s gigantic Ray Parker Jr hit, RUN DMC are here with what plays like a sort of hip hop remix of that original film’s theme song.
We’ve got a chorus that mimics the original “We Ain’t Afraid of no Ghost.” We’ve got a slight turnaround of the original’s “Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!” with the line “You call the Ghostbusters, well, that’s who you call!” And in between the familiar choruses, you’ve got some non-specific horror rap about ghosts, and spooky hands, and monsters. Typical Halloween stuff.
Throw it all in a blender with a trademark RUN DMC beat and synth line and you’ve got a pretty fun track that’s all but been forgotten.
DANGEROUS TOYS “Demon Bell” from SHOCKER
Texas sleaze metal act DANGEROUS TOYS rip and roar across the Shocker soundtrack with this song that steals the show from the bigger names on the LP. (sorry Megadeth)
Like Goo Goo Dolls, this is also a song that isn’t so specific that it’s obviously a soundtrack tune, though they do drop the word “Shocker” in one of the lines. “Demon Bell” snakes along with a swagger that set them apart from their peers at the time, while still getting full on headbanger-y with a fist pumping, horn hand waving chorus. Lyrically, it’s typical metal fodder about an evil murderer. But the Demon Bell line is evocative, and the riffs are so electric, that Dangerous Toys deserves to have a place in horror rock history with this overlooked gem.
DOMINO “Tales From The Hood” from TALES FROM THE HOOD
Rapper Domino lights up the soundtrack to the phenomenal anthology flick TALES FROM THE HOOD with this infectious R&B / West Coast rap hybrid.
Lyrically, there’s not an ounce of horror movie imagery in sight. The entire song is inner city struggles, typical of the west coast gangsta rap scene. But since the movie takes those same struggles and spins EC Comics style morality plays out of them, it’s entirely appropriate.
Catchy and smooth, you’re guaranteed to be singing “I know it sounds bad, but it’s all good. These are the tales. Tales from the hood,” by the final chorus.
ALICE COOPER “Prince of Darkness” from PRINCE OF DARKNESS
By the mid 80s, Alice Cooper was expanding his shock rock routine pretty regularly to the silver screen. He had the theme song to FRIDAY THE 13th PT 6, he had an attempted BACK TO SCHOOL theme song which was rejected and ended up on the same album as “Man Behind The Mask”, he starred in low budget creature feature MONSTER DOG, and in a few years time he’d be starring as Freddy Krueger’s dear ol’ dad in FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE.
In 1987, Alice was cast as a murderous homeless person in John Carpenter’s eerie PRINCE OF DARKNESS. And you’re not gonna cast Alice and not get a theme song out of the deal, too.
“Prince of Darkness” is chugging, mid tempo 80s metal in the Judas Priest vein. Alice sings the title of the film in his trademark snarl over the chorus while Rambo-esque lead guitarist Kane Roberts shreds a finger tapping solo for what amounts to a perfect snapshot of metal in this era. Raise your fist and yell, indeed.
TAG TEAM “Addams Family (Whoomp) from ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES
This one is pretty silly, and I’m not going to write much about it because I don’t think the songwriters did much writing, either.
Tag Team basically just lists the Addams characters in the first couple verses, uses the film’s logline for the last couple verses, and then simply adds the word “Addams Family” in the middle of their hit “Whoomp (There It Is)” for the chorus.
It’s stupid. And I can’t stop listening to it.
W.A.S.P “Scream Until You Like It” from GHOULIES II
Los Angeles metal act W.A.S.P. is a perfect match for horror soundtracks, and I’m not sure why they didn’t do more of this. Like Alice Cooper, their live shock tactics lend themselves perfectly to horror cinema. Though it seems they may have missed the boat on this, at least we got a video where lead singer Blackie Lawless sends his Ghoulies puppets off to (presumably) do bad stuff.
W.A.S.P. is a love em or leave em style band, as all their songs are basically played in the same style. Buzzing guitars churn out two or three power chords per each part of the song, while Blackie howls his vocals with a constant fire. I love em. I love monster puppets. This was a match made in heaven.
213 “Nightmare” from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST
This is a white whale for me. NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT THIS BAND. Did they even really exist? Some message board user claims it was a real Los Angeles based band that broke up around the release of the film and never released any music. That’s literally ALL I’ve ever found out about the band 213 which performed the iconic theme song which plays over the end credits of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST.
“Nightmare” should be a bona fide classic, with its powerful vocals shouted over a tough as shit mix of synth and hard rock. But it’s never been released on any format. Ever. There’s no video. No 7” single. No band bio. Nothing. You either sit through the end credits of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST or you know nothing about this killer track.
Death Waltz Records…Waxwork Records…SOMEONE, ANYONE…Figure this shit out and finally release the end credits song to one of the most classic horror films of all time. PLEASE.