There’s no denying that music has proven itself to be an integral part of our favorite horror films, to the point that the iconic scores for films like Halloween and Psycho are as important an aspect of the movies as the stories and characters themselves. But we’ve already talked about our favorite horror scores here on FEARNET in the past, so that’s not quite what we’re here to discuss today.
Ya see, many horror movies over the years have been given their very own songs, which have either been featured within the movies or played over their end credits. It’s not something that often happens nowadays, but back in the 80s and 90s, it wasn’t all that uncommon for studios to task musicians with writing and performing original songs for their horror movies. Ah, the good old days.
Here are 10 of our favorite horror movie songs, all of which would’ve been given Best Original Song awards at the Oscars, if we were in charge!
Speaking of the Academy Awards, this first one actually was nominated for Best Original Song, at the 1973 ceremony. Believe it or not, it was 1972’s Ben, a sequel to Willard, that this song was written for, and Michael Jackson’s beautiful rendition of the loving ode made it a bonafide chart-topping hit. The song, which was originally written for Donny Osmond, was performed by Jackson over the ending credits of the film. Yep. A young Michael Jackson singing a love song about a rat. Gotta love it!
Something you might not know about the late David Hess, who played Krug in the original Last House on the Left, is that he was a singer/ songwriter before he ever became an actor. In fact, it was Hess who performed the original recording of ‘All Shook Up,’ which Elvis Presley went on to turn into a #1 hit. Because of his flair for music, Hess composed the soundtrack for The Last House on the Left, in addition to starring in it. ‘Wait for the Rain’ is the most noteworthy song from the soundtrack, which played over the opening credits sequence. Eli Roth was such a fan that he used the song in his debut feature, Cabin Fever, and Hess’ two young sons even performed their own rendition of it, which played over that film's end credits.
Horror movie songs don’t get much more iconic than this one, written and performed by Alice Cooper. ‘He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)’ was a perfect companion piece to the fun and self-referential Friday the 13th sequel Jason Lives, celebrating the return of the real Jason Voorhees. Ensuring its future as an awesome export of the 80s, the end credits song was given its very own music video (above), which saw Alice Cooper being attacked by Jason and featured several clips from the film. The personification of everything I love about the 80s, is the best way I can describe this one!
The third installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Dream Warriors, was released just one year after Jason Lives, and it too featured a totally badass song of its own. It was heavy metal band Dokken that was tasked with coming up with a song that tied into the film, and boy did they deliver. ‘Dream Warriors,’ which played over the end credits of the fan-favorite Elm Street sequel, was also brought to life with a particularly awesome music video, featuring clips and even some brand new original footage. A true anthem for Freddy fans, and yet another reminder that life will never be as awesome as it was in the 80s!
Not to be outdone, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre got in on the heavy metal fun in 1990, when Leatherface enlisted the help of his good friends Laaz Rockit to spice up his third outing. I’ve always been of the mind that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 is one of the true unsung gems of the franchise, and this head-banging ode to the big guy is further confirmation of that belief. I mean come on… how often do you get to see guitars cut up by chainsaws?!
If you’ve ever seen Maniac Cop 2, you were no doubt surprised by the end credits song, which is equal parts bizarre and absolutely delightful. Though it was legendary composer Jay Chattaway that composed the score for the 1990 sequel, rappers Josh Barnes and Brian “B.Dub” Woods were brought in to end the film on a fun note, which is precisely what they did. No idea how this came about, or why, but I do know that the world is a much better place with the ‘Maniac Cop Rap’ in it, than it is without it!
For me personally, a large part of the appeal of Return of the Living Dead is the music, which infused a whole lot of fun into a movie that already was a whole lot of fun. And no song from the film’s soundtrack is more memorable than ‘Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die),’ which of course played over the highly memorable scene of Linnea ‘Trash’ Quigley performing her iconic nude cemetery dance. The song was written and performed for the movie by the band SSQ, which was headed by lead singer Stacey Swain. No music video necessary for this one, since the scene is pretty much already the world’s greatest music video!
One of Stephen King’s favorite bands, the Ramones were featured twice in the 1989 adaptation of Pet Sematary, first with the song ‘Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,’ which played during the film, followed by the song ‘Pet Sematary,’ which played along with the end credits. While the former had been released by the Ramones over a decade prior, the latter was written specifically for the film, and ended up becoming one of the band’s biggest radio hits. Interesting to note, Plain White T’s covered the song for the Frankenweenie soundtrack.
What better way to end a horror movie set on Valentine’s Day than with a loving ballad? No better way, thought the composer of 1981’s My Bloody Valentine, and the movie is all the better because of that decision. The studio originally planned on ending the film with a hit rock song, but when they realized they couldn’t afford it, they gave the ball to composer Paul Zaza, who came up with this catchy little ditty. Performed by well-known Canadian tenor John McDermott, ‘The Ballad of Harry Warden’ basically recaps the entire plot of the film, only in the form of a song. Really was hoping they’d use this in the 2009 remake!
We end this nostalgic little list with my personal favorite original horror movie song of all time, which I’m almost as in love with as I am the movie itself. Killer Klowns From Outer Space simply wouldn’t be Killer Klowns From Outer Space without this awesome song from California-based punk band The Dickies, which played over both the opening and ending credits of the film. No song on this list is more perfectly suited to the movie it was made for than this one, and the music video for the film also evokes that fun vibe of the movie, featuring clips and original footage of the Klowns in action. The Dickies released an EP called Killer Klowns From Outer Space in 1988, the same year of the movie’s release, though only the title track was featured in the film.
Can you think of any other original horror movie songs? Comment below and let us know!