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13 Great And Memorable Music Moments In Horror Movies

Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(Image credit: Disney / Fox)

An essential part of planning the perfect Halloween party is the perfect playlist of songs to put you in the right spooky mood, such as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Ray Parker Jr.’s Oscar-nominated Ghostbusters theme song, pretty much anything from Black Sabbath, and “Day-O” by Harry Belafonte. That upbeat, 1956 Calypso hit may seem like an obscure choice, but I cannot help but think of Beetlejuice anytime I hear it, so it easily earns a spot on the list. There are plenty of other songs I might not have considered to play during “Rocktober” if not for their memorable inclusions in some of the best horror movies ever made, like this classic rock staple’s famous appearance in a classic slasher masterpiece.

Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Kyes in Halloween

(Image credit: Universal)

“Don’t Fear The Reaper” - Blue Öyster Cult (Halloween)

Blue Öyster Cult’s signature 1976 hit “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was already pretty spooky on its own as a ballad about an ill-fated Romeo and Juliet-style romance. However, its airplay in 1978’s Halloween as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Annie Brackett (Nancy Kyes) are unknowingly followed by Haddonfield’s own infamous “reaper,” Michael Myers, gave it an even more menacing vibe. The song would also make a reprisal in 2007’s Halloween - Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter original slasher.

Christian Bale in American Psycho

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

“Hip To Be Square” - Huey Lewis And The News (American Psycho)

There was absolutely nothing even ironically spooky about “Hip to Be Square” when Huey Lewis and the News released it in 1986. That all changed 14 years later when Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) put it on and presented a sophisticated, in-depth analysis of the pop-rock single’s themes to a drunk Paul Allen (Jared Leto) as he prepared to bash his brains out with an axe. Lewis himself would later poke fun at this seminal moment from American Psycho in a hilarious video for Funny or Die that also stars “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Larry Fessenden in You're Next

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

“Looking For The Magic” - Dwight Twilley Band (You’re Next)

The ominous opening piano chords leading into the groovy celebration of unbridled optimism that is Dwight Tilley’s “Looking for the Magic” almost make it a perfect companion to the jet black comedy throughout Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s You’re Next. Otherwise, the 1977 tune is effectively juxtaposed into two scenes from the brutal and brilliant 2011 home invasion thriller - first in the cold open featuring horror icon Larry Fessenden as Erik Hanson and second when Kelly (Margaret Laney) runs toward Harson’s house (where the song has apparently been playing on repeat this whole time) only to fall prey to one of the masked assassins targeting her family.

The Day-O scene from Beetlejuice

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

“Day-O” - Harry Belafonte (Beetlejuice)

A more definitive, much lighter, and thoroughly inventive examples of some of the best horror-comedy movies is the aforementioned Beetlejuice. Exhibit A: when the recently deceased Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis) attempt to scare the Deetzes (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara) out of their house by possessing them and their party guests with a dance to Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O,” concluded with the startling arrival of beastly hands made of reanimated shrimp. The Jamaican-American artist told Pitchfork in 2018 that he has since enjoyed the effect Tim Burton’s 1988 cult hit has had on his career.

The Return of the Living Dead cast

(Image credit: Orion Pictures)

“Surfin’ Dead” - The Cramps (The Return Of The Living Dead)

Another classic horror comedy heavily is the George A. Romero-inspired The Return of the Living Dead, which is famous for introducing the idea of zombies with a specific craving for brains in 1986. The film has a truly spectacular soundtrack as well, with none more appropriate to its theme than “Surfin’ Dead” - The Cramps’ otherworldly hybrid of The Beach Boys and the Ramones that plays when the cast desperately tries to barricade themselves from the corpses ruthlessly hunting them from outside the local mortuary.

Ted Levine in The Silence of the Lambs

(Image credit: MGM)

“Goodbye Horses” - Q Lazzarus (The Silence Of The Lambs)

There is a subtle uneasiness within the synth-based melody of “Goodbye Horses,” sung by by Q Lazzarus, that makes its inclusion in one of the most discomforting moments from the 1992 Best Picture Oscar winner The Silence of Lambs a stroke of genius. On the other hand, the 1988 one-hit-wonder’s original writer, William Garvey, says the song is about “the ability to lift one’s perception above [their] physical limitations,” lending a thought-provoking commentary on sexual identity to the scene of Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb (Ted Levine) dancing in front of a mirror, despite the homicidal character’s unforgivably heinous actions.

Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke in Us

(Image credit: Universal)

“I Got 5 On It” - Luniz (Us)

There is a more explicit eeriness to the main melody of “I Got 5 On It” - the true meaning of which is debated in 2019’s Us when we first meet our family of protagonists while on their way to an ill-fated vacation. The 1995 single by rap duo Luniz makes a stunning reprisal in writer and director Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort as an orchestral remix during our heroine Adelaide Wilson’s (Lupita Nyong’o) final confrontation with her “tethered” counterpart, interwoven with flashbacks of their shared ballet career. 

Tim Capello in The Lost Boys

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

“I Still Believe” - Tim Capello (The Lost Boys)

The cold open of Us also pays homage to director Joel Schumacher’s 1987 horror-comedy classic The Lost Boys, which also boasts a few famous scenes filmed on location at Santa Monica Pier. Said California hot spot is where Michael (Jason Patric) and his younger brother, Sam (Corey Haim), attend a concert performed by the buff, oily Tim Capello, who plays a mean saxophone on his original song, “I Still Believe.” It kind of feels out of place in dark, coming-of-age vampire story like this, but that is exactly why it remains a frequent topic of conversation among the film’s biggest fans.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show cast perform The Time Warp

(Image credit: Disney / Fox)

“The Time Warp” - Cast (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)

The saxophone section is also pretty mean in “The Time Warp,” which is easily the most recognizable song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show - the mother of all cult films that was adapted from a hit stage musical and originally released in 1975. The smashing number - complete with its own elaborate choreography explained by Charles Gray’s “The Criminologist” in cutaways - is how lovebirds Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick) are welcomed into Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s (Tim Curry) estate by its strange (but quite talented) denizens.  

Bauhaus in The Hunger

(Image credit: MGM)

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” - Bauhaus (The Hunger)

Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon would later star in a more earnest (but equally provocative) horror film called The Hunger, which opens with Bauhaus performing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” at a night club where vampires (played by Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie) are searching for their next meal. The gothic rock band’s haunting debut single, which pays homage to a horror icon best known for playing Dracula, perfectly sets the tone for the erotic, bloody tale of immortality that ensues in Top Gun director Tony Scott’s 1983 thriller.

Anna Paquin in Trick 'r Treat

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” - Marilyn Manson (Trick ‘R Treat)

The otherwise whimsically funny and underrated horror anthology movie Trick ‘r Treat is not without its macabre eroticism - most notably when Laurie (Anna Paquin), dressed as Red Riding Hood for Halloween, and her friends undergo full transformations into werewolves before giving the predatory Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker) his ultimate comeuppance under a full moon. The devilishly ironic twist in Michael Dougherty’s 2007 debut is complimented by Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” - a refreshingly unhinged, industrial rendition of the Eurythmics’ electropop favorite. 

The werewolf in An American Werewolf in London

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

“Blue Moon” - Sam Cooke (An American Werewolf In London)

An even more gruesome, but captivating, example of a man becoming beast occurs in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London when David’s (David Naughton) misanthropic condition makes its furry debut with the help of some Oscar-winning makeup effects by Rick Baker. The soundtrack for John Landis’ 1981 horror-comedy classic is littered with on-the-nose references to the lunar event that causes the centerpiece transformation (from “Moondance” to “Bad Moon Rising”) but Sam Cooke’s rendition of “Blue Moon” serves as a masterful juxtaposition to the horror we see before us.

A drawing of Frank from Donnie Darko

(Image credit: Arrow Films)

“Mad World” - Gary Jules (Donnie Darko)

While I do love a good juxtaposition (as many of my choices above make clear), I do recognize that nothing really ever beats a song that perfectly matches the emotional tone and central message of a pivotal cinematic moment. One of the most signature examples of this happens near the ending of Donnie Darko, after Jake Gyllenhaal’s troubled title “hero” goes back in time to prevent his survival of a freak accident, followed by a montage of the supporting characters seemingly experiencing deja vu of the alternate timeline created at the beginning of the film as “Mad World” plays over the soundtrack. Gary Jules’ stripped-down, piano-heavy cover of Tears for Fears’ meditation on existential dread is a gloomy, yet cathartic, release from the bizarre mind trip of Richard Kelly’s 2001 indie thriller.

It is funny to think of how only one of the songs from this list comes from a musical, until you realize that they are just not very many horror movies that are musicals. Well, with how many great musical moments we counted above (and how many more we also could have included), it seems like that should change some day.

Jason Wiese

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.