We’re used to throngs of drunken zombies performing the ‘Thriller’ dance or miming the ludicrous ‘Monster Mash’ this time of year, but these Halloween standards have overshadowed a raft of other spooky songs, guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away. So If Wes Craven is reading, consider the soundtrack potential of these tracks for your next movie.
1 Radiohead – ‘Everything In Its Right Place’
Although it featured in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, the true despair that undercuts this song was not used to its full potential. Thom Yorke’s atmospheric piano intro penetrates the psyche, leaving you disturbed, with a sense of isolation. The lyrics were said to be pulled from a hat by the band in homage to artist Tristan Tzara.
A great example of post-punk disarray, Robert Smith howls, “I’m lost in a forest, all alone, the girl was never there, it’s always the same”. Smith’s vivid lyrics put the listener into the Forest, setting the scene, “running towards nothing”. Imagine Blair Witch or Evil Dead, the isolation of a forest at night. The pulsing bassline and screeching guitars echo the wind against the trees, no way to escape.
The first track on the list to feature an equally terrifying music video, which some may remember better than the track itself. The video was filmed on the same estate as many of the scenes for Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange. The lyrics repeating, “I want your soul, I will eat your soul” are screeched at such velocity and with such malice your eardrums beg for mercy. When that final scream reaches its pinnacle you wonder if you’ll ever recover.
4 Black Sabbath – ‘Black Sabbath
The title track from Black Sabbath’s debut album features a diminished fifth in its harmonic progression, which usually has satanic connotations in Western music. It is one of the first examples of this in popular music. The church bells and sounds of rain may seem clichéd now but Sabbath introduced these things, creating a musical homage to the horror movies they wished to emulate.
Recorded in the house where The Charles Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate in 1969, industrial classic ‘March Of The Pigs’ shares a similar unease with its location. The poignant lyrics whispered by Trent Reznor lock on like a discomforting inner dialogue, inducing the illusion of paranoia and isolation. It’s easy to understand how Reznor went on to win an Oscar for his soundtrack to The Social Network.
6 Portishead – ‘Roads’
Trip-hop supremos, Portishead deliver a melancholic cry for help from debut album ‘Dummy’. Ladened with echoing reverb that hums with weightless energy, ‘Roads’ subjects you to an intimate confession from singer Beth Gibbons, enhancing the isolating sense of unknowing in its fragile lyrics. Would fit perfectly in a psychological horror, where the distress of the characters is at breaking point.
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The droning interweaving of unearthly sounds makes ‘Venus In Furs’ one of the groundbreaking moments in popular music. The uncertainty of John Cale’s erratic viola combined with the ceremonial pounding of the drums sets the scene for all manner of unsettling dark imagery. Sacrificial connotations can be drawn from the tribal monotony of the soundscape. Never used in a horror movie, it did however feature in Gus Van Sant’s Last Days. And oddly enough was chosen for a Dunlop tyre commercial in the early 90s, combined with fetish imagery.
8 Led Zeppelin – ‘The Battle Of Evermore’
Guitarist Jimmy Page once said that he simply picked up John Paul Jones’s mandolin, without ever having played one, and wrote the entire song in one sitting. Such was the confidence and musicianship of Led Zeppelin. More familiar for its Lord Of The Ring references, thanks to Robert Plant’s fascination with the subject, the mythical themes and howling backing vocals make for a disturbing and spooky listen. Like being transported back in time or witnessing a great battle in the sky, ‘The Battle Of Evermore’ conjures up mystery and intrigue.
Surrounded by scratching, scraping and other indescribable sounds, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ is like waking in the middle of the night in a gothic mansion. Guitars click like a grandfather clock striking midnight, drums echoing like footsteps down long passageways. Post-punk never sounded more vivid and real. Featuring a still from The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, a 1920s horror movie, as its sleeve, surely Bauhaus’s lost classic deserves a place in a Hollywood fright-fest?
Nominated for the 2000 Mercury Prize, Doves debut album ‘Lost Souls’ features a number of ambient and despondent melodies. ‘Firesuite’ is as disconcerting as it is atmospheric. Echoing guitars jangle as sporadic, mournful cries of “Hello” ring out. It creates a sense of unknowing, a fear of the dark and of what lies within it, outside our vision. Ghostly screams and distant melodies make for an uneasy listen.