There’s no denying that a film’s soundtrack is one of the most important aspects of the movie-going experience. The horror master himself, John Carpenter once said that the music he wrote for Halloween was one of the most, if not the most important ingredients in the film’s success. And while hand-tailored scores often prove to be one of the most powerful tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal, even the most heavily orchestrated films tend to carry a secondary soundtrack of songs, many of which end up outstripping the popularity of the films that brought them back onto our radars.
To prove this preamble, what follows is a selection of tracks that were never intentionally written to scare the bejeezus out of us but which became inextricably linked to the horror movies they were ultimately featured in – and which we’ll never hear in the same light again.
‘It’s Hip to be Square’ by Huey Lewis and the News
Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 satirical yuppie slasher novel remains disturbingly timely almost two decades later. Christian Bale’s portrayal of Patrick Bateman – a walking, talking motif of heartless capitalism – is divinely deranged throughout, but he’s at his most electric when he breaks into a soliloquy on ‘Fore!’, Huey Lewis and the News’ “most accomplished album.” ‘Hip to Be Square’ plays in the background as Bale delivers his rhetoric, whilst “cagouling up,” steeling himself for the impending splatter. Curiously, Easton Ellis went on to reveal to Billboard that, in hindsight, he regretted having linked Lewis to Bateman: “I ended up feeling bad for Batemen’s loving attention toward the band, which, in itself is this kind of criticism of the culture… I liked them more than the implied criticism of them that’s in the text.”
Killer lyric: “You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care.”
Similar Shockers: Targets, Nightcrawler, The Shining
‘Looking for Magic’ by The Dwight Twilley Band
The Dwight Twilley Band had a string of power pop hits back in the ’70s but ‘Looking for the Magic’, from their 1977 LP ‘Twilley Don’t Mind’, wasn’t one of them. But then, 34 years later, the track experienced a boost of fame when Adam Wingard popped it on repeat play as an amusing recurring theme-tune-of-sorts in the brilliantly funny and ingenious home-invasion shocker, You’re Next. And fans have been religiously playing the track on loop ever since – annoying and petrifying neighbours in equal measures.
Killer Lyric: “All my life I’m looking for the magic. I’ve been looking for the magic. Fantasise on a silly little tragic.”
Similar Shockers: The Strangers, A Horrible Way to Die, Await Further Instructions
‘I Got 5 On It’ by Luniz
Jordan Peele’s second feature had us all talking – and singing thanks to the inclusion of the Luniz’ 1995 hit “I Got 5 on It.” Initially serving as a light-hearted family bonding moment, an early scene sees the Wilson family heading off on their hols as the parents make playful attempts to bridge the generation gap between themselves and their kids through the aforementioned ’90s hip-hop classic playing on the car radio. As the horror descends, the song’s ominous chords take on an increasingly sinister toneas the film’s recurring musical motif.
“The riff reminded me of Nightmare on Elm Street,” Peele told NME earlier this year. “I love taking a song and throwing a new context at it.” And that’s precisely what he did, because listening to this classic track has never been the same since.
Killer Lyric: If anyone had “more growing pains than Maggie,” that’d be Adelaide.
Similar Shockers: Coherence, The Happening, The Strangers
‘Bad Moon Rising’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival
An American Werewolf in London
John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London is packed full of lunar-themed classics but it’s Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’ that really howls out. Heard just before the film’s phenomenal Oscar-winning transformation scene, the track perfectly complements the helmer’s hilarious tongue-in-cheek take on werewolf tropes.
The band was just as happy as fans that the track was used to accompany the movie too. In an interview with Loudersound, rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty said that he, “objected to ‘Bad Moon Rising’ being strewn around on TV commercials and any old movie but we had no power in our contracts to veto where our music went. And for every good movie that you’ve heard it in – for example An American Werewolf in London, which was a pretty cool movie – there were at least ten more that were awful.”
Killer lyric: “Hope you got your things together. Hope you are quite prepared to die. Looks like we’re in for nasty weather. One eye is taken for an eye.”
Similar Shockers: The Howling, Vampire’s Kiss, The Fly
‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
The Scream franchise
One of Cave’s signature songs, this dark and ominous track was already as creepy as Hell when it first appeared on the album “Let Love In” but it earned itself a place in horror movie history when Wes Craven included it in one of Hollywood’s most hallowed horror sagas, Scream.
The original version appeared in the first film in 1996 but it proved so effective that Craven included a remixed version by DJ Spooky for Scream 2 before Nick Cave subsequently went on to record a new version – sometimes referred to as “Red Right Hand 2” – for Scream 3. One thing that’s for certain is that Cave is forever grateful for the inclusion of the song in the franchise, often dedicating it to Craven during live sets.
Killer lyric: “You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan. Designed and directed by his red right hand.”
Similar Shockers: April Fool’s Day, Popcorn, I Know What You Did Last Summer
‘Rocky Mountain High’ by John Denver
James Wong’s Final Destination yanked the rug out from under horror audiences by reminding us of every deadly danger that exists in our daily lives.
Subconsciously or not, the decision to have “Rocky Mountain High” serve as Death’s own presage, particularly when used to forewarn passengers of an almighty air accident, is as macabre as it comes given the fact that John Denver died in a plane crash a mere three years before the film came out.
Killer Lyric: “I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky. You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply.”
Similar Shockers: The Butterfly Effect, The Frighteners, Seconds Apart
‘Goodbye Horses’ by Q Lazzarus
The Silence of the Lambs
Regardless of how great a track this is, since Jonathan Demme’s serial-killer thriller released back in ’91, not even an MIB neuralyser can prevent us from recreating Buffalo Bill’s unsettling mangina-meets-Bon Jovi moment in our heads whenever we hear it. For reasons unknown, the song was never included on the official soundtrack which resulted in Q Lazzarus releasing an extended version in 1991 to capitalise on the film’s success. The song became so resiliently associated with the tuck-back moment that the entire scene was later parodied by Jay and Silent Bob in Clerks II.
Killer Lyric: “You say, “All things pass into the night” And I say, “Oh no sir I must say you’re wrong””
Similar Shockers: Seven, Zodiac, “Mindhunters”
‘The Man Comes Around’ by Johnny Cash
Dawn of the Dead
Zack Snyder’s revisioning of George Romero’s Dawn of The Dead proved itself to be one of very few exceptions to the horror remake rule. Much of the film’s success was fruit of the brutally effective eleven-and-a-half-minute-long opening scene which climaxes with ‘The Man Comes Around’ playing over the opening credits. Snyder hand picked the track himself, ignoring the producers’ constant objections. Combined with the myriad of grainy apocalyptic news reports, Cash’s haunting ode transforms into a completely different beast altogether.
Killer lyric: “The hairs on your arm will stand up at the terror in each sip and in each sup.”
Similar Shockers: 28 Days Later, The Crazies, 30 Days of Night
‘Pretend We’re Dead’ by L7
Shaun of the Dead
Should you ever find yourself in desperate need of reaching your local drinkery amid a Zombie Apocalypse, take a leaf out of Edgar Wright’s book: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Sort of, anyway. In arguably the most memorable scene in the first entry in “The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy,” the film’s protagonists try out their zombie acting chops by applying a bit of pasty makeup before safely shuffling and moaning their way to the Winchester through wave upon wave of rotters. But what made the scene all the more priceless was the fact that they play out their half-baked plan (in the trailer) to the most befitting song possible, despite the song having absolutely squat diddly to do with zombies.
Killer lyric: Nothing to do with zombies? The opening lyric would definitely have you believe the song was written specifically for the film: “What’s up with what’s going down. In every city, in every town.”
Similar Shockers: Fido, Cooties, One Cut of the Dead
‘Love is a Lie’ by Lion
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Alright, so The Final Chapter is far from the most memorable entry in the Friday The 13th franchise but it demands to be seen if only to revel in one of the most ludicrous dance moments in movie history. The man with all the moves here is Jimbo (Crispin Glover), a shy, heartbroken teenager who’s fed up to the back teeth of girls deeming him a “dead fuck” and it’s got to the point where he’ll do whatever it takes to get himself hooked up. And that he does.
Eager to prove he’s got what it takes, he pops on ‘Love is a Lie’ before pulling off what can only be described as a spasmodic “mating ritual” of deliberately dorky proportions… that surprisingly works. According to the cast and crew, that whole scene was Glover on improvisation overdrive and (sorry to spoil this for you, but) he was actually dancing to AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black.’ Looking back, Glover’s dance partner, Carey Moore openly admitted, ” I think I pretty much acted exactly how I was feeling, which was like, ‘What the flip is going on here?’”
Killer lyric: Back in Black’s “I’m let loose from the noose that’s kept me hanging about” would have made much more sense to include here but it wasn’t to be, so for plan B we went with “I’m not another of your one-night-stands. I’m not another of your so-called friends. This is where the party ends.” Having said that, what we can include is a recent mashup of the mating ritual with ‘Back in Black’ created by YouTuber Lewis Wake.
Similar Shockers: The Final Girls, Madman, Sleepaway Camp