Bernard Herrman’s anxious and jarring strings in his unforgettable score for Psycho; Goblin’s spine-tingling whispers in their masterful, prog-rock score for Suspiria; John Carpenter’s simple and effective screw-turning in his oft-imitated score for Halloween. All these classic themes enrich the visceral and disquieting experience of watching these quintessential works of the horror genre. But they also all share one glaring shortcoming: they don’t have lyrics.
I know what you’re thinking: Horror films have evolved from their schlocky, B-movie beginnings. Mainstream horror films are now a serious business, worth billions at the box office, and catering to a sophisticated audience, familiar with the rigidly serious conventions of a well-honed medium. Few would argue the Saw franchise would be any better a horror film if the opening titles featured Shirley Bassey belting: “He’s a demented puppet / He’s sadistic and cunning / You better play his games / Or get handcuffed to plumbing!”
But wouldn’t it be a whole lot more charming of a franchise if it did?? There was a time, not too long ago, when a sub-category of horror filmmakers felt compelled to allow catchy, spoiler-heavy theme-songs to share in the heavy-lifting of entertaining audiences. Whether it be the result of vestigial mimicry of radio in the 1960s, genre-blending experimentation in the ’70s, or the freewheeling, profit-chasing ancillary marketing of the ’80s, today we have a bizarre and hilarious collection of 13 horror theme songs for you to add to your Halloween party playlist. In no particular order:
1. THE BLOB – theme by Burt Bacharach (1958)
Bacharach’s playful, swinging tune may seem like an odd match for an unironic monster movie, but both the film and the track enjoyed widespread popularity (as did the film’s breakout star, Steve McQueen). The 1972 sequel seems to have taken a hint from it’s predecessor’s theme song, check out the tongue-in-cheek trailer for Beware! The Blob.
2. GREEN SLIME – theme by Richard Delvy (1968)
In our second mucous-themed movie, we have “the civilized world at war with alien form, whose slimy touch means instant, horrible death.” The decidedly psychedelic theme song was composed by surf rock pioneer Richard Delvy.
3. SPIDER BABY – theme by Lon Chaney (1964
Star Lon Chaney wrote and performed this fantastically cartoonish theme song to the black comedy, with apparent disregard for the plot about a family of sadistic, mentally ill sisters. While we’re on the subject of femme fatales in sexploitation films…
4. VAMPIRE HOOKERS – theme by Jaime Mendoza-Nava (1978)
Before there was From Dusk Till Dawn, there was the slightly less subtle Vampire Hookers. The chorus suggestively assures us, “They’re vampire hookers, and blood is not all they suck.” What else do they suck? Don’t leave us hanging, Jaime Mendoza-Nava!
5. FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! – theme by The Bostweeds (1965)
I promise this is the last sexploitation film on this list… Okay, second to last. Possibly third to last. Russ Meyer was an auteur of this type of trash cinema, and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was his Citizen Kane. While not traditionally categorized as a horror film–it focuses on a group of sex-crazed, hot rod-racing, murderous go-go dancers–it surely must have tapped into the fears of conservative patriarchs everywhere.
6. THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL! – “Shadow” by the Electric Prunes (1968)
The Electric Prunes were an internationally popular, experimental rock group at the height of their career when they recorded this track for The Name of the Game is KILL! Just listen to it. It sounds like all of 1968 wrapped into one half-assed, heavy-hitting song.
7. THE MONSTER CLUB – theme by The Pretty Things (1980)
Imagine you’re walking down a foggy London street when Vampire Vincent Price whisks you off to a underground club filled with super-hip ghouls and sexy Frankensteins, and everyone sings about how awesome it is to be a monster and take turns telling spooky stories. My friends, this is the basic premise of The Monster Club anthology. In addition to this title track, there’s also “The Stripper” and “Sucker For Your Love”, and you can see them all in context by watching the entire movie online.
8. SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-ORAMA – Guy Moon (1988)
I know nothing about this campy celebration of boobs and male fantasy, except what can be gathered from its weird trailer and Wikipedia post (lots of butt paddling, shower scenes and voyeurism, I presume). What I do know is that it’s synth-pop theme music sounds intentionally retro enough to be a hit today. It sounds like something Grimes composed on a drum machine. It sounds like a Monday night at Spaceland. I love it so much, I don’t even care that the lyrics begin and end with: “Here, in the darkness.”
9. KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE – “Killer Klowns” by The Dickies (1988)
Murderous aliens, resembling clowns, land on Earth and terrorize the local townsfolk. The Dickies’ theme song sounds like a demented Oingo Boingo, and effectively and predictably uses that classic carnival tune, which, on its own, is enough to give people with coulrophobia the creeps.
10. CAT PEOPLE – David Bowie (1982)
David Bowie provided the theme song to this curious remake of a 1942 film about a woman whose sexual awakening causes her to turn into a monstrous black leopard. Is it just me, or does there seem to be some kind of connection between filmmakers who fear female empowerment and the compulsion to get a theme song written about it?
11. PET SEMATARY – The Ramones (1989)
Fulfilling the deepest fears of hardcore punk purists everywhere, the Ramones officially sold out by providing this theme song, and the cheesy music video, for the Stephen King horror pic about evil, resurrected animals.
12. I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE – The Fleshtones (1987)
What starts out as a relatively innocent adventure for some teenagers looking to score some weed, quickly becomes a nightmare when a dead drug dealer gets pushed into a toxic river and climbs out a zombie. Though an obscure, low budget B-flick, this rockabilly music video got airplay on MTV, and the film had a killer soundtrack, including songs by Violent Femmes, The Waitresses, and Los Lobos.
13. HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES – Rob Zombie (2003)
Of course a film directed by Rob Zombie would have a theme song by Rob Zombie. Admittedly this is far less campy than the rest, but what is a horror movie playlist without Mr. Zombie. Bonus: The film also features a pre-The Office Rainn Wilson.
That’s our list. Now let us know about your favorite spooky theme songs. Is it Ray Parker, Jr.’s timeless “Ghostbusters“? MC Hammer’s not so timeless “Addams Family Groove“? Michael Jackson’s ballad to “Ben“? Maybe one of the numbers from the spot-on schlock remake/parody Little Shop of Horrors? And, if you haven’t yet, also check out our original Halloween Party Playlist, Part I, as well as Part II, our list of Terrifying Halloween Songs, our list of unlucky Friday the 13th Songs, and our list of Halloween records, curated by Origami Vinyl! List your favorites tracks in the comments below.
Featured Image Powered By DeviantArt // Corinne Roberts