Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Five Best-Used Songs in Horror Movies

One thing all horror fans can agree on is that the one aspect that can make or break a film is the music. While there is plenty of unforgettable music created specifically for horror movies, let's not forget there are times filmmakers have also utilized existing works, too. Besides, honestly, aren't you tired of hearing about "Dream Warriors" yet? The five tunes I have listed below are, to me, the best-used songs in horror films. I'm not saying they are the best songs that happen to show up. Trust me, I'd love to include Accept's "Fast as a Shark" (played during the motorcycle scene in Demons) just because it's a kick-ass song. Totally different kind of list. These tracks were picked for a reason. As you'll see, the reasons vary, but the uniform criteria is that these songs worked so well they are forever synonymous with the films in which they were used.

Here, in no order at all, are the five greatest examples of using an outside song to enhance a horror film:

"Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield, The Exorcist (1973)
What mainstream audiences know as the "theme" to The Exorcist, is actually the first five minutes of prog-rocker Mike Oldfield's side-long epic, "Tubular Bells, Part I". It's pretty clear that Oldfield was not thinking "creepy atmosphere" when he came up with the intro, because the rest of the composition resembles nothing like it. William Friedkin, though, thought it was the right choice to add to "the scariest movie of all time." Oh boy, did he hit the jackpot. The melody is so eerily catchy with it's hushed, odd rhythm, ensuring its infamous association with The Exorcist. More importantly, it's so beautifully played, it simultaneously captures the very human drama of the film.

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, Halloween (1978)
Hands down, one of the best examples of a song used to enhance a moment on screen comes in the form of Blue Oyster Cult's signature anthem, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper", in John Carpenter's Halloween. In the scene, Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) are riding in the car with the song on the radio, chit-chatting, smoking pot, and completely unaware of The Shape's existence, let alone the fact that he's following close behind in his stolen station wagon. Off their fourth album, 1976's Agents of Fortune, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was BOC's mainstream breakthrough, their biggest hit single, and is one of the greatest heavy metal songs ever written. It also puts every corny, corporate, kiss-ass hard rock power ballad that followed it to shame with its hauntingly beautiful, even philosophical, exploration of love that never dies. It works in the scene on the surface level of The Shape personifying Death, but the romanticism of the lyrics definitely adds a new layer to the bond between Laurie and her masked stalker.

Of course, an honorable mention goes to The Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman", which made its way into Halloween II. Similar to "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" in the previous film, the lyrics to "Mr. Sandman" ends up providing more subtext to the relationship between The Shape and Laurie. This time around, though, thanks to the film's plot twist, that subtext is more lurid.

"The Gonk" by Herbert Chappell, Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The most famous piece of elevator music ever. This library track, composed by Herbert Chappell and recorded in 1965, was used as the mall music for George A. Romero's zombie masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead. The snappy little number against the backdrop of hordes of the undead shuffling through a shopping center was as black-humored as social commentary gets, making it just as memorable as Goblin's original score for the film.

"Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus, Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Next on the list is "Goodbye Horses", an obscure 1988 darkwave song by the group, Q Lazzarus. The track has become famous thanks to Ted Levine's beyond awkward dance in 1991's Silence of the Lambs. You would think a song about transcending the ordinary and mundane would be a joyous listen, but the shadowy music gives the lyrics a rather darkened edge. That's why this underground classic is the perfect soundtrack for Buffalo Bill's subterranean dungeon.

"Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen, Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 years after its release, Queen's 1978 anthem, "Don't Stop Me Now" (off their underrated album, Jazz), was given new life after its inclusion in Edgar Wright's legendary horror comedy, Shaun of the Dead. I say inclusion, because Wright didn't just lay the song on top of the action, he made it part of the movie. As you can see and hear in the clip below, the scene is a hilarious blend of sound design, sound editing, choreography, and film editing. In addition, the song randomly plays as the Winchester's jukebox magically turns on during a crucial moment in the film, as Shaun's turn from aimless drone to true hero becomes complete.

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