Every year, Halloween season floods our common culture anew with beloved pop and rock songs inspired by scary movies.
Among the annual favorites are trick-or-treat toe-tappers on the order of “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon, “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads, and even the Flashdance hit “Maniac” by Michael Sembello, which was inspired by the poster for a spectacularly gory and controversial 1980 slasher blowout of the same name (talk about shocking!).
From rock’s earliest days onward, deeper and more diabolical outliers spiked the genre with spooky odes to slaughter and sorcery—i.e. “Jack the Ripper” by Screaming Lord Sutch and “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins—largely clearing the path out of hell for the musical mutation that would forever be inseparable from the cinema of terror: heavy metal.
On Friday the 13th, 1970, Black Sabbath (in)famously invented heavy metal by alchemizing their innately sinister electric blues genius with the tone and title of a Boris Karloff fright film from which they also garnered their band name (after changing it from Earth, as well as that of the first song on their first album: Black Sabbath.
Countless metal, punk, and hard rock odes to big-screen monsters and mayhem have since flowed in Sabbath’s wake. Here’s a playlist of 13 ferociously fang-faced favorites raising hell forever in the realm of heavy metal movies.
“Dead by Dawn” – Deicide (1990)
Movie: The Evil Dead (1981)
Director Sam Raimi’s original raucous splatter-bash The Evil Dead obviously hit Florida death metal practitioners with horrific full-scale hurricane force. First, the Sunshine State’s pioneering pulverizers Death paid homage to the film in 1987 with “Evil Dead.” Three years later, Deicide unleashed their own tribute in the form of “Dead by Dawn.”
“Red Rum” – Lizzy Borden (1985)
Movie: The Shining (1980)
Over-the-top glam metal marauders Lizzy Borden rework Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 master spectre-fest The Shining into a paradoxically wild romp. High-pitched (and higher-haired) front-wailer Lizzy himself lovingly recounts the movie’s doom-laden details over driving riffs and beats that prove he’s no dull boy.
“I Was a Teenage Werewolf” – The Cramps (1980)
Movie: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
The campy drive-in nugget I Was a Teenage Werewolf stars Michael Landon (yes, Pa Ingles from Little House on the Prairie) as the titular adolescent lycanthrope whose transformation gets triggered not by a full moon, but sonic stress on the order of a school bell suddenly ringing right behind his head.
Psychobilly berserkers the Cramps run wild with IWATW’s plot as though it had been created just for them to turn into a song of the same name. On the other paw, though, unhinged vocalist Lux Interior howls with such conviction that perhaps the Cramps’ take is actually autobiographical.
“Eyes Without a Face” – Billy Idol (1983)
Movie: Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Billy Idol’s hit “Eyes Without a Face” doesn’t lyrically mine the plot of Les Yeux Sans Visage, the artful French body-horror shocker from which the song takes its translated title.
Instead, Idol matches the film’s encroaching darkness and ethereal dread, especially when backup singer Perry Lister eerily moans the titular phrase en francais.
“Nosferatu” – Blue Öyster Cult (1977)
Movie: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)
One of cinema’s first true terror blockbusters, F.W. Murnau’s silent meistürwürk Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror erupted out of Germany and set the template for so much big-screen scare fare to follow.
The original vampire classic also unveiled an instant fright icon in the form of Max Schreck, whose chrome dome, pointed ears, razor teeth, and claw fingers will frighten and repulse all comers on into eternity.
Heady metal adventurers Blue Öyster Cult play up the damned romance aspect of the film in their song, “Nosferatu.” The lyrics chronicle poor Lucy, the beauty falls prey to the undead anti-hero, but whose allure drives him to a new kind of madness.
As frontman E. Bloom sings, “Only a woman can break his spell/pure in heart, who will offer herself/to Nosferatu.”
“Sign of the Wolf” – Pentagram (1984)
Movie: The Wolf Man (1941)
Doom lord supreme Bobby Liebling looks like a mad wizard or crackpot phantom from a fright film, and he rocks with the power of all hell behind him by way of his decades-running stoner metal powerhouse, Pentagram.
“Sign of the Wolf,” Pentagram’s best-known song, is a howling anthem to Universal Studio’s Lon Chaney Jr. masterwork, The Wolf Man. The lyrics refer to the five-pointed star and full moon lore that many assume has been part of lycanthropy mythology since ancient times.
In fact, screenwriter Curt Siodak invented such details—along with silver bullets being what does in a werewolf—when penning The Wolf Man. Bobby Liebling brings them to foaming-mouthed, razor-clawed, fur-faced new life on “Sign of the Wolf.”
“I Walked With a Zombie” – Roky Erickson (1980)
Movie: I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
In 1969, Texas police busted Roky Erickson, leader of the supreme psychedelic visionaries the 13th Floor Elevators, for two joints. To avoid jail, Erickson opted to be committed to a state mental institution. There, the authorities subjected him to brutal shock treatments and drug overloads for five years. When Roky finally emerged, a full-blown haunted house raged nonstop inside his head.
The only upside of this tragic abuse by the state is that Roky exorcised his demons through an explosion of electrifyingly intense and endlessly fascinating songs in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Roky’s lyrics tended toward the horrific (“Bloody Hammer”), the spooky (“White Faces”), the supernatural (“Night of the Vampire”), and the generally bizarre (“Two Headed Dog;” “It’s a Cold Night for Alligators”).
Among the most deceptively simple and immediately indelible of Roky’s post-Elevators output is “I Walked With the Zombie.” The song shares a title (along with 90% of lyrics) with that of a relentlessly atmospheric voodoo thriller from 1943. Still, Roky’s ramble plays like an inner horror epic all its own.
“Chainsaw” – Ramones (1976)
Movie: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
“Chainsaw” literally buzzes on the Ramones’ self-titled 1976 debut, as the screeching racket of the song’s namesake object gives way to these crackpot punk pioneers’ lamenting the fate of their favorite lady succumbing to the blade of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface.
“The Wicker Man” – Iron Maiden (2000)
Movie: The Wicker Man (1973)
Iron Maiden has long mastered converting myriad motion pictures into soaring musical sagas. The Wicker Man (1973) especially lends itself to a Maiden makeover as its infernal account of virgin Christian sacrifice among island-dwelling pagans reigns among cinema’s heaviest of inherently metal movies.
“Night of the Living Dead” – Misfits (1982)
Movie: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
New Jersey’s ultimate hardcore ghouls hurl themselves face-paint-first into George Romero’s apocalyptic zombie before-and-after line—and you are there! “You think you’re a zombie?/you think it’s a scene from some monster magazine?” head Misfit-in-charge Glenn Danzig sings, “Well, open your eyes/ too late, this ain’t no fantasy!” The Misfits make you believe it.
“Living Dead Girl” – Rob Zombie (1988)
Movie: Living Dead Girl (1982)
Rob Zombie’s profound personal romance with horror films dates back years before he even picked up an instrument, let alone named his first band after a creaky, creepy 1932 Bela Lugosi spooker, White Zombie.
As a result, almost everything Rob Zombie touches can be traced directly to one or more scary movies. Case very much in point: “Living Dead Girl,” Rob’s ’98 named after a sensual zombie saga directed by sex-intensive French fright auteur, Jean Rollin.
“Freddy Krueger” – S.O.D.
Movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street
“His hand spells death/He breathes his vile breath/No way you can stop him once he’s out/He haunts your sleep/In the tub, he hides down deep/He rips your face and no one hears you shout.”
On “Freddy Krueger,” punk-metal madmen Stormtroopers of Death, aka S.O.D., celebrate horror’s supreme razor-fingered, flambéed-face, fedora-sporting anti-hero. More impressive still: S.O.D. composed and recorded the song while the original Nightmare on Elm Street was still bouncing around actual movie theaters.
“The Ballad of Dwight Fry” – Alice Cooper
Movie: Dracula (1931)
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the 1982 black-lipstick gloom-shimmy anthem by goth gargoyles Bauhaus, admittedly can’t be topped for being rock’s definitive homage to Dracula’s most famous star.
Leave it to Alice Cooper, though, to beat Bauhaus by eleven years. In addition, Alice exhibits infinitely more intriguing and amusing perversion via “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.”
Alice’s “Ballad” champions not the slick, sexy Transylvania count, but instead rhapsodizes Renfield, Dracula’s bug-eyed, spider-swallowing, straight-jacketed assistant played to insane perfection by, yes, Dwight Fry.