In the realm of heavy metal, every day is Halloween. Just consider the costumes, the make-up, the shrieking, the zombie mascots, the haunted house stage decor, and the omnipresence of horned demons and hungry gargoyles set loose in tribute to the forces of darkness. And what back stage rider is complete without a gluttonous array of sweets and candies(no brown M&M’s please)?
Another way of looking at it, though, is that for one day each year, the whole rest of the world goes heavy metal. Either way, come late October, Halloween and heavy metal are as intertwined as the words “trick” and “treat.” The unholy wellspring from which each draws its greatest inspiration is the hairy, scary visual and cultural vocabulary of horror movies.
The band Black Sabbath is in fact named after Black Sabbath, a 1963 fright flick directed by Italian terror maestro Mario Bava and starring the man who made Frankenstein’s flat head and stomping boots famous, Boris Karloff. In some manner, then, a horror movie gave rise to the entire genre of heavy metal itself. Similarly, good times and great scares on Halloween almost always begin with somebody turning on a spooky movie to set a properly ghoulish mood.
The hair-raising, head-banging films that follow explicitly blend horror and heavy metal into a varyingly intense, intriguing, and oftentimes just awesomely insane witch’s brews of fear and fun. Grab your candy, throw your horns, and rock out to the 20 greatest heavy metal horror movies for Halloween.
Trick or Treat (1986)
Gene Simmons of Kiss radiates late-night cool as a rock DJ named Nuke. Ozzy Osbourne hams it up as a televangelist. Marc Price—aka Skippy Henderson from the ’80s sitcom Family Ties—is a headbanging nerd who plays a heavy metal cassette backwards and accidentally conjures up a kill-crazy glam rocker. Fastway, a supergroup featuring “Fast” Eddie Clarke of Motörhead and Pete Way of UFO, provide the soundtrack. Together, they’re all treats, no tricks.
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Writer-director Rob Zombie’s debut film brilliantly translates his high-tech yet still down-and-dirty music to the medium he was destined to dominate: the heavy metal horror film. Hapless young travelers descend into Hell by way of a killer clown, a family of freaks, and an underground M.D. (medical deviate) so formidable, he could only be named Dr. Satan.
Black Roses (1988)
Black Roses is out to prove your mom was correct in her fears about heavy metal. The rock band of the title is a cabal of hair-farmers from Hell who roll into a small town (by way of each member’s personal Lamborghini sports car), blast out their infernal music, and thereby transform all teens within earshot into metal-possessed demon-zombies who are famished for parental flesh.
Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)
You wanted the best, you got… Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park instead. Campy, laughable, and endlessly entertaining, this classic cheeseball NBC TV-movie pits the hottest band in the world against their evil robotic doppelgangers amidst rollercoasters and bumper cars. Meanwhile, a mad scientist attempts to conquer the world from beneath a cotton candy stand, and Kiss awesomely lip-synchs a batch of their greatest hits.
Black Sabbath (1963)
It’s a tale as old as metal itself: the hippie blues band Earth was jamming one night when bass player Geezer Butler noticed a long line outside a movie theater. The featured attraction was a horror anthology film titled Black Sabbath. Butler took note of how people loved to be scared by movies and proposed that perhaps they’d love to be scared by music as well. And thereby did Earth transform in Black Sabbath, and unto this mortal realm was heavy metal born.
A Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors (1987)
The third go-round for Freddy Krueger, the razor-fingered slasher who creatively slays teens in their dreams, is the strongest sequel in the Elm Street series. It’s also the source of the one Dokken song that everybody knows: the MTV and late-night radio metal show smash, “Dream Warriors” (and right now you’re singing along to it in your mind).
Dee Snider of Twisted Sister always wanted to star in a horror movie and he wasn’t gonna take it anymore. Thusly motivated, he wrote Strangeland and fantastically cast himself as Captain Howdy, an inter-dimensional sadist and body-modification freak who tantalizes teens with tattoo prospects and then permanently mutilates them using all manner of inventive atrocities.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987)
Jon Mikl Thor, a lifelong bodybuilder and former male stripper, has fronted the massively theatrical metal band Thor for decades. With Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, Thor made the leap to movie star (sort of) as a wailing metal frontman whose attempts to record a new album get repeatedly interrupted by foam rubber monster puppets, and even a guy done up in a magnificently cheap costume as Satan himself.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Flamboyant filmmaker Brian De Palma’s way-out, one-of-a-kind “phantasia” electrifyingly recasts The Phantom of the Opera among the glitz and excess of 1970s hard rock. As if that weren’t metal enough, Gerrit Graham scorches the screen as Beef, a hulking combination of Alice Cooper and Freddy Mercury. His opening band is the Undead, a group that sounds like Kiss and wears an early version of the “corpse paint” donned by black metal groups decades later.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Horror author supreme Stephen King sole cinematic directorial effort (to date), the witty and suspenseful Maximum Overdrive chronicles machines overtaking humanity to a nonstop soundtrack of AC/DC classics and a handful of originals, including the classic theme song, “Who Made Who.”
Shock ’Em Dead (1991)
Made at the dawn of grunge, hair-metal’s final cinematic death-thrash is a fitting send-off. A wannabe rocker named Angel sells his soul to the devil in order to take his band Spastique Colon to the heights of worldly success. There is, of course, hell to pay. Reformed porn star Traci Lords plays a demonically sexy manager, and the guitar shredding comes courtesy of Michael Angelo Batio from the group Nitro.
Monster Dog (1984)
Alice Cooper stars in Monster Dog as Vincent Raven, a metal god who proves to be all too human and who may also actually be a werewolf (non-spoiler alert: he actually is a werewolf). Gory, sloppy, loony, and featuring Alice’s “Identity Crisis” music video in its opening moments, Monster Dog is one extended Halloween howl.
Rocktober Blood (1988)
Billy “Eye” Harper (Tray Loren) fronts the metal group Rocktober Blood. It’s a good gig until he unexpectedly massacres everyone in a recording studio, gets executed, and subsequently returns as a crazed wraith who slays all who come in contact with his ex-girlfriend after she takes his place singing for the band. That’s when it becomes a great gig.
Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal (2001)
Turbulence 3 injects the airplane thriller movie series with homicidal heavy metal. Slade Craven (John Mann), a scary rocker in the mold of Marilyn Manson, is playing his final concert on board a Boeing 747. The mile-high mayhem really takes flight after a deranged killer assumes the singer’s identity and turns the skies decidedly unfriendly.
The Gate (1987)
Are you entertaining kids this Halloween? The Gate is a perfect introduction for them to both horror movies and heavy metal. After a couple of pals play a metal record backward, a portal to the infernal unknown opens up in their backyard and through it pour an army of foot-high demons, a giant hand, and other dark wonders that are charming, visually inventive, and just scary enough.
Mr. Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical (2011)
Mr. Bricks (Tim Dax) is a muscle-bound, tattoo-faced powder keg of intensity who kidnaps a sexy female cop (Nicola Fiore) and aims to impress her with his murderous might, particularly with the blunt objects for which he is named. The gory love story plays out as a full-blown musical, with characters repeatedly bursting into metalcore songs (along repeatedly just plain bursting). There’s no saying it’s not unique.
Hard Rock Zombies (1985)
Evil dwarves, a wolf-woman, and Adolph Hitler himself welcome a touring heavy metal band called Holy Moses to the menacing European hamlet of Grand Guignol. Also be on the lookout for break-dancing, mute sex fiends, and frightening female eyebrows. To no one’s surprise, by the end Holy Moses is wholly comprised of the flesh-eating, guitar-shredding undead.
The crackpot horror comedy TerrorVision boasts a new-wave look and a punkish attitude, but it metallically spikes its heady brew by way of O.D. (Jon Gries), a high-haired burnout in a W.A.S.P. t-shirt. He proves to be Earth’s best defense against a blobby, fang-faced space alien sucked by TV satellite into an indoor swimming pool.
After returning from a metal concert, a posse of small town headbangers discovers that their home turf has been overtaken by a hell-spawned bloodsucker that’s turned the locals into an army of demonic slaves. Blood flows in Darkness the way screaming licks flow during an Yngwie Malmsteen solo.
Terror on Tour (1980)
The earliest film to qualify as bona fide “metalsploitation,” Terror on Tour tracks the lethal progress of the Clowns, a Kiss-style band who wear leotards, full face-paint, and massive, multi-hued afro wigs. Wherever the Clowns perform, somebody ends up slaughtered and, while slasher murders are no laughing matter, this is a cheap horror movie about a bunch of metal clowns actually called the Clowns! Yuk it up.