When Halloween rolls around, we get out our ever-increasing mix of horror songs, many of which come from movies. List junkies that we are, we had the idea of ranking the best ones in order of greatness, scariness, coolness and cheesiness, or however the mood struck us. Unlike the Academy we are allowing cover versions, so long as they were actually recorded for the movie. We're also disqualifying instrumental and incidental music, which would include Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho Theme," John Carpenter's "Halloween Theme," Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" and Goblin's music. These are pop songs only. Finally, we're disqualifying such classic Halloween party music as "Ghostbusters," "Weird Science" and "Time Warp," because they do not actually originate from horror films. Rules out of the way, here we go:
9. "Cat People," by David Bowie
From Cat People (1982)
Paul Schrader's remake of one of my favorite movies, the 1942 Cat People, is very good for many reasons, but this David Bowie song is the least of them. If memory serves, it runs during the closing credits and has very little to do with the film; it's actually called "Putting Out Fire (with Gasoline)," and it's probably better known to people who bought Bowie's hit Let's Dance album the following year. Nonetheless, it's Bowie, so it's at least listenable. Oddly, Bowie actually acted in a good horror film in 1983, The Hunger, but did not record any music for it.
8. "Dream Warriors," by Dokken
From A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
We admit to being into these guys when we saw A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors in the theater. They were the epitome of cheesy hair metal, though perhaps a bit less showy than some. Thankfully, they hadn't hit on the keyboard trend of the time and the song is a pretty much straight-ahead guitar, bass, and drum affair, with some spooky, steely effects to kick things off. The movie still has some good moments, too.
7. "Hellraiser," by Motörhead
From Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
This is a cover of a song written and performed by Ozzy Osbourne. Motörhead was way past their "Ace of Spades" prime when they recorded this theme song for Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, and the tune feels a bit too slick and not dangerous enough; it doesn't really raise hell. But Lemmy's vocals are still nicely growly, and as of today the song is a lot more fun than the movie.
6. "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)," by Alice Cooper
From Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Alice Cooper is Halloween. He recorded many Halloween songs and quite a few cuts for other horror movies, including Monster Dog and Prince of Darkness. But we love this one because it fits in with the slightly winking, self-aware tone of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. The song, coupled with the old caretaker's line, "some folks have a strange idea of entertainment," make this our favorite of the Friday the 13th series.
5. "Who Made Who," by AC/DC
From Maximum Overdrive (1986)
When Stephen King decided in 1986 that what he really wanted to do was direct, Maximum Overdrive proved that he shouldn't give up his day job. But one thing Steve did right was to put together an entire score of AC/DC songs, including classics, instrumentals, and this excellent new tune. It builds with typical AC/DC rise-and-explode, starting with a thumping beat and a rhythm guitar for the first verse, and then adding an engine-like lead guitar for the rest. The lyrics may not make sense unless you've seen the movie and the scene in which one of the characters screams in fury at the marauding trucks: "We made you!!!" It's as if AC/DC took the point of view of the trucks and answered.
4. "People Are Strange," by Echo and the Bunnymen
From The Lost Boys (1987)
This is a pretty straight-ahead cover song, originally by the Doors, but Echo and the Bunnymen appropriately adapted it for the stylish Joel Schumacher vampire film The Lost Boys, with a little creepy echo on the track. It's also the only song from that soundtrack CD that holds up today; the rest are buried in a wash of overly slick, show-offy production.
3. "Ben," by Michael Jackson
From Ben (1972)
This isn't a scary song at all, and is really rather touching, especially if you consider that most people who bought it probably didn't realize that Michael was singing about a rat. Ben was the killer rat belonging to Willard in the original film Willard (1971), but Michael recorded this song for the sequel, Ben, directed by Phil Karlson and featuring a new boy and a new rat. The song was nominated for an Oscar, and Crispin Glover covered it for his underrated 2003 remake of Willard.
2. "The Blob" by the Five Blobs
From The Blob (1958)
Written by Burt Bacharach & Mack David, for Steve McQueen's acting debut, this song is still amazingly fun and cool; just try putting it on at a Halloween party and see the reactions. "It creeps, and leaps, and glides, and slides..."
1. "Pet Sematary," by the Ramones
From Pet Sematary (1989)
The greatest horror movie song of all time, because the Ramones play it straight. On the one hand, it's one of their funniest songs, mainly for some of the rhymes. (How about "weather-stained boards" and "warlords"?) On the other hand, Joey's deadpan performance almost seems mournful when he croons that he doesn't want to be buried in a pet "sematary" because he doesn't want to live his life again. How sad is that?
How about it, dear readers? Any thoughts? Anything we missed?