Horror movie soundtracks are among the most memorable pieces of music in film. The majesty of Goblin’s Suspiria, John Carpenter’s indelible Halloween theme, the pounding yet chimerical soundtrack to Phantasm, The Exorcist’s “Tubular Bells” – what would those classics be like without those incredible musical cues?
But let’s not forget in-movie musical performance. The times when horror movies stop to showcase a band rocking out with full aplomb. Less heralded than say, Henry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th theme (aka Ki, Ki, Ki, Ma, Ma, Ma), these performances still deserve recognition: some for their majesty, others for their sheer ridiculousness. Nevertheless, whether rocking or risible, in-movie musical performances are oftentimes the most entertaining part of their respective films. What follows are 10 of the most memorable musical performances in horror movies.
10. JOE TURANO IN NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (Everybody But You)
Night Train to Terror (1985) is an odd beast. The film is an anthology of sorts, cobbled together from three feature films which were then edited down to approximately 30 minutes. The wraparound takes place on a train (hence the title) and showcases God and Satan gambling on the fate of three individuals. Inexplicably, the train segments are punctuated by a musical performance, and an extremely memorable one at that.
“Everybody But You” is basically an oddball combination of “Rockin’ Robin” combined with Iggy Pop’s “Real Wild Child (Wild One).” The performance is about as 80s as you can get. Breakdancing, headbands, studded belts, a sax solo, and enough spandex that a match couldn’t be struck within 15 feet of the performance. It’s a catchy song, without a doubt. Hell, even the drummer is standing up for this one.
C’mon and dance with me/dance with me.
9. FELONY IN GRADUATION DAY (Gangster Rock)
In the early 1980’s, after the successes of Halloween and Friday the 13th, theaters were inundated with slasher films commemorating a specific event or day. In quick succession came April Fool’s Day, Prom Night, Mother’s Day and Graduation Day. Luckily, things ran out of steam before we were treated to Inauguration Day Massacre.
Felony is a group that’s nothing if not dapper. Resplendent in suits and fedoras, the band rocks out in a roller-skating rink. And the performance is dynamite. Heck, the guitarist wields a double-necked guitar! And that makes up for the song, which is basically a Doobie Brothers’ “China Grove” rip-off mashed-up with a bit of The Who’s “Who Are You?” Worth watching if only to see one of the skaters bust out in a dance rivaled only by Crispin Glover’s in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter for sheer spastic lunacy.
8. SORCERY IN ROCKTOBER BLOOD (I’m Back and Killer on the Loose)
One of a number of “Satanic Panic” horror films released in the 80s which equated heavy metal music with an allegiance to Beelzebub, IMDb describes Rocktober Blood’s plot thusly: “A crazed rock singer returns from the dead to murder members of his former band.”
The film begins with singer Billy Eye (Tray Loren) in the studio belting out “I’m Back” (When you least expect it/I will attack/There’ll be hell to pay/I’m back), before going on a killing spree in the studio.
Two years later and Billy has been tried, convicted and put to death. His band members regroup under the name “Headmistress” and are about to mount a tour. But will the show go on? Not if a vengeful Billy has his way.
All the songs in Rocktober Blood were recorded by L.A. Heavy Metal band Sorcery. Loren lip-synchs to Sorcery lead singer Greg McGee’s vocals, and the band backs up new lead singer Lynn as Headmistress, performing such numbers as “Killer on the Loose” and “Watching You.”
Of note: Sorcery’s real-life stage show was billed as “The King of the Wizards against the Prince of Darkness” and featured two magicians playing the parts of Merlin and the Devil. For more Sorcery magic, and to witness the awesome live spectacle that was the band, see Brian Trenchard-Smith’s incredible 1977 film Stunt Rock.
7. UNNAMED GENERIC METAL BAND IN HARD ROCK ZOMBIES (Shake It Out and Na Na Na)
In Hard Rock Zombies, a band travels to the mysterious town of Grand Guignol to play the requisite “gig-of-a-lifetime,” the one where the major label A&R rep will be present. Unfortunately, the town is populated by murderous dwarves, a geek who cuts the heads off chickens, a dog-faced grandmother in a wheelchair, and a mother and father who turn out to be the presumed dead but very-much alive Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler!
We first see the band playing a catchy number entitled “Shake It Out” to a crowd of adoring fans in a small club. While the mustachioed lead singer/bassist Jessie plays a bass line suspiciously similar to “Big Bottom” by Spinal Tap, the rest of the band engages in more 80s rock band buffoonery including a shirtless drummer double-twirling sticks, choreographed rocking, tight pants and studded sleeveless shirts.
Later, when in Grand Guignol, there’s an inexplicable outdoor musical performance which plays like a scene from A Hard Day’s Night were it directed by Bret Michaels. While singing a pop-rock number entitled “Na Na Na”, the band engages in a nutty musical montage featuring, among other things, Russian dancing, miming, skateboarding, heavy-metal hijinks and mugging for the camera galore. All to disparaging looks from the locals and town sheriff.
6. SAMMI CURR IN TRICK OR TREAT
And the Satanic Panic continues. This 80s schlocker features appearances by both Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne well before both the God of Thunder and the Prince of Darkness shed their last remnants of dignity alongside their wives on reality TV.
It also features Marc Price, better known as Skippy from Family Ties, and sporting a fairly-impressive mullet. Price plays headbanger Eddie who is obsessed with devil-worshiping, snake-fellating rocker Sammi Curr. When Sammi dies mysteriously, Eddie summons the rocker back from the dead to do a little shouting with the devil.
A decidedly amateurish band, The Kickers, are meant to play the high school Halloween dance. However, the guitarist’s weak trebly tone doesn’t past muster, so Curr’s demonic hand reaches out from the amp and electrocutes him. Curr then explodes out of the amp and proceeds to play some awesome-sounding 80s metal in the style of RATT. The reanimated singer/guitarist’s licks are scorching…literally. His six-string shoots out bolts of electricity, immolating students and teachers both plus the band’s drummer! Talk about your “Rock n’ Roll Hell.”
Of note: Sami Curr was played by former Solid Gold dancer Tony Fields. The kickass soundtrack was recorded by British metal band Fastway.
5. NOWHEREFAST IN THE PROWLER.
When you call your band Nowherefast, the jokes just write themselves. But their music really livens things up in the underrated 1981 slasher The Prowler (which features a terrific death-by-pitchfork, which we chronicled in our book of oddball horror demises, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons).
The film is about a school dance put on hold for decades because of a tragic double murder. When it’s revived, sadly, the murders start resuming. For the dancers not offed by pitchforks and bayonets, it was still an enjoyable night getting down to the sweet, sweet sounds of Nowherefast’s “The Hard Way.” Fronted by a sunglass-wearing singer who looks a little like Loverboy’s Mike Reno, Nowherefast rips into a seriously rocking number which suggest what Thin Lizzy might have sounded like had they been fronted by Ace Frehley.
4. SPASTIC COLON IN SHOCK ‘EM DEAD (I’m a Virgin Girl)
Like Spinal Tap but not in on the joke, here’s a piece of heavy metal thunder from the 90s: Spastic Colon performing the ironic “Virgin Girl” in Shock ’em Dead. Johnny, the spandex-leotard clad, bandanna-wearing singer croaks out the song in an atonal voice while performing dance moves which suggest a 3rd-grade ballet recital. Luckily, he’s promptly replaced by the shredding Angel Martin, another former nerd who has sold his soul for Rock n’ Roll. The crowd erupts as Johnny is literally kicked out of his band. Martin ends his performance by throwing up all over a rocking vixen situated in the front row.
Look for B-movie stalwarts Troy Donohue and Aldo Ray as those all-important A&R guys watching the band from side stage.
3. THOR IN ROCK ‘N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE (We Live to Rock)
Ah, Jon Mikl Thor. Even here in his native Canada, Thor remains a rather fringe figure in the world of metal. Bodybuilder turned frontman of the band that bears his surname, Jon Mikl parlayed a passing resemblance to the Marvel comics Norse God character (really just a flowing blond mane and not much else) into a two-decade plus music career.
Thor the band were known less for their hits and more for the on-stage antics of their charismatic lead singer, who would bend steel bars with his teeth and have solid concrete blocks smashed off his chest with a sledgehammer.
In 1987, Jon Mikl starred as John Triton, the lead singer of The Tritons in Rock N’ Roll Nightmare, a horror film that, true to its name, is quite the nightmare. Shot in 10 days for only $50,000, Rock N’ Roll Nightmare begins with a dollar-store skeleton popping out of an oven and ends with a battle between nothing less than the twin forces of heaven and hell themselves. In Hell’s corner is a satanic marionette while heaven is represented by an oil-slathered Thor, clad in little more than a black studded cod-piece and a smile.
You want performance? You got it! Jon Mikl, looking like a ‘roided-up David Lee Roth and clad in a silver leopard-print tuxedo jacket and shades belting out “We Live to Rock.” A flawless performance save for the final dissonant crash of the cymbal and the one-eyed demon which resembles another sort of one-eyed monster altogether spitting in the recording engineer’s drink.
2.BABEL IN HOWLING 2: YOUR SISTER IS A WERWOLF (The Howling)
1985’s Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf aka Stirba – Werewolf Bitch is a (somewhat unfairly maligned) sequel to the 1981 Joe Dante lycanthrope classic. The only Howling sequel to directly follow the events of the film that preceded it, this one stars Sybil Danning, Reb Brown, and a very game Christopher Lee.
The film features numerous scenes of the Stephen Parsons fronted New-Wave band Babel playing the title track, including one performance at a punk club attended by Lee donning a pair of thin 80s wraparound shades. Babel and “The Howling” are glorious: sort of a New Wave Bauhaus fronted by a Thomas Dolby look-alike. By far the most memorable performance of the song in a film that features many is the one playing over the closing credits, which also showcases the same instance of Sybil Danning baring her breasts not once but seventeen times! Enjoy it in the NSFW clip below (and listen to our discussion of Howling 2 on the podcast).
1.THE UNDEADS AND BEEF IN THE PHANTOM IN THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (Somebody Super Like You/Life At Last)
Brian De Palma’s horror rock-musical The Phantom of the Paradise opened on Halloween night 1974 and promptly flopped. The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened the next year and became an instant cult sensation. We call shenanigans on this one as the rock-opera version of Gaston Leroux’s enduring tale (with a pinch of Faust and The Picture of Dorian Gray sprinkled in for good measure) is a superior film in every way.
Phantom tells the story of aspiring composer Winslow Leach, played by the late William Finley. He has the lyrics for his musical version of Goethe’s Faust stolen by the diabolical Swan, owner of Death Records, who wants Winslow’s music to open his rock mecca, The Paradise. Swan, who may or may not have made a Faustian bargain himself, not only steals the music but gets poor Winslow sent to Sing Sing. Winslow ultimately escapes but returns to the Paradise voiceless and grotesquely disfigured, the result of a horrific record press accident.
The performances in Phantom are many, and they are all wonderful. But perhaps the most memorable is that of The Undeads, a trio of musicians in KISS-like, Kubuki-esque makeup performing “Somebody Super Like You.” As the frontman theatrically sings, the other two members brandish guitars with blades at neck end which they use to stab, dismember, and behead audience members while the rest of the crowd goes nuts.The performance culminates with the Frankenstein-like emergence of Beef (Gerrit Graham), who gambols around performing “Life at Last” until Leach as the Phantom shoots a neon lightning bolt into the prancing, gyrating musician, electrifying and setting him ablaze.