We’ve reached that time of year where everyone on the Internet is trying to force a Halloween Playlist down your throat. But, in case you haven’t noticed, I am on the Internet, so I’m about to try and do that too. There are a lot of songs that make most of the lists you’ll see, though. And for good reason. “Monster Mash,” “I Put a Spell On You,” and of course, “Thriller,” they’re all classics. There’s absolutely no arguing it. They’re the titans of the season. But even among the horror fans, there are much more specific songs you’ll still see on just about every list. “Dream Warriors,” “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),” these are deep cuts for the more generalized crowd. But most of the horror fans reading articles like this have probably already listened to both at least a dozen times this season.
So I thought it would be fun to put together a list of some favorites that are also a bit more deep cut. And I understand that there are some serious fans out there who think of most of these are extremely obvious choices, and others who I know will ask me where the “Ballad of Harry Warden” from the soundtrack to My Bloody Valentine is. Even “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” now plays over the movie’s house at Halloween Horror Nights. It’s getting harder and harder to find less embraced and immediately recognized spooky songs from spooky movies, and that’s a good thing.
With that in mind, I’ve done my best here. But I think I’ve been pretty good about getting pretty deep. Some of these songs aren’t from horror soundtracks, but most of them are. Some are just lesser known songs from their respective artists, or don’t make Halloween Playlists nearly as often as some of their other songs. So without further ado, here are thirteen deeper cut songs to spruce up your spooky season.
“Power of the Night” – MANN
Critters is a must for Halloween season viewing, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the holiday. Gremlins would also be included in that if it wasn’t stolen by Christmas. There’s something about the farm atmosphere, the creepy, red-eyed furball monsters who kind of do look like nondescript Halloween decorations now that I think about it, that all just make it perfect October viewing. And then there’s the soundtrack, which—while it includes some other gems—largely consists of one song that is, in the grand ‘80s tradition, created for the film. “Power of the Night” is the new breakout single from fictional rocker Johnny Steele, whose form shapeshifting bounty hunter Ug takes throughout the movie and its next three sequels.
Terrence Mann, who played both Ug and Johnny Steele, actually sang the song himself, under the fictional group MANN, just an all caps version of his own last name. In addition to the starring in the Critters series, Mann is a major stage star, having originated the role of Les Miserables’ Javert on Broadway.
“Dream Window” – Brad Fiedel
Brad Fiedel is one of the best film composers to barely ever get recognition, despite composing the iconic Terminator theme as well as scoring the sequel. His score for Fright Night is one of my favorites of all time. The movie has a main theme that plays several times, including one standout sequence where vampire Jerry Dandridge plays the film’s own score on a cassette player. But I’m also partial to this more condensed version of the longer “Come to Me” theme, called “Dream Window” which appropriately plays when Charley Brewster first sees Jerry reveal his fangs as he spies on the vampire from his bedroom window.
Friends I’ve shown the movie to have criticized the theme for sounding like something you might have heard on a late night Cinemax movie back in the day, but that’s weirdly part of its charm? There’s a lot more to it, but it’s definitely supposed to be sexy. And that building melody, particularly the way it sort of fades in and out, is fantastic. This should be considered one of the all-time great horror themes.
“Cambodia” – Kim Wilde
To give a quick primer on The Strangers: Prey at Night: it absolutely kicks ass. When it came out last year it was definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a thousand percent mine. I don’t just love this soundtrack, I love the way it’s incorporated into the movie. The best example is the one scene of the film that absolutely everyone loves, even people who haven’t seen the rest of the feature, which is a showdown in a swimming pool set to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” That’s a very famous song, and a very well known sequence, so I wanted to highlight a different scene.
The film opens with probably Kim Wilde’s most well known song, “Kids in America,” which is effective, especially the way it cuts out right before the chorus. But this scene, where the killers select a more obscure song to do the deed to, really highlights the way the soundtrack is married to the killers themselves. It’s about control. You can feel the planning on the part of the strangers in these movies, especially the second. It’s very illuminating to see the killer wait until he finds the right song before he can do anything to his helpless victim. The song itself is also incredibly mysterious, detailing the story of a pilot who went on a flight to Cambodia and came back as a shell of the person he was, and eventually leaves again and disappears, presumably having killed himself.
The Theme to Howling V: The Rebirth
Howling V is a surprise all around. It’s a sensible story that has a beginning, middle and end after a series of increasingly loopy sequels. Despite being straight-to-video, it tries to be almost too classy by essentially being a murder mystery dinner theater tale of people trapped in a castle with a werewolf who could be any one of them. It even has a great looking werewolf on the rare occasions it decides to show it. We only get brief glimpses throughout the movie. Having said that, it’s still for sure one of the better Howling sequels.
But it also has a pretty good, catchy theme, which it bizarrely decides not to use over the opening credits, which are scored by infrequent chanting like a Gregorian Spooky Halloween Sound FX CD. The extremely simple synth theme gets no shortage of play, though, especially on those long bus ride sequences where it doesn’t want the audience to get bored. That’s actually pretty thoughtful.
“How Can I Live” – Ill Niño
This song is mostly on the list to appease our own Kieran Fisher, who needs to be fed early 2000s nu-metal like the apartment building that eats trash in that one Tales from the Darkside episode, so the rest of our crops can flourish. I ate this song up when it came out, not because I had any affinity for nu-metal or Ill Niño, I didn’t. No, I ate it up because I ate up everything that had anything to do with Freddy vs. Jason when that movie was coming out. In fact, I still do.
It’s because of that that I recommend “How Can I Live” to everyone. I believe the lyrics are about the fact that, despite being on opposing sides and getting drawn into conflict, Freddy and Jason are pining over the fact that they cannot live without one another. But I can’t be 100% sure about that without asking the band.
“The Beast Inside” – Dennis Michael Tenney
The soundtrack to Night of the Demons deserves a major re-release, because it rules. It is so incredibly good, but almost everything counts as a deep cut. Most of the songs were recorded by director Kevin Tenney’s brother, Dennis Michael Tenney. And the movie itself is drenched in Halloween atmosphere, as it’s set on Halloween and takes place in an abandoned mausoleum where—to everyone’s shock—demons are lying in wait to wreak seasonally appropriate havoc.
Every song on this soundtrack should have been a major hit of its era and it’s hard to pick a favorite. “Computer Date” I could certainly argue for, but “The Beast Inside” has always been my personal choice. It’s a rock anthem about how we’re all going to kill each other with nuclear war and I dig that kind of nihilism for a movie about monsters putting lipstick through their nipples.
“Flesh to Flesh” – Joe Lamont
Return of the Living Dead is well known in the horror community for its incredible soundtrack. And even though the franchise is not nearly as embraced or iconic as Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, it’s still a little too beloved for its tunes to make this list. Which means we’re choosing a selection from Return of the Living Dead Part II. While the first and third are personal favorite zombie movies, the second is honestly a bit of weaker entry, very toned down from the original as it was (for some reason) originally intended to be a kids’ movie. Still, the sequel’s been growing on me since the Scream Factory Blu release, mostly because it feels like a lost film adaptation of Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
“Flesh to Flesh” is a banger of a song that maybe can’t out top 45 Grave’s “Party Time” or SSQ’s “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Till We Die)” which are the standout hits from the first. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great. It’s exactly the low-tier late-‘80s rock song you’d expect from the less successful sequel to Return of the Living Dead, and I assure you I mean that in the best way possible.
“I’m Awake Now” – Goo Goo Dolls
Freddy Krueger is the king of most fans’ Halloween Playlists. So many songs are absolute staples. “Dream Warriors,” without a doubt. Even Tuesday Knight’s “Nightmare” from the opening credits of The Dream Master. Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s “Nightmare on My Street” is, I’m confident, playing at Spirit Halloween right now. And the Fat Boys’ “Are You Ready for Freddy” is an even better hip hop hit because it actually has Robert Englund rapping instead of a knockoff. It’s hard to pick anything Freddy-related that isn’t being picked by a dozen other people, but I’m going to try my best.
My personal Elm Street offering for this list is “I’m Awake Now,” the song that plays over the opening credits of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, by none other than the Goo Goo Dolls. In fact, they should really be crowned soundtrack kings by this point, as their most famous song, “Iris,” is the theme to a Nicolas Cage movie.
“It’s My Party” – Lesley Gore
Yes, I know. This is an extremely famous song. Everyone knows it and this is supposed to be an article about deep cuts. It’s been parodied to death, and could warrant Halloween Playlist inclusion just for the fact that it inspired the name of the Freddy’s Nightmares episode “It’s My Party and You’ll Die If I Want You To.” But here’s the thing, everyone remembers this song the way it existed before June 17th, 1988. For some reason, we’re still talking about it like that’s its legacy, when the truth is very different.
Since June 17th, 1988, “It’s My Party” has belonged to the Anthony Hickox horror hit Waxwork, and it’s a shame we don’t respect that as much as we should. This song, which seemed to have nothing to do with horror on the surface, was used over the end credits of that monster mashup, probably to the surprise of literally everyone who happened to see the movie. And somehow it’s a perfect fit. There’s a very eclectic mix of old school and new school within Waxwork. The kids feel ripped from an earlier decade, the monsters are the grand old classics, but everything’s given a bit of a modern edge. Now, we hear “It’s My Party” and we should always think of the monster party that is Waxwork, where every creature shows up for a gruesome unrated buffet that I was happy to see at far too young an age.
“House on a Hill” – The Pretty Reckless
I have a mild obsession with The Pretty Reckless, I’ll be the first to admit that. I’ve never really written about it before, but I absolutely love this band. They’ve got some bangers that go hard and fast and are perfect for Halloween Playlists. In fact, I hear them on most playlists I encounter, usually “Make Me Wanna Die” and if not that, “Heaven Knows” or “Zombie.” But the key to a good Halloween Playlist is to not have every song firing at the same tempo. After the hard rock of “It’s My Party,” you need a cool down song.
“House on a Hill” is the perfect song for a Halloween Playlist. It has serious haunted house vibes, which I guess are obvious from the title. It’s slower, melodramatic, gothic, but it’s also a great song in which Taylor Momsen seems to spell out the fact that she doesn’t want to do this forever, that she just wants to make the music she wants to make and get out. Which is kind of exactly what she did.
“Quiet Cool” – Jay Ferguson
I mentioned how seminal A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is to the Halloween season. So I couldn’t go without including it in some capacity. The Dokken songs included in this movie are iconic. But if you grew up watching Dream Warriors in the days of videocassette, that might not be how you remember the film. In theaters, Dokken’s “Into the Fire” played over the opening credits, and this was restored for both DVD and Blu-Ray. Most people weren’t heartbroken over that, considering it a major fix, but I was.
Because of a music rights snafu, on video, the opening credits to Dream Warriors were scored to Jay Ferguson’s theme from Quiet Cool. I’ll be the first to admit, it fits this movie far, far less. But I still have such a nostalgic tie to this instrumental bit of soundtrack that was actually written for a feature that no one remembers, an action pot comedy starring James Remar. I should also point out that this wasn’t the major theme to Quiet Cool, this was just the instrumental version. The full theme song was sung by none other than Joe Lamont. Between that and “Flesh to Flesh,” I think we’re due for a Lamontaissance.
“The Sharpest Lives” – My Chemical Romance
My Chemical Romance might make the list just because I unabashedly love them, but they’ve got a few songs you’ll regularly see on Halloween Playlists. “Welcome to the Black Parade,” “Dead!” and of course “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” because it has the word “vampires” in the title. Really, everything from the Black Parade album should be included, considering the fact that it’s a rock opera about dying and being ushered into the afterlife. That alone makes the whole thing a perfect companion to the Halloween season.
Still, I’m picking “The Sharpest Lives” as a standout selection. The song is quick and mean and still manages to wear its heart on its sleeve as much as anything else on the album. Plus, the chorus also includes the word “vampires” so it’s a natural fit for your Halloween Playlist.
“I Fell in Love With the Devil” – Avril Lavigne
It’s entirely possible that I can never write about music again without finding a way to include Pride of Canada Avril Lavigne. While most people only talk about her these days to debate whether she’s a stand-in or a clone, I think that’s doing her a disservice when all she’s really done is given herself a much appreciated goth makeover. After seventeen years, she’s finally grown into her eyeliner and I for one am here for it.
Much like the satirical pop hit “Sk8er Boi,” “I Fell in Love With the Devil” boils a complex situation down to its raw, purest, most simplistic form as the chorus lets you know that she “fell in love with the devil” and “now I’m in trouble.” There’s no need to get more specific than that.