We’re in October now, folks. And since my last article on spooky tunes went over so well, I’m writing a companion piece. But I’d like to do things a little differently this time. After all, there are so many songs that are quintessential to Halloween Playlists and there are so many unsung gems out there, like I highlighted last time. And most of them are pretty fast moving, pretty intense. Especially when you get into guys like Zombie and Manson, and even they’re the most mainstream tip of an entire iceberg of horror-themed rock. There are times, though, when that’s just not going to get the job done. Sometimes it’s not what you need.
Let me walk you through a different scenario. It’s middle school, you’re at a Halloween dance and this might be the only time you’re truly terrified this season, as a young horror aficionado figuring things out. “Monster Mash” and “Thriller” are staples and everyone’s grooving, but they’re just not what you need right now. Because you’ve been pining all year for that witch with the greasepaint and the big fake wart on her nose standing in the corner, talking to her friends. You want to ask her to dance, but what are you going to do, Thriller dance? That’s middle school embarrassment that you don’t need, especially at an age where embarrassment is currency.
These classic Halloween bops are getting you nowhere. You need something else, something that’s slow enough to awkwardly move in a circle with your hands barely touching her hips, arms frozen like a robot to show her you care. Because Halloween, after all, is a deeply romantic holiday, right? It’s about the love of magic and monsters and pumpkins and skeletons and, above all, all of the other weirdoes like you.
But what’s that song? What lets you know it’s your moment? Well, we’ve got some options. So let’s just dive in and see where we land.
“Hanging on for Dear Life” – MMC
What better place to start that the song at the heart of that classic horror promedy My Boyfriend’s Back? For those unfamiliar, this is the story of Johnny Dingle, who loves a girl so much that he takes a bullet for her, and comes back from the grave to go to prom with her, even though she only agreed to go because he was dying. Johnny has one week to return to his grave before he starts crumbling and literally falling apart, and we have this song to give them that perfect prom moment as he’s literally dying (again) in her arms.
It’s a sweet song to accompany a very tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top silly movie that I really love. Hopefully with its Blu-Ray re-release people will just start checking out this one in general. It might in essence just be I Was a Teenage Zombie, but it’s got a ton of heart.
“Remember Me This Way” – Jordan Hill
Folks, every now and then, you meet a special friend. Sometimes it’s that witch you’re working up the nerve to ask to dance and sometimes it’s Casper the Friendly Ghost. This was a single recorded for the 1995 Casper movie, which in case you forgot, absolutely rules. That’s such an emotional, heartfelt adaptation of an old-school children’s cartoon. It’s also a film about honestly and openly dealing with grief. It’s the movie that reminds us that Casper the Friendly Ghost was once Casper the living boy, and something had to have happened to change that.
It’s about loneliness and meeting those friends you need to meet in childhood at the exact right time. To tackle all of that so directly in a kid’s movie is really astonishing and this song, just as tacky and campy as the movie can also be, really hammers it home.
“Love Song for a Vampire” – Annie Lennox
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a foundational movie for me, seeing it at much too young an age, cementing my love of all things Dracula in general. It goes much harder than the Bela Lugosi version I was used to seeing at the time. This is a huge, spectacle horror movie full of great makeup FX. We’ve got the brides going down on Keanu, we’ve got them eating a baby, Lucy having sex with a werewolf monster in a cemetery. It’s much more intense than most versions preceding it.
Oh, it’s also a deeply romantic movie. Taking the fact that the historical Vlad Dracula’s wife flung herself into the river, believing her husband dead (which is true) the film imagines a love story between Dracula and Mina as the reincarnation of his long-lost wife, Elisabeta. Annie Lennox’s song would feel out of place among all the gruesome horrors if it weren’t for the fact that this film is a deeply sincere love story above everything else.
“Little Heaven” – Toad the Wet Sprocket
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer original movie might not quite be the seminal pop culture work that the show was, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of goddamn fun and a solid flick in its own right. Featuring everyone from Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland and Luke Perry to Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens to Stephen Root and Hilary Swank, it’s got a more stacked cast than people tend to remember. It also has an excellent soundtrack.
Like other movies on this list, Buffy ends with a high school dance gone haywire. This song plays as Luke Perry’s Pike asks Buffy to dance, so she can just have one normal high school moment. And it gives us a true, powerful mission statement of a line as Pike says “You’re not like other girls,” as they dance, to which Buffy simply responds, “Yes, I am.”
“It’s Over Now” – Neve
The Faculty was a seminal horror movie for me as a kid. I didn’t actually want to see it, but after renting it anyway I was blown away, particularly by the characters. I wanted to go to that school and be friends with them. In middle school it hit a brief point of obsession, as there was a week in seventh grade where I watched The Faculty every day. It’s The Breakfast Club meets Invaders of the Body Snatchers in a modern American high school and I will never not be all about that premise.
“It’s Over Now” kind of plays as everything is getting back to normal at the end of the film. It’s a very on-the-nose song choice in that respect. But it’s got a very peaceful-but-incredibly-‘90s-alt sound that I admire.
“Cailin” – Unwritten Law
Idle Hands is another seminal middle school movie for me, one that I just fell in love with. Unlike Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Faculty, I didn’t see it until a few years after its release. That was mostly due to how unfortunate the timing was. Being a story—supernatural as it was—about a teen being driven to commit murder, opening only a week or two before the Columbine tragedy only buried it. It’s taken a long time to really gain any kind of cult following, but I’m glad that it has because it’s a delightful, funny, absolutely engaging film and one of my favorites of the era.
It’s also yet another movie that ends in high school dance mayhem. Bonus points for the fact that it’s a Halloween dance, too, and one in which a severed hand actually takes out The Offspring’s lead singer. “Cailin” comes in at the end for a sweet and disarming moment as Anton goes in for the kiss after saving his new girlfriend Molly, moments before being crushed by a falling car.
“Monster Mash” – Crabcorps
I’m no fan of Silver Linings Playbook, the movie this version stems from, but I am a big fan of unique covers and this one definitely fits the bill. Because of the pacing and tempo, a slower version of “The Monster Mash” shouldn’t work, but it really does. It even adds weight to the lyrics, as the slower melody makes the whole thing feel a little more nostalgic. And it’s the perfect song to come on at a Halloween dance to let you know this is it, you’ve found your moment.
This is also where I out myself a bit by saying that I’m not just a spokesperson for spooky slow songs, I’m a customer. This version of “Monster Mash” is one I can certainly vouch for, as it was the song accompanying the last dance at my wedding.