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When Horror Goes Metal

For the last three decades movie producers have recruited the services of pop stars and heavy metal artists to help market their products to new audiences. Sometimes this has been through the use of cameos, other times it has been by releasing a single or even an album to promote their features. Of course, this was a technique used by filmmakers long before the 1980s, with Richard O’Brien’s 1975 adaptation of his acclaimed musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show not only boasting an appearance from an up-and-coming singer called Meat Loaf but also incorporating elements of B-movie horror flicks and rock ‘n’ roll. But with the dawn of the 1980s came the introduction of MTV, a new platform with which musicians were now forced to be visual in an effort to entice their young viewers. Thus, before long studios had begun to sense the potential of this new media and were tying to find ways to bring the world of music and cinema together.

The most easily exploited genre was horror, as had been proven with the shameless amount of sequels that had been produced from such blockbusters as The Omen and Friday the 13th, something that producers had never really considered before (with the exception of the James Bond franchise). As with most innovative ideas, it started with the independent filmmakers, with the soundtracks to the video nasties Inferno and The Burning composed by Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and Rick Wakeman (of Yes), respectively. Charles Band, who had carved a brief career in the X-rated industry during the early 1970s before moving into the fantasy and horror genre, had formed a new production company entitled Empire Pictures in the early 1980s, specifically to create low budget B-movies.

One of their first efforts was entitled The Dungeonmaster, a collaboration between no less than seven directors that was also released under the alternative title Ragewar. If there was ever a heavy metal band perfectly suited for straight-to-video horror movies it was W.A.S.P., whose theatrical stage shows had earned them a notorious reputation long before they had even released their first single. The band would make an appearance in the movie during a sequence in a night club, in which they were performing the track Tormentor (from their eponymous debut album, released the same year) while having a chained woman onstage behind them.

Italian filmmaker Dario Argento had already gained acclaim for the effective use of music in his classic horrors Profondo rosso (Deep Red) and Suspiria, both of which had been composed and performed by progressive rock group Goblin. Yet even after the band had split in 1982 Argento had continued his professional relationship with keyboardist Claudio Simonetti. But in 1985 two of Argento’s movies were released, one as director (Phenomena, also known as Creepers in the United States) and the other as a producer (Dèmoni/Demons), that would see him attempt to embrace the growing interest in heavy metal.

‘When he directed Phenomena, Dario wanted to keep up with the changing Hollywood times,’ explained Simonetti to Alan Jones in the book Profondo Argento. ‘Most soundtrack albums around this time (Top Gun for example) were filled with pop songs geared towards chart success and crossover promotion. Dario wanted to assemble his own version of that trend, the reason why Bill Wyman, Andi Sex Gang, Motörhead and Iron Maiden were included.’ Demons would also feature a host of popular atists from the era, including Mötley Crüe, Billy Idol, Accept and Saxon, while the inevitable sequel took the gothic route with contributions from The Cult, Fields of the Nephilim and Dead Can Dance.

1985 also saw the release of the zombie splatter flick The Return of the Living Dead, whose soundtrack boasted the likes of The Damned, 45 Grave and The Cramps. Music from the latter would also be featured in the highly anticipated slasher sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, an outrageous splatter comedy that saw legendary actor Dennis Hopper and cult make-up artist Tom Savini lending some credibility to the movie. Among the other artists to be featured on the soundtrack were cult post-punk rockers The Lords of the New Church, formed by members of The Dead Boys, The Damned and Shame 69, as well as Concrete Blonde and Timbuk 3.

While the Australian new wave group Pseudo Echo, later known for their cover of Funky Town, were featured during a memorable scene in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, when the next sequel was released the following year it would be accompanied by a successful rock single from none other than Alice Cooper. Having recovered from alcoholism and exhaustion and teamed up with guitarist Kane Roberts, Cooper had begun work on a new album entitled Constrictor when he was contacted by the producers of the series regarding contributing to their latest movie, entitled Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.

‘I fell all over myself saying yes when the people at Paramount asked me to help score the film,’ Cooper told Fangoria soon after the movie’s release. ‘In a way, the character of Alice Cooper and the character of Jason come from the same sort of weird place.’ Cooper would contribute three songs for the soundtrack – Teenage Frankenstein, Hard Rock Summer and the single He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask). To try to capture the MTV youth market, Cooper teamed up with director Jeffrey Abelson to make a promo video for the song, which included a cameo from Friday the 13th‘s resident antagonist Jason Voorhees. Cooper continued, ‘Jason is really a heavy metal kind of character, and Alice is more than a bit influenced by horror. Doing the video and music for Part VI is like a dream come true for me.’

Dokken and Freddy Krueger

Dokken and Freddy Krueger

Not one to be outdone, in 1987 New Line Cinema were eager to capitalise on the heavy metal market and so approached popular hair metal group Dokken to contribute a couple of songs for their upcoming movie A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. ‘We’ve always wanted to do a movie and we’ve been so busy on the road,’ frontman Don Dokken told MTV presenter Dweezil Zappa. ‘Finally we had the chance to do this movie, so people from Nightmare on Elm Street wanted a new look at their music with an upcoming rock ‘n’ roll band like us, so we took a crack at it…We’re always writing songs about dreams anyway.’

Their single Dream Warriors would provide Dokken with their biggest hit to date and would also be featured on their album Back for the Attack (along with Into the Fire) the same year. The video featured actor Robert Englund, who was portraying the character Freddy Krueger for the third time in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and incorporated re-shot sequences from the movie. The clip ended with Krueger waking up in his bed after dreaming about Dokken and asking, ‘Who were those guys?’

Jason Lives had proved that Cooper’s appeal went beyond the heavy metal scene and soon he was being invited by other filmmakers to contribute to their movies, although in some instances it would include an appearance onscreen. ‘We ended up together at Wrestlemania III in Detroit this year. He was part of the match between Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and The Honkytonk Man. I was there as a loyal wrestling fan, which I’ve been for many years,’ explained director John Carpenter to Fangoria during the promotion of his horror flick Prince of Darkness, in which Cooper gave a cameo as a psychotic hobo.

‘One of my business partners, (co-executive producer) Shep Gordon, is Alice’s manager, so I was able to get backstage passes. I hung out with Alice and the wrestlers. It was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life. There was a big party afterwards, and we chatted and became friends. I had thought of Alice as being an outrageous heavy metal rock star, but he’s really a normal, wonderful person. He’s such a great guy that I decided to cast him.’ Cooper would also contribute the title track for the movie, which was featured on his 1987 album Raise Your Fist and Yell, his second and final collaboration with Kane Roberts.

Three years after their appearance in The Dungeonmaster and W.A.S.P. were contacted once again by Empire Pictures, this time to provide a song for their new creature feature Ghoulies II. The first movie had been released soon after the surprise success of Gremlins and as a consequence, along with Critters, had been dismissed as an inferior rip-off. Not one to shy away from exploiting a popular product, Charles Band had opted to produce a sequel as soon as possible, with his father, Albert Band, in the director’s chair. W.A.S.P. had followed the release of their third album, Inside the Electric Circus, with a worldwide tour that had resulted in the album Live…in the Raw.

‘We were then looking for a video to come out of this and we were approached with an idea for a movie for Ghoulies II,’ said singer Blackie Lawless on the VHS Videos…in the Raw. ‘We went, we looked at the footage and we decided then at that point that Scream Until You Like It would be the perfect song to showcase an idea like this,’ he continued. ‘To me, it’s one of the better experiences that I’ve had because the people that ran these creatures made them come to life when we were doing this video. And after it was done, in all honesty, to watch these little guys be put in the box left me with a strange feeling.’

Following his success with the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, horror veteran Wes Craven was determined to create another iconic villain that could rival Freddy Krueger and the result was Horace Pinker, the serial killer from his supernatural thriller Shocker. The soundtrack would feature a mixture of new bands and veterans, from punk legend Iggy Pop to hair metal groups Bonfire and Dangerous Toys. While Pretty Boy Floyd‘s cover of the Alice Cooper classic Department of Youth would be removed from the movie, another rendition of a Cooper hit came from Megadeth. Despite struggling with drug addiction following the release of their third album, So Far, So Good…So What!, the group entered the studio as a three-piece for the first time in their career and recorded a version of No More Mr. Nice Guy, which had originally been featured on Cooper’s 1973 album Billion Dollar Babies.

Penelope Spheeris and Dave Mustaine

But if the recording had been a challenge for the band then the shooting of the promo video would be a nightmare. Working once again with director Penelope Spheeris, who had featured Megadeth in her 1988 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, frontman Dave Mustaine recalled in his autobiography Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir; ‘Our lovely friend Penelope Spheeris was hired to direct the video for No More Mr. Nice Guy, an experience that was both hilarious and depressing…I have the utmost respect for Penelope, so I won’t dispute her well-documented recollection that I was basically too fucked-up to play guitar at my usual level on the day of the shoot.

‘In all fairness though, it should be pointed out that this was a particularly challenging job. Penelope had me standing, and playing, on a giant rotating pedestal – like a mammoth turntable. Things might have been easier if the pedestal had at least been flat. But it wasn’t. It was more like one of those things skateboarders use to practice when they’re hanging around the house. Like a seesaw. So there I was, trying to play guitar as everything was spinning and rotating and bobbing up and down.’

When A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master had made almost $50m at the US box office in 1988, New Line wasted no time in rushing a fifth movie into production. Once again the soundtrack to The Dream Child was filled with rock artists, with Iron Maiden frontmam Bruce Dickinson performing an early version of Bring Your Daughter…to the Slaughter, which would become a number one hit in the UK for his band the following year. Among the other acts featured were W.A.S.P., Mammoth and rising British group Romeo’s Daughter, whose song Heaven in the Backseat would be released as a single to promote the movie. ‘We were with Zomba Publishing at that time and they got the track on the film score. I don’t think it particularly suited our ‘image’ at the time, but we were quite excited about it being used,’ singer Leigh Matty told Love-It-Loud in 2010. ‘The shoot was an absolute blast! It was the first big budget video we had made and we were so excited!! All the Freddy scenes were edited in after we finished so there was definitely no violence involved. I loved the whole process of making the video; in fact it was definitely one of the highlights of being in RD. It always makes me smile when I happen to see it, especially the bits in the back seat of the limo!’

Even as not only the slasher film but the horror genre as a whole began to lose popularity as the 1980s came to an end, the Friday the 13th franchise tried one last time to revive its box office performance. The filmmakers behind Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan had initially intended to feature a song from the 1988 album Now and Zen, the fourth solo effort from former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. But with the movie already being the most expensive of the series at that time and a slowly declining box office performance from the last three sequels, Paramount were apprehensive about paying a large sum for the use of a song on the soundtrack.

As director Rob Hedden said in Crystal Lake Memories; ‘It was dark and mysterious and sexy, and had an unmistakable Led Zeppelin feel. Just a really great piece of music. And we weren’t even thinking MTV. I just figured it would be cross-promotion by default – it would help him and it would help us. Unfortunately, we never got to Robert Plant. Instead we got his publishing company and they wanted a trillion dollars for it.’ Unable to use the song, Hedden asked composer Fred Mollin to create something similar and the result was Darkest Side of the Night, which would be featured over a montage during the opening credits.

Having been one of the pioneers of punk during the mid-1970s, the Ramones had struggled to remain relevant over the following decade but had still succeeded in scoring several notable hits when they were contracted to provide a song for the Stephen King adaptation Pet Sematary. But as their manager Gary Kurfirst recalled in the book On the Road with the Ramones; ‘I got a call from the producer of Pet Sematary, who asked if I had any songs for the movie. They sent over the script and I told Dee Dee (Ramone, bassist and songwriter) to read it. He said, ‘I’m not gonna read that. Just tell me what it’s about.’ The next day, he came in with the song. He was very prolific.’

The promo video for the song was directed by Bill Fishman but as filmmaker George Seminara (who made Lifestyles of the Ramones) explained, the experience was far from enjoyable; ‘The Pet Sematary video was the biggest nightmare of any video ever. It was sub-zero and everyone was on drugs. Someone in production did the multiplication in the opposite direction, so that the 400ft (120m) roll of 16mm film we had was only going to last ten minutes. Big mistake. So I only had two rolls of film to shoot the entire thing! We went out and shot them wandering around this Sleepy Hollow-like graveyard.’

Although the early 1990s would shun the horror genre in favour of the more respectable psychological thriller, bands were still contributing songs to movies in an effort to boost their profile or resurrect their career. Following their success with the song You Could be Mine in 1991, which had been included on the blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Guns N’ Roses had been asked to record a cover of the Rolling Stones classic for the highly anticipated horror drama Interview With the Vampire. But the revival of the slasher film in 1996 with Wes Craven’s surprise hit Scream once again allowed rock bands to appeal to the teen crowd. The soundtrack included the Alice Cooper classic School’s Out, along with new tracks from Republica and The Connells, although the unofficial anthem for the franchise would become Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

John Carpenter and Anthrax

This would continue throughout the franchise, with Scream 2 featuring music from Foo Fighters, Sugar Ray and Everclear, while Scream 3 had songs from Creed and System of a Down. Other teen horrors to cater to the rock crowd would include I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty and Final Destination. In 2001 John Carpenter joined forces with Anthrax and guitarist Buckethead for the soundtrack to his science fiction horror Ghosts of Mars, a loose reworking of his 1976 classic Assault on Precinct 13.

‘I’d have to say that was one of the coolest phone calls I’d ever received in my life,’; Anthrax founder Scott Ian told Kick Axe Music, regarding the invitation from Carpenter to work on the movie. ‘That’s one of those situations where you say ‘Holy shit!’ and then you’re sitting there with John Carpenter and he’s showing scenes from the movie asking if you can come up with things in the right tempo and to fit the vibe. That was a real ‘Holy shit!’ moment, and he showed us about twenty minutes of the movie. Again, not the greatest Carpenter movie of all time, but for us it was an absolutely amazing experience to get to work with John, and just spend four or five days in the studio with him. It was mind-blowing.’

In an interview with Icons of Fright drummer Charlie Benante concurred; ‘He’s one of the masters. He did The Thing. He did Halloween. He did Escape From New York and all that stuff, and to sit in a room with him for a week, you know he’s getting pumped for answers, you know what I mean? So, everyday it was a question/answers thing. I would sit next to him and ask him about this, ask him about that, and then we would have to get to work. The coolest part about it is, in the studio, we had three monitors. I had a monitor, and the other guys had their monitors and he would play the scenes and say ‘Here’s what I need music for.’ And bam, it would inspire us right away. We would get so inspired and we’d start doing something for the scene. And it worked out great. It was just awesome the way he’d say, here’s the scene, what do you think about it? We would kind of debate it about what it should be and what it shouldn’t be. And just wrote these parts for it, and it was just so cool to do that.’ Unfortunately, Ghosts of Mars would prove to be something of a disappointment for fans of Carpenter and he would wait almost a decade before directing his next movie.

Charlie Clouser, who had spent some time during the 1990s with Nine Inch Nails, made the leap to scoring movies with the 2004 horror Saw. This would lead to regular work in the movie industry, including creating music for the sequels, as well as Dead Silence and Resident Evil: Extinction. Former White Zombie frontman Rob Zombie had already launched a solo career when he turned to directing with the 2003 B-movie House of 1000 Corpses. ‘I made a choice a while back never to use any of my music in my movies – with the exception of House of 1000 Corpses, and that was out of financial desperation to get the movie done,’ Zombie told Bloody-Disgusting. ‘I took an advance on the soundtrack, and put the money back into the film to finish it. After that, I always told myself that I would keep the movie and music separate.’

Another metal star who would make the transition into the world of filmmaking would be Marilyn Manson. Having first found fame in the mid-1990s due to his theatrical appearance and controversial lyrics, Manson made his acting debut in David Lynch’s neo-nbir drama Lost Highway but in 2002 he was hired to collaborate alongside composer Marco Beltrami to create a score for the of screen adaptation of Resident Evil, a popular computer game series that had been launched the previous decade. Following on from the underrated Event Horizon, director Paul W.S. Anderson returned to the horror genre for the long-awaited zombie flick.

‘I’m a huge fan of early John Carpenter – Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog – and the kind of scores that those movies had; they were very aggressive, tense, electro-based scores,’ explained Anderson during the promotion of the movie. ‘They weren’t traditional orchestral scores in any way. And what we wanted was something like that…We definitely needed something very different to the usual, straight composer route and that’s why we came up with the idea of pairing up Marco and Manson because I felt they would be very complimentary if we could actually pull it off.’

The same year that saw the release of Resident Evil, another horror picture inspired by the zombie movie of George A. Romero gained considerable acclaim. Shot in England by acclaimed filmmaker Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later told of a young man awakening from a coma to discover that most of mankind has perished after a viral outbreak and that this new post-apocalyptic world is now overrun with deranged, zombie-like monsters. Much like with his previous hits Trainspotting and The Beach, Boyle filled the soundtrack with an array of artists such as Grandaddy and composer John Murphy, with each song dictating the tone of the scene. ‘Always believed music is with just with us all the time,’ Boyle would later say. ‘It’s just part of us, so why shouldn’t they be in the films? So that’s why my movies have a lot of tracks in them.’

While he had become a household name through his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon had spent the majority of the 1990s as a writer-for-hire on numerous Hollywood blockbusters before making his horror debut with the critically-reviled Alien: Resurrection in 1997. He would return to the genre fifteen years later as co-writer and producer of the post-modern hit The Cabin in the Woods. Developed alongside filmmaker Drew Goddard, the movie was intended to give the slasher cycle a fresh spin and became an unexpected hit with critics. ‘While no soundtrack disc was released…the film features a vast and eclectic mix of music that includes heavier artists like Nine Inch Nails, Switchfoot, Eagles of Death Metal and Iggy Pop,’ recalled an article on Indiewire, ‘but isn’t without its funky pop tunes featuring folks such as Asher Roth, LadyHawke, the Hight Decibels and good ol’ REO Speedwagon (the placement of this one is great).’


More recently, a New Zealand-produced comedy entitled Deathgasm attempted to bridge the gap between horror and heavy metal with the tale school outcasts who form a band and inadvertently summon a powerful evil. ‘I’ve always been a little disappointed by the lack of decent heavy metal horror movies. I love Trick or Treat and a few others, but the falloff in quality from there is pretty steep,’ claimed director Jason Lei Howden.

‘And many of the ’80s films contain soundtracks that are classified as more ‘rock n’ roll’ than pure ‘heavy metal.’ I think metal has always been influenced by horror movies. Even the very first metal band Black Sabbath named themselves after a Mario Bava movie. The darker horror imagery and lyrics separated them from bands like say, Led Zeppelin.’


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