Keeping the lists going, here’s one for the “Ten Best Horror Movie Theme Songs.” Now what makes this list different, is that to make this version of the list, they all had to be songs written SPECIFICALLY for the movies they appear in. There are entire soundtracks – especially for films from the Eighties – where record companies worked in tandem with studios and filmmakers, to break new musical artists by having them record songs tailor-made for a film soundtrack.
There are also existing songs that have been incorporated (or sometimes shoehorned) into a soundtrack, whether or not it made sense to the movie. But that’s another separate list. For THIS one, here’s my ‘usual suspects’:
“CRY, LITTLE SISTER” from THE LOST BOYS (G Tom Mac)
“PET SEMATARY” from PET SEMATARY (The Ramones)
“NIGHTMARE” from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (213)
“COME TO ME” from FRIGHT NIGHT (Brad Fiedel)
“PUTTING OUT FIRE” from CAT PEOPLE (David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder)
“BURN” from THE CROW (The Cure)
“RED HARVEST” from JACK’S BACK (Paul Saax)
“VAMP” from VAMP (Grace Jones)
“SHADOWS” from SQUIRM (Robert Prince)
“PRISONER” from EYES OF LAURA MARS (Barbra Streisand)
“CRY, LITTLE SISTER” (written by Gerard McMann, aka “G TOM MAC” and Michael Mainieri) is one of the most beloved and recognizable songs from Joel Schumacher’s iconic “vampire chic” classic of the Eighties. The baroque/Gothic vibe of the song perfectly captures the mood of the entire film, as the “Vampire Rules” are intoned solemnly by a choir of children’s voices, with McMann’s slithery, sinuous vocals lurking just beneath, imploring us to “come, come to your brother…” Never figured out why this was never released as a single, but its inclusion on the soundtrack album probably helped move a lot of units. And for the record, the singles that WERE released from the album included two covers: Echo and the Bunnymen’s version of The Doors’ “People Are Strange”, and Roger Daltrey’s take on Elton John’s standard, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” Since the soundtrack’s release and several re-releases, numerous bands have covered this track, (including the ones done for the LOST BOYS sequels). But there’s just no topping the original…
“PET SEMATARY” (written by Dee Dee Ramone and Daniel Rey) came about because writer Stephen King is a big Ramones fan, and referenced their music in the novel. So it was definitely a great sign of synergy that the group ended up crafting and performing a song just for the movie, and it’s a hoot to watch the group’s video for it, which ended up in heavy rotation on MTV back in the day. This is the only song they ever did specifically for a movie (ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL doesn’t count, since that featured all of their already-existing songs.)
“NIGHTMARE” (written by Martin Kent, Steve Karshner and Michael Scheurig), sounds like one of those tracks that were de rigueur for low-budget Eighties slashers…the kind that maybe friends of the filmmakers would hurriedly dash off in a home studio, since the movie needed some kind of catchy, kitschy, synth-rock theme to either kick it off or close it up. But as we now know, NOES turned out to be anything but your typical slasher film, and the end title song became something of a cult classic along with it. Although admittedly, it might have just faded into obscurity, had this been any other movie.
“COME TO ME” (written by Brad Fiedel) fulfills the unwritten requirement of having at least one spooky, sensual seduction theme, or some like-minded leitmotif, in every vampire film. This one underscores the current of sexual tension between Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge and Amanda Bearse’s Amy Thompson perfectly…so much so, that the haunting melody is exactly what Fiedel crafted nearly the entire score around. The J. Geils Band actually wrote and performed an “official” theme song which was not only released as a single, but produced a video for MTV of the track. But for die-hard fans of the film, it only really has ONE theme, and this is it. And for those not in the know, the song has actual lyrics, which are sung by Fiedel himself on the soundtrack of the original, and then again by singer Deborah Holland in the sequel, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2.
“PUTTING OUT FIRE” (written by David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder), cemented both musicians’ ability to craft perfect music for whatever films they were involved in. The driving, animalistic urges that are essential to the characters’ motivations in Paul Schader’s sexy, gore-laden remake, can be heard in the visceral, tribal rhythms set up by Moroder, who uses surprisingly little synth fills and swells in this track…which may have been all for the better. Bowie’s lyrics and pleading, snarling vocal delivery made this theme one for the books. A theme that has been so legendary in the film firmament, that no less than Quentin Tarantino “repurposed” it decades later, for an unforgettable sequence in his film THE INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.
“BURN” (written by Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Boris Williams and Perry Bamonte), though one of The Cure’s most popular tunes, also turns out to be the one they’ve performed the least in concert. James O’Barr was inspired heavily by the band’s music when he created THE CROW, so like King with PET SEMATARY, the band whipped up what is kind of the unofficial title song for the dark fantasy thriller, always marked by the shadow of Brandon Lee, whose last performance is tragically preserved forever within this movie.
“RED HARVEST” (written by Danny De Paola, Paul Saax and Jim Tunnell), one of the more striking songs ever to appear in a DTV release, was co-written by De Paola with Saax and Tunnell, when the producers couldn’t get the rights to Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” – which was going to be the original title of JACK’S BACK, until the rights to the song fell through. The producers then commissioned Saax and his compatriots to craft something similar, and “Red Harvest” was the result. Whether it sounds like a ‘ripoff’ or not, it effectively sets the mood for the grisly chiller, and is still good enough in its own right to warrant a place on this list.
“VAMP” (written by Jonathan Elias and Grace Jones) follows that rule about sensual vampire themes to the ‘T’. Guttural, tribal rhythms? You’re gonna do better than GRACE JONES? Nope, didn’t think so. A theme was needed that was as ancient-seeming, timeless, regal, alluring and menacing as the character Grace played in Richard Wenk’s “VERY ‘80’s” horror/buddy comedy, and she infused the track with that instinctive knowledge of her role. The theme isn’t heard very much throughout the film, which adds to its power when it is played, especially during a “performance art” sequence in the film featuring Grace, where the track is best highlighted.
“SHADOWS” (music by Robert Prince, lyricist unknown) is the creepy, plaintive little tune that runs, tendril-like through Prince’s score for Jeff Lieberman’s worm-food fest, SQUIRM. It seems to have two portions: the first part is the intro of the movie during the storm sequence, as a little kid’s voice intones ghoulishly “I can hear the dark…if I listen hard…” The second part, during the end credits is something of a ballad, sung by a singer who to this day, I have yet to identify, although I always thought it was SQUIRM cast member Patricia Pearcy. Love or hate the film, however, very few fans have been able to forget that song.
“PRISONER” (written by Karen Lawrence and John Desautels) for most casual horror fans is a head-scratcher: why would Barbra Streisand sing the theme for a horror thriller? The rest of us know the story all-too well, but for courtesy’s sake, here it is in a nutshell: EYES OF LAURA MARS was an early John Carpenter script. Barbra’s then-husband, producer Jon Peters bought it for her as an intended vehicle. She liked the idea, but not the script itself and wanted to make a butt-load of changes. After a certain point – probably when it started to resemble something other than the script he wrote – Carpenter took the money and exited, stage left. In the best Hollywood tradition, Streisand ultimately decided that LAURA was just too violent for her to consider as a project overall….out stepped Barbra, and in stepped Faye Dunaway. Pretty much all the traces left of Barbra’s participation is mainly the “love theme”, which she gives her melodramatic best. Seventies thrillers could have way worse theme songs…and DID!
Did I leave out any noteworthy mentions? (Of COURSE I did! It always happens with these effin’ lists!) Any facts that are wrong, or was anything left out? Please sound off in the comments below and let me know! I am always aware that you can’t know everything about horror or horror trivia…