Chances are that if you have listened to Marilyn Manson’s latest release, a cover of Gerard McMahon’s “Cry Little Sister,” you instantly thought of The Lost Boys. While most film soundtracks nowadays tend to favor timeless instrumental scores, there was a period in the ‘80s-‘90s where soundtracks featured songs written specifically for the film, and often became huge smash hits that would rival the successes of the movies themselves. The movie theme song in the 80s and ‘90s was a catchy rock or pop anthem with lyrics that often summed up the plot of the movie. Who doesn’t think of Ghostbusters and instantly start humming Ray Parker Jr.’s iconic “Ghostbusters”?
The movie theme song waned in popularity, and as much as I’d like to blame Will Smith (I’m looking at you, Wild Wild West), it had much more to do with the passage of time and ever-evolving music and industry. There’s also a certain level of cheese associated with a song that essentially spells out the plot of the movie. Nostalgic for sure, but you don’t really associate upbeat tunes with really serious movies. More so, it’s likely just not lucrative or feasible to pull in well-known musicians as it once was in the prime of the movie theme song. Essentially, the original movie theme song has long become a lost art form. In commemoration of this lost art, here are some of the most memorable horror movie theme songs.
“Pet Sematary” – Ramones
With filming underway on the remake of Pet Sematary, and the casting now in place for the final members of the Creed family, speculation on what directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer vision will be have begun. I think we can definitively count on one thing this updated adaptation will be lacking; a catchy ear worm theme song by the Ramones. The Ramones “Pet Sematary” was written in an hour’s time by bassist Dee Dee Ramone, and it became one of the band’s biggest radio hits. With lyrics that directly reference the plot, like “Follow Victor to the sacred place,” the Ramones gave you everything you need to know about the movie’s plot. And everything to ensure it won’t leave your head for at least a week after listening.
“He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” – Alice Cooper
It’s fitting that Jason Voorhees film with the biggest sense of fun would be the one to get its own theme song; Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Leave it to Alice Cooper to aptly sum up the rules of Camp Crystal Lake with lyrics like, “You’re swimmin’ with your girl, Out on lovers’ lake, and the wind blows cold, It chills your bones, But you’re still on the make, That’s a bad mistake.” The song even features the signature “ki-ki-ki ma-ma-ma” that’s become synonymous with the franchise. A hit for Cooper, this song was not only featured throughout the film, but the recent video game as well. The rights on this franchise might be caught up in legal hell at the moment, but I guess we still have this theme song to play on loop in the meantime.
“Dream Warriors” – Dokken
Remember when music videos were a thing? I mean a popular thing when MTV still meant music television. Dokken band members George Lynch and Jeff Pilson wrote this song for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, but aside from lyrical nods to dreaming and dream warriors it doesn’t really explain much of the plot. That’s where the music video comes in, with clips from the film and Dokken antagonizing Freddy Krueger. But it was a catchy song with a cool video, so it works.
“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – David Bowie
Paul Schrader’s Cat People, a more erotic horror remake of the 1942 classic, isn’t nearly as well-known as the theme song that David Bowie wrote with producer Giorgio Moroder. Moroder had recorded most of the music, and Bowie wrote the lyrics after director Schrader sought him out. The result is a gothic, moody piece that gets stuck in your head. That Bowie re-recorded and released the song on his album, Let’s Dance, further propelled it into the spotlight while this movie remains in the shadows.
“Me Against the World” – Lizzy Borden
There are few pairings as great as horror and metal, which is why the obscure 1988 creature feature Black Roses is worth mentioning. The plot revolves around a metal band, Black Roses, coming to town and turning its teens into demonic monsters with their music. This means that the soundtrack is full of prominent (at the time) bands like King Kobra, Tempest, and Lizzy Borden. While most of the songs performed by Black Roses in the film were done by King Kobra, its Lizzy Borden’s “Me Against the World” that’s the catchiest thanks to a killer opening sequence.
“Fright Night” – J. Geils Band
There was a glaring omission from the 2009 remake; a catchy theme song like the final single from J. Geils Band in the 1985 original film. Truthfully Brad Fiedel’s “Come to Me” and Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King’s “Give it up” tend to get recalled more than this theme song for the infamous scene where Amy gets seduced by vamp Jerry Dandridge in the nightclub, but this theme song better suits not only the comedic, light tone of the movie but plot-wise as well.
“Killer Klowns” – The Dickies
The lyrics “These klowns, honey, gonna make you die” pretty much says it all. The eponymous killer klowns in the movie are fun, colorful, humorous, but deadly. The Dickies’ song encapsulates the film wholly with their punk rock style merging with the circus calliope; more specifically, the band’s ear worm sampling of Julius Fucik’s “Entry of the Gladiators.” Arrow Films Blu-ray release has a special feature that delves into this theme song’s creation, just in time for the film’s 30th anniversary. Anniversary or not, this song is a must listen when it comes to ‘80s theme songs.
This hardly scratches the surface. What horror theme song is your favorite?