The 1980s brought us a wealth of movies, fashion and pop culture icons. It was a golden age for excess and endless possibilities that seemed to swim through the atmosphere. Things were evolving and changing at a rapid pace including the worlds of music and movies. Blockbuster films were becoming a real thing thanks to creators like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. MTV burst on the scene in 1981 creating a new way for artists to reach the masses along with an exciting visual element to accompany it. The hair was big, the pants were tight and the ‘Art of Spectacle’ became a necessary component to music.
Due to this swirling soup of circumstance, it’s really no surprise that the worlds of popular music and film would collide. Insert songs and even original themes have long been used in all genres of film, but there was a glorious moment in time when the original horror anthem not only existed but thrived. It was a genius idea actually. Horror films in the 1980s were booming thanks to giant slasher franchises and the advent of VHS. While massively popular, horror still (much like today) received tons of scrutiny, resistance, and disdain from mainstream audiences who simply didn’t understand the appeal. And there, over in the corner, were hundreds of musicians and bands nodding their heads saying, “We can totally relate”.
Like any sub-sect of society, these two worlds found themselves drawn to each other and joined forces to create a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. Yes, these anthems were at their core a promotional tool to essentially sell tickets and albums, but they were some of the most entertaining, rocking and awesome promo stunts that ever existed. Some even have accompanying music videos which are true bonus fodder for hungry horror fans. So plug those headphones in, crack open that can of New Coke, and take a journey through some of the best Horror Anthems to have ever existed.
10. AC/DC – Who Made Who (Maximum Overdrive, 1986)
Tagline: The day horror went into overdrive.
By 1986, AC/DC was a well-established rock band entering a waning phase in their career. Certainly not out of the game by any means, but it had been a while since they had had a truly successful album or single. Therefore, when Stephen King, the biggest name in horror fiction (and also a huge fan) came calling, AC/DC took the opportunity to take part in his directorial debut film, Maximum Overdrive. The film is clearly a bit bonkers and completely over the top. And yet, that makes it all the more fitting that it should have a rock-driven soundtrack accompanying it. In fact, the ENTIRE soundtrack was written by AC/DC. It would prove to be a smart move for both parties and AC/DC scored their biggest hit in a while with ‘Who Made Who.’ Following the album, the band even released a 73-minute long video consisting of several Maximum Overdrive tracks garnering even more attention for both the film and the band.
9. Sorcery – I’m Back (Rocktober Blood, 1984)
Tagline: He’s back from the dead with a message from hell!
Four of the tracks on the film’s soundtrack were created by members of the band Sorcery, including the smokin’ track ‘I’m Back.’ On top of just writing some of the song material, the band also played a bit part in the story and are present in several scenes. Nigel Benjamin (former vocalist for Mott The Hoople) handles the vocals on these tracks and not only kills it but SLAYS it. Not even a guitar smashed over his head can derail his soaring vocals. With a name like Rocktober Blood there’s a certain level of metal that’s expected and Sorcery delivers. Horns up indeed.
8. Fastway – Trick or Treat (1986)
Tagline: If you think Sammi Curr looks like he’s been to hell and back… it’s because he has!
Similar to AC/DC, Fastway composed not just one song, but an entire album for the rock-centric horror film Trick or Treat. Inextricably tied to the movie, the album was released a month after the film to maximize earning potential for both. Adding to it’s hard rock street cred, the film also has cameos from Kiss’ Gene Simmons and the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. Along with that, adding to the film’s horror street cred, Fastway got a little help in composing character Sammi Curr’s music from none other than Christopher Young (Hellraiser, Drag Me To Hell). You might as well just add this to your Halloween playlist now.
7. W.A.S.P. – Scream Until You Like It (Ghoulies II, 1987)
Tagline: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom.
W.A.S.P. was one of the more controversial heavy metal bands to rise to popularity in the 1980s. From their name to their song titles, they were always pushing boundaries and seeing what they could get away with. Therefore, they were the perfect fit for a sequel to 1984’s Ghoulies. Accompanying the film and album single release, there was also an incredible video featuring a lot of film footage that is so ridiculous that you’re not quite sure why or how it exists, but utterly delighted that it does.
6. Alice Cooper – He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask) (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives 1986)
Tagline: If you think it’s hard to keep a good man down…Try keeping down a BAD one.
With his shock rock aesthetic and penchant for the darkness, it’s no surprise that Alice Cooper would be involved with one of the largest horror franchises to ever exist. If anything, it’s surprising it took until the 6th installment. Another example of a beautiful symbiotic relationship, the track was released not only as the film’s theme (played over the end credits), but the lead single from his 1986 album ‘Constrictor’. Cooper also had two other tracks featured in the film to further cement his association with Mr. Voorhees. Now…this synth-drenched pop rock amalgamation is strange to be certain. However, in terms of the song relating directly to the Friday the 13th franchise, it’s a gem. This wasn’t simply a song forced to fit, this song was created entirely with Friday fans in mind including a heavy handed, Jason drenched music video.
5. Gerard McMann – Cry Little Sister (The Lost Boys, 1987)
Tagline: Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.
Written before McMahon (McMann) had seen a single second of The Lost Boys, ‘Cry Little Sister‘ quickly became one of those songs forever linked to the film it’s found in. There’s simply not one without the other and frankly, that unspoken arrangement benefits both. Despite the song having nothing to do with vampires, the song oozes summer nights, sand, and the natural sadness and loneliness that accompanies an eternal life confined to the night. The choir and organ hearken back to vampire tales of old while the reverb and hypnotic rhythm set it firmly in the 1980s. A classic any way you look at it and a tune that resonates with audiences to this day.
4. Ramones – Pet Sematary (1989)
Tagline: Sometimes dead is better.
In classic Stephen King fashion, King personally invited The Ramones to his home in Maine where he gave them a copy of his novel, Pet Sematary. Before they had even left, Dee Dee Ramone had come up with the lyrics to the now infamous song. With a little polishing and the help of fellow punk rocker Jean Beauvoir (The Plasmatics), the instantly catchy and plot centric song became the film’s single and played over the end credits. The song would also go on to be released on The Ramones 1989 album, ‘Brain Drain’ and would prove to be one of their biggest radio hits. And let’s not forget about the super fun video that features cameos from Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein as well as fellow punk rockers The Dead Boys. May the power of King compel you!
3. J. Geils Band – Fright Night Theme (1985)
Tagline: There are good reasons to be afraid of the dark.
One of the few horror anthem music videos to be released on MTV, ‘Fright Night’ is a synth pop masterpiece from a firmly established rock band. Everything about this song perfectly encapsulates 1985 and the fun, playful side of the film itself. Interesting sidenote, while the film relies heavily on insert songs from bands like Devo, Autograph and Sparks, it also originally had a score composed by Brad Fiedel of The Terminator fame. While one track was used in the film, it wouldn’t be until the Twilight Time 2011 blu-ray and Intrada CD release that the entire unused instrumental score got officially released out into the world.
2. The Dickies – Killer Klowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space, 1988)
Tagline: In Space No One Can Eat Ice Cream!
Fitting right in with the self-aware attitude that the Chiodo brothers had about their horror-comedy comes The Dickies and their spot-on theme. Utilizing excerpts from the film’s score and their own guitar drive calliope music, The Dickies were the perfect choice for this task. Having firmly established themselves as one of the founders of pop-punk, the humor and kitsch of the film were certainly not lost on them. Along with the catchy music and film-centric lyrics comes the incredible music video released for the track. Heavily featuring film footage along with original content, the two weave in and out of each other seamlessly. The Dickies would quickly go on to release their EP titled ‘Killer Klowns From Outer Space’ with 5 tracks that, of course, included the film’s theme song. A match made in the big top.
1. Dokken – Dream Warriors (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, 1987)
Tagline: If you think you’ll get out alive, You must be dreaming.
Yes, of course this is the number one horror anthem, but hear me out on this…not only is this Dokken track and music video pure bliss, the Nightmare franchise itself takes the first place prize. While Dokken’s theme was a marketing home run for both parties, it certainly wasn’t the only time that Freddy would join hands with rock stars. Attempting to follow up the Dokken model, Freddy ventured over into the realm of hip-hop with The Fat Boys for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Their theme ‘Are You Ready For Freddy?’ is a appropriately silly track featuring Robert Englund rapping. Yep…rapping.
Even though the song is by no means top quality, it certainly is fun and an endearing time capsule of the time and the film. Next up would come Iggy Pop and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. While we now obviously know this wasn’t the end for Mr. Krueger, at the time it was intended to be and they, of course, wanted to go out strong. Therefore, it made sense that they would tap rock royalty to create a final end credit song. The track titled ‘Why Was I Born (Freddy’s Dead)’ spills over into 1991 and frankly, sounds like it. Unlike the proceeding two releases, there would be no fancy, fun music video to accompany this release. In fact, the song itself would wind up sort of buried only to be released on a later Iggy Pop box set. Perhaps the final nail in the over the top horror anthem coffin, it’s a fitting and timely end to a beautiful moment in time.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Thor’s Rock and Roll Nightmare theme “We Live To Rock”, Ethan Hurt & The Coup’s Class of Nuke ‘Em High theme, Shadow’s theme to New Year’s Evil, The Monster Squad rap (of course), The Dude’s of Wrath electrifying theme to Wes Craven’s Shocker, Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters Theme, and David Bowie’s ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire).’ And the list continues on from there. There are just too many great horror anthems!