The use of the correct music in horror movies is always iconic. We think about those spooky scores and soundtracks long after the film has finished, and hearing a certain song on the radio can freak us out in an instant due to its film association.
One place where it’s vital to get the music right in horror is the death scenes. Rather than overpower or ruin the moment, the music in a death scene should add to the tension and the emotion, and make the whole thing more memorable.
So get ready to make a playlist, because here are ten of the best uses of music in death scenes!
10. Scream (1996)
Now, I don’t like to think about Tatum’s death in Scream (1996) too much because she’s one of my favorite characters in the whole series. But here we are, and as much as I hate to admit it, her death scene is quite kickass.
Tatum ducks out of Stu’s party to head to the garage and get some more beer from the fridge when Ghostface springs his attack on her. While we don’t technically hear the music as she dies, we hear Republica’s Ready to Go blasting when Tatum enters the garage, and again when Ghostface sneaks back to join the party. It shows how unaware the rest of the party is that something has gone wrong, and how everything just continues as normal while Tatum hangs dead in the garage door.
9. Escape Room (2019)
There’s something extra eerie about horror films using cherry-sounding music over scenes where the main characters are in peril or are facing death. Escape Room (2019) follows a group of strangers making their way through several killer escape rooms and trying not to die along the way.
The third room is an upsidedown billiards hall that runs on a repetitive cycle involving a phone ringing, Petula Clark’s Downtown playing, and chunks of the floor falling away.
With most of the group already in relative safety, only Amanda has to make her way across the falling floor. While the music does cut out right before Amanda falls to her death, the chirpiness of the song as she struggles to hold on to the ceiling is extremely unsettling.
8. Urban Legend (1998)
The opening scene of Urban Legend (1998) is nothing short of iconic. Michelle is driving late one night in a pretty violent storm, jamming out to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart when she discovers she is low on gas.
While her encounter at the gas station leaves Michelle more than a little terrified, it turns out she should actually be worried about the hooded killer in her backseat. As she speeds to what she hopes is safety, Bonnie Tyler is still blasting through the speakers. Total Eclipse of the Heart ends up being the last thing Michelle ever hears as she’s decapitated from behind.
7. American Psycho (2000)
American Psycho (2000) is full of music, musical references, and band name-dropping, but the scene where Patrick dances to Hip to be Square by Huey Lewis and the News is one of the best scenes in the whole movie.
After luring Paul Allen to his apartment so he can kill him, Patrick decides to combine preparing for the murder with a musical lecture about the song Hip to be Square. Paul is so drunk he doesn’t really realize what’s going on, as Patrick pops on a raincoat, having already covered the floor in newspaper.
Just as Patrick’s musical lecture reaches its crescendo he yells “Hey Paul” and swings an ax into his coworker.
6. The Final Girls (2015)
There are some songs you can’t hear without relating them to a specific film, and Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes will now forever be associated with The Final Girls (2015).
Bette Davis Eyes is the favorite song of mother and daughter Amanda and Max. The pair are jamming out to it in the car when they’re struck by another vehicle and Amanda is sadly killed. However, if one death scene involving the song wasn’t enough for you, this movie has two.
As the film reaches its finale, Max and Nancy (played by Amanda in the ‘80s horror movie Camp Bloodbath) are the only two left fighting. Nancy realizes she needs to sacrifice herself to grant Max her ‘final girl’ superpowers. She goes out dancing to Bette Davis Eyes, and it’s all the more painful because both us and Max have watched her die twice to this song.
5. Final Destination 3 (2006)
The Final Destination (2000) series has some amazing death scenes, but few are as brutal as the double sunbed death from Final Destination 3 (2006). Ashley and Ashlyn decide to take their minds off all their classmates dying with a little tanning session.
As they prepare to tan, they turn on the built-in radio, which is blasting Love Rollercoaster by Ohio Players. As it’s a Final Destination movie, things start to go pretty badly for the two women. Sadly for the audience, the women remove their headphones as they start to cook to death, so the music cuts out before the pair burst into flames.
4. You’re Next (2011)
You’re Next (2011) really lets you know you’re in for a wonderful mix of violence and fun with this opening scene. It also doesn’t hurt that the song involved is an absolute banger.
We’re introduced to a post-coital couple. The man goes for a shower, while the woman loads up Dwight Twilley’s Looking for Magic into the CD player, and makes herself a drink. The couple is then brutally murdered by men in animal masks as the music blares.
With no one around to stop the CD player, Looking for Magic is still playing when Erin tries to call on the house later, and we realize the Davison are family are in danger as the killers are clearly nearby.
Poor Kelly also meets her end as the song continues to play when she tries to search for help at the neighbor’s house. It’s a beautiful chunk of continuity throughout the movie and I challenge you not to have Looking for Magic stuck in your head every time you watch this film.
3. Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Happy Death Day 2U (2019) sees Tree stuck in another time loop, this time in an alternative dimension, desperately trying to find her way home. Because she needs to reset the loop at the end of each day to ensure she doesn’t get stuck there before her friends figure out a way to send her back, it means Tree has to find new and inventive ways of killing herself to keep the loop open.
Because it wouldn’t be a Happy Death Day (2017) movie without a good death montage, we get to see all the weird and wonderful ways Tree chooses to die set to Paramore’s Hard Times. While I’m not sure drinking drain cleaner or throwing yourself into a wood chipper would ever seem like a good idea, there’s a particularly well-timed skydive in a bikini minus a parachute that makes this whole sequence incredibly fun.
2. Scream 2 (1997)
We’re back with another incredibly painful but beautifully put together death from the Scream series, and this time it’s Cici from Scream 2. Cici’s phonecall with Ghostface is my favorite from any of the four movies, and it’s heartbreaking that she has to die. Cici tries to make good decisions by calling campus security and only staying on the phone when she thinks it’s her drunk boyfriend, but Ghostface still gets her in the end.
After chasing her to the top of her sorority house, Ghostface stabs Cici and then throws her over the edge to her death. As Ghostface watches Cici’s body from above, the amazing The Swing by Everclear kicks in. Not only is this a great segway piece of music as we head back to the Delta Lambda Zeta mixer, but it also helps cheers me up after watching poor Cici die.
1. The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)
So, I have to be honest with you. This one might be a slight cheat because no one actually dies in this scene. But, as the audience, we’re lead to believe they have, and therefore, I’m going to include it.
Who’d have thought Total Eclipse of the Heart would appear on this list twice, but here we are. The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) is full of wonderful ‘80s musical moments, but the best scene is when Luke finds himself fighting for his life against the Man in the Mask at the trailer park’s swimming pool. After the killers restore the park’s power, the pool is illuminated in all its neon glory and the sound system starts blasting Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler.
The Man in the Mask sneaks up on Luke with an ax, enraged at Luke for killing Pin-Up Girl. The whole scene is edge of your seat stuff as Luke fights the Man in the Mask up close and personal, before trying to run through the pool’s water to freedom. As Luke seemingly bleeds to death from the encounter, the somber outro to Total Eclipse of the Heart plays over the scene. The whole sequence is honestly perfection.
What’s your favorite musical death scene in horror? Let us know over on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook page. For more musical horror lists all month long, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.