Soundtracking is a regular column that appears on Cineplex.com looking at the music featured in the biggest new releases both in theatre and on home video. In honour of Halloween, Shane McNeil looks at the re-appropriation of pop music in horror movies.
Halloween and pop music don’t tend to traditionally go together.
When pressed to come up with musical Halloween classics, the usual stale list comes to mind: “Monster Mash”, “The Purple People Eater” … maybe “Thriller”. Yet some of the more clever macabre cinematic fare has found a way to make music frightening and, at the best of times, repurposing pop songs for truly twisted on-screen effect.
As Halloween approaches, why not celebrate a few of the best singular uses of pop for a good scare or a morbid twist?
The Lamberts’ possessed house seems to have its own favourite song. As Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) leaves to take out the garbage, the house decides to switch off the piano sonata she was playing in favour of Tiny Tim’s treble-y, ukulele hit.
The song would have its grand moment, however, in the film’s chilling final act:
On a more comedic note, Tim Burton’s 1988 hit Beetlejuice changed the way an entire generation heard the music of Harry Belafonte.
Looking for the ultimate proof that the recently deceased are still very much living in her home, Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder) entrusts Beetlejuice to give her parents the ultimate fright.
The performance he provides – set to Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” proves to be more treat than trick. That said, the scene still provides one of the greatest uses of the legendary Belafonte’s music in celluloid history, to say nothing of the use of Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line” in its finale.
For sheer volume and out-of-context value, however, the ultimate use of pop for a good scare has to go toMary Haddon’s 2000 film American Psycho.
While maniac Patrick Bateman’s (Christian Bale) obsession with chart-toppers came directly from Bret Easton Ellis’ source novel, the way Haddon brought his musical rants to life alongside both the hits themselves and grizzly murders, should be awarded for changing the way an audience heard some of the hugest hits of the 1980s.
While it would be irresponsible to post video proof of these uses in this article, those interested need only to do a simple search to be exposed to scenes that would not allow them to hear Whitney Houston, Genesisor Huey Lewis and the News the same way again.
But, hey, the horror genre has been around for nearly a century and these are just three examples. Feel free to chime in with some great examples that I’ve glossed over in the comment section below.
In the meantime, here’s the Blue Oyster Cult track that is both Halloween appropriate and has been repurposed and re-imagined for horror classics from Scream to The Frighteners to Stephen King’s “The Stand” miniseries.