Heavy metal has been tied to horror movies literally since its inception. If guitarist Tony Iommi hadn’t seen a cinema marquee advertising the 1963 Boris Karloff film Black Sabbath, his band would still be named Earth and might be a footnote in rock history. But not only did the boys from Birmingham take the name, they also imbued their music with the shadowy menace of classic horror films, and as such spawned a whole new genre of rock and roll which shunned the light and reveled in darkness.
Since then, horror movies and metal have been perpetually intertwined, whether that’s through metal musicians lending songs to gore flick soundtracks or even going on to direct or star in big-screen horror stories. Meanwhile, the makers of heavy music have become bloodthirsty horror addicts, going so far as to start bands and subgenres specifically to explore horror film as subject matter. The result is that a great many metal bands have written songs specifically about horror movies, paying tribute to the cinema that made them the sick individuals they are.
Here are the 20 best examples of heavy metal songs made about horror movies…
Iced Earth, “Dracula” (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992)
Plenty of songs have explored the character of Dracula, but few have embodied the grandeur of the Count as much as Iced Earth’s track off of 2001’s Horror Show. As Matt Barlow shrieks, “I avenge with darkness/The blood is the life,” one can picture themselves surging through the midnight sky in a cloud of bats. The track’s lyrics and atmosphere are heavily gleaned by Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 interpretation of Bram Stoker’s genre-defining vampire store, though thankfully, Keanu Reeves’ British accent is not included.
Mortician, “Zombie Apocalypse” (Dawn of the Dead, 1978)
Few horror metal tracks sound as much like their focal monsters as “Zombie Apocalypse” by NYDM legends Mortician. Plodding and rotten, the song’s central riff immediately evokes the broken-leg shuffle of the hungry dead. While the sample from 1978’s Dawn of the Dead at the beginning spells out the song’s basis for newcomers, most listeners wouldn’t even need that leg up to understand how this track relates to George Romero’s story of zombies taking over the earth. A nasty, misanthropic banger that any self-respecting revenant would want playing in the background as they climbed out of their grave.
Dimmu Borgir, “Hybrid Stigmata – The Apostasy” (Hellraiser, 1987)
The symphonic black metal scene’s sound and look owe so much to the Cenobites from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, and Dimmu Borgir are perhaps the loudest example of this. With “Hybrid Stigmata” off of 2001’s career-defining Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, the Norwegian temple-topplers pay homage to these archangels of blasphemy with a sweeping, soaring track that takes the listener on a tour of the Lament Configuration’s brooding labyrinth. The closing line, “Demon to some, angel to others…” gives the film’s tagline a new diabolical weight, and reminds all that evil is in the glassy black eye of the beholder.
Ice Nine Kill, “The American Nightmare” (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984)
Freddy Kruger’s been linked to the metal scene since Dokken showed up on the soundtrack to 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. But the opening track to Ice Nine Kills’ 2018 album The Silver Scream really nails down the mixture of psychological terror and pop-culture evil which runs through the legacy of Wes Craven’s razor-fingered shape-shifter. It’s good to see that even modern metalcore bands still rep the horror icons of their forefathers.
Witchery, “Nosferatu” (Nosferatu, 1922)
F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu may be a silent film, but there’s nothing quiet about this galloping blackened thrash track by Sweden’s Witchery. Where the track misses the original film’s expressionist atmosphere, it taps into the titular vampire’s verminous unholy evil. While Bela Lugosi made Dracula a charismatic lothario, German actor Max Schreck portrayed his German cousin Graf Orlock as a demonic specter, as much an undying noble as he is a giant, creepy-crawler parasite, and Witchery go all in on that darker vibe. The 1920s never sounded so vicious.
Hooded Menace, “Rotting Rampage (Menace of the Skeletal Dead)” (Tombs of the Blind Dead, 1972)
Finnish death-doom act Hooded Menace have the distinction of being the only act on this list whose entire band is based on a single horror franchise. Their namesake and album art mascots all stem from 1972’s Tombs of the Blind Dead, the Spanish film about a horde of undead Knights Templar with their eyes burnt out who rise from the grave to suck the blood of the living. The slow, sightless horror of the Templars is exuded throughout the band’s oozing tunes, which manage to stay engaging even as they sounds like a decomposing corpse emerging from a crypt.
The Black Dahlia Murder, “Raped In Hatred By Vines of Thorn” (The Evil Dead, 1981)
While Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead features possessed zombies, bleeding walls, and giant demon hands bursting through human torsos, its most horrific scene is when a female victim is molested by a demonically-possessed sticker bush. Michigan’s The Black Dahlia Murder knew that was the scene with which to really horrify listeners, and on their 2013 melodeath rager “Raped In Hatred By Vines Of Thorn” they tell the somewhat campy story of Evil Dead through a stark, horrific death metal lens. It can’t all be S-Mart and boomsticks all the time.
Electric Wizard, “Dunwich” (The Dunwich Horror, 1970)
H.P. Lovecraft’s classic tale of hillbilly starspawn trying to end the world is a wordy feast for the eyes, but its 1970s film adaptation is a much more madcap and groovy affair. It’s from the movie that British weed-metallers Electric Wizard take their inspiration, referencing the film’s lines and smoke-drenched atmosphere throughout their fun, danceable stoner metal tune. Of course, being an Electric Wizard song, there’s an added lyric about how the story’s central abomination likes to get high, but hey, given that the Ancient Ones are represented in the film as naked hippies running around a field, that checks out.
Murderdolls, “Grave-Robbing U.S.A.” (Plan 9 From Outer Space, 1959)
While Murderdolls’ “Grave-Robbing U.S.A.” may never directly reference Ed Wood’s 1959 cinematic dung heap, its lyrics about aliens coming to earth in order to rob graves is definitely a shout out to this movie (which, for the record, was originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space). In classic Murderdolls fashion, the song never takes its subject matter too seriously (and if you’ve ever seen Plan 9, you know it shouldn’t), trading ghoulish gravitas for a sleaze-metal party vibe. The result is a track you want to bump while rolling your ATV in a crowded cemetery. After a long day, there’s nothing like cracking open a cold one!
Possessed, “The Exorcist” (The Exorcist, 1973)
It’s widely accepted that Possessed’s Seven Churches will always be the greatest old-school death metal album of all time, and it’s telling that the record opens with a tribute to the scariest horror movie of the ‘70s. “The Exorcist” begins with the film’s infamous “Tubular Bells” before blasting into a frenzied thrash-death marathon full of panic and yearning. While Jeff Becerra’s lyrics go a little harder on the satanic fantasy than William Friedkin’s movie does, the speedy central riff definitely instills the kind of blind terror one imagines young Regan feels in the film. A necessary evil.
Iron Maiden, “Phantom of the Opera” (The Phantom of the Opera, 1925)
Though originally a novel by French detective author Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera didn’t really blow up until Lon Chaney’s 1925 film interpretation of the deformed virtuoso. Iron Maiden’s high-flying anthem about the titular villain audibly channels that movie’s high-flying take on this definitive tale. It’s also a track that solidly showcases why original Maiden singer Paul Di’Anno is such an important part of their history, his snapped and shouted lyrics giving the song a powerful urgency.
Rigor Mortis, “Wizard of Gore” (The Wizard of Gore, 1970)
Texan death-thrash stalwarts Rigor Mortis only released three full-length studio albums, but they’re some of the best horror metal in the genre’s history. “Wizard of Gore,” based on the movie of the same name by schlock cinema legend Herschell Gordon Lewis, features enthusiastic descriptions of disembowelment over surging guitar riffs and drum parts that genuinely sound like such unspeakable acts. The band wisely skip the film’s bizarre meta ending and just focus on the entrails flying across the room. It’s hard to pick one Rigor Mortis track over of the countless others based on horror movies, but this one just brings the guts more than the rest.
Fantomas, “Rosemary’s Baby” (Rosemary’s Baby, 1968)
Mike Patton’s Fantomas did right by horror fans with their 2001 album Director’s Cut, which saw them performing the scores and soundtracks of classic films via the Faith No More vocalist’s twisted mental filter. But the band’s version of “Rosemary’s Lullaby,” Krzysztof Komeda’s theme for 1968’s gut-wrenching film adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby, is less a cover and more of a reinterpretation. The track broods and spasms with a mixture of doom metal and noise rock while never digressing too far from the sing-song melody of the original. A haunting listen on a long drive at night–wait, is that someone on the side of the road? We should pull over.
Deicide, “Dead By Dawn” (Evil Dead II, 1987)
While 1987’s Evil Dead II is campy and cartoonish in its violence, this track from Deicide’s 1990 debut takes it all completely straight-faced. With bone-grinding riffs and throaty bellows of the movie’s demonic slogan, “DEAD BY DAWN,” Glen Benton and Co. manage to lend an air of brutality to this otherwise hilarious horror romp. It’s a solid reminder that in their early days, death metal bands were even more humorless than they are now, at least on tape. Perfect background music for cutting off your own hand.
Rob Zombie, “Pussy Liquor” (House of 1,000 Corpses, 2003)
Does it count if the horror movie is your own? For a while, Rob Zombie wrote a song for each of his terrifying horror epics, but while the track named after his 2003 debut House of 1,000 Corpses is certainly rad, it pales in comparison to “Pussy Liquor,” celebrating the Firefly Family’s tendency to “get fucked up and do fucked up shit.” With its grimy bassline, ominous keys, and Alice Cooper-ian horn stings, the song is like a gruesome showtune about Otis, Baby, and Tiny murdering anyone who wanders their way. This has led to it becoming a staple of Zombie’s live set, though one wonders if the shock rocker just loves seeing a huge crowd of midwesterners yell, “PUSSY LIQUOR!” every night. Definitely a Thanksgiving-ruiner.
Entombed, “Bringer of Light” (The Devil’s Advocate, 1997)
Much of Entombed‘s 2001 album Morning Star is cribbed from the 1997 Keanu/Pacino film The Devil’s Advocate about a young attorney joining Satan’s New York law firm. This makes sense, given that the film focuses on how Lucifer is in many ways a sympathetic figure, specifically during the Devil’s final monologue about his role in the world. It’s from that speech that many of the lyrics on this track are taken, offering a no-nonsense take on the Miltonian adversary as he exists in the modern world. True evil never shows.
Orange Goblin, “The Fog” (The Fog, 1980)
John Carpenter may be remembered by the public for Halloween and Escape from New York, but the horror world will always adore his bizarre nautical ghost story The Fog. And if any band can perform a gnarly doom metal track about an undead colony of leper sailors rising out of an evil mist to reclaim what’s theirs, it’s London’s Orange Goblin. The song grooves along with a cool, witchy vibe that suits Carpenter’s sideways take on a haunting, never getting too extreme but also not trying to spook us to death. For those who love horror movies and spend some portion of their day haloed in smoke, this one’s a must.
Benighted, “Leatherface” (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974)
It’s hard to lock down the sheer visceral terror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s howling lunatic Leatherface, but French deathcore act Benighted definitely found a way. This track off of 2017’s Necrobreed is as crushing, unhinged, and psychologically fractured as the deformed maniac himself, with lyrics about hot breath behind the mask and the feel of the hammer in his hand giving listeners a human take on their favorite cinematic butcher. With TCM, it’s not enough to go goth or horror punk — only death metal will do.
The Misfits, “Dust to Dust” (Bride of Frankenstein, 1935)
While classic Misfits is all punk, their two albums with vocalist Michale Graves are chock-full of ultra-polished groove metal thanks to the zaftig riffs of Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. “Dust to Dust” is a bang-along track from the point of view of the Frankenstein’s monster as he delivers his final, apocalyptic speech at the end of Bride of Frankenstein. Graves’ lyrics may be a little more eloquent than Boris Karloff’s grunted monosyllables, but the sentiment is still the same: we belong dead!
Revolting, “The Plague of Matul” (Zombie, 1979)
If you give your horror movie the tagline “We are going to eat you,” be prepared for that shit to become a death metal lyric. Thankfully, ripping Swedish three-piece Revolting turned it into just that with “The Plague of Matul,” a song dedicated to Lucio Fulci’s brilliant 1979 gorefest Zombie. The track has it all — resurrected Spanish conquistadores, impaled eyes, and the word, “ZOMBIE!” shouted throughout every chorus. All that might be cheesy on any song that isn’t an utterly ripping melodic death metal number, but on “The Plague of Matul,” it’s about as good as it gets.
Words by Chris Krovatin