Horror and metal are natural counterparts. Without horror cinema, death metal (and grindcore, and so on) likely wouldn’t be half as gross and menacing as it is, and without metal, horror movies would have a much more limited palette of sound to draw from for its soundtracks. Not that instrumental horror scores—from The Shining to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s black metal-inspired soundtrack to Mandy—aren’t often metal AF.
Since the mid-’80s, however, heavy metal has been a staple in horror movies, whether being a major plot like in the cult film Black Roses, or in providing a stellar mixtape companion to the film. And in many cases, those soundtracks can end up being even better than the movies themselves. But then again, horror is a little bit like that old cliche about sex and pizza—even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.
With Halloween drawing near, here’s a roundup of 10 of the best hard rock and heavy metal songs in horror movies, from 45 Grave’s zombie deathrock party to Type O Negative’s yacht rock serenade.
45 Grave – “Partytime (Zombie Version)” (from The Return of the Living Dead)
The 1985 cult zombie flick The Return of the Living Dead, with story by original Night of the Living Dead writer John A. Russo, put a punk rock spin on the walking undead film. Part of that came in the humorous, irreverent film itself, and part of that came courtesy of its soundtrack, which featured songs from The Damned, T.S.O.L. and The Cramps. Though the best song of the bunch belongs to Los Angeles death rock legends 45 Grave, who put a glossier glam-metal spin on their 1983 song “Partytime,” dressed up in Sunset Strip production and raising hell with reanimated corpses.
Dokken – “Dream Warriors” (from Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors)
Cheesy? Yes. Over the top? Certainly. But does it still kick ass, even in spite of some of the cornball ‘80s flourishes? You bet it does. Featured in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, Dokken’s earnest, Aquanetted 1987 hit is a slight tonal clash with both the humor and horror of the film itself, but aside from killing it on karaoke night, it ended up being more significant than it might seem. The success of the single convinced producers to include heavy metal songs in the subsequent installments of the Nightmare on Elm Street film series, including Sea Hags and Vinnie Vincent Invasion on The Dream Master, and Bruce Dickinson and W.A.S.P. on The Dream Child.
Fastway – “Trick or Treat” (from Trick or Treat)
The campy 1986 movie Trick or Treat is certainly in the running for the preeminent heavy metal horror film of the ‘80s, featuring cameo appearances from Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons, and featuring messages from the dead backmasked onto records. It also features the badass title theme from Fastway, which rhymes “rock and roll” with “steal your soul.” But don’t let the camp value get in the way of the fact that this is an absolute ripper of an anthem—big riffs, big hair and big supernatural energy to boot.
Megadeth – “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (from Shocker)
Wes Craven’s 1989 movie Shocker offered a new take on the slasher genre by giving its serial-killer villain the ability to turn into pure electricity. The movie also featured a soundtrack featuring a lineup of hard rock and heavy metal acts, including short-lived supergroup The Dudes of Wrath, featuring KISS’s Paul Stanley, Motley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, and shredder Guy Mann-Dude. The highlight of the soundtrack, however, is Megadeth’s take on Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” While it’s a relatively straightforward rendition of the song, Dave Mustaine and company inject it with a fair dose of thrash metal edge, and that’s always a welcomed development.
Motörhead – “Hellraiser” (from Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth)
Motörhead were always more about living fast and playing faster than giving into oozing, grotesque horror imagery, though their legendary moment of horror glory came in 1992 with “Hellraiser.” A standout among the Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth soundtrack, which also featured power pop outfit Material Issue, funk-metal group Electric Love Hogs, and industrial-rock legends KMFDM, “Hellraiser” wasn’t just a metal-horror crossover, but a meeting of the metal legends. Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister wrote the song with Ozzy Osbourne and Zakk Wylde, and Ozzy’s version originally appeared on the previous year’s No More Tears. But Motörhead’s version, naturally, is a badass strut of an anthem, with a video to match, featuring Pinhead and other cenobites.
Nine Inch Nails – “The Perfect Drug” (from Lost Highway)
David Lynch isn’t necessarily known for directing horror movies so much as experiences that feel like actual nightmares—surrealistic, occasionally incomprehensible glimpses into a vortex of debauchery and despair. Which pretty accurately describes 1997’s Lost Highway, a film whose Trent Reznor-produced soundtrack more or less introduced Rammstein to North American audiences as well as delivering “The Perfect Drug,” perhaps the best of a string of great soundtrack contributions from Nine Inch Nails in the ‘90s (see also: “Burn,” their cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls”). Anthemic yet surging with drum ‘n’ bass beats, the song evaded the band’s live sets for two decades, finally debuting in 2018 and becoming a recurring setlist staple.
Ramones – “Pet Sematary” (from Pet Sematary)
In the 2019 reboot of Pet Sematary, Los Angeles garage rock group Starcrawler contributed their own version of the Ramones’ theme song. But there’s really no messing with the original, one of the best late-’80s singles from the punk rock legends, as well as their highest charting song of all time. More remarkably, they were personally asked by Stephen King—a massive Ramones fan—to contribute a song to the movie. Who could turn down that request?
Sepultura with Mike Patton – “The Waste” (from Freddy vs. Jason)
Freddy vs. Jason deserves some kind of credit for being one of the worst of both franchises involved in its slice-and-dice crossover—Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. In an unlikely turn of events, however, the soundtrack ended up faring considerably better, featuring songs from Killswitch Engage, Slipknot and Lamb of God. It also featured “The Waste,” in and of itself in which Mike Patton—just a year removed from collaborating with The Dillinger Escape Plan—lends his vocals to an industrial-tinged groove metal banger from Sepultura. As crossover events go, it’s a bigger blockbuster than the one onscreen.
Slayer & Atari Teenage Riot – “No Remorse (I Wanna Die)” (from Spawn)
One of the more interesting trends to come out of movie soundtracks in the ‘90s was the genre-crossover comp, beginning with the rock-meets-rap blend of 1993’s Judgment Night, followed by the rock-meets-electronica mashups of 1997’s Spawn, and eventually Blade II’s rap-meets-electronic pairings to complete the cycle. While Spawn was technically a comic-book action movie, the title character is a reluctant lieutenant for the devil himself, so close enough. It wasn’t received well, though bear in mind that budgets and demand for movies inspired by comics then wasn’t what it is now, but the soundtrack nonetheless produced some interesting collaborations, none of which delivered the total annihilation of this bruiser from Slayer and German digital hardcore group Atari Teenage Riot. It’s chaotic, noisy as hell and loaded with Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s riffs. Is Spawn truly a horror movie? Eh, but it’s our list and we’ll do what we want, dammit!
Type O Negative – “Summer Breeze” (from I Know What You Did Last Summer)
Type O Negative has appeared on the soundtrack of a handful of ‘90s-era horror films, including the amazingly absurd Bride of Chucky, though an even stronger use of the New York gothic metal heroes’ doomy crunch appears at the beginning of 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. Featured among other then-contemporary covers of ‘60s and ‘70s-era classics (L7 does Blue Öyster Cult, Kula Shaker takes on Deep Purple), Type O Negative’s 1993 version of Seals and Croft’s yacht-rock hit plays over the teen-slasher flick’s opening credits, transitioning seamlessly into John Debney’s score.