Horror movie music is right up there with twisty plots, special effects, and camera angles when it comes to what makes a captivating scare. Some horror films go the way of creating their own original score, like John Carpenter did with Halloween. Other films use the audio to invoke a feeling to a specific scene, such as the high pitch stabs that occur at the same time as the on-screen stabs in Psycho. Choose the right sound and you can create the exact emotion that you want the audience to feel to in any given scene.
Some horror movies will go a different route and choose normal, every day songs that we all know and make them sinister or keep them as produced and that song will take on an entirely new memory for audiences. Here are some of the popular songs that horror movies made creepy.
“Tiptoe Through The Tulips” in ‘Insidious’ (2010)
In 1968, Tiny Tim recorded “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” as an innocent love song that featured his ukulele and an impressive falsetto. James Wan felt that was the perfect song to use in his film Insidious, about a family haunted by malevolent forces. Wan uses this song in two scenes, one playing from a record player unprovoked and one from when the patriarch of the family ventures into an astral plane to rescue his son. It’s impossible now to hear this song and not think of sinister forces, regardless of how innocent it was back in 1968.
“Hip To Be Square” in ‘American Psycho’ (2000)
You like Huey Lewis and the News? Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) certainly does in the 2000 film American Psycho. Bateman plays a sociopathic serial killer living a yuppie lifestyle who really has a penchant for music. “Hip To Be Square” becomes impactful in this movie when Bateman blares it through the speakers right before he murders the man he is envious of while wearing a clear raincoat. With such a positive and upbeat sound, American Psycho‘s premise helped to make that song’s association just a little more murderous than positive.
“Mr. Sandman” in ‘Halloween 2’ (1981)
We already mentioned John Carpenter previously and how he has made effective original scores for the Halloween films, but he did utilize non-original songs to drive home the creep factor. The 1954 song “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes is used over the end credits of Halloween II. With pure lyrics and a wholesome sound, it was the perfect song to end the film with to make the viewers feel that even in their dreams, Michael Myers can still haunt them.
“Looking for Magic” in ‘You’re Next’ (2011)
You’re Next took The Dwight Tilley Band‘s groovy song “Looking for the Magic” and used it as a piece of foreshadowing for every vicious kill. While the mask murders invade the unsuspecting family’s home, this song is played on repeat over the CD player. Once during the opening murder, later on during another attack, and ultimately during the final kill to really condition the audience to associate this song with bloody attacks.
“Rocky Mountain High” in ‘Final Destination’ (2000)
Another movie that utilizes one song for multiple scenes is Final Destination. That song, is John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”. We hear the use of this song before the initial plane crash, on a bathroom radio before a gruesome death, and also played on a record player before another one of death’s traps. Again, making the viewer conditioned to know that when they hear that song, death soon follows. What makes the use of this song even creepier when tied to this film is that John Denver was killed in a plane crash. Coincidence or death’s design?
“Open Up Your Heart (and Let the Sunshine in)” in ‘Autopsy of Jane Doe’ (2016)
In Autopsy of Jane Doe, two coroners conduct an autopsy on a young, unidentified woman who was murdered. But, of course, there’s something very off about her and “Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In)” by The Hamblens is a perfect unsuspectingly creepy song to use as a theme throughout the film. We hear it come on over the radio twice during the autopsy and once again at the end when the cop comes and starts singing it, it’s clear that the significance of this song means you can’t escape Jane Doe.
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” in ‘Zodiac’ (2007)
The 1968 song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” can be heard twice in Zodiac, a film that chronicle’s San Franciso’s investigators and how obsessed they become with trying to identify the elusive serial killer, Zodiac. The movie starts off with quite the bang and the murder sets the tone of what’s to come from the elusive serial killer. Donovan’s groovy song is heard at the very beginning and very end of the film, likely signifying that the end isn’t really the end and everything is cycling back to the beginning,
“Goodbye Horses” in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses” became a cult hit after being used in one of the most popular hororr films, Silence of the Lambs. “Goodbye Horses” is used when Buffalo Bill is dancing in front of the mirror, dressed in women’s clothes with his member tucked between his legs. It has the perfect and weird synth pop sound to it to encapsulate Buffalo Bill’s chaotic energy. An unforgettable scene that created a cult classic song that many probably only know from that exact scene.
“I Got 5 on it” in ‘Us’ (2019)
Jordan Peele takes the original song, “I Got 5 on it”, by Luniz and makes it fit the sinister aesthetic of Us by distorting the audio a bit until we get the “tethered mix”. Taking it a step further, we hear the original song playing innocently on the radio as the family heads to the beach, and then again as the tethered mix as the Tethered emerge from underground to take the place of their doppelgängers. The use of this song twice, once normally and once altered to fit the feel of the scene, is an excellent addition and shows the dichotomy of the family versus the Tethered family.
“Sleep Walk” in ‘Sleepwalkers’ (1992)
Santo & Johnny’s hit “Sleep Walk” is the perfectly chill and calm hit song to inspire the film by Stephen King‘s screenplay of the same name, Sleepwalkers. Looking to feed on a town’s virgin women, shape-shifters weasel their way into high school to help find their victims. The Sleepwalkers in the film dance to Sleep Walk played over the record player. What feels like a dreamy love song turns sinister, and it will be hard not to associate this song with stealing life forces.