What is the Link Between Rock Music and the Horror Genre?


A good horror movie soundtrack tends to set the vibe perfectly in more instances than not. That is often integral to whether or not the movie accomplishes what it is trying to accomplish. Granted, sometimes when there isn’t music that could be enough to really set the tone. But at the same time, vibe is everything in a horror movie. Somehow, rock music is picked above a lot of other music genres.

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Take for example 1995’s Se7en. That was a dirty, filthy, awesome movie. It was bleak, it was disgusting, and it was memorable. But check some of the songs on the film’s soundtrack. During the opening credits, a remix of the Nine Inch Nails song “Closer” is heard. It’s slowed-down, scratchy, and if anyone is familiar with the lyrics, the added effects to the song makes it sound deranged and dirty. Meanwhile, in the film’s closing credits, the great David Bowie has a song there as well, “The Heart’s Filthy Little Lesson.” Like the opening rendition of “Closer,” Bowie’s sound, is dark, dirty, and let’s face it – sexy.

No other type of music would have set such a tone for a movie that ultimately left viewers feeling quite dirty. The music included in the movie fit the bleak atmosphere just right, and when it came to choosing the soundtrack the producers did an excellent job. But how about other horror films? What sort of music could set the tone in such a manner?

Going forward 12 years with Zodiac, released in 2007. The film is loosely based off of the unsolved Zodiac murders in California in the late 60s’ and early 70s’. Throughout the movie, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan Leitch is somewhat of a theme. Sure, it’s an upbeat sound reminiscent of hippie-era California, but it’s inclusion in the film makes it anachronistic, mocking, leering at the viewers. An excellent touch, but the song becomes haunting, a shell of itself. Nothing happy, optimistic, or anything like that.

What is it with rock music? Perhaps its the stigma that closely affiliates it with horror. Keep in mind in the early days of rock parents all over were horrified by the sound. They were certain that it was Satan’s music and it was everything a good kid/parent didn’t listen to. It didn’t upset the order that they were used to.

Take a look down the road. Acts started popping up like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Anthrax, Poison, Twisted Sister, and others. Go a little further on down. Metallica, AC/DC, and of course, White Zombie (which would later turn out Rob Zombie on unsuspecting fans). These were the offensive ones who drew on that horror that our elders felt back in the day. These guys were dark, evil, brutal, and mean. Many swore that these guys were agents of Satan. Of course, that is a joke of an accusation, but it has somehow stuck.

These days, original soundtracks may be integral in a horror film, but also, when rock music is associated it somehow…makes sense. It’s the horror of it all. Especially in the slasher films when some teeny-bopper gets offed to the guitar riffs of some generic musician, like in 2003’s Wrong Turn when Breaking Benjamin’s “Wish I May” closed the movie out. For that matter, films like the Saw franchise featured everyone from Mudvayne to Fear Factory (seen above).

The link established between horror and rock isn’t lost, as countless films linking the two have been made. One of the most notable films was 2009’s Suck, a vampire comedy which starred Cooper, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, and Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. Cooper, of course, played an all-powerful good guy, although he too was a bloodsucker in the film.

Overall, we as horror fans should be thankful for the presence of rock in our horror films. It’s as natural as original soundtracks by guys like John Carpenter, for that matter. There is something about the rock genre, as brutal, metal, and mean sounding as it is, it’s right at home in the world of horror. So without much further ado…rock on.