13 Horror Movies That Rock
Article By: Ben Raphael Sher
Horror movies and rock n’ roll go together like Ann and Nancy Wilson. Like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Like Jason Voorhees and Alice Cooper. Perhaps it’s because both have been greeted with the same amount of over the top, arguably irrational fear by parents and religious leaders everywhere. Perhaps it’s because both tend to be anti-establishment, hella fun, and intoxicating: When you watch a great horror movie or listen to a great rock album, your whole body feels the thrill. Even when you watch a bad rock horror movie (and there are quite a few), you still leave on a high. On this week’s Friday 13, we present horror movies that rock.
1. The Horror of Party Beach (1964)
Although rock horror movies really became a trend in the 1980s, they’ve been around since movie studios started targeting teenagers in the 1950s and 1960s. In this Mystery Science Theater 3000 staple, a group of motorcycle punks and hot rodders find their rock and roll beach party interrupted when a canister of radioactive ooze falls off a ship and onto the ocean floor, creating multiple bloodsucking goo creatures. A football player, a bimbo, an entire girl’s slumber party, and a gang of lady motorists are killed before our protagonists discover that the monsters can be destroyed with mass qualities of sodium (not unlike humans, according to nutritionists). The teen rockers The Del-Aires (who allegedly sort of disappeared after this movie), sing “six rockin’ hits,” according to the movie’s posters.
2. Phantom of the Paradise (1976)
Alright, Brian De Palma’s masterpiece is more of a horror spoof, or a horror-comedy-musical, than a straight up horror movie that rocks. However, the line tends to be fairly blurry with this genre, and Phantom of the Paradise—which tends to be overshadowed by The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) in mainstream discourse—is absolutely essential. Plus, it still has scenes that have traumatized many a youngster (see: hero Winslow Leach’s horrible disfiguration in a record pressing machine). Winslow, a passionate composer, sells his soul to the evil record producer Swan (Paul Williams!) in order to produce his rock opera version of Faust, ironically. As with any artist who accepts a contract from a major entertainment industry company, increasingly grotesque battles over the final product ensue. The film masters the unlikely combination of gothic atmosphere and ‘70s decadence, and every one of Paul Williams’ songs nails it. “Old Souls,” sung by horror icon Jessica Harper (Suspiria), is one of the best ballads of the 1970s.
3. Slumber Party Massacre 2 (1987)
Courtney, the younger sister of the original Slumber Party Massacre’s protagonist (played by Crystal Bernard, before she became an international sensation on the sitcom Wings), still deals with PTSD from her sibling’s death in the earlier film. Hoping to overcome her recurring nightmares of a man in a glittery Elvis suit, she and her all girl rock group go to one band mate’s weekend house to jam, dance around in skimpy pajamas, and flirt with boys. Courtney’s nightmares begin to infest reality, and she imagines that her friend has a face-eating zit (proving, once again, that horror movies were very invested in representing the major social problems of the 1980s). Finally, Elvis Killer actually shows up and starts murdering our partiers with an electric guitar/drill, while performing musical numbers! Christina Aguilera is rumored to play the killer in the remake.
4. New Year’s Evil (1980)
Diane Sullivan, a renowned punk rock and new wave music show host, is emceeing a televised New Year’s Eve party from a ritzy hotel in Los Angeles (not exactly a very punk rock kind of venue, but LA is weird in that way). Awesome bands perform and too cool for TV rockers mosh while wearing over the top early ‘80s outfits and many variations of sunglasses. Meanwhile, Diane receives phone calls from a maniac who sounds suspiciously like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. He announces that every time the clock strikes midnight in a different time zone, he will murder somebody, until he reaches her. Could it be her sleazy, track suit wearing husband? Her neglected, whiny aspiring actor son? Or is it just your usual LA celebrity stalker? Before we can know, at least one personal assistant and several singles bar customers must die.
5. This House Possessed (1981)
Pop star Gary Stralhorn collapses on stage and ends up in the hospital due to “exhaustion” (don’t they all). There, he falls in love with his nurse, Sheila, and hires her to move with him to a crazy, hyper-modern house. The audience knows that the house has attacked promiscuous teenagers with snake-like hoses, and Sheila has the mysterious feeling that she’s been there before, but Gary remains blissfully naïve. The house, which seems to watch its occupants with ubiquitous video cameras, seems to fall in love with Sheila, and vanquishes her enemies using “faulty appliances”(Gary’s miserably bitchy model ex-girlfriend, who dares to ask Sheila to carry her luggage into the house, is driven insane by a shower of blood!). The excessively elegant Joan Bennett (Dark Shadows; Suspiria) is blissfully miscast as a bag lady who knows the house’s secret, and keeps insisting that Sheila’s name is Margaret. She succumbs to a boiling swimming pool. Warning: Our central rock star, Gary, is more like a mix of Barry Manilow and Billy Joel than, say, Bruce Springsteen. But both singers are important parts of America’s rock legacy, so don’t say that This House Possessed doesn’t belong on this list!
6. Trick or Treat (1986)
A seminal Halloween horror movie. A seminal rock n’ roll horror movie. Trick or Treat belongs on all lists. Eddie (played by Marc “Skippy from Family Ties” Price!) is a heavy metal-loving high school outcast who becomes devastated when his hero, Satanic rocker Sammi Curr, dies in a hotel fire. A disc jockey (Gene Simmons) gives Eddie Sammi’s last recording. When Eddie plays it, he brings the legend back from the dead to help get revenge on all of the persecuting preps at the local high school (led by Doug Savant, the gay guy from Melrose Place, which gives this movie an excellent Battle of the Prime Time Stars subtext). All hell breaks loose when Sammi goes on a killing spree at the town’s Halloween dance, while Eddie tries to send him back to hell by breaking radios. Ozzy Osbourne appears as a raving reverend. Tipper Gore, who rallied against heavy metal’s Satanic potential in the ‘80s, must have nodded in approval throughout this film. For more family friendly Gene Simmons horror that rocks, check out the made for TV classic KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)!
7. Rock: It’s Your Decision (1982)
Jeff becomes possessed by the evil, decadent, occult influences of rock music, ranging from KISS and AC/DC to the particularly insidious Captain and Tenille. He begins to, chillingly, act hostile towards his parents! They send him to their pastor, who makes Jeff embark on a two-week walkabout into researching rock music’s potential for evil influence. At the end of his journey, he can choose God or rock music (in other words, eternal damnation). Problem is, his friends and girlfriend ditch him when he refuses to go to concerts and gets all self-righteous when somebody tries to play music at a party! This Christian propaganda film is truly frightening for all audiences, no matter what your stance on the topic at hand. In the film’s most appalling scene, Jeff asks his mother why it’s alright for her to watch soap operas and hyper-sexualized commercials and still be a good Christian, while his allegiance to rock music necessarily aligns him with the dark side. Appropriately, she responds by slapping him across the face, because only a Satanist would question the moral purity of daytime television.
8. Slaughterhouse Rock (1988)
Alex keeps having vaguely sadomasochistic nightmares that take place in Alcatraz, so he, his girlfriend, and several sex-fiend bozos go to the island prison to investigate. There, he encounters the ghost of Sammy Mitchell, a deceased rock star played by the fabulous Toni Basil (of “Hey Mickey!” fame)! She tells him that he’s been summoned to destroy the spirit of a cannibalistic US Cavalry Commandant. Devo perform on the soundtrack! And yet, somehow, the movie’s a little boring.
9. Rock N’ Roll Nightmare (1986)
Arguably Canada’s most notable contribution to the heavy metal horror genre, this hair scare extravaganza has earned a huge cult following among bad movie aficionados. Canadian rocker Jon Mikl Thor wrote and produced the movie largely, it seems, to promote his ever-present music, making it the best infomercial of all time. Thor’s band, The Tritonz, along with their girlfriends and several groupies, go to a farmhouse that happens to house a state of the art recording studio. While they’re rocking out, little rubbery Cyclops imps start to attack them, turning some members of the group into demonic sex-fiends and, oddly, having no effect on others. In a whacked out midpoint plot twist, Thor reveals that the rubber Cyclops monsters were merely a hoax intended to lure Satan to the farm, so that Thor can destroy him in an American Gladiators-esque showdown. In a nice and persuasive counter-argument to Trick or Treat and Rock: It’s Your Choice, Thor suggests that, in fact, the hair metal diva is the messiah.
10. Black Roses (1988)
Those who argue against the notion that Rock N’ Roll Nightmare is Canada’s most notable contribution to the heavy metal horror genre would probably argue in favor of Black Roses. The goth-y band Black Roses plans to have their first concert (a four night event!) in Mill Basin, a small town in the middle of nowhere. Naturally the parents are up in arms, raving that the band will turn their children into demons because their album features a goofy skeleton on its sleeve. Actually, they’re right. Soon, teen girls are seducing and killing their stepfathers and their friends’ dads (the fact that the dads are very willing to be seduced proves that most small towns don’t need heavy metal music to corrupt them). One local jerk parent gets sucked into a breathing, drooling stereo speaker! It is up to cool teacher Matthew Moorhouse to save the day with a lot of gasoline. Pretty awesome.
11. Hard Rock Zombies (1985)
More small town horror insanity. Jessie and his band of hard rockers ignore warnings and travel to the sticks to perform in the town of Grand Guignol, where they are fought and ultimately destroyed by the usual group of PTA members, plus Hitler (who apparently moved to California after WWII) and his bizarre extended family of little people and werewolves. Cassie, Jessie’s lover who appears to be about 15 years old, resurrects the band from the dead so that they can avenge their murders, ultimately turning the evil townspeople into zombies as well! Not since Baby Jessica fell into The Well has a town been so upended.
12. Dreamaniac (1986)
In this early, made-for-video effort from soft-porn horror auteur David DeCoteau (Voodoo Academy), a heavy metal musician/Satanist is infatuated with a succubus who keeps appearing in his dreams, encouraging him to make love to her in a bathtub full of blood. Using amateur black magic, he brings her into the real world, and she murders his friends and his cat. This vague ripoff of A Nightmare on Elm Street is known for its extremely long opening credits sequence.
13. Scream Dream (1989)
Satanic Panic and anti-feminist anxiety have a disastrously delicious collision. Michelle Shock, the lead singer of an all girl heavy metal band, stirs up controversy when she orally castrates one of her fans! The band doesn’t want negative attention, so they kick her out and replace her with Jamie Summers (no relation to The Bionic Woman…or is there?). Needless to say, Michelle Shock was actually a demon, and she possesses Jamie when she tries to steal her clothes (when you deserve to be possessed, you deserve it). She sets out to wreak bloody havoc on the band-mates that rejected her. Explosive hair, Suzanna Hoffs-esque outfits, scalpings, Freddy Krueger-ripoff demon makeup, arms that move when disembodied, and lengthy musical numbers ensue. It’s all very The Mamas and the Papas when they had the nerve to kick out Michelle Phillips.