It’s time to bring out your lighters for the encore to “Pop Music and Horror Films.” As with part one, I’m basing my selection on songs that had a long shelf life before being used in film, but were either changed by being included in the film, or contributed significantly to it. Based on these criteria, lots of good pop songs didn’t make the cut, so I’d like to begin with a couple of honorable mentions. “Jeepers Creepers,” first sung by the fantastic Louis Armstrong, has been featured in numerous films, including Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Day of the Locust, and Jeepers Creepers. It didn’t make the list because it was actually written for the film Going Places in 1938. “Blitzkrieg Bop,” by the Ramones, is one of my all-time favorite songs, and it’s playing on the radio of the truck driver who kills little Gage in Mary Lambert’s Pet Semetary. It’s a great scene, but the way we listen to the song doesn’t really change, and plenty of other songs could have worked just as well. The Ramones actually have two songs in that film. They wrote “Pet Semetary” specifically for it, and it’s featured during the closing credits. It was really tough to pick the final five, but here they are. If you think I’ve overlooked a song or two, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. And, as with the previous list, click on the videos if you want to sing along with the post.
5. “Fever,” by The Cramps – Near Dark (1987)
With such songs as “I Ain’t Nothing but a Gore Hound,” “The Human Fly,” and “The Zombie Dance,” the Cramps are no strangers to horror-themed music. I came very close to picking “Naughty Naughty,” John Par’s definitive power-chord anthem that opens Near Dark’s famous bar scene, but it’s the Cramps’ brilliant cover of Willie John’s classic “Fever” that really gives that scene an unmistakable atmosphere of low-key, slithering cool that you know will soon erupt into something bloody and ugly. If I were ever to direct a horror film, I am postitive that I would hire the Cramps to do its soundtrack.
4. “The Man Comes Around,” by Johnny Cash – Dawn of the Dead (2004)
I LOVE Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I think it’s far superior to the original. Not only is Snyder’s version a first-rate zombie flick, it’s simply a good film with great editing, first-rate acting, and an incredible soundtrack. The film opens with Johnny Cash’s apocalyptic “The Man Comes Around,” one of the last songs he ever wrote. It has a simple, but incessant rhythms and cryptic lyrics that establish the perfect tone for the entire film. The end of the world never sounded so good.
3. “People Who Died,” by Jim Carroll – Dawn of the Dead (2004)
All of the songs in Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake are terrific, and chosen for very specific effects in the film, but I promised myself to include no more than two of them. The film’s closing credits are as effective as the opening, thanks to the punk-rock poetry of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.” Carroll wrote the song as a tribute to the friends he lost during his tumultuous, drug-riddled adolescence on the streets of New York (as chronicled in The Basketball Diaries, but his song translates perfectly as a defiant tribute to Anna and Keith and everyone in Dawn of the Dead who almost make it out alive.
2. “The Host of Seraphim,” by Dead Can Dance – The Mist (2007)
I’ve been a fan of Dead Can Dance and their ethereal style of world music since their eponymous first album. They’ve never sounded better than at the heart-breaking, dread-inspiring conclusion of Frank Darabont’s The Mist. The plaintive incantations of “The Host of Seraphim” perfectly mirror the incessant, otherworldly threat that renders David so completely helpless. It’s one of the most memorable endings to any film I’ve seen in a long time.
1. “Free Bird,” by Lynard Skynard – The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Every self-respecting southerner (such as myself) likes Lynard Skynard. It’s encoded into our DNA along with a love of iced tea and barbecue. Still, I know that “Free Bird” is one of the most maudlin and overplayed songs ever written. And this is precisely why it deserves the #1 spot in this list. Rob Zombie manages to make this song new again — more so than any other song in this list — by using it at the end of The Devil’s Rejects as Captain Spaulding, Otis, and Baby Firefly contemplate their final moments before their showdown with the police. They’re all evil, psycho-freak hippies in bad need of a shower, but I still can’t help but feel sorry for them, partly because “Free Bird,” as brilliantly used by Zombie, so powerfully evokes an unabashed sense of nostalgia and bitter-sweet sorrow. I don’t think that “Free Bird” has ever been used in this kind of context, but I’m now convinced that it’s how this song was meant to be heard.