The History of Rock music in Horror films:
Rock ‘n’ Roll took early to film. And film went to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Blackboard Jungle (USA 1955), a high school crime drama, is one of the first films to showcase an innovative Rock `n’ Roll soundtrack. And the first movie ever to play a rock song (Bill Haley and his Comets with “Rock Around the Clock”) as a title track. The single of the title track sold 25 million copies and was later titled “The National Anthem of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by DJ legend Dick Clark.
Then, less serious films came to cinema such as Rock Rock Rock! (1956) or Rock Around the Clock (1956), this time with Bill Haley and his Comets in front of the camera. This was one of the major box office successes of 1956. Elvis Presley raged in the mid-50s in various genres on the big screen, and presented his rock ‘n’ roll in Jailhouse Rock (1957), among others. The mass – phenomenon of Rock `n ‘Roll conquered the cinema.
1958’s released Bert I. Gordon Earth vs. The Spider (a.k.a. The Spider), a horror movie in which a believed dead monster spider is revived by a dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll from a High School Band! One of the first Rock ‘n’ Roll films to combine music with a horror theme.
The triumphal march of music and film had just begun.
Rock meets Pop meets Beach:
In the 60s, Beach party movies with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon were really popular. Titles like Beach Party (USA 1963), Bikini Beach (USA 1964), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (USA 1965) or Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (USA 1966), the last of a seven-part series, which wasn’t set on the beach and had a Horror theme. The films were public attraction in each Drive Inn cinema. This film genre had many musical guest stars such as the Beach Boys, Little Richard, The Animals, “Little” Stevie Wonder, Sugar Kane, Nancy Sinatra and Kingsmen, who presented their songs in movies with barely existing stories.
Then came the Beatles. Then Woodstock, Altamont, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin and lots of sex and drugs. Counter Culture against the establishment. Due to the success of this and other bands, concert movies rose in cinemas.
Progressive Rock as film music:
At the end of the 70’s, Horror experienced an unexpected boom. George Romero’s surprise hit Dawn of the Dead (USA / Italy 78) was one of the first films of the “new hard wave”, which had a rock music (Prog. Rock) soundtrack, thanks to Dario Argento and Goblin. The European version of DOD (whose distribution rights Argento owned) was much shorter in duration, but had much more rock than the US theatrical version, which had more stock music and Hillbilly-Country.
In 1976, John Carpenter’s brutal somber Survival Thriller Assault on Precinct 13, had an idiosyncratic and rocking soundtrack of lush Moog synthesizer basses, which later became his trademark. The song The End was in Europe 1983 re-mixed and mutated into a night club hit, that kept on going for more than a decade on several dance floors. The self-played score by Carpenter has become a classic and still today one of the most remixed music tracks ever.
Punk and Wave:
As the horror film went into full bloom in the early eighties, the encounters with the music industry increased. Punk and “new wave” were now well established in the movie industry. The Great Rock `n` Roll Swindle (UK, 1980), with The Sex Pistols, was a Mockumentary, that attracted a great deal of attention. Times Square (USA 1980), Suburbia (USA 1983), dealt with the problems of youth culture and Repo Man (USA 1984) are three other more famous titles of this era that had a mix of punk rock, post-punk and / or New Wave songs from different bands as a soundtrack.
The heyday of punk and new wave was in fact over, then reappeared with Return of the Living Dead (1985), a Rock / Punk / Wave compilation, that is until today to one of the most successful Horror soundtrack albums ever.
Hard Rock and Heavy Metal:
But the really big business for Major Music Companies from the mid-eighties was found elsewhere. The offices of the A & R manager (Artist & Repertoire) quickly found and identified a new target audience: Hard Rock and Heavy Metal fans, because in the days of Vinyl, Soundtracks sold sometimes better than the movies.
Cross promotion was the magic word. And the film industry brought back even some on the public taste produced films. Titles like Rocktober Blood (USA 84), Blood Tracks (UK 85), Hard Rock Zombies (US 85), Dream Maniac (USA 86) or Rock ‘n’ Roll Nighmare (CAN 87) just to name a few. The music channel MTV was often enthusiastically promoting the songs and movies in shows like Headbangers Ball, and often, music videos had been specially produced, to help the films become more widely known. That has continued over the decades until today. Rock songs are present on horror films, whether are really fit or not. It’s all a matter of taste.
So go ahead, Rock On and have fun with this musical journey in horror films.
T. L. August 2016, Mexico City