Rock n’ roll. Punk rock. Heavy metal. Music has always been transgressive – a means for outcasts and the marginalized to push back on social norms. Likewise horror movies are often at their best when putting our world under a microscope. Not surprisingly then, horror and rock and roll – and all of its variants – have a history together. Don’t forget the Satanic Panic of the 1980s when parents worried that heavy metal was luring teens into cults. And we know how much horror loves a good demonic possession story. Whether it’s the story itself or just the soundtrack to the onscreen carnage, rock music is pretty intertwined with horror. So behold, The Devil’s Music, or a list of eight horror movies with rock n’ roll rebellion running through their veins.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
A Brian DePalma-directed rock musical horror-comedy based on equal parts Faust and The Phantom of the Opera – what more could you want? Though critics were initially lukewarm, Phantom of the Paradise has acquired that elusive cult status. The flashy DePalma brings to life his story of an unscrupulous record producer, Swan, who steals the brilliant Winslow Leach’s music, leaving him disfigured. If you vaguely recall The Phantom of the Opera, then you’ll have an idea of what happens next. With a band called The Juicy Fruits, a signer named ‘Beef’, and a ‘Phantom’ wearing a metal, owl-like mask, Phantom of the Paradise is easily the strangest movie on this list. But fans of
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
If you’ve dismissed Return of the Living Dead as a ripoff of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, you couldn’t be more wrong. Writer and director Dan O’Bannon perfectly mixed horror, comedy, and punk rock in what remains one of the more influential zombie movies. This is the movie that introduced zombies eating brains, not just human flesh. Contrary to popular belief, Return of the Living Dead, not 28 Days Later, first gave us running zombies. Besides its bending of subgenre rules, Return of the Living Dead aptly blends dark humour with genuine horror. And if you’re a fan of hardcore 80s punk, this was one of the first movies to give us real punk horror.
Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)
Troma Entertainment and punk rock go together like peanut butter and jelly. They’re both loud, ugly, and boast an in-your-face attitude. Before the SyFy Channel, Troma was your independent source for irreverent mixes of splatter, inappropriate humor, and ultra-low budget movies. Today you’d struggle to get a movie like Class of Nuke ‘Em High produced. There’s ridiculous amounts of cheap-looking gore alongside some moderate sex and nudity – all par for the course. This fun cheesefest – wherein a nuclear power plant accident transforms honor roll students into murderous thugs, ‘The Cretins’ – spawned four sequels in spite of critical vitriol. And it’s all backed up by a new wave post-punk soundtrack.
Trick or Treat (1986)
If you’re old enough, you may remember the brief ‘Satanic Panic‘ that enveloped American in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, heavy metal bands attracted a lot of attention. Middle-class America lived in fear that Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, or Motley Crue were hiding subliminal messages on their records through a process called backmasking. Never one to miss a trend, horror churned out Trick or Treat in the mid-1980s with Family Ties’ supporting character, ‘Skippy’, in the lead role. What followed was a silly, bland mix of slasher and supernatural tropes. Neither awful nor particularly good, Trick or Treat is a minor guilty pleasure for fans of 80s horror.
Everything Trick or Treat gets wrong with the concept of heavy metal lyrics and actual Satanic evil, New Zealand horror-comedy Deathgasm gets right. If you’re a fan of the Evil Dead series or Peter Jackson’s earlier work, you’ll love writer and director Jason Lei Howden’s insanely over-the-top gore in this story of a metalhead outcast battling demons. Come for the gore and humor but stay for what’s a surprisingly emotionally affecting coming of age tale. Lei Howden gives us likeable characters with arcs that invite audiences to invest in what’s happening on the screen behind howling at the zany antics. But yes, Deathgasm has a character killing a demon with a vibrator.
Green Room (2015)
What happens when a punk rock band butts heads with neo-Nazis? Well, according to writer and director Jeremy Saulnier, it’s absolute carnage. Saulnier’s follow-up to the morose Blue Ruins, Green Room, is a gritty, intense example of pure survival horror. Briefly, Green Room sets up a simple premise – punk band The Ain’t Rights witness a murder at a neo-Nazi bar. Knowing they’ll never be allowed to leave, the bandmates fight to escape with their lives. Tightly paced, raw violence, and excellent performances are highlights. On one hand, you can marvel at Patrick Stewart defying expectations and playing the neo-Nazi villain. And Anton Yelchin fans can see the talented actor in one of his last performances.
The Devil’s Candy (2015)
One has to wonder why Aussie director Sean Byrne only has two feature-length movie credits to his name. Both The Loved Ones and his follow-up effort, The Devil’s Candy, are amazing indie horror movies. And after all, if heavy metal is the Devil’s music, why wouldn’t Satan play a flying red-V guitar? Of course, The Devil’s Candy is a much more ambiguous movie. A struggling heavy metal artist and father hears demonic voices. They may be the same voices that drove another man to murder his parents in the same house. While Byrne offers no simple answers, he does deliver a lean, disturbing horror movie.
The Ranger (2018)
It’s punk rock rebel teens and an ultra-rigid authority figure going toe-to-toe in The Ranger. After a tragic confrontation with police, Chelsea and her punk rock friends hide out in a national park where their unruly behaviour quickly puts them at odds with a homicidal park ranger intent on dishing out more than fines. Though The Ranger promise an interesting subversion on slasher tropes, some horror fans may find the movie a little light on those slasher prerequisites. And most of the movie’s punk rock victims aren’t particularly sympathetic. But Chloe Levine is absolutely amazing as The Ranger’s morally ambiguous ‘Final Girl’, while Jeremy Holm hits all the right notes as the titular villain.