Horror often infuses modern films with classic tunes that somehow feel remarkably fresh and perfectly suited for contemporary chillers.Intro by Editor Stephanie Malone
Horror can make the mundane or the antiquated feel fresh, especially when it comes to audio.
Sometimes it’s through an unexpected cover of a decades-old hit, as with the recent Ghost (featuring Patrick Wilson) cover of 90’s mainstay “Stay” by Shakespears Sister used so effectively in the end credits of the recent Insidious: The Red Door. More often, however, the song appears in its original format but somehow feels like we’re hearing it for the first time. The inclusion of an old, often long-forgotten song in a modern horror film often makes the song feel brand new — as if it was scored specifically for the film it’s featured in.
During the shrieks and various sound effects, we have a score and soundtrack to highlight and enhance moments or entire scenes into memories and time periods and elevate viewings with lyrics that run deep or rifts that tear into powerhouse experiences.
You might immediately recall the powerful use of Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It” in Jordan Peele’s Us, a song that has now become intrinsically linked to the film. Peele turned a ’90s weed anthem into a haunting horror soundtrack.
The scene that features the song, which was also used in the film’s trailer, appears in the first act of the film when the Wilson family (Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide, Winston Duke as Gabe, Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora, and Evan Alex as Jason) take a road trip to Adelaide’s grandmother’s place in Santa Cruz. They drive to the boardwalk, the location of Adelaide’s childhood trauma, The song comes on the radio, and the family discusses what the song means (yes, it is about drugs; specifically, it means throwing down half on a dime bag of pot).
Peele talked to EW about the use of the song in this movie:
That song, it came pretty simple, I’m making a movie in Northern California that’s a bay area hip-hop classic, and I wanted to explore this very relatable journey of being a parent [and] maybe some of the songs you listened to back in the day aren’t appropriate for your kids. So that was one level, and another part was, I love songs that have a great feeling but also have a haunting element to them, and I feel like the beat in that song has this inherent cryptic energy, almost reminiscent of the Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack. So those were the ideas that that song hit the bullseye on for me, and also, it’s just a dope track.
Peele also uses The Beach Boys’ 1966 bop, “Good Vibrations,” as an unnerving juxtaposition to a gruesome murder in the film.
Last Night in Soho – Land of 1000 Dances (The Walker Brothers)
In Edgar Wright’s 2021 psychological horror film Last Night in Soho, co-written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, fashion student Eloise “Ellie” Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is a sweet teen struggling with mental health issues who loves the music and fashion of the Swinging Sixties. She moves from her rural home in Cornwall to London to study at the prestigious London College of Fashion, where she struggles to fit in. After moving from her dorm to a room owned by the elderly Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg), she begins to have vivid dreams about a beautiful and confident young blonde woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring nightclub singer. Sandie begins a relationship with the seemingly charming talent manager, Jack (Matt Smith), only to suffer greatly at his hands.
The entire Last Night in Soho soundtrack is replete with hits from the 1960s, including two memorable covers sung by star Anya Taylor-Joy herself, Cilla Black’s “You’re My World” (originally recorded in 1964) and Petula Clark’s “Downtown” (originally recorded in 1964). But perhaps none are as memorable as 1966’s Land of 1000 Dances, performed by The Walker Brothers (itself a cover of the 1965 Cannibal & the Headhunters version of the song, originally written and recorded by Chris Kenner in 1963).
This upbeat dance song references popular dance styles and movies of the time, including The Twist, The Alligator, The Mashed Potato, The Watusi, and The Pony. During a pivotal scene in the film, the song plays as Jack forces Sandie to dance endlessly as he pimps her out to his male associates at the club.
It’s a heartbreaking scene, and the song’s exuberant innocence is sharply contrasted with the horror of the situation Sandie finds herself in.
Fresh – Obsession (Animotion)
In 2022’s flesh-