Sound is arguably one of the most important factors when it comes to making something spooky, and if you’re anything like me, Fall is your favorite season because Fall means Halloween, and Halloween means excuses to get spooky like no other time of the year. Not that I really need an excuse to get in a spooky mood during any time of the year. But I digress. I love music that conjures up the feeling of Fall and October, of red leaves and pumpkins on every porch. Even though Halloween is most likely going to be canceled this year, I think it’s still possible to be brought into the Halloween mindset by listening to the right stuff.
Without further ado, here is a spooky playlist that can put you, or anyone else, in a spooky, Fall mood.
“Escape from Midwich Valley” by Carpenter Brut
Carpenter Brut has been one of the premiere synthwave artists for quite a while now, and I personally discovered them through the amazing soundtrack of Hotline Miami 2, where awesome songs such as “Roller Mobster” made an appearance. And that adjective kind of applies to the rest of their discography—combining the wonderful tones of synthwave with electric guitar and elements of dubstep, Carpenter Brut puts out music that can only be described using the phrase “awesome.” And “Escape from Midwich Valley” (a reference to Village of the Damned, and most likeJohn Carpenter’s version) lives up to that adjective.
Like a lot of synthwave, this starts as hypnotic, employing a slow beat and electric guitar to set a creepy mood. As it goes on, it adds more and more to its repertoire, becoming a sort of horror movie in aural form. It builds and builds to a brief interlude that sounds like a child’s music box gone horribly wrong before exploding into all-out violence. The accompanying music video is a riff on “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and is edited to line up with the music very well. It’s a nice bonus since not every music video bothers to tell a story and an even nicer bonus that the story is spooky.
“Boogeyman” by Black Casino and the Ghost
This is the opener off of Black Casino and the Ghost’s first album Some Dogs Who Think Their Name is No, and it’s one hell of a way to start. On the surface, it’s a classically styled rock tune, with heavy use of bass and a slow beat. But the lyrics tell another story, one of a monster in the midst of a community. It’s mostly left ambiguous what the nature of this person is, but it’s strongly implied to be a monster of a sexual nature. It’s difficult to find an official transcription of the lyrics, but there’s a part that sounds very much like the singer, Elisa Zoot, is saying “here comes the boogeyman/I think I want to give him head.”
It’s a unique, bold spin on the classic idea of the boogeyman. Historically, it’s a name that’s been given to a variety of monsters, so putting a more grounded, disturbing spin on the nebulous idea of a figure that stalks in the shadows is a neat move. The song itself feels heavy thanks to its overpowering guitar and drumming, and Zoot’s vocals, which are cutting and powerful. This song was, appropriately enough, used as the theme for the indie video game Downfall¸ the middle part of the outstanding Devil Came Through Here trilogy, and it worked wonders for that game’s depraved, dark storyline. It’s a great, unnerving tune in its own right, though, and offers an interesting, perverse spin on classic folklore.
“Chloroform Girl” by Polkadot Cadaver
If you just listen to the music of “Chloroform Girl,” you’d likely think it was a nice kid’s song. It uses acoustic guitar and some percussive instruments to set an easy going, light tone, but as the title implies, the subject matter is much, much darker than the sound suggests. It’s a riff on very real and very disturbing crimes that inspired the likes of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, with it being a story about a man that has fallen in love with the woman he has chained up in his basement.
The music video is filled with bizarre imagery, made all the weirder by the fact that it’s shot in grainy back and white. The song becomes a perverse sort of show tune, one that feels familiar but all the more disturbing because of its welcoming sound. There’s an argument to be made that it’s trying too hard to be edgy, but it’s undeniably an earworm when it feels like it really shouldn’t be. Maybe the whole thing is a commentary on how the public is drawn to awful, horrific true crime stories and the juxtaposition between the sound and the lyrics is supposed to point out how we really shouldn’t be fascinated by the suffering of others? Regardless of intention, it’s an effectively chilling song.
“We Get What We Deserve” by The Newton Brothers and performed by Dead Sara
I’ve written before on this website how much I love the California rock band Dead Sara. Easily the most underrated and possibly best band in the business, they show an uncommonly aggressive penchant for delivering kick-ass, powerful music. The dynamic duo of Siouxsie Medley, the band’s guitarist, and Emily Armstrong, the singer, make for one hell of a one-two punch in every song they play, and the drummer, Sean Friday, delivers fantastic beats. It’s why I was excited when I discovered that they performed the end credits song to 2020s The Grudge.
While the movie itself is, by most accounts, kinda just bad, this song is Dead Sara by way of Nine Inch Nails. It’s oppressive and bleak, and also showcases the band at their most heavy. It’s a shame that it’s tied to such a bad movie because it uses a variety of sounds to create a freaky mood. The guitar is great, Sean Friday’s drums take on an industrial sound, and Emily Armstrong proves once again that nobody in music can scream like she can in the song’s halfway point where her vocals take on a mixture of pain and what sounds like a sexual release. It’s wild, feels entirely unlike the band’s other songs, and it is effective at delivering a unique kind of spookiness.
“The Shape Hunts Allyson,” originally by John Carpenter, covered by Unbending Puppets
Another synthwave song on this list, but there’s a good reason for it. I’ll fully admit that I am not the world’s biggest Halloween fan. As a matter of fact, and I am fully aware of how blasphemous this is, I don’t like the original movie. It mostly just puts me to sleep. However, even I can admit that the original theme song by John Carpenter is an all-time great. It’s haunting, simple, but oh so effective at setting an unnerving tone. But, and I don’t actually know if this is blasphemous or not, I think I might like the song “The Shape Hunts Allyson” from the 2018 installment even more. It’s arguably even more disturbing than the original theme, with a heavy emphasis on electric guitar mixing with synth to produce a uniquely uneasy and eventually overwhelming feeling.
This version by Unbending Puppets, who specialize in covering classic movie songs and turning them into synthwave jams, is a catchy twist that would be perfect for a Halloween party if we weren’t currently in the middle of a pandemic (please for the love of God, don’t have a party this year, people; the sooner everyone cooperates the sooner this debacle can be over). But even listened to on its own, it has a driving beat that makes your head bob involuntarily, and it still manages to capture the uneasy freakiness of John Carpenter’s original version.
“No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin
This may, at first, seem like an odd choice. Led Zeppelin is about as classic as classic rock gets, but the fact that they’re so eclectic and have so much variety means that they’re bound to have at least one song that evokes uneasy feelings. “No Quarter” is, in my eyes, a quietly horrific song. It opens with Robert Plant’s soft singing about brutal weather. It then goes on to become a story about a messenger trying to make it somewhere, but they’re stopped by some antagonistic force who wield “dogs of doom,” according to one verse.
This is one of their long jams, but it shifts back and forth between soft pleading and desperate, overwhelming guitar. Pairing the instrument with Plant’s vocals creates an atmosphere of despair and the parts about the dogs of doom calls to mind old American folklore about people selling their souls to the devil at the crossroads. Considering they have a song simply titled “Black Dog,” this is likely a riff on the legend. Whatever you think the song is about, though, it creates this feeling of pure hopelessness, of fighting against odds you have no chance against. It’s heavier than their other songs and is suitably spooky because of it.
“Birds of Paradise” by Chromatics
Another odd choice, but one that I will defend. “Birds of Paradise” is one of the Chromatics’s more subdued songs, with no hint of synthesizer that they’re usually known for. It’s instead a melancholy love song about either separation or death and one half of the couple reminiscing about the time they had together. The lines “Paralyzed, I dug a well deep inside/I kissed the tide/You held the moon/And carried the stars” hints at a wild, young romance between two people that’s now gone forever. In other words, it’s the musical equivalent of a ghost story.
The ghost story is certainly one of horror’s most popular subgenres, although they tend to lean on the sadder side of horror than scary. In place of scares, there’s usually a dark backstory of someone losing their life before they were ready to leave this mortal coil. They’re usually resolved by someone that’s actually alive finishing whatever business they still have. The horror of the subgenre comes from the idea that we can die without finishing what we need to finish, or that we can go before our time. “Birds of Paradise” very much feels like something that ended with no sense of closure, and summons the same feelings that a classic ghost story would have, and as such, is quite spooky.
“Final Girl” by Electric Youth
Electric Youth is most well known for their collaboration with the musical act College on the song “A Real Hero,” which was featured prominently in 2011’s outstanding Drive. But honestly, they’re one of my favorite musical acts and have churned out two excellent albums so far. This track, a bonus from the deluxe edition of their debut Innerworld, is actually not very creepy at all, instead employing an upbeat, catchy beat that would, like the earlier Unbending Puppets song, be perfect at a Halloween party.
It’s a celebration of the famous slasher trope of the Final Girl, where there’s always a lone survivor at the end who takes the villain down. Most of the time, they’re females who survive by luck and sometimes their own wits (unless the slasher you’re watching is the outstanding You’re Next, in which case the final girl is an all-out badass). This song is simply a statement about how they’re the survivor because they were the best of whatever group they were a part of. It’s a weirdly sweet song, but one that can still be considered spooky since it is all about a famous horror trope.
“Tunneling Through the Guy” by Man Man
This song from Man Man’s second album Six Demon Bag is classic, an emblematic of the band’s early appeal. It’s also a wildly anarchic song about a jealous man stabbing “the other guy” to death. Starting with a whole lot of percussion and brass, the song almost lulls the listener into a false sense of security before pulling the rug out from under them when Honus Honus starts chanting and screams into the song’s second part in a way that makes it sound like he’s falling down a well. It then shifts drastically into something driven entirely by the drumming and trumpets, and the rhythm reflects the song’s gruesome subject matter.
As Honus Honus sings/yells about being a filthy beast, the background singers repeatedly chant to “crawl back to the cave” and the instruments seemingly mimic what it might be like to actually stab someone over and over again. It’s not subtle at all, but it’s extremely effective, and weirdly catchy considering the subject matter. Perhaps the strongest element is the wry humor it uses by implying that the jealous man whose singing the song is actually nothing more than a cave-dwelling beast. The ending takes on a totally different tone, with slow, almost choir-esque chanting of “lady we will pray on your grave.” It reflects the way the subject worshipped the woman who cheated on him and serves as a reason for why he snapped the way he did.
The album has another song that could also work in the form of “Spider Cider,” but this one was just too intense to pass up.
“Phenomena Theme” by Goblin
This is probably cheating pretty bad considering this is the theme song to a Giallo, but I’m putting it on here anyway because it stands out as one of the best tracks to appear in a Dario Argento film ever, and considering some of the other soundtracks, that’s no easy feat. Even on its own, though, it’s an outstanding and almost epic instrumental track that shifts gears more than once. At first, it sounds like a choir, but it quickly shifts gears to something more frantic, before eventually combining the two parts and throwing in some painfully sexy electric guitar for good measure.
Phenomena is not my favorite Argento (aside from Suspiria, I’m weirdly a huge fan of Tenebrae), but this track, which is used throughout the film, absolutely floored me every time it played. It somehow still manages to be creepy despite how insane, and in your face it gets and stands tall as one of the best, but most underappreciated movie songs from the 80s. It’s intense, it’s weird, it’s insanely great, and it’s spooky too.
I hope these songs can help you celebrate this coming Halloween despite everything going on in the world. Remember, it’s okay to be spooky year-round, but it’s mandatory in the Fall. Have a safe and happy Halloween!