For certain horror movies, the soundtrack release became as famous and well regarded as the film itself. The Lost Boys is a classic example of this, as is The Crow if you count that as horror. There are plenty of other features with soundtracks that are beloved by fans, even if they never broke through to the mainstream, like Fright Night, Return of the Living Dead and Shocker. Thinking about soundtracks as much as I have been recently, it kind of stunned me to realize that they don’t exist anymore. Films are still scored, of course, and those are often released by themselves, but a soundtrack is an entirely different thing.
Compilations of popular songs, or especially songs written exclusively for the movie, they’re just not being made anymore. And it’s interesting to try and go back and see where that began to taper off when it had been so successful for so long. In the ‘80s, everything had to have a theme song tying into the movie, whether it was Fright Night or My Bloody Valentine.
There’s something about that that’s always fascinated me. I love the idea of a song being created simply to tie into the voice, concept or story of a feature film. The Dickies’ song for Killer Klowns from Outer Space is just trying to tie into the tone and feeling of that movie. J. Geils Band’s “Fright Night” is running with the concept. And “The Ballad of Harry Warden” is a folk song that literally breaks down the entire story of My Bloody Valentine for you, beat for beat.
Music supervisors for these films knew exactly what they were doing. Overseeing the score was only one aspect. So much of the tone and style behind so many of the greatest scenes in the horror movies of the era were defined by the songs played in the background—or, sometimes, the foreground.
While many became hit singles or have gone onto become anthems for fans of ‘80s horror, like “Dream Warriors” or “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” there are plenty of other great soundtrack pieces that have still never seen much of any kind of release. We love The Monster Squad, but there’s no great way to listen to “Rock Until You Drop.” As much as it defines Critters, we’re probably never going to get an official release of “Power of the Night.”
This trend did not remotely die down as horror stepped into the nineties, either. If anything, it grew. The soundtracks to Scream, The Faculty, The Craft and Idle Hands were a huge part of my musical upbringing. There was even a trend that was exclusive to that decade where every soundtrack release had to have a cover of a classic song on it. Scream featured a great cover of “Birds Fly,” Kidneythieves lent a hugely underrated cover of “Crazy” to Bride of Chucky and Type O Negative lent a cover of “Summer Breeze” to I Know What You Did Last Summer.
I understand that, for many people, the fact that this trend disappeared is probably the best thing that ever happened to the genre. It’s not for everyone. It’s a different kind of appreciation. And no, I doun’t think a hip tie-in track would have improved Insidious or The Conjuring in any way whatsoever. The reality might just be that the current horror climate doesn’t lend itself to the way soundtracks used to be released. But I wish it did.
Because even if it’s not for everyone, even if it’s stupid or populist, these soundtracks led even those outside the genre to form a weird appreciation for it. They were a way to enjoy the spirit of something that would, hopefully, lead you to check out the film if you hadn’t already. They were a key component in the ability to simply enjoy horror films as pop art. Without these attempts at mainstream soundtracks, we’ve sort of lost that.
If I had to pinpoint any particular reason for that, though, it’s that when things bled over into the early 2000s, there was an idea that the soundtrack and the movie shouldn’t be entirely separate, so that we wound up with a Halloween sequel starring Busta Rhymes.
Studio decisions like that shouldn’t negate something that was at one point crucial to the marketing of a film, though. We still have soundtracks like, say, Guardians of the Galaxy that are reaching insane heights of popularity. We’re getting great mainstream horror again, too. 2016 saw the return of blockbuster theatrical horror in a big, bad way.
The return of soundtrack compilations, at this point, feels like a logical next step, provided we’re getting movies that warrant them. If we don’t, so be it. Soundtracks like Lost Boys and The Craft will simply stand as relics of their time, not a part of the merchandising process that will continue on forever.
We can’t determine which way it’ll go and no decision should be made that would do disservice to the movies themselves. At the same time, though, maybe The Bye Bye Man would’ve led a few more people to the theater if he’d had a Will Smith tie-in rap.