Music videos are a mixed bunch. While a lot of them are nothing more than lip syncing and fish eye lenses, some artists go above and beyond. At one point in time these were the major selling points for the album and there are more than a few diamonds in the rough because of that. Sure, due to the rise of illegal downloading the music industry has changed a lot, but this is an art form than can still be something great. Music videos can be home to interesting narratives and flashy special effects. They can get across a strong political message or amount to an artistic short film that just happens to go along with a song. As with any other narrative medium, we see horror having an influence in these works from time to time.
Before I get into the list though, let’s set up a few ground rules. First of all, I want to avoid any direct movie tie ins, so Alice Cooper’s Jason-themed, “He’s Back,” and Dokken’s Nightmare tie in, “Dream Warriors,” will not be on here. Secondly, I want these to actually be horror-themed videos, which means direct references or narratives. I’m going to exclude videos that just have spooky imagery for the sake of looking spooky. Otherwise I might as well call this list “Top 10 Metal Videos.” Lastly I’m going to be as objective as possible about the songs themselves. This list is about the videos, not the music. I’ve included songs on here that I don’t even like, but once again, that’s not the point.
Tech N9ne – Am I Psycho (feat. B.O.B. and Hopsin)
This is actually the video that inspired the list. The song is pretty standard horror-themed brag raps, but the video plays off of the hook nicely. The thing that makes it interesting to me is the way they show each rapper being a totally different take on the “psycho” label. Hopsin dons a hockey mask and carries a chainsaw, Tech wears a jumpsuit and pale emotionless face mask (similar to Michael Myers), and B.O.B. is something more akin to Norman Bates. He’s the highlight of the video, appearing completely normal and unassuming until he starts looking through a peephole in the wall.
Strapping Young Lad – Love?
This one plays out a little bit differently, being a more straight-forward homage. From the second the video starts it’s clear that this is a play on The Evil Dead. The attention to detail is great, including the famous “demon POV” shot, the cabin in the woods, the chainsaw, and the tape player that kicked everything off. Even the aspect ratio of the video is made to look like an old recording. The band obviously plays the song in the living room of the cabin and as things progress they start to turn into Deadites. Definitely something cool to see if you’re a fan of the films in question as it’s clear this band are or at least Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) who directed the video is.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Heads Will Roll
I almost put another Yeah Yeah Yeahs video on this list. The video for their song, “Y Control,” is pretty infamous as it includes scenes of children doing some pretty disturbing things. To me, that one falls more into the “spooky imagery for the sake of looking spooky” category though. “Heads Will Roll” however features something a bit more specific and weird. I’ll use three words to sum it up: werewolf fashion show. It takes about half the video to get there, but once it does it’s amazing. Check it out for some pretty cool makeup effects.
Backstreet Boys – Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)
This is a song that was absolutely everywhere when I was a kid and while it still makes me want to tear my own eardrums out I’ve always appreciated the music video. This one goes for a really old school kind of horror with references to classic Universal monsters as well as the likes of Phantom of the Opera and Dr Jeckyll / Mr Hyde. Being a pop video with one of the biggest boy bands in the world (at the time) the video has some serious production value to it. These videos always had really great choreography, but this one kicks it up a notch with some incredible sets and costuming. As a horror fan I have to give a huge nod to some of the makeup in the video, too. The phantom makeup is really gnarly to look at, even though it’s mostly covered with a mask.
Rob Zombie – Living Dead Girl
Rob Zombie has always wanted to direct horror movies. He’s a super fan when it comes to this stuff and listening to any of his music makes that really apparent. This video in particular is a nod to The Cabinet of Dr Caligary and he absolutely nails the feel. It perfectly replicates that German expressionist look from the sets to the costumes down to the quality of the video itself. Rob Zombie co-directed this one with Joseph Kahn (who did the previously mentioned video for “Everybody” as well as the recent short film/Internet sensation, Power/Rangers).
The Rolling Stones – Too Much Blood
With a title like this what would you expect? The video switches back and forth between performance and narrative, and both sides fall into horror imagery on their own. The performance half shows the band playing in some kind of abandoned warehouse or construction site. It’s unclear exactly where they are but it feels like a set out of The Warriors or something. The narrative side features a woman panicking as everything in her house slowly begins oozing with blood. On top of that we have plenty of chainsaw action and Mick Jagger just going crazy.
The Black Dahlia Murder – Everything Went Black
The Black Dahlia Murder are something the death metal genre desperately needs because they’re a band that doesn’t take themselves all that seriously. Never has it been clearer than in this video right here. This affectionate love letter to Creepshow runs through three of the five shorts in a bit of a reader’s digest version, featuring an even more exaggerated approach to the material. Since this is a music video and can’t feature much if any, spoken dialogue they have approached that part of the storytelling by going back to Creepshow’s EC Comics roots and using word bubbles. This video is a hell of a lot of fun and if you’re a fan of the movie it’s great to see it lovingly recreated like this.
Childish Gambino – Bonfire
This one is probably the weirdest and most unexpected choice on the list, as this song is anything but creepy. I have no idea what they were thinking when they made this awesome video for what’s nothing more than a bunch of brag raps, but they decided to create a really cool short film about a campfire tale that has absolutely nothing to do with the song at hand. I won’t ruin this for you, but I highly recommend checking it out regardless of how you feel about the music because this video is awesome.
Lordi – Would You Love a Monsterman
I really could have put any of Lordi’s videos on this list, but this is the one that stands out to me. Set on Halloween? Check. Creepy location? Check. Horror movie style narrative? Check. Incredible makeup effects? Check. This video centers around a girl in a morgue being stalked by the band (who always dress as monsters) as they pick off her co-workers one by one and then proceed to take her under their spell. Like I said, all of their videos belong on this list though and hell…they even starred in their own horror flick Dark Floors. If you want to see well-made horror videos with incredible makeup effects then this is a band to keep an eye on.
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Duh. Of course this was going to be number one. I almost excluded it because it’s too obvious, but I just can’t make this list and not talk about it. Michael Jackson completely changed the way we look at music videos by making them a true art form, and this might be his magnum opus. This video clocks in at over 13 minutes and it’s clear they cared almost more about the horror narrative than about the song itself. I could talk about the great zombie effects, the choreography, the spooky sets, the werewolf movie, or the iconic final shot of the video, but you already know. This video is such an important part of pop culture at this point that there’s nothing I can say that you haven’t already seen for yourself. Forget being the best horror-themed video of all time… this is the best music video period of all time.