Thanks to directors like David Fincher (Madonna’s “Vogue”), Michel Gondry (Kylie Minogue’s “Come into My World”), and Spike Jonze (Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”) the music video has been elevated to an art form—one that challenges filmmakers to tell a complete narrative and forcibly remove socks with masterful storyboarding within a mere few minutes.
In many cases, music videos have become the fun-sized versions of their big-screen counterparts, and every artist it seems—from Billie Eilish to Beyoncé to Gnarls Barkly and back again—has done their take on the horror movie.
And why not? What better genre to arrest the senses and stoke the coals of the imagination?
From the atomic terrors of the 1950s to the shambling ghoul of the ’60s to the advent of the slasher in the ’70s. the special effects boom of the ’80s, and the post-modern appeal of the ’90s, the history of horror cinema has been indelibly ingrained in the public psyche. Music artists and the directors of their videos have not failed to note the appeal. Here are ten modern music videos that make the most of their medium to lovingly homage the very best of classic horror cinema.
10. Millington — Being
Imagine if David Cronenberg had set out to make his take on The Fly in the mold of (500) Days of Summer. That’s basically the music video for Millington’s “Being,” which presents the highs and lows of a relationship between a young woman and the puppy-sized arthropod she instantly falls for from across the room at a speed-dating event. Millington’s upbeat and folksy music perfectly complements all the mood swings of new and developing love (with the minor anomaly of paired mandibles and bifurcated claws thrown into the mix).
But where your typical romantic dramedy would build to an outburst of tears on a rainy doorstep, “Being” goes full Cronenberg and unleashes all the chaos and gore you’d expect from a good existentialist work of body horror.
Proposed tagline: “Be afraid. Be very afraid…of falling in love.”
9. RJD2 — The Horror
Ramble John Krohn (better known by his stage name, RJD2) must evade and outwit a collective of black-cloaked, pale-faced men wielding knives and tinkering with household things in the music video for his electronica extravaganza, “The Horror.”
If that sounds to you like the premise for Alex Proyas’ trippy 1998 sci-fi thriller Dark City, you’re spot on (and incidentally, Dark City’s reality-altering so-called Strangers, the most prominent of whom was played by Richard O’Brien, were themselves inspired by another cult masterpiece, O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Picture Show).
It’s anyone’s guess what’s actually going on in RJD2’s video. Nevertheless, the urgent beats and invested performances make for compelling viewing, and the found set of Staten Island’s abandoned Seaview Hospital (previously featured in Jacob’s Ladder) is a perfectly apocalyptic backdrop.
8. Phantom Planet — Big Brat
The music video for Phantom Planet’s “Big Brat” gives you two for one with the “making of” followed by a cool little 4:3-framed, black-and-white, Night of the Living Dead-inspired zombie feature.
I have no idea what went into that mixture of innards or apparently edible brain gelatin, but you can’t argue with the onscreen results! Though we only get 120 seconds of it here, I wouldn’t mind sitting down to a 90-minute version of Le Zombi du Noir. At the risk of divulging spoilers, I’ll simply say that the ending will melt your heart harder than 2013’s rom-zom-com Warm Bodies.
Functioning tear ducts are after all one of the safest and surest ways to reaffirm you are not one of the walking dead.
7. Radiohead — Burn the Witch
Anyone who has seen 1973’s The Wicker Man—or perhaps its more modern spiritual cousin Midsommar from 2019—can attest to just how creepy an idyllic Celtic countryside can be in the summertime: the sweet sounds of birdsong, fresh flowers everywhere, and the scent of human sacrifice wafting gently on the breeze.
Much like Arthur Miller with his timeless classic The Crucible before them, Radiohead saw an opportunity to draw parallels between current politics and witchcraft-related fears and superstitions of olde in the music video for their aptly titled “Burn the Witch.”
The stop-motion-animated characters were modeled after the 1960s children’s TV series Trumpton and suggest a kind of innocence that makes the menace of the music and the horror of the plotline all the more impacting.
6. MGMT — Little Dark Age
The horror cinema influences on MGMT’s video for “Little Dark Age” are perhaps both too sundry and too subtle to call out by name. But the upper-class malaise suggested by the various characters’ activities—lounging on a chaise, chopping cantaloupe for fun, fencing on the lawn while a black-shrouded Death figure looks on from a wicker rocking chair—echoes spooky arthouse Euro-thrillers like Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein or Blood for Dracula, where bored-of-life aristocrats seem to simply be waiting for Death to catch them already within the walls and around the grounds of some ancient estate.
Whatever inspired MGMT and the video’s directors to tune into this particular vibe, the result is five minutes of blissfully eerie melancholy. Enjoy.
5. Massive Attack — Voodoo in My Blood
It would have been a stroke of genius to homage either 1979’s Phantasm or 1981’s Possession in a Massive Attack music video. Using both is just showing off. But the whiplash-inducing MV for “Voodoo in My Blood” is all the better for it.
Standing in for a wild-eyed, demonically-spasming Isabelle Adjani, Academy Award-nominated Rosamund Pike (for Gone Girl, not Die Another Day) faces off against a floating metallic orb in this unlikely but quite brilliant mashup of two cult classics. It says something when a person thrashing themselves about an empty subway tunnel makes you forget you’re ostensibly meant to be watching this for the song.
4. M83 — Midnight City
From classic Twilight Zone to Stranger Things to Village of the Damned, there has been no shortage in television and cinema of children with telepathic or telekinetic powers—there is a difference between the two and you better know which you’re dealing with if you ever find yourself trapped in a Stephen King novel.
Let’s face it, children are inherently weird and unpredictable. Charming, but weird and unpredictable.
The only thing scarier than a real child is one who can lift a semi-truck with their mind and send it hurtling your way. M83 capitalized upon this primal fear by featuring a warehouse full of such gifted youths in their music video for “Midnight City.” While these potential purveyors of humanity’s doom stop short of divesting anyone of their atomic integrity, I still don’t like the way they look at that sunset.
If you’re wondering which children in your vicinity may have telepathic or telekinetic powers, they usually have blue eyes. So be on the lookout.
3. Weyes Blood — Everyday
The music video for Weyes Blood’s “Everyday” proposes an homage to a kind of horror film that never actually existed but would have been awesome if it did: the flower power slasher. While Spain gave us The House That Screamed in 1969 and Bava rolled out Hatchet for the Honeymoon in 1970 and A Bay of Blood in ’71, American cinema wouldn’t really catch on to the genre’s potential until the late ’70s/early ’80s. The closest you’d get to the style seen in Weyes Blood’s video would probably be Canada’s Black Christmas from 1974. Any way you want to slice it, the idea of long-haired, free-loving friends playing board games and meeting bloody ends at a ski chalet sounds like one of cinema’s great missed opportunities. But thanks to Weyes Blood, you can enjoy five whole minutes of what might have been right now!
2. The Killers — Bones
Who better to helm the music video for a song titled “Bones” than the maestro of all things macabre, Tim Burton? On a whim, the Killers sent Burton an early demo of their song and said he could do whatever he wanted with it, surely figuring he would be too busy designing a new hairstyle for his next Johnny Depp character. To the band’s genuine surprise, Burton agreed to do the video and they met for a day of brainstorming and another two days of filming.
With a desert drive-in, clips of Harryhausen’s skeleton army from Jason and the Argonauts, and Michael Steger and Devon Aoki disrobing to their bones to run in slo-mo on a black-and-white beach, Burton’s creation dives into a cool pool of horror nostalgia and paddles about as happily as the Gill-man during tourist season.
1. Ghosted — Get Some
Outside of Lon Chaney Jr., An American Werewolf in London, and a little ditty by Warren Zevon, werewolves just don’t get enough love. That actually seems to have been the kernel of inspiration behind the music video for Ghosted’s “Get Some.”
As good a horror-comedy as any feature-length competition, Ghosted’s music video follows one girl’s Carrie-esque arc from overlooked and oft-bullied dreamer to bonafide date with a stud.
The summer camp yellows and Molly Ringwald pinks of the costumes set this little flick firmly in the ’80s, a vibe matched by the fuzzy retro synths that flare joyously after each play of the chorus. From the too-good-to-spoil twist to the precision syncing of the song’s climax with hilariously incongruous full-moon carnage, this is one horror MV that will satisfy an itch you never even realized you had.