There are lots of Halloween party playlists, which is all well and good, but what about when it comes time to get everyone to go home? We’ve got your back with these 10 genuinely terrifying songs guaranteed to freak your friends and frenemies out. They’re arranged in order from least frightening to most frightening, so you can choose the threat level. Want folks to start drifting home? Start at the beginning. Need them out now? Skip to the last song. You’ll have an empty house — guaranteed.
1. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum —”A Hymn to the Morning Star”
Progressive metal act Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is a fantastic opener for this list that should segue perfectly from your normal Halloween playlist. For the most part, “A Hymn to the Morning Star” feels somewhat straightforwardly creepy — lots of atmosphere, a glockenspiel to give a creepy, childlike vibe and a portentous-sounding vocal. But this song has a few sections — like the bit starting at 2:56 and again at 4:04 — which is dissonant and unnerving. This cut is just normal enough to trick your party-goers into a false sense of security. This one won’t clear the floor, but it should get people moving to the door.
2. Pere Ubu — “414 Seconds”
This woozy, angular nightmare from art-rock legends Pere Ubu layers guitars, synths and drums over David Thomas’ spoken word piece about dreaming of having done an unnamed “terrible thing” — and then not being sure whether or not the “terrible thing” actually happened. As the song picks up tempo, the nervous energy becomes almost unbearable. However, the conventional rock instruments might trick people who aren’t paying attention, but at this point, your guests should be slightly on edge.
3. Skinny Puppy — “Dig It”
Industrial music is a great genre for this sort of thing — a lot of the bands on this list, particularly the back half, fall under that purview. Skinny Puppy are one of the poppier acts on this list — this 1986 cut might remind some of Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine (which came out in ’89 for those looking to play “who bit whose style) — but beneath the dancey drum machine lurks violent, disturbing lyrics like:
Boils bitten haggard pick vomit kicking out
Razor slide black eye shroud brain bespattered jaw
Retaliate begrudgingly precise as what it seems
Fear of claim upon the cyst pent up carnal grin
Live decide name your game
4. The Tear Garden — “You and Me and Rainbows”
It’s appropriate to pair The Tear Garden with Skinny Puppy; the band is a collaboration between Edward Ka-Spel of the Legendary Pink Dots (themselves no stranger to creepy songs) and cEvin Key from Skinny Puppy. The Tear Garden ends up being a good mix of the two acts: The sparseness and melody of the Dots combined with the atomospherics, samples and noisier parts of Skinny Puppy. “You and Me and Rainbows”, despite the cheery title, is a eerie song full of dread with symbolic, crystallized lyrics that suggest death and horror without ever tipping its hand about what the song is about. But it’s that unknowing that makes the song all the scarier.
5. Coil — “The First Five Minutes After Death”
And at this point, we say goodbye to the realm of pop music. From here on out, we’re engaging in pure creepiness put to music without any regard for hooks. Coil, made up of Jhonn Balance (of Psychic TV) and Peter Christopherson (also of Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, about whom, more later) are able to create a horror movie atmosphere without lyrics. “The First Five Minutes After Death” features a deceptively pretty melody surrounded in an unsettling soundscape. It almost sounds like an ambient version of one of John Carpenter’s film scores — but unlike those scores, Coil doesn’t need to bother with imagery to put the entire room on edge. Or, at least, those guests who are left at this point, anyway.
6. Nettle — “Simoom (Wasp Wind)”
Nettle is the side project of DJ Rupture, and this cut comes from El Resplandor: The Shining In Dubai, a soundtrack for an imaginary remake of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining set in a Dubai hotel. If you’ve ever seen The Shining, you know how terrifying that movie can be, and Nettle accurately represents that sense of sheer horror. “Simoon (Wasp Wind)” combines traditional Middle Eastern instruments with electronic noises and an electromechanical hum straight out of Eraserhead. At this point, anyone still hanging around your party has nerves of steel.
7. Chris Morris — “Mark Goodier Sting 2”
This isn’t a song per se, but it sure fits. This is actually a brief excerpt from satirist Chris Morris‘ “ambient comedy” radio series Blue Jam. Blue Jam was intended to be listened to very late at night, in the dark as you’re drifting off to sleep. The idea is that the show’s sketches will infect your brain and you won’t be able to tell what horror is in the show, and which comes from your own nightmares. The show also featured a series of “stings” (or a pause for station and program identification) each about some horrible fate befalling one of Morris’ fellow radio hosts. This one, featuring Mark Goodier, is the best and longest, telling a creepy story of madness, infants and liposuction.
8. Throbbing Gristle — “Hamburger Lady”
This is an extraordinarily upsetting song from the founders of Industrial, Throbbing Gristle. This noisy, creepy song is based on a letter from mail artist Blaster Al Ackerman. An excerpt of the story was included in the sleeve notes of D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle, the album “Hamburger Lady” comes from, and is probably the best way to illustrate just exactly how frightening this song is:
…By far the worst is the hamburger lady, and because of shortage right now of ‘qualified technicians’, e.g. technicians who can work with her and keep their last meal down, Screwloose Lauritzen and I have been alternating nights with her, unrelievedly. If you put a 250-lb meatloaf in the oven and then burned it and then followed that by propping it up on a potty-chair to greet you at 11pm each night, you would have some description of these past two weeks. Which is to say the worst I seen since viet napalms. When somebody tells you that there is a level of pain beyond which the human mind cannot retain consciousness, please tell them to write me. In point of fact this lady has not slept more than 3-5 minutes at a stretch since she came to us – that was over two weeks ago and, thanks to medical advances, there is no end in sight; from the waist (waste?) up everything is burned off, ears, nose etc – lower half is untouched and that, I guess, is what keeps her alive. I took one guy in to help me change tubes and he did alright, that is alright till he came out, then he spotted one of the burn nurses (pleasant smiling zombies) eating a can of chili-mac at the desk, and that did it: he flashed on the carpet. It is fucking insane is what it is.
9. The Residents — “The Unseen Sister”
The Residents are no stranger to scary songs; just one contender for this slot was their cover of “Satisfaction.” “The Unseen Sister” comes from the Residents’ touring show Talking Light, and tells the story of an imaginary friend leading to the scalding death of a little girl’s mother. While the story could be more graphic, it’s the details — the image of the mother covered with boiling water and pasta is hard to get out of your head once you hear it. One fun fact — the narrator is played by Gerri Lawlor, one of the creators of Simlish, the language spoken by the title characters in The Sims.
10. Suicide, “Frankie Teardrop”
This song is so terrifying that Tom Scharpling of The Best Show has a challenge associated with it: In the middle of the night, walk down the street, listening to this song. If you can make it without getting scared or turning the song off, you win. This song is perhaps the most punishing ten and a half minutes you’ll ever listen to. This song will have your entire party gone by the time the song ends.
Unfortunately, if you’ve made it through the entire playlist, you probably won’t sleep tonight. Sorry about that.
Previously published October 30, 2015.