Written by: Lois Kennedy
Music videos are like short films, and as such they have genres. Whether purposely or not, some are of the horror persuasion. And some are unusually scary.
The song: The song itself is innocuous enough; on the surface it seems like a tribute to lighthearted party antics: “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier.” Those are actually the only words I know (besides “One two three/One two three three”), because the video is highly disturbing.
The video: It’s the chronicles of a young girl, probably no older than ten, dancing in a filthy, decrepit apartment. After some slow pans of the empty apartment and creepy paintings, the video opens with an unnerving shot of her standing with her feet wedged into either side of the doorway, a good foot off of the ground. Then she jumps down and runs at the camera; this is followed by her gesturing wildly and widening her eyes as far as they go, which is not an un-scary look for her. The girl is a talented dancer; under normal circumstances the video would be entertaining, but I get hung up on the weird setting and questions like why she’s by herself, why her fingers are pink, and most of all why the makers of the video decided to dress her in a tan bodysuit that makes her look virtually naked. After she’s done dancing, she stands in the doorway again, eyes wide and grinning maniacally, and curtsies. Which again, is not an un-scary look for her.
9 Dio—“The Last in Line”
The song: This song has a bit more of an ominous tone to it, though I have no idea what it’s about, with lyrics like, “We’re off to the witch/We may never never never come home.”
The video: The video involves a teenage delivery boy going into an elevator and crash-landing in a netherworld of torture and suffering. He’s shoved into a line and sees a few weird goings-on like people chained to an arcade game (did I mention this is the ‘80s?) and given an electric shock when they lose. There are also people wearing ball gag masks attached to sticks. It’s the utter incoherence of the video that’s so creepy, hilariously dated or not. In a hellish setting, people are being tormented for seemingly no reason. Plus there’s the scene when a tentacle tries to come in the elevator and the door cuts it off, and it leaks some kind of goo; it always creeped me out as a kid. And as an adult.
8 Rockwell—“Somebody’s Watching Me”
The song: The song lyrics definitely contribute to the eerie tone of the video. The narrator wonders “Can the people on T.V. see me/Or am I just paranoid?” and “Why do I always feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone?” He also notes that “showers remind me of Psycho too much.”
The video: He seems right to be worried, as the people on T.V. really can see him, and blood pours out of his shower head. Not to mention his dog turning into a pig beast, a corpse under his bed, and a guy walking around with a head on a platter. The creepiest thing is that we’re never sure whether he’s hallucinating, but we get a lot of shots from his point of view that include us along with his madness. We also see stuff that he doesn’t notice, like a woman twirling around in his bathroom while he showers. At the end, Rockwell is relieved that the monster he saw is only his mailman, but then we see that the guy has a weird zombie arm. Are we crazy, is Rockwell crazy, or both?
7 Pink Floyd—“Another Brick in the Wall”
The song: This isn’t technically a music video, as it is footage from the movie The Wall, but VH1 plays it like a music video, and if VH1 is wrong I don’t want to be right. This song is less creepy than some on the list, but the chorus of very British children insisting they don’t need no education is a bit gloomy. It also helpfully clues the viewer in on what’s happening; it’s a protest of the educational system and a command to teachers to “Leave them kids alone”—not as in stop teaching them, but to stop being abusive.
The video: The video shows a train car of kids with their arms stretching out, presumably for mercy, and the kids have no eyes or facial features. This is crosscut with the evil schoolmaster mocking the main character and adding “another brick in the wall” to the collection that later makes him a massively shitty adult. Meanwhile, the kids are being marched through a slaughterhouse and dropped into a meat grinder. The school system’s lack of individuality, creativity, and dependent thought is gruesomely illustrated.
6 Squirrel Nut Zippers—“Ghost of Stephen Foster”
The song: This song is more baffling than creepy. The narrator sees Stephen Foster’s incorporeal form and tells it things like “Ships are made for sinking/Whiskey made for drinking/If we were made of cellophane/We’d all get stinking drunk much faster/Ha ha ha.”
The video: An animated couple come to a hotel and are harassed by pitchfork-bearing mice, monsters, and skeletons. The song has an old-timey feel, so it’s appropriate that the music video should be styled after vintage black and white cartoons. Cartoons from the 1920s and ‘30s often depict awful things happening in strange ways to innocent people. This video takes that concept and runs with it.
5 Marilyn Manson—“Sweet Dreams are Made of This”
The song: This song is certainly meant to be unnerving; no one can take a bouncy ‘80s synth pop song and turn it into screamo better than Marilyn Manson.
The video: This video was shocking in the mid-90s, with its showcase of Manson’s skeletal frame, scarred torso, and bizarre wardrobe. It also features an assortment of weird things, like Manson painted black and riding a pig. Manson himself was pretty creepy then; with his tutu and distorting contact lenses, he looks like a possessed Lady Gaga. Not to mention the scenes when he has doves hovering around him, and he’s covered with a white substance that looks suspiciously like bird poop. The man was just plain weird, and he wasn’t afraid to let the world know it.
4 Alice in Chains—“I Stay Away”
The song: The song has a disturbing tone, though I have no idea what the narrator is staying away from.
The video: Early ‘90s Claymation. I probably don’t need to say any more, but I will. A shifty bug-eyed fellow carries a jar of flies with him to a circus. When he opens the jar and lets the flies out, the circus falls apart in grisly fashion. There’s a sense of foreboding before bad things happen, and when they do happen they’re mostly off screen, but it’s still creepy. Like when the knife thrower misses, and we see his horrified face. The circus personnel seem unsavory to begin with (possibly because their features are ugly and distorted), and when they go bad they go bad with style. The video is unnerving because a series of dreadful things happen for no reason, and the guy with the jar moves on to wreak havoc somewhere else.
3 Aphex Twin—“Come to Daddy”
The song: This song is certainly the creepiest on the list. The singer intones “I want your soul,” in an increasingly emphatic way and commands “Come to Daddy” not unlike Uncle Frank in Hellraiser.
The video: The video concerns a lady walking her dog in a trashy, deserted neighborhood. There’s an unplugged T.V. with a distorted face. Some kids wearing a creepy adult face mask start vandalizing buildings and terrorizing a guy in a parking garage. Finally the demon thingy comes out of the T.V. and blows a lot of air at the dog-walking lady. Not much actually happens, but it’s totally unpredictable, with a threat of something dreadful to come.
2 Genesis—“Land of Confusion”
The song: The song is a gentle protest about how our leaders are making mistakes: “Superman where are you now/When everything’s gone wrong somehow/Men of steel, men of power/Are losing control by the hour.”
The video: The British band points a satirical finger at America, parodying then-President Reagan. This is done with puppets—the ugliest, unholiest puppets you’ve ever seen. The video came out when I was a small child, and it terrified me then. I’m in my thirties now, and it still makes my skin crawl. One of the scariest scenes is Reagan drowning in his bed while Nancy cavorts with Bonzo, the monkey from Reagan’s Hollywood days. But the worst is the puppet with a mouth where a belly button should be. Then there’s creepy factor of the perception that our leaders are kinda dumb and don’t have our best interests in mind, like at the end when Reagan confuses the buttons for “nuke” and “nurse.” But mostly the puppets.
The song: I had to re-watch the video to hear the song again after my initial note-taking session. I couldn’t remember at all what the song even sounded like because the video gives me the horribles. The song seems peaceful and benevolent, maybe a little synth pop-y, which totally belies the eerie events of the video.
The video: The video concerns a toddler who is menaced by creatures that only he can see. His mother is negligent and indifferent to him. After a series of human monsters harass him, the boy turns into a cartoon and basically Yellow Submarine happens—except menacingly. The eeriest thing about the video is that when everything seems okay, it’s just not. Also, the boy is either one hell of an actor or genuinely about to wet himself (and judging from Pet Sematary, toddlers make dismal actors), so his performance is very hard to watch. The video brings up long-forgotten fears from childhood, of being scared of something that doesn’t faze adults.
If you haven’t seen these gems, check them out! Let me know if I missed any.
About the author: Lois Kennedy is an avid horror movie fan who loves to write. You can find her on YouTube and WordPress under the pseudonym Ghoulie Joe.