Hybrid Moments: When ‘80s Horror & Punk Collided

Still from Return of the Living Dead

Punk rock and horror films are no strangers to each other, as the Misfits have made a killing with their horror-informed lyrics. Over the past few decades, we’ve been treated to many instances where the two subcultures have fused together.

Recently, films like the punks versus Nazis epic Green Room, the tour exploits of fictitious band Duh in Uncle Peckerhead, and the home invasion siege film, Straight Edge Kegger, have melded the two together to terrifying and sometimes hilarious results.

The influence of the punk/horror connection has even influenced a metal/horror connection recently as well, with the 2015 New Zealand-filmed horror comedy, Deathgasm, melding the two together as well. In the 1980s, both were under fire from the watchful eye of parents and whistleblowers alike, with the Video Nasty controversy in the UK making headlines and many American talk shows attacking punk for its moral reprehension and youth corruption.

The ripples both punk and horror made through buttoned-up families made them perfectly compatible, which many writers and directors took full advantage of, leaving us with a great library of punk-informed horror films. Sure, most people with feet firmly planted in both cultures know the title theme by the Ramones from Pet Sematary, or Dokken’s hair metal anthem from A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, but there are many more layers to this onion.

From mohawked main characters and soundtracks that read more like mixtapes, to brief glimpses of punk ephemera, let’s dig a little deeper and exhume some examples of the collision of '80s horror and punk.

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

If you’re into punk and horror movies by any stretch of the imagination, you’re probably familiar with the Dan O’Bannon-directed classic Return of the Living Dead from 1985. The Return franchise was created after the splintering of the team behind 1968's Night of the Living Dead, George Romero and John Russo. After legal battles, Romero was given permission to use “…of the Dead” on subsequent films and Russo was given “…of the Living Dead” to use at his disposal.

With Return, horror fans were finally given a glimpse into the psyche of a zombie: why they attack people for food, the impetus for their penchant for brain, and many more concepts. The characters and soundtrack are where the punk influences are heavily injected into the film. Most of the characters are part of a gang of punks waiting for their friend Freddie—played by Thom Mathews—to finish his first shift at the Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse.

Among the ranks of the group are genre queen Linnea Quigley and two actors who also appeared in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning in the same year, Miguel Nunez Jr and Mark Venturini.

The soundtrack is probably the biggest punk/horror touchstone, boasting songs by 45 Grave, T.S.O.L., The Cramps, The Damned—only in the theatrical version and HBO Video home release—and The FUs, who took the place of The Damned on the 1991 Hemdale video release.

Back jacket of the soundtrack LP

While subsequent sequels drifted away from punk subculture pretty quickly, with Return Of The Living Dead Part II offering little musical oddity outside of its soundtrack, including Anthrax and Leatherwolf, and future sequels touching slightly on rave culture, the original Return remains a shining example of the punk and horror connection.

Witchboard (1986)

The late Tawny Kitaen isn’t very well-known for her big screen existence outside of her appearance in the Tom Hanks 1984 sex comedy, Bachelor Party. On the smaller screen, she made multiple appearances in music videos for Whitesnake during the late '80s including “Still of the Night," “Is This Love,” and most famously, “Here I Go Again." But Kitaen does live on in horror infamy for her leading role in Kevin S. Tenney’s directorial debut, Witchboard, from 1986.

Kitaen plays Linda Brewster, who is sucked into the world of seances and witchcraft after using a ouija board at a party hosted by her boyfriend. Through the board, Linda is contacted and subsequently possessed by the Portuguese demon Malfeitor, disguising himself as the spirit of a little boy.

The films of Tenney are no stranger to punk culture, as we’ll discuss later in the article, but a subtle nod to English punk is seen in Witchboard. When Linda’s boyfriend Jim and ex-boyfriend Brandon team up to defeat Malfeitor, their exploits bring them to an occult shop, there is a brief shot of a punk in a leather jacket adorned with the painted logo of The Adicts that can be seen in the background.

Still from Witchboard featuring Adicts jacket

The movie also features a cameo from Kathleen Wilhoite, of the Charles Bronson action flick, Murphy’s Law (no relation to the NYHC band), as the joking medium Zarabeth. While the film has no relation to the 1989 Tenney film, Witchtrap, as pointed out on its VHS box, both films are schlocky good times.

Alone in the Dark (1982)

The Sic Fucks may not ring a bell as a well-known punk band, but odds are you have definitely seen something members of the group had their hands in over time. The band appeared in a lengthy club performance scene in the 1982 slasher film, Alone in the Dark, directed by Jack Sholder, who also stepped behind the camera for the queer horror allegory, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

Alone in the Dark follows four serial killers (two of which are portrayed by acting giants Martin Landau and Jack Palance) as they escape from the mental institution they call home and wreak havoc on the adjacent town during a blackout. The film also boasts a very bizarre performance by Donald Pleasence, who plays a bit of a spaced-out version of his Dr. Loomis character from the Halloween franchise.

Still from Alone in the Dark

Getting to the band, The Sic Fucks’ dual lead singers, Tish and Snooky, were the purveyors of Manic Panic, the punk rock boutique located on St. Mark’s Place in New York City. They also founded the hair dye company of the same name, which still dons the shelves in hair care stores across the country.

The storefront for Manic Panic also ended up in another '80s horror film, 1984’s NYC-based creature feature C.H.U.D. The band rips through 4 of their Fear-meets-New-York-vibed songs in the movie: “Chop Up Your Mother," “Rock or Die," “Take Me to the Bridge” and “Insects Rule My World," with “Chop Up Your Mother” being the most infamous among horror fans.

The Midnight Hour (1985)

Made for TV movies are usually pretty tame, especially by horror standards. Many are also long, drawn-out affairs (I’m looking directly at you, Stephen King). But during the 1980s, a slew of television-based horror films were both entertaining and thrilling without having to resort to the blood and guts approach seen in grindhouse theaters and on crudely-dubbed multi-generation VHS tapes passed from horror fan to horror fan.

ABC threw their hat in the ring with 1985’s The Midnight Hour, a Halloween-set horror flick starring Shari Belafonte, Levar Burton, Dick Van Patten, and Kurtwood Smith. The film follows a group of kids living in Pitchford Cove (portrayed by the ABC backlot which may look familiar to fans of Gilmore Girls) as the town is overrun with a slew of creatures due to a town curse.

While the soundtrack is made up of mostly 60s rock and roll, including Creedence Clearwater Revival and Three Dog Night, “How Soon Is Now” by The Smiths does pop up a few times, as well as a Fear logo painted on the sleeve of a punk’s leather jacket, seen very briefly during the Halloween party in the second act of the film.

Still from The Midnight Hour

The Midnight Hour made a bit of an unceremonious premiere, first airing on November 1st, 1985, a day after Halloween, which was a strange choice on the part of ABC. The movie, however, has earned its cult status as it’s enjoyed reruns on Lifetime as well as home video releases. It also contains the first appearance of child megastar Macauley Culkin, uncredited in his role as a trick-or-treater.

Night of the Demons (1988)

Another Kevin S. Tenney-directed vehicle, 1988’s Night of the Demons may be in second place as far as 1980s horror and punk goes, falling just behind Return of the Living Dead. The film follows a group of teenagers who elect to hold a party at an abandoned funeral home on Halloween night, unaware that the building houses dangerous demons who eventually possess most of the party guests.

The film boasts an impressive cache of cult horror actors, including another punk-horror film appearance of aforementioned scream queen Linnea Quigley, giving an unforgettable performance as Suzanne, as well as Amelia Kinkade in the lead role as Angela. Kinkade’s aunt, Rue McClanahan of Golden Girls, also paid a visit to the set during filming.

Night of the Demons cemented its place in horror infamy with a particular scene which finds the already-possessed Angela treating Stooge (played by Hal Havins) to a sultry dance by the glowing fireplace as “Stigmata Martyr” by Bauhaus pulses from a boombox adorned in stickers from T.S.O.L., Fear, Motörhead, and the Dead Kennedys.

Still from Night of the Demons

The routine was also completely choreographed by Kinkade as well. The song originally appeared on Bauhaus’ debut album, In The Flat Field, released in 1980 by 4AD, but gained notoriety within the horror scene due to its use in this scene.

While the subsequent sequels and the 2009 remake with Shannon Elizabeth and Edward Furlong cower in the tall shadow of the original film, Night of the Demons stands strong as a beacon of many subcultures fusing together into an absolute blast of a movie.


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