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[THE THIRTEEN] 13 Songs Used in Films That Take On a Haunting Feeling


This Friday the 13th, we are proud to bring you a new column called THE THIRTEEN! THE THIRTEEN will be a Top 13 list of a topic that we choose and the column will run every 13th of the month! THE THIRTEEN is a collaborative column where we all decide on entries that fit said topic.

The topic this month: regular songs that have now taken on a haunting feel thanks to a film that used it in a unorthodox way. Now, every time we hear the song, we not only think of the film it was featured in but also get the heebie jeebies from it as well. It was inspired by Tiny Tim’s song Tiptoe Through the Tulips which was used in the film Insidious. With Insidious: Chapter 2 in theaters now, what better way to introduce this topic.

We had a lot of great songs to choose from but we have whittled it down to the unlucky 13. Feel free to leave comments with some songs

Que Sera, Sera
Performed by Doris Day
Featured in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Alfred Hitchcock)

The first time the Queen of squeaky clean, Doris Day, ever performed this song was in the Alfred Hitchcock film from 1956, The Man Who Knew Too Much. Day’s terrifying rendition of the song, which is more shouting than singing, is completely off-putting. The cringey version of Que Sera, Sera takes on an even more sinister tone when you realize that Day’s character’s goal while performing it at the end of the film – is an attempt to make contact with her kidnapped son, who is being held somewhere unknown to her during her performance at the London Embassy. I can’t ever hear that song, and not hear Day’s off-kilter rendition of the Kum-ba-ya sing along. – (Cherry Bombed)

Perfect Day
Performed by Lou Reed (originally recorded by Leonard Cohen in 1967)
Featured in Trainspotting (1996, Danny Boyle)

The scene in Trainspotting that features “Perfect Day” centers around adorable junkie, Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor). Renton arrives in a jovial mood at his dealer’s house, eager and ready to shoot up. Turns out that Renton’s “perfect day” will involve an unnerving hallucination of being swallowed up by a dirty blood-red carpet, an OD, being dragged down the stairs by his dealer while OD’ing, being dumped at the entrance to a hospital, getting robbed, then being thrust back to life by way of an Adrenaline shot. The nauseating ride home with his chain smoking parents is the tipping point for me. Perfect Day gives me the bed-spins every time I hear it, as well as the looming feeling that I should probably check into rehab as quickly as possible. – (Cherry Bombed)

Hip to Be Square
Performed by Huey Lewis and the News (originally recorded in 1986)
Featured in American Psycho (2000, Mary Herron)

“Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?” For the last 14 years, I think anyone who saw American Psycho might think if someone in a nice suit with great hair asked them that same question, their number was up. Especially if you stuck around long enough to hear said suit expertly detail their own personal take on Huey Lewis’ discography. The moment that Christian Bale’s American Psycho character, mid-evil investment banker Patrick Bateman, starts suiting up for his latest thrill-kill, is the same moment your fingers start digging deeper into the couch. But when Bateman turns up the jaunty tune, while extolling its virtues, ax in hand, I make a bee line for the dust bunnies under my bed. It’s one of those scenes that only seems possible to watch with the aid of toothpicks to hold up your eyelids. Truth be told, I’ve never felt comfortable around people wearing suits. They creep me out. And even though Huey Lewis is old news, thanks to American Psycho, I’ll never have feel-good feelings about Huey Lewis, or a sharp dressed man again. – (Cherry Bombed)

Mr. Sandman
Performed and originally recorded in 1954 by The Chordettes
Featured in 1981’s Halloween II (also in 1998’s, Halloween H20)

Mr. Sandman hit #1 on the Billboard charts the same year it was released in 1954. And even though it makes an appearance in many other films, I don’t think there is a horror-film lover that does not immediately thinks of slasher icon Michael Myers, dressed in his dirty overalls, standing emotionless thanks to his William Shatner/Star Trek “death-mask“. As a matter of fact, it’s almost seem strange to hear the happy little homage to bedtime, and not wonder if death has finally come to your town. So just to be safe, whenever I hear Mr. Sandman, I swear off sex, booze, grass, and any activity that could be mildly equated with teenage rebellion. You might want to do the same thing too. – (Cherry Bombed)

Midnight Special
Recorded in 1969 and Performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Featured in the film Twilight Zone: The Movie

“I love Creedence”. Those are the last words uttered by John Lithgow, as he’s taken off to the looney-bin after his airplane meltdown in the final segment of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie. And if you’ve seen the Spielberg/Landis joyride from the start, you know nothing good is about to happen. As a further warning of bad times to come, Dan Aykroyd is also in both scenes featuring the song – first at the start of the film as a seemingly harmless passenger, riding shotgun in a truck with Albert Brooks. After repeatedly asking Brooks if  “he wanted to see something scary”, Aykroyd turns into a flesh-eating demon and munches Brooks’ face off. The next time you hear Midnight Special is during the flicks final segment, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, a revival of one of the best known episodes of Season 4 of Twilight Zone from 1963, staring William Shatner. When Aykroyd, an ambulance driver, asks the freaked out John Lithgow “how ’bout a little music“, he pops in a cassette and the suddenly creepy Creedence Clearwater earwig begins. Midnight Special might be an upbeat Bayou knee-slapper, but it’s use in Twilight Zone laid a thick layer of dread and foreboding over the song, then left it floating face down in a swamp somewhere. So now when you hear Midnight Special, and also unknowingly happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, let’s just say that you’re in trouble. – (Cherry Bombed)

Singin’ in the Rain
Performed by Gene Kelly in 1952
Featured in A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)

Pretty much every aspect of Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian masterpiece is iconic—from the sets, costumes, scenes, dialogue, and music. A Clockwork Orange’s lead character Alex has an obsessive admiration for Beethoven, but it isn’t the Ninth Symphony that will be giving you chills. In a horrific and unforgettable rape scene, Alex and his droogs menacingly croon 50’s showtune “Singin’ in the Rain” during the assault. It makes this tense scene all the more disturbing, and you’re bound to feel violated next time you hear it. Alex’s surviving victim sure did. – (Marie Robinson)

Goodbye Horses
Performed by Q Lazzarus
Featured in Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

If there was ever a song that asked, “Would you fuck me?” and then leads you to the inevitable reply, “I’d fuck me.” it’s “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus. It’s used in one of the strangest, most unforgettable scenes in cinema—you know the one. While serial killer Buffalo Bill’s latest victim is trying desperately to escape, the killer in question is occupied putting on make up, slappin’ on a severed scalp, and tuckin’ back his man bits. All to the soulful crooning of Q Lazzarus… – (Marie Robinson)

Every Day
Performed by Buddy Holly
Featured in We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

It’s hard not to argue that this is a horror film. For those of you not familiar; the impeccable Tilda Swinton is the mother of the titular Kevin and her inability to deal with the reality of her son’s increasingly disturbing behavior is the key thrust of the film, one that results in a pressure cooker so desperate you’re begging for some kind of release. It reaches a dizzying climax as Tilda, horrified by what her flesh and blood has done, drives home through a street full of Halloween revelers while Buddy Holly croons eerily to her, the sense of foreboding escalating to a stomach-churning crawl. This song’s been used in a lot of classic films, probably most memorably in Stand By Me, but what’s great about the use of it here is that it plunges both Tilda and the audience into a nightmare of demons and ghouls hovering at the edge of her vision in the dark and brings forward the haunting, anxious minimalism of the track. My favorite scene in the film and a perfect use of the track as well. – (Chris Melkus)

The Killing Moon
Performed by Echo & The Bunnymen
Featured in Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)

I really hope I don’t have to explain to you the story of Donnie Darko. And even if I did, I’m not going to tell you anything about it other than you should watch it around Halloween and if you’re prone to tears, you might want to keep a hankie on hand. But I will tell you that there’s a wonderful bit in the film, near the climax, where there’s a Halloween party and this track is playing, rather prominently, in the background, and what it presages is a dreamlike moment (even for a dreamlike film) that’s not necessarily creepy but the song definitely takes on a dark tone after the film’s over. “But Chris,” some of you might ask, “wasn’t that the classic Joy Division track ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ playing at the party?” To which I say, SHUT UP AND GO WATCH THE DAMN DIRECTOR’S CUT YOU UNWASHED HEATHEN. – (Chris Melkus)

Blue Moon
Performed by Various
Featured in An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis)

Used three times, by three different artists, the song takes on a stark disconnect between the tone of what’s happening and the somber sounds of Lorenz Hart’s lyrics.  Sure John Landis’ classic is often filled with humor, but it’s when the truly horrific happens that the song shows up.  Most notably, Sam Cooke’s  version backs up Rick Baker’s mind boggling transformation from man to wolf.  Not only is the sequence the most memorable werewolf transformation on film, but the scene without the music wouldn’t have anywhere near the same impact.  Then right as the credits roll, after the most tragic scene in the film, The Marcels’ do-wop styled take makes a really disturbing scene even more disturbing by contrasting the emotion with…like, a barbershop quartet.  – (Mike Hassler)

Hurdy Gurdy Man
Performed by Donovan
Featured in Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

Picture this: you’ve driven out to a lookout point with a date to try and get lucky, right?  It’s awkward, and this trippy little psychedelic tune with these wavy vocals is playing on the radio.  You think you’re alone…and then a car is behind you, shining their brights on your vehicle.  You can’t see who it is, maybe it’s the police, or maybe it’s someone trying to be funny, who knows?  A figure approaches the car and you roll down the window to see who it is, and before you can get a few words out the person whips out a silenced pistol and starts firing.  After about 7 shots, the person leaves…but you’re not dead, your date is, and you’re just slowly bleeding out while listening to this weird ass song that will forever haunt your last moments.  Gives me shivers every time I hear it. – (Mike Hassler)

After my first screening of Zodiac, Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” has haunted me since. With the vocals delivered in a ghostly, otherworldly fashion and the guitar whaling, it will be forever associated to Fincher’s film. – (Andy Triefenbach)

I Remember You
Performed by Slim Whitman
Featured in House of 1000 Corpses (2003, Rob Zombie)

I remember seeing Rob Zombie’s directorial debut in the theaters on opening night. The crowd consisted of mostly White Zombie or Rob Zombie fans (which I was myself) that were foaming to see what the horrormeister in the musical realm would actually deliver in film form. It didn’t help that the film sat on the shelf for a few years before it was released. A scene that haunts me to this day is thanks to the combination of Zombie’s slow motion sequence and the soundtrack of Slim Whitman’s “I Remember You”. When the crane shot pulls back while you sit there waiting for one of the characters to meet their demise and it begins with the final croon of Whitman, that right there is gold. Haunting gold. – (Andy Triefenbach)

Midnight, the Stars and You
Performed by Ray Noble and Al Bowlly
Featured in The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

The song “Midnight, the Stars and You” for anyone that grew up with horror and has seen Kubrick’s masterpiece probably cannot disassociate this song from The Shining. While it is a song that is now synonymous with the film, I still get a very creepy vibe from the song itself. I didn’t realize it until a prank was pulled on me when I thought I was alone and the song came on. Yeah, that freaked me out immediately. While it was a song made for dancing in the 30’s, it is a song that lingers and creeps. It will make you look around your shoulder. – (Andy Triefenbach)



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Author: Andy Triefenbach View all posts by
Andy Triefenbach is the Editor-in-Chief and owner of In addition to his role on the site, he also programs St. Louis' monthly horror & exploitation theatrical midnight program, Late Nite Grindhouse. Coming from a household of a sci-fi father and a horror/supernatural loving mother, Andy's path to loving genre film was clear. He misses VHS and his personal Saturday night 6 tape movie marathons from his youth.
  • Tim

    Echo & the Bunnymen’s use in Donnie Darko was fantastic, I agree. Actually, the film’s soundtrack in its entirety probably makes up one of my favourite of all time. When I watched We Need To Talk About Kevin, I loved the way Buddy’s music adds to the many contrasts that characterize the whole film; good and evil, understanding and blindness. I read this article recently, which sort of throws that idea in the air…