There’s a certain camaraderie that comes with being in a band. You spend an inordinate amount of time together — often in intimate spaces — with the unique vulnerability that comes from baring your soul to build a track. You work together, play together, sweat together, and out of the chaos, an odd little family is formed.
When thrown into the shit, a band has gotta stick together. Horror has taken note of this, and there are a few films that have taken that extra special dynamic and thrown everything they’ve got at those rowdy little rockers. Their mettle — and their metal — are put to the test. But after everything they’ve been through, for these bands, the only thing that could stop them is an untimely death.
Well, that can be arranged.
Rock on, motherfuckers.
Slumber Party Massacre 2 (1987)
This sequel to the 1982 slasher cult classic sees the reincarnation of the driller killer, but with some stylistic choices that are distinctly more… radical. Now a teenager, Courtney — who survived the events of the first film — is traumatized by recurring dreams of the killer, who has traded his denim outfit for leather and swapped in a drill bit guitar, perfect for terrorizing Courtney and her band mates. Did I mention Courtney’s in a band? Courtney’s in a band. When she has sex for the first time (has she learned nothing from movies?), the killer is summoned, and bloody chaos reigns.
Anyways, there are a few musical performances that really tie together the whole “rock n roll” theme this movie is going for. It’s goofy, it’s… very clearly influenced by A Nightmare on Elm Street, and it’s a lot of B-movie fun (and yes, the B also stands for boobs. This was the 80s, after all).
Uncle Peckerhead (2019)
Like most bands, Duh are looking for their big break. They’ve got a golden opportunity coming up, but when their holy chariot — their van — is towed away, they’re left four wheels and short of success. Enter Peckerhead, their bald, grizzled knight in dirty plaid armor. He sees one of Duh’s fliers and offers to cart the crew around in his van, acting as their unofficial roadie. They reluctantly agree, but opinions of their new friend clash when they discover Peck’s secret — every night, at midnight, he turns into a demon and eats people. Bummer.
Uncle Peckerhead boasts plenty of blood, gore, and some catchy-as-hell tunes, with a lighthearted vibe that really hits heavy when the moment is right. The cast is indie horror perfection; the leads are charmingly likable and the supporting cast totally nail their caricatures. This movie — like the talented band it follows — kinda came out of nowhere and really impressed me. It’s the right mix of goofy and serious, never falling too far on one side. It’s written and directed by Matthew John Lawrence, who is now a name I’ll be keeping an eye out for. That guy knows what he’s doing.
Sled Dog had a hit single under their belt, but now — a half a decade later — their status has shifted to one-hit-wonder. In an attempt to reconnect with their music and (hopefully) pump out a few new tracks, the band take to the Canadian wilderness with two canoes, high hopes, and several hits of acid. But something’s out there with them, and they may not make it out alive.
From the writer-director of Black Mountain Side (Canada’s indie horror answer to The Thing), Archons is a nifty little horror film that studies a different band dynamic. This band is stuck in the jaded, crumbling, frustrated stage where ideas are dry and tensions are high. And you believe it; Josh Collins as Mitch, their singer/bassist, has an air of douchebaggery that reveals a lot about the band’s current situation. There’s some solid surprises and plenty of suspense, even if some of the characters can be a bit insufferable.
Get together any group of like-minded loners and they’re bound to form some sort of community. For a group of metal heads, naturally, they form a band. With a newfound sense of belonging and confidence, Deathgasm (think of the film as their self-titled debut) get together after school to awkwardly play their instruments in hopes of achieving greatness. As fate would have it, after a sudden turn of events, the band gets their hands on some sheet music with the power to summon demons. Cool.
This New Zealand horror comedy features black metal, corpse paint, and a sex toy fight. Yup. Sex toys. It’s great. With all the highs (friendship!) and lows (betrayal!) you’d expect in your average show of teenage rebellion, Deathgasm is a rip-roaring, axe-wielding blast of metal Kiwi comedy.
Green Room (2015)
The Ain’t Rights are having a rough time. Siphoning gas and playing to depressingly meager crowds with even more depressing payout, they’re desperate for any half-decent gig. When a new show comes along, they don’t have many other options, so the punks pack into their van and soon find themselves deep in a den of Neo-Nazis. After a terrible case of “wrong place, wrong time”, the band are fighting for their lives with their backs against the wall.
Starring the late Anton Yelchin as the band’s bassist and Patrick Stewart as the leader of this clan of skinheads, Green Room was written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, whose own experiences growing up in the punk scene were a point of inspiration for the film (with great, violent embellishment, of course). It’s a siege film that pulses with raw tension — a throbbing nerve of pressure — as the band frantically just tries to survive. It captures the energy and aesthetic of the punk scene, and the familial camaraderie of a band’s dynamic. Plus, this movie is just plain hard.
Want more lists? Check out my 15 favorite horror films from 2020!