Written by: Sloan de Forest, Special to CC2K
Remember when music videos could scare the (parachute) pants off ya? I do. I remember having recurring nightmares about a dark, gloomy gothic church filled with spooky wedding guests, a shrouded groom and cobweb-covered coffins. An ominous sense of vague terror hung in the stale, dusty air and stayed with me after I woke up. Even as a kid, it wasn’t difficult for me to decipher the inspiration for my terrifying dreams: Billy Idol’s "White Wedding" video! I hadn’t been watching scary movies before bed, I had been watching MTV.
In the 1980s, it was not uncommon for music videos to contain enough macabre images to rival the latest horror film, or at least to feature a few disturbingly eerie scenes. Naturally (or supernaturally), Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking, much-acclaimed "Thriller" clip is the scary video most people remember, but there were quite a few other creepy videos haunting the MTV airwaves in the 80s. Here are my top 10 picks:
10. "Misled" by Kool & the Gang
This one isn’t horrifying, but it features a midnight danse macabre with a ghostly (and very sparkly) woman from a disturbing nightmare. It ends with the cloaked and hooded bandmembers turning slowly toward the camera to reveal their death masks. Rebbie Jackson’s "Centipede" clip and a few others used this type of scary trick ending, obviously influenced by the shock ending of "Thriller".
9. "Self Control" by Laura Branigan
I’m pretty sure this video was originally supposed to be sexy, mysterious and/or theatrical in that Andrew Lloyd Webber way, but the haunting music and seriously disturbing masks make it into “good old-fashioned nightmare fuel,” to borrow a line from MST3K. There’s something unnerving about the little porcelain doll watching as Laura is mauled by a shirtless brute in a Michael Myers-ish mask. A great example of sexy going awry and becoming scary.
8. "Jeopardy" by Greg Kihn Band
This video terrified me when I was a kid, but now I realize it was intended to be funny. Highlights include the most unrealistic looking monster ever to be captured on videotape since Sigmund and the Seamonsters was cancelled, a screaming purple skull and truly scary shag mullets on both our hero Greg (the Tim Allen of 80s rock) and the jilted bride he picks up in his sweet ride.
7. "Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring
Though the song is actually more drug-trip-scary than Halloween-scary, the video’s grainy, surreal imagery would have made Rod Serling proud. Complete with drug-induced paranoia, burlesque dominatrix dancing girls and the obligatory creepy little kid, "Twilight Zone" is dated but can still send a shiver up my spine.
6. "Rockit" by Herbie Hancock
There’s something about this video that’s so bizarre it’s almost macabre. Mannequins are always good for a scare (remember Anne Francis turning back into a mannequin in that episode of The Twilight Zone? Talk about creepy!), and "Rockit" is so chock-full of severed, unfinished-looking and mechanized mannequin parts I honestly don’t think I could watch it alone at night to this day. The most frightening thing about this video, though, might be that fact that Herbie Hancock’s face was only shown for a few seconds to make it more palatable to white America … but that’s another story.
5. "Don’t Pay the Ferryman" by Chris DeBurgh
One of the few pre-"Thriller" videos to employ horror film tactics, "Ferryman" was inspired more by the subtle chills of British horror than the guts and gore of American slasher flicks. Chris dons a Christopher Lee vampire cape as fog swirls around lanterns, skeletons and a mysterious figure falsely rumored to be British actor Tom Baker of Doctor Who fame.
4. "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes
The flashes of spiders and snakes in this one really disturbed me when I was a kid. There just aren’t many “psychological thriller” music videos out there, much less well-executed ones, so "Owner of a Lonely Heart" really stands out as exceptional. Directors Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell’s schizophrenic visuals are synchronized perfectly with the song, making for a seamlessly freaky little film about paranoia.
3. "Dancing With Myself" by Billy Idol
Ah, the fun of electrocuting zombies, catapulting them off the roof of a building and watching them dance! It just never gets old. Horror hero Tobe Hooper directed this video, and I personally like it better than the movie Poltergeist. (Maybe that Spielberg guy cramps Hooper’s style?) Sure, Poltergeist has real skeletons and evil clowns, but "Dancing With Myself" has hordes of funky ghouls, laughing funhouse dolls, and most importantly it has Billy Idol, an infinitely more dazzling screen presence than Craig T. Nelson.
2. "Somebody’s Watching Me" by Rockwell
Okay, so it’s a silly one hit wonder, and the video features badly acted cheap tricks like red Kool-Aid “blood” flowing in Rockwell’s shower. It’s still creepy as hell, admit it! Some moments (like an obviously fake pig trotting down the hall) are laughable, but the graveyard vignettes, the gruesome undead heads and the Shining-esque snatch of a grisly bathtub massacre during the lyrics “Maybe showers remind me of Psycho too much” are still shriek-inducing. This one’s perfect for viewing at Halloween parties.
1. "White Wedding" by Billy Idol
Come to think of it, most of Billy Idol’s early videos were on the macabre side, but this one literally gave me nightmares so it takes the cake – the moth-eaten, musty Miss Havisham wedding cake, that is. The part where Billy grabs his bride and rips the flesh from her finger with a barbed wedding ring is more enduring than many horror movies made today, and was actually edited out of some versions because it was considered too violent. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the edited version as a child and my psyche has suffered for it ever since.