Horror Punk 101

It’s corny, but about this time every year I feel the need to bust out The Misfits’ coffin box set and have a marathon Misfits session, which then leads into some Samhain and whatever else fits the mood. Thinking about it, I realized that there are tons of great bands and songs that nicely fit the horror punk theme. Something unspeakably great happens when you pair punk rock with a horror film aesthetic. It’s a match made in heaven… or hell, more likely. Leather jackets, skulls, and minor key punk pounders: what could be better on Halloween night?

In fact, there are so many great horror punk tunes that it’s challenging to narrow it down to a reasonably-sized 21-track list. Anything that lacked punk bite and snarl or leaned into goth territory was cut, as was anything that fit better amongst the horror-core of thrash or death metal. So even though Christian Death or The Accüsed would make nice additions to any Halloween podcast, these tracks don’t wallow in the gloom or blast into double bass drum rippers. We’ll save that list for next time, or maybe take a truly frightening foray into dark ambient monsters like Schloss Tegal and Lustmord. Until then, enjoy these creepy crawlers…


Horror Punk 101 (74.4mb Zip file)


1. The Misfits – “Horror Business” (1979)
Vintage Danzig-era Misfits. You can’t talk horror punk without an homage to the classic crooning wail of the original horror punks. Despite the clown Danzig has become and the huckster merch sideshow the remaining Misfits continue to flog, it’s amazing to consider how radical these duders from Jersey were back in 1977, and how well their mutant rock has held up over all these years.

2. The Blowtops – “Menacing Sinstress” (2000)
Pushing The Birthday Party‘s punk dirge into blow-fi, in-the-red overamped and unhinged levels, this long-running Buffalo, NY group has an extensive catalog that defies catagorization. This creeping track on the Estrus Records label is no exception.

3. The Cramps – “Human Fly” (1979)
R.I.P Lux Interior, 1946-2009. The original punk rock horror show. Gnarled, sick, and totally badass, this song just snakes into your psyche and never goes away.

4. The Hex Dispensers – “Brain in a Jar” (2009)
Since their second LP release, Winchester Mystery House, came out in July of this year, I’ve had a hard time getting it off my turntable. And iPod. Instantly catchy, tightly-played pop punk with slightly Misfits-esque vocals and horror-themed songs, this Austin band is part of the reason I’m doing this list, as they’ve continued the legacy of awesome horror punk to the modern day.

5. The Adverts – “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” (1977)
The Adverts could hardly be considered a horror punk band, but there’s something fantastically unnerving about this song with lyrics about receiving eyes transplanted from a serial killer. This 1978 classic cut perfectly captures the unease of the era, when medical science made the Frankenstein-like possibility of such an operation a grim and lurid reality.

6. The Damned – “Nasty” (1987)
Here’s a favorite track from the late period Damned that’s got some of the spark of their essential early records. While most of their later work veered a little too far into theatrics for my taste, this B-side to their “Thanks for the Night” 45 is a kickass homage to “video nasties” — a British term for splatter flicks. Featured on an episode of The Young Ones, this song has always hit the spot when I’m in the mood for some punk rock and horror flicks.

7. Cold Crank – “Living Dead” (1995)
A relatively unknown, but awesome band that only put out a 7″ and CD EP (as far as I know), these Denver garage punks pumped a bit of overblown AmRep aggression into this primo bit of horror punk.

8. Hammerhead – “Ethereal Killer” (1993)
This AmRep powerhouse’s debut LP had a “killer” vibe, as evidenced from this riff-tastic title track. Their brand of horror is less B-movie and more Psycho: totally unsettled and 0% campy.

9. Ritual Device – “Grandma” (1991)
The archetypical midwestern noise rock group, this deranged band from Omaha, NE had an impressive live show gimmick that involved throwing rendering plant refuse into the audience. I’ll never forget the excited expression of a girl dropping after she realized that the thing she eagerly picked up from the floor was a sow’s ear.

10. Tractor Sex Fatality – “The Woodsman” (2005)
Unabashedly influenced by psychotic Texas legends Scratch Acid and the noisier elements of the AmRep catalog, this Seattle troupe cranked out a slew of rumbling 7″ releases and a couple LPs, all with a disturbing Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe, like this track from their Peel and Eat LP.

11. 45 Grave – “Black Cross” (1981)
If you were a wired adolescent in the mid-80s, you might have caught some New Wave Theater on the USA Network’s Night Flight late Friday and Saturday. That’s where I was exposed to Dinah Cancer’s screeching, forceful, glaring vocals for this song over ripping, dizzying LA punk. Evil, frightening, and powerful, it’s the epitome of horror punk.

12. Subtonix – “Black Nails in My Coffin” (2002)
The early 2000s found a wave of dark synth punk coming from the Bay Area, including The Vanishing, The Phantom Limbs, and Subtonix. While most veered into synthetic goth territory, Subtonix held tightly to the aggressiveness of early synth punk pioneers The Screamers, whose “Vertigo” they cover on their sole album, Tarantism.

13. Phantom Limbs – “Hot Knifes and Hornets” (2001)
The finest of the wave of Bay Area dark synth punk, the Limbs had a fresh, carnival freakshow sound that was as entertaining as it was twisted, as evidenced by this track from their Applied Ignorance LP.

14. T.S.O.L – “Dance With Me” (1982)
Essential SoCal punk from the early lineup, before the band’s name got hijacked and drug through the hair metal muck. While a lot of their material was political and aimed to create controversy, the True Sounds of Liberty were one of many ’80s punkers with a dark streak that made their swirling minor key songs timeless classics.

15. The Birthday Party – “Release the Bats” (1981)
There’s campy trash horror, ala the Misfits. There’s unnerving, realistic serial killer horror ala Tractor Sex Fatality. And then there’s just dark, fucked up evil genius, like the incomparible punk dirges Nick Cave and The Birthday Party unleashed into the world thoughout the ’80s.

16. The Faction – “Tenebrae” (1985)
A classic skate punk band with horror-themed cover art and songs — and professional skateboarder Steve Caballero — The Faction’s songwriting skills grew from rag-tag amateurism to this interestingly conceived song that goes from a slowly building instrumental track that launches into lyrics that reflect the Dario Argento horror classic Tenebrae.

17. Tales of Terror – “Chambers of Horror” (1984)
While this Bay Area skate punk band was largely known for their chemically-influenced antics, they had an awesomely intense and dark streak that could be delivered in the form of a heavy, dual guitar aggro attack, or a slow, churning burner like this track from their sole eponymous LP.

18. The Necessary Evils – “Alone and Dead” (1996)
With members of garage punk greats The Beguiled and Fireworks, The Evils took the sinister, rough edges of their previous groups and turned up the evil. This track, from their first LP, Spider Fingers, is a great example of their ’60s-style garage punk gone way wrong, with warbling organ and an oppressive riff strummed into oblivian.

19. The Spook Lights – “Teenage Maniac” (2006)
The highlight of the Farm Fresh Sounds compilation put out by the University of Kansas’ KJHK radio station, this Lawrence, KS band is the ultimate horror punk band. With a clear lineage tracing back to the Cramps, their spot-on, demented trash culture tunes desperately need to be documented outside of this track and their MySpace page!

20. The Beguiled – “Nycoidia” (1994)
A perfect, snaking instrumental track from the reverb-soaked garage geniuses’ Crypt Records LP Blue Dirge.

21. Samhain – “Novembers Fire” (1986)
There’s something great about this band, which moved the Misfit’s ’50s rock core into something more unique and original. It’s not quite punk, but much more than straightforward rock, like Danzig’s overly basic and boring solo records. The murky guitar sound on November Coming Fire, Samhain’s last official album, creates an atmosphere unlike anything else on this list, or even Samhain’s earlier releases.

7 Responses to “Horror Punk 101”

  1. Parker Ramesar Says:

    Fantatsic site!

  2. Scary Manilow Says:

    Wow! I just happened across this– thanks for the acclaim! This is some great company you’ve aligned us with– I”m sincerely flattered from the bottom of my black little heart.

    We’re finally dropping “Teenage Maniac” on 7-inch next month… Shall I send you a copy?

    –Scary Manilow from THE SPOOK LIGHTS

  3. Doug Says:

    Absolutely! Or better yet, lemme know when you’re playing next. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t seen you guys play live. I’ve had plenty of chances but haven’t managed to get the full Spook Lights experience…

  4. Noise for Zeros » Blog Archive » Ritual Device Says:

    […] par with more widely known acts of the era. One particularly memorable scene (as recounted in the Horror Punk 101 countdown last Halloween) was seeing them open for the Jesus Lizard at Gabe’s Oasis in Iowa […]

  5. Noise for Zeros » Blog Archive » The Spook Lights Says:

    […] the previous post, here’s another underrated midwestern freakshow featured in the Horror Punk 101 countdown last Halloween. Lawrence, Kansas’ kings of reverb-drenched Cramps worship finally got […]

  6. nervous gender Says:

    Nervous Gender + Magick Daggers + Fangs on Fur
    Type: Music and Arts – Concert
    Start Time: Saturday, July 17, 2010 at 7:00pm
    End Time: Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 2:00pm
    Location: The Airliner
    Street: 2419 North Broadway
    City/Town: Los Angeles, CA



    This is an 18+ event!!!

    Cover: $10.00

  7. Gene Says:

    Geez this mix coulda been a lot better. The only plus is that you didnt put total shit on it like calabrese and blitzshit

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