Halloween draws ever closer and this week we’re taking a trip into the spooky. Music videos have long been their own form of artistic statement. While they were originally created as a way to simply get songs to a wider audience, the format took on increasingly artistic overtones in the 1960s and 1970s before kicking into high gear with the rise of MTV. And as videos became more and more like short films, it made increasingly more sense that horror and similar dark themes would enter into music videos. This week in honor of the season and in celebration of Samhain, we’re taking a gander at the creepiest music videos of all time.
Caveat: The key word here is creepy. What I was looking for in terms of this list was videos that leave you unsettled, disturbed and creeped out. Please note that there are thousands of gory, shocking videos that didn’t merit consideration because shocking does not equate to creepy. I was looking for mood and mental/emotional association over nasty content.
As another note, because I’m sure I’ll get many questions about this: “Thriller” is not on the list. That video is synonymous with horror-related music videos without a doubt, but I consider it more campy these days than creepy. By that token I could put Lordi’s “Hard Rock Hallelujah” on, and it doesn’t qualify as creepy to me.
#8: Daft Punk – “Prime Time Of Your Life” (2006)
Daft Punk is riding a wave of mainstream recognition these days thanks to the huge breakthrough success of this year’s Random Access Memories, led by the omnipresent “Get Lucky.” But the band has been churning out great music for years and has always had great music videos to go along with them. This is easily their most disturbing. “Prime Time Of Your Life” was the final single off the band’s third LP Human After All and features a music video that manages to be supremely creepy without being graphic. The concept of the video shares a young teenage girl’s twisted perceptions with the viewer where everyone else is–literally–skeletally thin and how far she is willing to go in order to attain that state herself. What really makes this creepy is the skill with which director Tony Gardner play with our perceptions. The low-budget way that the skeletons are used–they look like Halloween props more than actual ominous bones of the dead–lets Gardner play with our perceptions and the fact that we don’t see how the girl is slightly overweight until it’s too late gives the impression that perhaps it’s just a fun concept of someone hallucinating or the like. When she stands in front of the mirror and a skeletal rendition of the poster for Britney Spears’ greatest hits album case in the background, it becomes increasingly clear how bad this could go. By the end when the girl is on the floor and we see all of those pictures with normal people and not skeletons, we realize that it was just how we saw the world. It’s a disturbing and yet very socially-relevant video that sticks with you for a long time.
#7: Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun” (1994)
Oh, come on. If you don’t find this one a little bit disturbing, there may just be something wrong with you. Soundgarden scarred many a mind with this surreal video, directed by Howard Greenhalgh. This thing is creepy from the get-go; even before faces get distorted there is clearly something wrong with this suburban neighborhood where maniacally grinning End Times shouters share looks with equally maniacal lawn-mowing patriarchs and old men beam like they’re mid-coitus staring at television static from inches away. And then the black hole comes and faces start to get freakily distorted, young girls start spitting up ice cream and hot pool party women get frog-like flycatching tongues. Oh yeah, did I mention there’s a woman in a bathtub sort of making out with a Dalmatian? The band has said that they are not fond of music videos as a whole and that this one was one of the few that they’ve ever been truly satisfied with. And it’s no surprise, because when the least creepy thing about your music video is the dark, terrifying black hole that sucks up the whole world then you’ve accomplished something rare indeed.
#6: Tom Petty – “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (1993)
Ahh, nothing like a little implied necrophilia to turn down the temperature of that sensation running up your spine. Tom Petty has had no shortage of striking, weird and bizarre music videos but this one remains the creepiest as far as I’m concerned. The song itself, long-rumored (for obvious reasons) but never confirmed to be about marijuana, is a great number off Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ greatest hits album in 1993. The song takes a distinctly non-recreational drug route though, as it casts Petty as a creepy morgue assistant who sleeps in his “office” so to speak and, falling in love with a freshly-dead Kim Basinger, carts her off to his home for a romantic evening. Now, Petty is a fairly weird-looking guy himself; he has that combination of features that just makes him seem “off.” So casting him in the lead role was a move that made sense. But it’s the way he takes to the whole thing with such relish that really makes the whole thing work. The video has some wonderful moments of black humor in it, such as where he asks Corpsey Kim if she wants to watch TV and she falls sideways, which he interprets as a no. But even those moments are ominous in their own right because they give some inside into what kind of mind this guy really has; he’s delusional to the point of believing he’s talking to her. And it ends with him depositing the body in the ocean, where she floats up to the surface with her eyes open. It’s best not to think about this one too much because it gets creepier the more you do.
#5: Tool – “Sober” (1993)
Without a doubt, stop-motion animation has never been as disturbing and horrifying as it is in Tool’s hands. The alt-metal band has used the visual format in just about all of their music videos and it always comes off as incredibly creepy each time. Their best effort, in my mind, is for this song. “Sober” was written about a friend of the band who claimed that his artistic expression only really ever came out when he was under the influence. The video is just as depressing as the lyrical themes. Fred Stuhr the clip based on character designs by guitarist Adam Jones and while it may not be as refined as some of the other Tool videos, there is a raw energy to it that makes it just a bit more effective to me. Many have noted the similarity in the visuals to the work of the Brothers Quay and that’s a compliment, though they were not involved. The video is meant to inspire different reactions, with the meaning of the mysterious box left wide open. We can debate that all we want, but whatever it means it’s probably not sunshine and puppies. The end result is something that drips with atmosphere and remains one of the creepiest videos I care to remember.
#4: Disturbed – “Inside the Fire” (2008)
Disturbed is not one of the greatest hard rock/metal of all time, but they’ve always been one I’ve enjoyed. 2008’s Indestructible was a really solid album that featured some great songs, but for me it’ll always be remembered for this video. The video starts off sobering the viewer up right off the bat, with a message from David Draiman about the song and video’s meaning: suicide. That’ll kill your jovial mood right from the get-go. But what puts the video on this list isn’t the message; it’s the unrelenting, intense visuals. The actual video kicks off directly with the girlfriend character committing the act via hanging and then just escalates continually through to the end. As the video progresses the body of the girlfriend begins the process of a deeply-escalated physical corruption, coupled with flashes of the band covered in bloody and a female demon lurking in the shadows and whispering and goading Draiman’s character toward his own self-sacrifice. And then of course the whole thing ends with Draiman in a straight-jacked completely out of his mind. This one is traumatic on many, many levels and is a great, disturbing little horroresque video.
#3: Aphex Twin – “Come To Daddy” (1997)
Aphex Twin is no stranger to creepy and disturbing music videos. The electronica artist has more than one video that could qualify for this list thanks to his love of bizarre visuals, but the video to the title track off the Come to Daddy EP is easily his spookiest. The video was shot on the same streets where many scenes for A Clockwork Orange were filmed and show an old woman walking her dog down an ominous setting. Soon she’s menaced by evil spirit trapped in a television and a gang of super-creepy children who all have Aphex Twin’s face. The children go on a rampage while the demonic entity escapes and then gathers all the children around him. All of this would be creepy in any video but the song itself just amps up the terror and just to make it worse, the video includes a in the middle that isn’t included in the song of a young girl creepily singing as a couple of those horrific distorted man-headed children go skipping along. The visual effects in this one make everything so surreal and freaky that it’s like watching an acid trip unfold in front of you, right down to when the terrifying demon gives an extended scream into the poor old woman’s face. This is one to really give you nightmares.
#2: Marilyn Manson – “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” (1995)
When you want creepy, Marilyn Manson is usually your guy to go to. Laugh at him these days but Manson has always been a master of theatricality and the macabre. There are a ton of the shock rock group’s videos I could include in this list, from “The Nobodies” and “Tourniquet” to “If I was Your Vampire” and more. But this one, the hit that really made them a breakout success, is absolutely their most disturbing music video. With its distorted-lens imagery, Manson’s sinister looks and the building that has a vague notion of being Jigsaw or John Doe from Seven’s safehouses, this placed Manson on the map and inspired a thousand nightmares in the process. Even potentially laughable scenes like Manson wandering around in a tutu or riding a pig while covered in mud get a wildly disturbing bent thanks to director Dean Karr’s aesthetics and the setting, an old and decrepit asylum, was wonderfully used to chilling effect here.
#1: Nine Inch Nails – “Happiness in Slavery” (1992)
This is one of the few times I will not present you with a full version of a music video in question. The reason is simple: “Not Safe For Work” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Nine Inch Nails’ video for “Happiness in Slavery” was almost universally banned from airing on television around the world and for very good reason. The Jon Reiss-directed video sees a man (played by performance artist Bob Flanagan) enter a room wherein he is strapped to a machine that tortures him, delivering pleasure and pain before tearing him to pieces and using his body and blood to fertilize a garden on the floor beneath. Trent Reznor himself then enters and appears as if he might be next for the slaughter. I said in the caveat that I was looking for mentally disturbing content over graphic content and this would seem to fly in the face of that, but in truth this accomplishes both ends. Sure, the video has a lot of messed up gore but the idea of the men willingly doing this as part of the cycle of dominance and slavery really messes with your mind as well. Reznor has said that the video was not created specifically for shock value, but that the video simply contained “the most appropriate visuals for the song,” which itself was about his artistic freedom after his falling out with TVT Records. I can handle gore just fine but this one really stays with me for a long, long time after I see it or think a lot about it.