In entertaining audiences, musicians have been known to be controversial, shocking and scary at times. So it's only natural that, over the decades, rappers and rock stars have transitioned to the world of horror, embracing their love of the dark side. While this “unholy” alliance is most notably seen on soundtracks for horror films, musicians have also ventured into other areas of the genre, trying their hand in producing (like Slash from Guns N’ Roses), or going behind the camera to direct (like Rob Zombie).
What fans love most, however, is when these talented music mavens step in front of the camera and act in a film. While their roles tend to be glorified cameos - with studios capitalizing on their names - it’s still fun to see these performers running from or battling evil. Whether it’s hunting vampires, being torn apart by monsters, or popping up in the most random moments, these budding thespians get their moment to shine even if it means being covered in blood. Creeping through the horror landscape, here are the 15 Best Appearances by Musicians in Horror Films.
Leprechaun in the Hood, the fifth installment of this horror-comedy franchise has everyone’s favorite killer Leprechaun hitting the mean streets of Los Angeles (Compton specifically) in search of his missing gold. The man responsible for taking said gold is Mack Daddy, a hip hop producer played by Ice-T. You don’t need to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or eat Lucky Charms to appreciate the silly and campy nature this horror series fully embraces.
Rap legend Ice-T, known for “Gangsta Rap” and controversial songs like “Cop Killer”, was already starring in major motion pictures such as New Jack City and Surviving the Game prior to taking this role. One can only imagine the paycheck he got to be in this straight-to-video gem. Thankfully for us he did, as we got a hilariously bad scene of Ice T’s Mack Daddy smoking out with the Leprechaun, prompting the little demon to say: “A friend with weed, is a friend indeed.”
Spoiler alert: even though Ice-T’s character doesn’t survive, his career prospered, doing countless movies and shows since, most notably his long running stint on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Not to be confused with Michael Dougherty’s 2007 horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat, this 1986 offering is the ultimate mash-up of horror and heavy metal. The plot revolves around heavy metal superstar Sammi Curr, who dies and is brought back to life as a demonic rocker. The film toys with the idea of satanic messages found in record albums if played backwards. The filmmakers hit a homerun when choosing to enlist the services of Gene Simmons to give the film rock credibility and edge. Who better than "The Demon" of Kiss to appear in a rock ‘n' roll horror movie?!
Even though his role is small, Gene plays Nuke, a smooth-talking rock ‘n' roll DJ, friend and mentor to the film’s young protagonist (played by Skippy from Family Ties). Always the savvy business man, Simmons’ interest with the horror genre has continued, as he recently partnered up with WWE Studios to create new horror films.
A bonus rock star mention: Ozzy Osbourne is in the movie as well, playing a preacher ranting against the evils of heavy metal music.
Lead singer of the Runaways - the epic all-girl rock band from the 1970s - Cherie Currie’s most notable foray into the world of horror is brief but memorable. Twilight Zone: The Movie, based on Rod Serling’s iconic TV Series had four segments one of which called “It’s a Good Life” (a remake of the classic episode), about a young boy with disturbing mental powers that put everyone, including his own family, under his cruel control.
The best example of a cameo on this list goes to Cherie, as her screen time is measured in seconds. In the segment, Curie plays Sara, sister to the evil boy Anthony. We find her alone in her room, sitting in front of the TV watching black and white cartoons. One big catch is that fans might not recognize Currie due to her not having a mouth! Seems like Anthony got tired of hearing from his sister and promptly removed her mouth. The creepy imagery of Cherie mouthless and with bugged out eyes, is one of the most famous associated with the film.
Many horror fans dream of being vampire hunters and Jon Bon Jovi got to do just that in Vampires: Los Muertos, the sequel to John Carpenter’s 1998 Vampires. The straight-to-video film has Jon starring in the lead role of Derek Bliss, a vagabond vampire slayer who makes his way to Mexico to hunt down the undead. While it’s difficult to follow James Woods's vampire hunting footsteps from the original, Jon delivers a fun, low-key performance as the hero.
Due to low budget constraints, the action and gore were kept to a minimum, so a lot of the entertainment comes from Derek Bliss’s vampire hunting team, highlighted by a young and then unknown Diego Luna (Star Wars: Rogue One). Apparently not everyone was a fan of the New Jersey rock star battling vampires, as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog once interviewed Jon, sharing his feelings by telling Jon: “Finally a role that requires you to suck.”
In the mid-'80s, after leaving The Police, former lead singer Sting turned his interests to acting. He appeared in David Lynch’s Dune and then took on the mantle of Dr. Frankenstein in the gothic horror tale The Bride. This major motion picture is a loose adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, pulling in elements of the 1935 film The Bride of Frankenstein as well. Trying for the more cerebral and elegant end of the horror movie spectrum, the movie was a commercial and critical disappointment. Even Sting’s popularity and hot starlet of-the-time, Jennifer Beals, couldn’t save it.
As Baron Charles Frankenstein, Sting was a younger, sexier version of the twisted doctor that audiences hadn’t seen before. With his blond, flowing hair and Victorian style, he was very much a rock star version of Frankenstein, intended to appeal to the MTV generation. Even though this re-imagining failed in theaters, it has slowly found life on home video and online, with fans in particular enjoying the Frankenstein Monster’s (Clancy Brown) friendship with a dwarf (Michael Rappaport).
A Blaxploitation horror film with Snoop Dogg in the lead role sounds like the perfect recipe for an entertaining movie night. In his first starring role, the D-O-double-G plays Jimmy Bones, a gangster who was murdered only to be resurrected as vengeful spirit, who also takes on the form of an evil dog (get it?!). Think Blacula meets Candyman.
Snoop may never win an acting award, but playing a pimp-like Freddy Krueger is definitely in his wheelhouse. You can tell he’s having fun with the role and enjoying the over-the-top death scenes his character inflicts on others. Genre filmmaker Ernest Dickerson, of Tales from the Crypt: Demon Night and The Walking Dead fame, knows the material he’s working with here, choosing gore and comedy over scares. Bones’ reviews weren’t so kind, but the official "Houndtrack" did well on the charts. Snoop provided most of the songs, including the single “Dogg Named Snoop”, for your listening pleasure.
Most people’s recollections of Queen of the Damned are connected to Aaliyah’s untimely death before the release of the movie. After she tragically died in a plane crash in August 2001, the movie would come out the following year, in February 2002. At the time of her death, the R&B singer’s career was on the rise, which included taking on this starring role in only her second acting job. In the film Aaliyah plays Akasha, the main baddie and original vampire, awakened by the vampire rock star Lestat.
Due to the singer-actress’ death, in order to complete the film producers turned to Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad, to record some of her lines.
With the success of 1994’s Interview With a Vampire, Hollywood was clamoring to churn out more of Ann Rice’s books into features. Surprisingly it would take eight years for her next vampire novel to be adapted, in the form of Queen of the Damned. Based on the third novel of Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles series, the film was a miss with fans as the producers went with style over substance. Instead of Tom Cruise reprising the role of Lestat, fans got Stuart Townsend, which about sums it up. Still, the consensus is that Aaliyah's performance is the sole standout element in the film and was a sign that she had a great career in film ahead of her.
“The Godfather of Shock Rock” has a rich history when it comes to horror. He's built a prolific career melding fright into his music and stage act. He’s performed on various soundtracks for horror films, creating some Halloween hits like “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask) from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Alice Cooper’s love for the genre has also led him to take roles in various horror films like Monster Dog and John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, where he played the leader of the evil street vagabonds.
So naturally, when Wes Craven was looking for the right person to play the part of Freddy Krueger’s father, he turned to Alice Cooper to take on the twisted honor. In 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Freddy’s daughter (Lisa Zane) enters the mind of the Elm Street killer, unearthing his human past. In one of the flashbacks, we’re introduced to Edward Underwood, Freddy’s abusive, drunk adoptive father, played by Cooper. Even though his screen-time is brief, the significance of the role looms large in the franchise as it’s a major clue as to how Freddy ended up being the nightmare killer.
If John Carpenter’s Halloween is arguably considered the greatest horror film ever, then Halloween: Resurrection is completely on the other end of the spectrum. It’s that distant cousin no one in the family wants to talk about or acknowledge. In what many consider the worst chapter of the Halloween series, Resurrection gives us a parody-like plot, a bad version of Michael’s mask, and the weakest Michael Myers death scene to date. As forgettable as the movie is, the best thing going for it is one Mr. Busta Rhymes.
The film’s plot revolves around a reality show that places a group of college kids inside Michael’s childhood home. Busta plays Freddie Harris, the show’s director and faux Michael, who ends up going one-on-one with the horror icon himself. Their hilariously outrageous battle has Busta successfully using Kung Fu moves on Michael and ultimately electrifying the villain’s crotch, leading to his end. Say what you will about Busta’s performance, but no other rap star can say that they killed Michael Myers.
Genre master, David Cronenberg is regarded as one of the most unique and edgy filmmakers currently working. He has a knack for creating provocative and psychological films that incorporate a good amount of bloody gore. His 1983 cult movie Videodrome hits all of those marks. James Woods stars as Max Renn, a man whose life spirals out of control after watching Videodrome, a hyper-violent mysterious show.
Blondie's lead singer Debbie Harry plays Renn's love interest; the sultry, S&M loving Nicki Brand. In her first starring role, Debbie shines, proving that she could have easily been a Hollywood glamour star, had she not chosen to be a punk legend. While most musicians’ attempt at acting result in subpar performances, Debbie more than holds her own. Playing the femme fatale, she pulls Max Renn further down the rabbit hole, as heavy doses of Videodrome signals destroy their reality.
Since then, Debbie’s gone on to have a steady acting career in both TV and films, appearing in titles like Hairspray and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.
For years, the running "joke" with the public has been that if you’re a black character in a horror movie, you’re most likely the first to die. That might be true for some slasher films, but it doesn’t stick with the Halloween franchise. Having already mentioned how alive Busta Rhymes came out of Halloween: Resurrection, here we have LL Cool J, surviving the night of a Michael Myers bloodbath.
The seventh installment in the Halloween film series, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, ended up being a box-office hit, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the role of Laurie Strode.
The addition of LL Cool J to the cast also gave the film a boost, as he was a mainstream star by then. Having had minor roles and cameos up to that point, H20 served as his first true venture as an actor. LL played Ronny Jones, a school security guard with a penchant for poetry. Despite surviving his encounter with Michael, LL doesn’t come out of the movie unscathed, accidentally getting shot, though he survives. Since then, he’s taken on acting full-time, appearing in features like Deep Blue Sea and a lead role on TV’s NCIS: Los Angeles.
Being killed by a nasty little troll is one thing. Having the most disgusting, cringe-worthy death scene in the film automatically guarantees you a spot on this list. Poor Sonny Bono. The late musician and record producer, best known for Sonny & Cher, ended up in Troll, where he was turned into a human seed that sprouts an entire magical forest in his apartment.
While Troll 2 has attained infamy, being deemed as the “Best Worst Movie Ever”, the original 1986 Troll (which is actually unrelated to the sequel), has gone under the radar for the most part. This film has nothing to do with those cute troll dolls. It's about the title creature that resides in an apartment complex, terrorizing the Harry Potter family. Same name, but not the wizard you’re thinking of. After abducting the youngest Potter child, the troll takes her form and attacks poor Sonny, who plays a neighbor. Even though he met a gruesome death, his scene will forever live on in genre/B-movie lore.
The man who had us singing along to ‘80s rock anthems such as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” also happens to have a soft spot for horror. Dee Snider, front man to the band Twisted Sister, wrote and starred in 1998’s Strangeland. The film is basically a mashup of Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and a generic slasher film. Dee stars as the psycho killer Captain Howdy, a man into body modification, tattoos, and murdering young women he meets online.
The movie came and went in its small theatrical run, never finding an audience in cinemas or on DVD. The film itself isn’t horrible. It’s a by-the-numbers horror/thriller that has some decent kills and stars Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund-- in a good guy role, no less.
There still might be life left in Strangeland, as Dee announced in 2015 that he’s working on a sequel, tentatively titled Strangeland: Disciple.
Francis Ford Coppola’s casting of Tom Waits as R.M. Renfield was simply an inspired choice! It’s easy to forget that Waits was in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, since the film was a huge Hollywood production with an A-list caliber cast. Actors like Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, and Winona Ryder headlined the film, bringing in the star power and fans. On top of that, film auteur Coppola helmed the movie. It was a dream team production and cast that hardly never happens for a genre film.
Watching Waits on screen as Renfield, Dracula’s deranged but loyal servant, is just fascinating, as he completely immerses himself into the role. As you watch him, you forget about his acclaimed music career. Waits’ scenes inside the insane asylum are unsettling, from how he moves around the room to the way he delivers his lines with the perfect touch of lunacy. This isn’t a cameo or stunt casting. No, sir. Tom Waits gives the audience a fully fleshed out performance that stands on its own... and includes eating bugs and worms!
2016 has shown no mercy when it comes to the passing of legendary talent. At the top of the list is the Thin White Duke, David Bowie. Bowie passed away earlier this year in January, leaving a powerful legacy on our world with his music, style and personas. Like a true artist, the man experimented with every aspect of his talents, and becoming an actor was just a natural extension of that.
The three films he’s most associated with are The Man Who Fell From Earth, Labyrinth, and this vampire cult-classic, The Hunger.
Directed by Tony Scott, this 1983 new wave/gothic horror film has Bowie playing an eternal, erotic vampire, which makes perfect sense. His enigmatic essence shines on screen in the role of John Blaylock, lover and partner to fellow vampire, played by Catherine Deneuve. Hyper-stylized and dripping cool in every scene, the film plays up the seductive, taboo nature of vampires, rather than the typical blood and gore one would expect. Even though David is no longer with us, his contribution to cinema in defining roles like this will keep him forever present in our culture.