Music and Genre Film in 2013

By: Heather Seebach

I loved genre film so much in 2013 that my year-end favorites list just was not enough. I've been very eager to discuss what was an awesome year for music-centric scenes in horror and dark drama. What an incredible assortment of soundtracks, from Maniac's sweet 80s-synth score to Upstream Color's haunting score. Other films had specific scenes undeniably tied to their music where song choice made the moment 10x more powerful. Sometimes it was a song that we least expected - you'll never look at Britney Spears the same way again. The following is an assortment of my favorite music and scenes from this year's genre films.

Best Assorted Artist Soundtracks:

1. The World's End 

Undoubtedly my favorite soundtrack of assorted artists from this year, The World's End OST begins with Primal Scream's "Loaded" (which includes that key Wild Angels sound byte) and includes great British bands like Pulp, Suede, and Sisters of Mercy. Plus, the perfectly placed "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)" by The Doors, and fun surprises like Kylie Minogue's pop-dance song "Back in Time" and a re-edit of Robocop-sampling hip hop "20 Seconds to Comply" by Silver Bullet. It's a perfect assortment of tracks for Edgar Wright's story about recapturing youth. [Listen]

2. The Battery

This fantastic indie horror/drama has a fantastic selection of indie alt-rock on its soundtrack. Rock Plaza Central is the stand-out (and will appear later in this article), but there are also great tracks from The Parlor, Wise Blood, El Cantador, and Sun Hotel. [Listen]

3. Sightseers

A soundtrack as eclectic as Ben Wheatley's films, Sightseers includes songs like Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "The Power of Love" (used perfectly in a spoiler-y scene I can't go into here), the all-too-appropriate "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell, and two versions of Donovan's "Season of the Witch." The song choices are equal parts eerie and sugary-sweet, which is the perfect complement to this darkly funny film. [Track List]

Best Scores:

1. Only God Forgives - Cliff Martinez

Cliff Martinez gave Refn's last film, Drive, its iconic 80s-esque synth score, and with Only God Forgives he has provided an even better score inspired by horror and traditional Thai music. In a film with minimal dialogue like this, the score is a huge part of driving the story, and Martinez helped Refn achieve that beautifully. One of my favorite score-highlighting moments is Chang swinging his sword in a tracking shot against the gorgeous backdrop of Bangkok (track: "Bride of Chang") [Listen]

2. Motivational Growth  - Alex Mauer

 This movie is not available yet but I had the good fortune of seeing it multiple times in 2013 and the soundtrack is a stand-out for sure. It's an 8-bit-tastic score constructed by chiptune artist Alex Mauer. If you grew up on NES as I did, you'll love this score and the overall nostalgic vibe of Growth.

3. Maniac - Rob

Speaking of 80s throwback scores, Maniac has wicked synth music courtesy of an artist simply known as Rob. Some tracks are a bit too similar to the music of Drive, but it's a pretty awesome score in its own right, and very fitting of this 80s horror remake. [Listen]

4. Upstream Color - Shane Carruth

Writer/director Shane Carruth composed this haunting score himself for his mind-bending follow-up to his equally mind-bending debut, Primer. It's slow, beautiful music for a slow, beautiful film. The intriguing track "As If It Would Have a Universal and Memorable Ending" turns up the eerie, and that title says it all about Upstream Color, eh? [Listen]

5. Evil Dead - Roque Baños

Baños' score for this reboot/debatable sequel is plenty scary with whispers, creepy choirs, scratching, and other unnerving noises I can't even place. My favorite bits, however, are the slow, sad piano moments that sound remarkably like Joseph LoDuca's score from the original two films. [Listen]

Best Songs:

1. "Looking for the Magic" by The Dwight Twilley Band (You're Next)

 This song is forever iconic in the horror genre thanks to this awesome film and its eerie use of the track. You're Next is not a particularly scary film (so much as fun) but I instantly feel creeped out listening to this song now, just like how Zodiac forever changed Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" for me. [Listen]

2. "Cambridge Town" by Nick Garrie (We Are What We Are)  

The intense final act of We Are What We Are began with this haunting track on the record player. Within 10 seconds, I was scrambling to find out who made it. When you listen to the lyrics about young love, the whole thing becomes even more haunting. [Listen]

3. "Dance Yrself Clean" by LCD Soundsystem (Simon Killer)

 Simon Killer is peppered with quirky music like this (there is another example later in this article) and consequently cute songs become a little unnerving. I never thought I'd dig cow bell this much, but there is something so mesmerizing about watching Simon dancing to this song in a nightclub. [Listen]

4. "Season of the Witch" by Vanilla Fudge (Sightseers)

Of course, this is just one track from a great soundtrack, but I especially dig this one because a) I'm already a fan of Donovan's original; and b) this cover is so damn eerie that it feels like it was born to be in a Wheatley film. While it's not featured in the film, there is a part of the song where voices whisper for help and chant creepy poetry. [Listen]

5. "I See Fire" by Ed Sheeran (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

This probably seems like an odd choice considering all these other creepy, violent films but I wanted to mention this song because I found it to be the most powerful element of The Desolation of Smaug and it's not even in it until the end credits! While I enjoyed the second Hobbit installment, this song made me feel the weight of Thorin Oakenshield's tale better than either film did. It's a gorgeous song about brotherhood and courage, and I never really absorbed Thorin's pain and his destiny until I hear this track. [Listen]

Best Musical Scenes:

1. Ben's Drunken Dancing, The Battery

This scene, set to "Anthem for the Already Defeated", not only made me an instant fan of Rock Plaza Central but it's undoubtedly one of the film's most memorable scenes. If you're not already in love with the film by this point, director/star Jeremy Gardner's charming dancing will suck you in. It is not your average scene from a zombie movie, but that is exactly what makes The Battery so special.

2. Alien Serenades the Girls, Spring Breakers

I was on the fence about Spring Breakers until it got to this scene. Needless to say, it's a surreal experience watching James Franco in gold teeth sing Britney Spears to a group of teenaged girls in pink balaclavas as they spin around like delicate ballerinas with shotguns. Things get downright disturbing when the song is set over a montage of Alien and his girls robbing and terrorizing people. Spears' mournful "Everytime", which was likely about a teenage breakup, is a strange but perfect choice of song for a film about childhood innocence corrupted.

3. India and Charlie's Piano Duet, Stoker

This tense, erotic exchange between India and her psycho Uncle Charlie is beautifully done. It begins as a sort of competition between the two, but as Charlie inches closer and the tempo of Philip Glass' "Duet" increases, the scene ends with India seemingly climaxing. By the time the music stops, she looks exhausted and Charlie gives a proud grin. It's unclear if this is really happening or a fantasy in India's head, but either way, we all kind of need a cigarette when it's over.

4. Chang Sings Karaoke, Only God Forgives

 Many folks were left scratching their heads at the karaoke scenes in this film but there is an interesting pattern that emerges with them (I won't spoil it here - look it up). My favorite Chang karaoke scene is the first, "Leum mai long (Can't Forget)." Not only do these scenes look gorgeous, but I adore the cold, stoic audience who stare on without emotion. It reminds me of the unnerving scene in Twin Peaks where Julee Cruse sings "The World Spins." 

5. Simon and Victoria Share a Dance, Simon Killer

Here is another example of a cute, quirky song that will forever have a dark vibe to me thanks to Simon Killer. Granted, nothing especially morbid happens in this scene - it's quite sweet actually - but once the film is over, you'll know what I mean. The song is "It Takes a Muscle to Fall in Love" by Spectral Display and, much like the LCD Soundsystem nightclub scene, there is something just mesmerizing about the dance scenes in this film. I especially like how the camera is pulled in tight so all we see are torsos and hands in this static shot.

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