Ever since MTV first showed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, the use of gothic and macabre imagery in music videos has been a staple of the art form. Whether going for a cheap scare, or truly trying to disturb viewers, main artists have successfully made 2-5 minute horror movies set to music that have rocked us to the core. In honor of Halloween, let’s look back on which videos from the past have done the best job of leaving us shaking after viewing them. This is, of course, just my personal opinion, but I’m sure anyone who has watched MTV past midnight in the 80’s and 90’s can make their own list. What direction will you go? Here’s mine:
Tool – “Sober”: Any video by the progressive metal band Tool could easily make this list. I went with “Sober” because it is personally the first video I ever watched that made me cringe. The use of stop-motion animation was innovative at the time and gave a realistic element to some truly disturbing imagery. The video involves what appears to be a reanimated corpse living in an apartment made from human organs. Add in a haunting melody with occasional guitar blasts and you won’t be getting any sleep that night. What makes it truly brilliant and horrifying is how normal these grotesque figures are presented. You could say it represents the normalization of brutality in our daily lives.
Nine Inch Nails – “Closer”: One of the most controversial videos of all time, MTV famously edited it with “Scene Missing” signs to cut out offensive imagery. This video is filled with everything: taboo sexual imagery, blasphemy, violence and bizarre situations involving animals. In the larger context of the album The Downward Spiral, the song and its video represent a man who is losing his humanity and submitting to carnal desires. However, this is often lost when taking the song as a stand-alone piece. It’s a truly disturbing piece that you might have to prepare yourself to watch.
Genesis – “Land of Confusion”: Unlike the rest of the videos on this list, I don’t believe Genesis meant to frighten people with this video. But damn those puppets are creepy! I compare it to the Jim Henson movie The Dark Crystal, which was meant for children but has some very unsettling moments in it even for adults. The figures are pretty grotesque and look almost like ALF without the fur. Also, it’s got Phil Collins singing, which is scary enough by itself. Sorry Phil, but I’m a Peter Gabriel guy.
Wu Tang Clan – “Protect Ya Neck”: Mainstream rap has really never seen anything like the Wu Tang Clan before or since. Their breakthrough video for “Protect Ya Neck” shows why. While not the first or most violent song in the gangsta rap subgenre, the video showed a group of individuals that were quite terrifying to mainstream America. This wasn’t about racial issues; this wasn’t about social structure or cultural appropriation. This was a group of people that might murder you for their own amusement. Especially when Ghostface Killah goes into his verse, you see the pure maniacal nature of the group. Of course, later songs like “C.R.E.A.M.” would prove they were capable of much more, and they have influenced countless artists since their debut.
Primus – “Mr. Kringle”: What this song is about is a complete mystery to me. As far as I can tell, it’s about a man having a conversation with his neighbor. The video however, is from another planet. It takes place in a warehouse with Les Claypool playing cello while wearing a creepy pig mask. Throughout the video, he is joined by a circus of freakshow performers right out of “American Horror Story”. It is unsettling and mysterious. That’s also right up Primus’ alley.
Marylin Manson – “The Beautiful People”: Manson’s artistic vision peaked with this horrifyingly beautiful video. By comparing sex and torture, Manson gave the most prominent satire of pop culture’s obsession with both sex and violence. It is a video that is hard to watch, and yet you can’t turn away. Manson had some good one’s later, but the androgynous angle wore thin and other groups were much more shocking in their violent imagery. But for a brief period, Manson combined the two like no one could, and the remains are still shocking even to modern audiences.


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