10 Terrifying Music Videos

Treble staff
Terrifying Videos Aphex Twin Rubber Johnny

Halloween is just days away, which means most of us are spending our time in front of a TV screen, watching the most blood-curdlingly scary movies we can find. However, it’s not just feature films that can get the heart racing. Since Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at least, music videos have been a vessel for some utterly disturbing and chilling concepts. In fact, some of the best music videos are utterly terrifying. We picked 10 of our favorites, from artists who understand darkness better than most—even if they do sometimes have a pop sensibility. Some of these clips are atmospherically eerie. Some of them are visceral nightmares. We suggesting keeping one light on while you watch these 10 terrifying music videos.

Aphex Twin – “Come to Daddy”
(1997; dir. Chris Cunningham)

Chris Cunningham was a beast of a director in the ’90s, putting out some of the sharpest and most experimental music videos of their time. Coincidentally, most of his work was also pants-shittingly terrifying. Go figure. “Come to Daddy” starts out like any other music video did back then, with an elderly woman walking her small dog against a Ballardian hellscape of towering apartment complexes ridden with trash, while the menacing drones of Aphex Twin provide suitable cinematic guidance. Our elderly woman is soon disturbed by a gang of children ruffians with the usual same face of Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) himself, terrorizing her and smashing everything in sight. So like any other demonic hellspawn, they grab a TV that is beckoning for them to “come to daddy” and begin a summoning ritual. What emerges in front of the elderly woman, presumably birthed from the TV, is a sack of gyrating flesh that soon bursts apart, revealing an immensely tall, spindly deformed creature who proceeds to just scream its fucking head off at blistering audio levels that verge on uncomfortable. Of course, we’re treated to the lovely brood circling their giant father afterward. It’s a trip. That’s all I’ll say. Many sleepless nights as a kid because of this one. – Brian Roesler

Bat For Lashes – “What’s a Girl To Do?”
(2007; dir. Dougal Wilson)

There’s something so unwholesome about a late night bike ride with weirdos in animal masks. That’s the general idea behind Bat for Lashes’ clip for “What’s a Girl to Do?”, the highlight from her debut album Fur and Gold. Borrowing some anthropomorphic creepiness from Donnie Darko, the award-winning video finds Natasha Khan being followed by a troupe of animal-headed cyclists clapping in rhythm to the song and pulling some sweet BMX moves. It’s creepy in a playful way, but things get gradually more strange as it goes on. A pair of creepy costumed weirdos let go of a balloon. A car is somehow overturned as the camera cuts away, leaving one to wonder just what the hell happened when we weren’t looking. And then a series of UFO-looking lights lights the path toward the end, in which Khan fades into the distance. The entire atmosphere is highly unsettling, and there’s a sense we’re only getting a small piece of a very troubling picture. It’s fitting, really; no other artist with such a pronounced pop sensibility (other than House of Balloons-era snuff jam The Weeknd) can pull off eerie so well. – Jeff Terich

 

Nothing – “ACD”
(2016; dir. Nickolas Schuller)

Aptly envisioned as a dystopian “version of Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’ video,” Nothing’s visual pairing for this year’s “ACD (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)” seems like the result of a 3D-design dilettante’s suicidal depersonalization told through a grim rendition of a character’s false reality and escalating self-destruction. Thematically, “ACD” is utterly morbid and positively creepy. Director Nickolas Schuller sharply plots his simulated character’s demise through an increasingly disconcerting series of violent acts of self-harm. The video produces an ‘anti-Second Life’ appeal via borderline Postinternet tones, capturing a specific quality of artificial disconnect that matches Nothing’s notoriously vast shoegaze conventions and weighty lyrical content of Tired of Tomorrow. – Patrick Pilch

Portal – “Curtain”
(2013; dir. Zev Dea)

Portal is a terrifying band. Even more so than your average death metal band. Sure, extreme speed, abrasive guitars and a fascination with gore can be scary, sort of, but Portal’s a different story. They’re theatrical in their presentation of extremes, with elaborate costumes and melodies that pretty much always sound like impending terror. “Curtain,” from their 2013 album Vexovoid, is an interesting case of how artful that terror can be. Partially animated, the clip is a breathtaking puppet show of the damned, with a grisly clock monster, hangings, a weird oily, black figure that defies explanation, and other such frights and freak-outs. It’s beautifully done, but it’s still a nightmare come to life. – Jeff Terich

Tool – “Sober”
(1993; dir. Fred Stuhr)

The plot of “Sober” involves a hydrocephalic golem, dressed in rags discovering a box drunkenly obsessing over the idea of opening it up and peering into its contents. This may seem par for the course in a Pandora’s Box sort of way, save for the deranged and deformed main character, and the fact that it’s claymation instead of live action. Yet the inescapable grime and destitute aesthetic of Tool’s “Sober” is the kind of horror that sticks with the viewer. It’s palpable, and the claymation helps create a twisted facsimile of movement that is unnatural in every way. The video’s intensity only escalates when the house is revealed to be some horrific, eldritch contraption of organic/inorganic materials, tenured by absolute abominations which defy logic and purpose. Oh and as to the contents of the box? That’s for your nightmares to decide. – Brian Roesler

Depeche Mode – “Wrong”
(2009; dir. Patrick Daughters)

“Wrong” is definitely the most disturbing video that Depeche Mode ever released. In the past, their clips—particularly those directed by Anton Corbijn—have always had a kind of beautiful, elegant creepiness. This one, however, is unbelievably tense, with a scenario seemingly plucked from a contemporary horror film. A man with bound wrists and a mask (which in itself is super creepy looking) is in a car speeding backwards, with no driver. It’s sent on a reckless path of destruction and he’s essentially left with no ability to do anything about it. Though it doesn’t have the same lingering feeling of dread that some of these clips contain, it’s deeply unsettling and has its share of jumps. Don’t watch while trying to keep your blood pressure down. – Jeff Terich

 

Earl Sweatshirt – “Earl”
(2010; dir. AG Rojas)

There’s a bitingly ironic notion behind YouTube’s age content warning before accessing 2010’s breakthrough “Earl” video. The clip’s gut churning, fisheye-lensed images depict a 16-year-old Earl Sweatshirt and a fledgling pack of Odd Future affiliates partaking in a substance-fueled daytime “blender-bender” with enough malt liquor, sinister imagery, and nipple bleeding to motivate an anxious mother to send her son to a Samoan rehab facility. Don’t be fooled by Earl’s visually ragtag introduction; his first video is just as calculated as the track’s lyrical content and musical partiality. The shock appeal lies within each aspect of the song’s focus; a grating, bass-heavy backdrop buttresses the rapper’s depraved wordplay, ominously streamlining “Earl” through a chorusless, yet not hookless, two and a half minutes. Shocking at the very least, and downright disturbing at its worst, Earl Sweatshirt’s “Earl” video is a truly startling display. – Patrick Pilch

Fever Ray – “If I Had a Heart”
(2009; dir. Andreas Nilsson)

Karen Dreijer Andersson of The Knife is frequently involved with some pretty extreme, intense stuff. The song “If I Had a Heart,” from her debut album as Fever Ray, is a slow burner, albeit one that’s fairly unsettling all the way through. The video is also a slow burner, but it adds an extra creepy layer to the whole thing. In Andersson’s sole appearance in the video, her face is painted to look like a skull, while the rest of the clip is bathed in an ominous atmosphere of darkness, predators in eerie masks, an implied mass murder and a pair of children sent out to sea. It’s cryptic, but at the very least, we know that things are not OK, nor are they likely to be any more comforting any time soon. – Jeff Terich

Nine Inch NailsBroken
(1992; dir. Peter Christopherson)

When Trent Reznor released Nine Inch Nails’ 1992 EP Broken, it was accompanied by a short film that not only contained video clips for its tracks, including “Wish” (one of the only ones that could make it past MTV’s standards), but an ongoing “snuff film” narrative. If you can call it a narrative. It’s basically a 20-minute-long exercise in making an audience squirm. Directed by Throbbing Gristle/Coil member Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, the Broken film begins with a hanging, then begins an ongoing sequence of scenes in which a young man is abducted and tortured in a warehouse. In between, there are clips for “Pinion” (in which a series of plumbing pipes end up being connected to a person’s face—ew), “Happiness in Slavery” (torture by machines), “Help Me I Am in Hell” (a guy eating fly-covered meat) and eventually a grisly violent death. It’s essentially an experimental film meant to look like a real murder captured on tape, which makes the whole thing all the more disturbing and likely to induce nightmares. It was never commercially released, for somewhat obvious reasons (watching it is sort of an act of masochism) and the copies that Reznor handed out to friends and colleagues had specific moments blacked out, presumably as a device to determine who was responsible were it to be bootlegged. The full film was uploaded to Vimeo twice via the official Nine Inch Nails account, and each time it was removed. This isn’t for human consumption, apparently. – Jeff Terich

Aphex Twin – “Rubber Johnny”
(2005; dir. Chris Cunningham)

A second Aphex Twin video? While it usually goes against our M.O. to repeat an artist in a list like this, we’re obligated to make an exception. Chris Cunningham constructed a six-minute epic that serves as a sort of rebuttal to his work with “Come to Daddy” Aphex Twin’s original terror fueled video. This, of course, raises the intensity. The video starts with Johnny being interviewed by what could be considered some sort of medical personnel, under the grainy lo-fi puke green filter of infrared through a dirty lense. Did I fail to mention that Johnny is a horrifying rail thin spectral abomination with an alien like head and giant reflective eyes? Should have mentioned that earlier I suppose. Johnny freaks out and is soon sedated, we have a title card with a condom being inflated over a penis, and the shit just hits the fan after. Under a flickering light with his only companion, a Chihuahua (who looks strangely like Johnny) Johnny just starts freaking out at hyper speed, bending and contorting in a spectacle that could only be described as a wheelchair bound gray alien wearing human skin snorting copious amounts of cocaine and dropping some blistering fucking moves to IDM, eventually slamming his skull so hard into the camera he turns into what only resembles raw chicken, only to reform a second later. If this sounds hilarious, it is. It is also terrifying. A delicate line to balance. – Brian Roesler

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