For Gen Xers and beyond, growing up with MTV on our shoulder has given us a weirdly structured upbringing. Kids that witnessed the advent of music videos while simultaneously washing down episodes of “Thundercats” and Nicktoons grew up with a most off-kilter sense of the world. A cable package that our parents never took the time to censor for us gave way to a lot of things we should not have seen. There was of course the sexed up videos that ran round the clock but on this Friday the 13th, we’re taking a moment to look back on the creepy shit. The stuff that in some cases maybe wasn’t supposed to scare little kids, but managed to sneak its way into their subconscious long after SNICK ended. Here’s a list of some of our favorites of that variety. Feel free to post your own in the comments.
Genesis — “Land of the Confusion”
In the clip for Genesis’ 1986 single “Land of Confusion,” the band depict a dark and crude vision of Reagan’s America. the result was a most effective satire that looks like Jim Henson’s worst nightmare.
Aphex Twin — “Come to Daddy”
A master of horrific facial expressions, Richard D. James aka Aphex Twin took advantage of this fact with multiple videos that threw his mug all over any person on screen. It’s a hard decision between this and “Windowlicker” in terms of which is more horrifying but that scene where a Gollum-like creature screams in an old woman’s face while this menacing tune plays behind it is just a hair over the edge and straight down into the eighth circle of hell.
Nine Inch Nails — “Closer”
It seems like no list that compiles the creepiest videos of all time is complete without a re-spin of “Closer” but I must offer that although I thought this video was extremely cool and effectively creepy, it never legitimately scared me. Mark Romanek’s direction remains incredibly artful throughout and although its S&M overtones and ghostly composition give it a spooky edge, it’s more of a fascinating installation than subconscious nightmare fuel.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers — “Don’t Come Around Here No More”
Let’s face it — Tom Petty’s face is pretty creepy even when he’s not taunting you in a Mad Hatter costume. In the “Don’t Come Around Here No More” video, he’s especially terrifying though in conjunction with the clip’s trippy camera-work and countless other unsettling details like the child/pig in the carriage, the wide-eyed spandex backing vocalists, and of the course the cannibal cake ending.
Soundgarden — “Black Hole Sun”
David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” always seemed like a good source for music video inspiration and Soundgarden seized it with their breakout hit “Black Hole Sun.” Suburbanites go about their lives with plastered on smiles that often stretch and mutate while the Earth crumbles around them — kind of a vague statement on conformity but more just an excuse to scare the shit out of kids in 1994.
Radiohead — “Paranoid Android”
Radiohead had made a reputation in the ’90s for producing unsettling videos like in the excellent “Twilight Zone”-esque clips for “Just” and “Karma Police.” For “Paranoid Android” the band put the duty in the hands of Swedish cartoonist Magnus Carlsson who painted a consistently off-kilter world for his signature Robin character to peruse through. Things get particularly alarming when the business man removes his clothes and begins chopping down the lamppost wearing nothing but a spiked thong. Proceed with caution.
Ministry — “Stigmata”
The creepiness of “Stigmata” by Ministry lies in part to the unrelenting nature of the song that seems to steer completely out of control at one point while still maintaining that industrial locked groove. It’s still bizarre to think this was only 4 years after the faux Euro-synth pop of “With Sympathy.”
Tool — “Sober”
In 1994, the idea that claymation could be scary had yet to enter most people’s consciousness outside of Tim Burton films. “Sober” made it hard to ever look at “Wallace & Gromit” the same again.
Herbie Hancock — “Rockit”
Although it’s doubtful that this was Herbie Hancock’s intention, “Rockit” is like a nightmare gas station. It’s images of robots and faceless dummies were more than enough to give kids in the mid-80s the heebie-jeebies for months.
Taco — “Puttin’ on the Ritz”
There was this fad in the 1980s where music videos stars got their kicks by making unbecoming faces into the camera. It was mastered by Gary Numan but Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” cover with its karaoke backing track driving it home is a worthy front runner of this style.
Bush — “Greedy Fly”
It’s bizarre to think there are many people today who don’t know who Gavin Rossdale is, let alone that he fronted a band that was at a time more popular than his wife. “Greedy Fly” was at the crossroads of the pair’s careers and this unsettling bio-chemical science fiction story of a video didn’t help Bush push any more units of “Razorblade Suitcase.” By no means a commercial failure but the creepy path was one not many of their teenage female fans followed them down.
Metallica — “One”
When Metallica decided to join the music video game, they came in with a bang with “One,” which intercut footage of the film “Johnny Got His Gun” throughout. The 1971 anti-war film details the story of a soldier who loses all his limbs and senses during in a WWI battle. Throwing in clips from a movie is simple enough but it proved highly effective alongside the song’s 7-minute plus lurch. It still remains as chilling as it was nearly 25 years ago.
Crash Test Dummies – “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”
“Weird Al” Yankovick once spoofed Crash Test Dummies’ novelty hit “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” with the kind-of-funny “Headline News” in 1994. It however paled in comparison to the hilarity of the original which is by far one of the strangest songs and videos ever to become a hit. Seriously, what is UP with this song? It’s video only drives the point home further as the band can be seen performing in an orchestra pit like a bizarro Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds before a “Rushmore”-esque kids play with overtones of child abuse that show up towards the end. If it’s been 19 years since you’ve seen it, you owe it to yourself for a revisit — it’s still godawful and definitely creepy.