Music’s favorite shapeshifter David Bowie was not only seasoned in singing, playing, and producing – he knew how to act too. This isn’t news – he is famous for his leading roles as the goblin king Jareth in labyrinth, and Thomas, the humanoid alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth. His career as an actor was selective but always memorable, with Bowie often channeling his love for all things weird and unorthodox into unique roles.
His interest in completely making himself over into unidentifiable and often non-human characters in his music career also carried itself into his film career. Bowie starred in multiple horror films during his life in which he often transformed into otherworldly characters, such as a vampire or a living corpse.
When he wasn’t lending himself to horror films, he was often providing the soundtrack. Although Bowie’s music can be heard in countless films, from Frances Ha to Shrek 2 to Inglorious Basterdshis songs also frequently appear in horror movies – proving that his discography has enough range to suit practically any genre.
So, from his chilling performance in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Meto his musical feature on the soundtrack of Cat Peoplecheck out six moments when David Bowie made a horror film even better…
Six times David Bowie made horror movies even better:
The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983)
During the same year that Bowie released one of his most memorable hits, the magnificent ‘Let’s Dance’, he also bagged a leading role in Tony Scott’s erotic horror The Hunger. Alongside Susan Sarandon and French film royalty Catherine Deneuve, Bowie, in the usual fashion, plays a non-human character, that of a vampire.
The film has since become a cult classic, particularly amongst goth subcultures, despite mixed reviews from critics upon its release (Roger Ebert described it as “an agonizingly bad vampire movie”). However, Bowie’s seductive presence as John Blaylock is the perfect fit for the stylish film. Although not the greatest film Bowie has starred in, it remains one of his most memorable roles.
The Image (director Michael Armstrong, 1969)
When Bowie was 22, he made his first and little-known film debut in Michael Armstrong’s 15-minute horror short, The Image. Shot in black and white, the film – which was one of the first ever short films to receive an ‘X’ rating – follows a painter who becomes haunted by a man (Bowie) who seems to resemble his artwork.
Bowie didn’t speak too kindly about the film in his later years. He was once quoted saying,[Armstrong] wanted to make a film about a painter doing a portrait of a guy in his teens and the portrait comes to life and, in fact, turns out to be the corpse of some bloke. I can’t remember all the plot if indeed it had a plot, but it was a 14-minute short, and it was awful.” Whether you think The Image is good or bad, you can’t deny that the combination of Bowie’s striking facial features and unsettling demeanour is rather haunting.
Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)
Paul Schrader’s Provocative Reimagining of the 1942 Horror Cat People was received with mixed reviews, with lead actress Nastassja Kinski claiming she disliked the film, finding it “slick” and “manipulative.” The erotic horror, also starring Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, and Annette O’Toole, follows a newlywed woman who fears that she is cursed to turn into a black leopard during arousal.
Cat People‘s strange concept is accompanied by a theme song specifically made for the film by one of music’s greatest embracers of all things weird. Bowie was contacted by Schrader to collaborate, to which he obliged. Whilst Bowie wrote the lyrics to ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’, the music was composed by Giorgio Moroder. The successful track has a gothic rock and new wave influence, which features Bowie performing in a deep, moody croon. The dramatic delivery of “gasoline” in the song was even described as “among the most thrilling moments he ever committed to tape.”
American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)
Although Bowie does not appear in American Psycho, his iconic voice can be heard during the ending credits. Harron’s satirical horror, which stars Christian Bale as a psychopathic businessman/serial killer Patrick Bateman, places heavy focus upon music. In one vital murder scene, Bateman can be seen rambling on about the intricacies of Huey Lewis and the News before massacring Jared Leto’s Paul Allen.
However, another memorable musical moment from the film is the tinkling piano keys that open ‘Something in the Air’ as the credits begin to roll. Originally appearing on Bowie’s 1999 album hours…the version heard at the end of American Psycho is a remix by Mark Palti, who added the piano over the top.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)
Fire Walk With Methe terrifying prequel to David Lynch’s surreal murder mystery series Twin Peaks, divided audiences upon its release. Lynch’s film was even more terrifying, dark, and surreal than the original television series. Known for his use of unique and oddball characters, it was only right for Lynch to hire Bowie to play Special Agent Phillip Jeffries, performing his role with an unnerving intensity.
Bursting into the FBI office two years after his mysterious disappearance, Jeffries describes where he has been in an unsettled manner as horrifying clips quickly flash onto the screen. We see images of a hysteric Jeffries and characters such as Bob and The Man From Another Place, all while distorted screams can be heard. The terrifying montage of images appears so fast that if you blink, you’ll miss them. Despite Bowie’s limited screen-time, his appearance as Jeffries is certainly memorable.
stigma (Rupert Wainwright, 1999)
stigma is not a good movie. Rupert Wainwright’s attempt at a supernatural horror was poorly received by critics, who pointed out its poor acting performances and unconvincing script. Despite a cast of successful actors such as Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, and Jonathan Pryce, not much could save stigma.
That’s where Bowie comes in. He generously gifted his song ‘The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell’ to the film’s soundtrack, which marks its first appearance. The song ended up on hours…however, the version that made it onto the stigma soundtrack is a slightly different cut. The alternative versions of the song can be heard on the hours… bonus disc. This is definitely a case of Bowie making a terrible film (somewhat) better with the presence of his music.