'Zappa and Horror: Screamin' at the Monster'

Richard Hand

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


When looking at the links between horror and rock music what springs to mind most immediately is the high Gothic camp and appropriated horror iconography of the heavy metal genre or the specific image customised by groups such as Kiss and Marilyn Manson. In comparison, Frank Zappa seems a surprising figure to associate with horror, and yet there is a profound relationship. Throughout his career, Zappa reveals a recurrent interest in popular horror culture. This includes allusions to the clichés and ethos of low budget horror: Zappa's early recording “Dear Jeepers” (1963) is a pastiche of novelty horror songs; Zappa's keyboardist Don Preston developed an extended Jekyll and Hyde routine for live concerts in the late 1960s; while “Cheepnis” (1974) is a homage to the B-movie form, style and audience, a musical narrative which is a simultaneous celebration and derision of “spongeoid” horror. Halloween concerts became a Zappa institution and, as documented in the Baby Snakes (1979) film, represent saturnalian events that included Halloween-horror costumery. Within his repertoire, the ribaldry and satire often associated with his songs can be twisted into something more sinister by a fleeting reference to the Twilight Zone theme tune. Moreover, the dystopian visions of the epic Joe's Garage (1979) and the zombie-world of the musical theatre deconstruction Thing-Fish (1984), draw their narrative potency from a sense of the nightmarish as much as the humorous. As well as examining specific lyrics and musical examples in Zappa's oeuvre where horror is centrally and even blatantly emphasised, this chapter will also look at the theoretical parameters of horror and its potential as a tool with which to examine the art of Zappa more broadly.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFrank Zappa and the And: A Contextual Analysis of his legacy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2013


  • frank zappa
  • horror studies
  • performing arts
  • music
  • film


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