Harmonies of Discord: Pop Oldies and Horror Trailers
by Leanne Weston — University of Warwick
May 02, 2016 – 00:00
The use of oldies and covers of oldies in trailers is not a new phenomenon. However, the harmonious discord at work when oldies are afforded an afterlife within trailers for contemporary horror is distinct from other implementations. This particular recontextualisation provides an interesting opportunity to consider the relationship between emotion and affect.
One such example can be found in the international trailer for Alexandre Aja’s breakthrough film, Haute Tension/High Tension (2003), which uses Sonic Youth’s renowned cover of ‘Superstar.’ Its presence marks the beginning of a broader trend in horror film trailer editing that incorporates oldies for their jarring and subversive effects, generating audience interest by challenging their expectations while appealing to the increasing appetite for nostalgia in popular culture. While this cover is emblematic of such tendencies, it is unique in its difference from other oldies in trailers for All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2005) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), in that it is both “old” and “new” simultaneously. ‘Superstar.’ is a multi-layered object that reappropriates The Carpenters music while continuing to engage with it. In doing so, it actively contributes to and enhances the uncanny effects of its use within the trailer. When hearing Sonic Youth we also hear The Carpenters, or more specifically, the ghost of Karen. This ghostliness in combination with the pervasiveness of the group’s music within popular culture and collective memory creates a deep sense of unease within the audience, not least because Sonic Youth’s interpretation is so stylistically and melodically changed from the version that is widely regarded as definitive.
Sonic Youth’s interpretation also performs another function specific to the way High Tension is interpreted by international audiences. The transformation of ‘Superstar’ from a plaintive, melancholy love song into a sinister and dangerous ode to obsessive love is also an act of translation, underscoring the central themes of the film, making it intelligible, appealing, and marketable to a global audience. This process allows us to re-encounter songs and re-engage with them in new and often radically different contexts, thereby lending them much greater cultural and emotional significance.