Blue Oyster Cult scored their biggest hit with “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The macabre love song quickly transcended the music world to appear in movies and television. With a creepy riff that highlighted a lyrical embrace of death, it’s little wonder that “Reaper” first appeared in a horror film.
John Carpenter set quite a precedent when using “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in Halloween. Expertly combining the song’s fixation on death with marijuana culture, he touched on two themes that future filmmakers would revisit.
Even in the seventies, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was a stoner anthem. As Laurie and Annie share an after school joint, “Reaper” ominously plays on the radio. Unbeknownst to the doomed teenagers, Michael Myers follows behind in a stolen car. Literally stalked by death, the song assumes an eerie relevancy.
Rob Zombie’s reprised “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in his remake of Halloween. A young Michael Myers discovers his iconic mask to the tune of Blue Oyster Cult. “Reaper” plays on as Michael brutally murders his sister.
Stephen King also recognized the song’s darker side. Taking inspiration for The Stand, King quoted the famous lyrics in his post-apocalyptic novel. When The Stand was adapted into a TV miniseries, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” received a prominent airing.
As the opening credits roll, the aftermath of a government lab’s security breech is shown in gruesome detail. Most die instantly. Corpses sit at their desks. A few brave souls makes it to the exit before succumbing to a deadly virus. Once again, “Reaper” is the perfect soundtrack to death.
“Don’t Fear the Reaper” doesn’t HAVE to be dark. Many films used “Reaper” to elicit nostalgic memories of rolling joints on vinyl gatefolds.
Halloween had already picked up on the stoner connection but no movie embraced this aesthetic more than The Stoned Age. For the uninitiated, be aware, The Stoned Age is THE ultimate Blue Oyster Cult movie.
There was no bigger fan of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” than Joe. With best friend Hubbs by his side, the two buds set out on a noble quest to “find chicks.” Armed only with a pinch of “Skank-weed” and bottle of minty-green schnapps, they cruise through L.A. in the ultimate stoner mobile. Cast your eyes on the Blue Torpedo!
Yes, that’s the Blue Oyster Cult logo painted on the hood! As if there was any doubt to Cult allegiance, B.O.C. stickers plaster the window.
Inside the Blue Torpedo, Cultosaurus Erectus is proudly represented. Of primal importance here is the Agents of Fortune 8 Track in the tape deck.
This timeless recording is at the heart of the great “Don’t Fear the Reaper” debate. Hubbs forbids the song from being played in the Blue Torpedo. His objection? It’s a pussy song.
Joe’s defense of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” nearly got him killed. Even worse, Hubbs interprets his victory as validation. “Told you it was a pussy song.” Ouch!
The debate is far from over. Neither are Joe’s troubles. He gets in a fight defending a girl from intruders looking to score. He gets hit in the head with a pounder of OX 45. After smoking cheap pot through a beer car he pukes. Our hero mercifully passes out but awakes to THIS!
Not only has Joe won the affection of a beautiful girl but “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays softly in the background. The discussion turns to whether “Reaper” is indeed a pussy song. To Joe’s surprise, she AGREES with Hubbs, pointing out that “it’s a love song and it doesn’t even have the word poontang in it.”
Later in the film, we learn why “Reaper” has a special place in Joe’s heart. The two friends had recently attended a Blue Oyster Cult concert. During Buck Dharma’s guitar solo, a laser landed on Joe.
Caught in the throes of a cosmic vision, Joe glimpsed into great existential mysteries. Surely illicit substances helped bring on the hallucination. Regardless, the mighty “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was the source of enlightenment.
The movie ends with a beaten and battered Joe behind the wheel of the Blue Torpedo. Agents of Fortune is again inserted in the tape deck to the objections of Hubbs. This time Joe takes control. As the car spins wildly out of control, the alpha male is forced to admit, that NO, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is NOT a pussy song. Who says nice guys finish last?
The legacy of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” as a stoner song continued to perpetuate Hollywood. There is no better example than the epic bong scene in Zombie Land.
A misfit gang of zombie holocaust survivors explores Hollywood. Naturally they are under the impression that all have succumbed to the undead plague. A self-guided tour of Bill Murray’s house takes a surprise turn when they encounter Murray himself. Alive and well, he has survived by blending in. Dressed as a zombie, the situation grows tense.
After a brief scene of hilarity, the confusion subsides. To smooth out any lingering awkwardness, Murray breaks out his stash. Smoke hits bong water to the sounds of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Bill Murray getting high with Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone just may be the ultimate “Reaper” weed scene.
Comedies have incorporated “Don’t Fear the Reaper” without falling back on pot jokes. As much as we’d like to imagine the brain-dead duo of Bill and Ted puffing behind the scenes, they are merely soda-swilling, junk-food eating teenagers with minimal IQs. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” gets an honorable mention in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.
After being killed by evil robots, Bill and Ted meet the Grim Reaper himself. To escape, they give their would-be captor a melvin. Death eventually catches up. Left with no other recourse, they challenge the Reaper for a chance to live again.
A series of boardgames ensues. Each time Bill and Ted emerge most triumphant! Having lost, the Grim Reaper is bound to their service. Bill turns to Ted and gleefully exclaims, “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” before jamming on air guitars.
Perhaps the most famous usage of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is the cowbell sketch in Saturday Night Live. Guest host Christopher Walken assumes the role of producer Bruce Dickinson. As Blue Oyster Cult records “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Walken encourages Will Ferrell to step-up his cowbell performance.
Ferrell obliges to the irritation of bandmates. Walken is determined to get his take. Explaining that “I got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell,” the band yields to the whims of their noted producer. The hilarious performance launched the catchphrase “more cowbell” and remains one of SNL’s most memorable skits.
Thanks to Hollywood, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is now firmly entrenched in popular culture. Blue Oyster Cult’s timeless anthem is now as immortal as the Reaper himself!