Bela Lugosi’s Dead is a gothic rock song written by the band Bauhaus. The song was the band’s first single, recorded in January and released in August 1979 by Small Wonder Records, and is often considered to be one the first gothic rock record released. The original sleeve art was taken from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and later releases used an image from the D.W. Griffith film The Sorrows of Satan (1926). The authors listed on the single are David Haskins, Kevin Haskins, Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash. The title – obviously – references horror film icon Bela Lugosi (1882–1956).
The song is over nine minutes in length and was apparently recorded “live in the studio” in a single take. David J, the band’s bassist, claims on his website to have written the lyrics. The singing does not start (in the studio version) until several minutes into the track. The dub-influenced guitar sound was achieved by using partial barre chords and leaving the top E and B strings open. The live version – subsequently ‘tidied up’ for vinyl release – recorded at the Old Vic in London in 1982 transcends the single’s cheaply recorded originals and is a truly defining goth recording:
The song was featured in the 1983 Tony Scott vampire film The Hunger, with Bauhaus portraying a band in a nightclub, playing it during the opening credits and introduction. A 7″ promotional record featuring an edited version of the song was released to theaters playing the film. It was also played almost in its entirety during the horror film The Collector during a scene in which the older daughter was attempting to have sex with her boyfriend before they were both viciously murdered.
In 2014, Scottish synth pop group Chvrches re-interperated the song in pop vein for the soundtrack to Vampire Academy.