Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Welcome to the Halloween edition of Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday! Can't believe the ghouls' night out is finally upon us and perhaps some of you readers will be happy to see me move on from Halloween Hoardefest, but I thank you for indulging me in that regards since Halloween and Christmas are two holidays I put a lot of effort into. No movie writeup today, though we watched Beast From 20,000 Fathoms last night even though I passed out in the middle, waking up to watch the beast tear up Manhattan before getting torched at Coney Island in The Cyclone! If you've ever ridden The Cyclone, you might attest it's one of the fastest wooden rollercoasters in the country, aside from the oldest.
But anyway, moving on... I think I'm not alone (particuarly with my regulars) that horror-themed albums were the soup du jour (or soup dujer as Ralph Furley would say) for the past week, though amazingly I have yet to spin the soundtrack for Halloween II, which is usually mandatory by now, oi! Regardless, I'm excited as hell about the new Lizzy Borden album Appointment With Death. By no means should it have turned out this good, but it's terrific and The Metal Minute will be venturing into Virginia tonight for Lizzy's Halloween bonanza...appropriate, wouldn't ya say?
So give 'em up, people...
1. Lizzy Borden - Appointment With Death
2. Magnet School - Tonight!
3. Misfits - Legacy of Brutality
4. Fastway - Trick Or Treat soundtrack
5. King Diamond - Abigail
While Walk Among Us is perhaps The Misfits' best album and Earth A.D. their most manic, my personal favorite is Legacy of Brutality. What it is about this frequently clunky and disjointed slab of horror punk that was recorded from the early timeframe of 1977 and 1981 is that it's unpretentious. Not exactly innocent, certainly not when you have a song called "Angelfuck" and a song suggesting that Marilyn Monroe was murdered (tossing a possible probing finger at the Kennedys for the song's troubles), well before people put some effort into learning more about her death. Still, given what Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, Doyle and Bobby Steele alone would go on to accomplish in The Misfits and then Samhain and territories beyond, it all started here with Legacy of Brutality.
Yeah, there's the obvious horror business on songs like the oblique and speedy "Halloween" or the Munsters-like mod grooviness of "Theme For a Jackal," which is fun to hear Jerry Only plod the same repeated bass line while Doyle just dicks around searching for shrill guitar sounds with little cohesiveness or actual strumming. Maybe he was toked up while recording and looking for a sonic vibe to match that lucidity from his amp. Had The Misfits not ultimately contributed something of value to underground rock, we could've dismissed them ages ago, even on the sheer butchery of "Static Age," which is screwed up beyond words with mishmashed vocals and hacked fret taps that is just abysmal to listen to as much as it is a glorious delight. This song and the following "T.V. Casualty" were early-on warnings about t.v. vegetation and what kind of pod people we were turning into as cathode junkies.
For all intents and purposes being nothing more than a garage band with an affinity for horror films when the songs on Legacy of Brutality were recorded, there's still a lot of feel to clattery platters such as "Spinal Remains," "Hybrid Moments" and "Some Kinda Hate." "She" and "Where Eagles Dare" would go on to become Misfits catalog classics, particuarly the latter's spit-laced chorus, "I ain't no goddamn sonofabitch...you better think about it, baby..."
"Who Killed Marilyn" only provided the groundwork for future Kennedy bashing on the vulgar "Bullet," in which Glenn Danzig not only accuses John Kennedy's wife of many things, he verbally waggles his member at her and yells "you gotta suck suck suck Jackie suck!"
For diversity sake, The Misfits experimented in traditional desert rock 'n roll (well before Danzig's solo twangs) on "Come Back," where he sounds more like a peyote-laced Jim Morrison than an Arkansas good ol' boy. Legacy of Brutality also concludes with the atypical "American Nightmare," which was admittedly a put-off back in the day when I was listening to The Misfits and wanting to hear the blazing insanity of "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight." With older ears, I actually find "American Nightmare" to be one of the best cuts on Legacy of Brutality with its subtle country measures and huckleberry toe-tappiness. Beyond the aggression, the monster mash lyrics and the ear-piercing shrillness of Doyle's guitars, there really was some depth to The Misfits.
So while many Misfits listeners will likely shuffle Legacy of Brutality towards the back of their playing order, for me personally, nothing personified the spirit of Halloween and what the Misfits were originally about than on this album.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
From Italy, land of Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava and horror films where censors be damned, comes a brutally fast death metal band with a twist of pornography, Funeral Rape. Sick and twisted grind with sex moans is part of the structure of this band, and the hooded facades of these guys can't help but conjure up images of the old sleaze punk band, The Mentors. Still, Funeral Rape plays much faster and if you look at some of their live photos, you'll see a large jaws of death ready to devour them and their fans on sight. That's not a shark chomping down, I assure you. Lord Funeral stopped by The Metal Minute for a quick Take 5...
The Metal Minute: Somewhere between Anal Cunt and The Mentors do I see Funeral Rape lying....death grind meets hooded horndogs. Obviously Mortician plays a heavy hand in your sound, so what kinda of twisted corners of metal have you played in to come up with Funeral Rape?
Lord Funeral: I think that Funeral Rape are heavly influenced by bands like Mortician, CBT, Gut, Bloodduster, The Berzerker, Isacaarum and Brujeria. From the beginning of our music career, we wanted to find an original sound like no other conventional band. So our different influences, mixed togheter, make Funeral Rape’s sound very identifiable, and I think this is our main characteristic.
MM: You guys sample a lot of porn whines, moans and shouts into your brutal thrash. Really, if you could clock yourselves at the amount of minutes you spend watching porn to get the right samples for your music, what would you put it at?
LF: (laughs) Yeah, it was very hard to watch that fucking pile of porn movies, but it was funny at the same time. There are a lot of porn movies, but the correct samples for Funeral Rape’s albums are often hidden in one or two scenes. We used to make “porno sessions days,” where we watched those movies minute for minute. We'd also have a lot of beers, friends and smokes and the “work” became like a party!
MM: (laughs) Well then, how many times have you had sex while listening to death metal and what's the fastest band you've done it to?
LF: A lot of times, bro... Sex and death metal it’s simply the best a man can have! I think that the fastest band I’ve done it to is The Berzerker.
MM: What kind of reputation do you feel Funeral Rape has when playing live?
LF: I think that Funeral Rape has a good live reputation. P eople like our performances and we always try to give the best to our fans. When we have a show, a lot of porn pictures appear onstage and watching us becomes like watching hardcore movies! Sometimes we give some porn DVDs at our shows and I’ve seen that fans appreciate it very much!
MM: (laughs) I imagine they would! "It Fucks" is like a horror/porn/death grind kind of song which gets my twisted mind going in nutty directions. Picture, if you will, a movie banned in every country in which a giant vagina swallows people whole... Now let's have Funeral Rape's finish to this premise.
LF: Trash movies, gore movies, splatter movies, mondo movies are often mixed in our music/lyrics. It’s like watching Violent Shit, Traces of Death and Freak of Cock at the same time! (laughs) This is the Funeral Rape style! I’m a huge fan of any kind of nasty movie, and I think that influenced our music a lot. Concerning the “giant vagina picture,” I’d like to say that when I die, I would like to die in that way, man! In conclusion, I want to thanks, Ray, for this interview, and everyone on the planet interested to the Funeral Rape’s world. Stay tuned, stay porn!
Band website: Funeral Rape website
Band MySpace: Funeral Rape MySpace page
Copyright 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute
Another thing about my wife and horror films, she really digs the turds. The stupider, the better. After all, her favorite film after The Little Mermaid is The Pirate Movie! Don't excited, people; that freakin' hunk of crap from 1982 starring Christie McNichol and Christopher Atkins is the second worst movie ever filmed behind Don't Go Into the Woods, which will forever bear the crown as Supreme Shitbomb in the movieverse. I originally sold my VHS copy of Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, but my wife persuaded me to get it again on DVD. Oi.
Alright, I'm a sucker for the original Sleepaway Camp film, even if it's a lame ripoff of Friday the 13th, and by now everyone's seen this film and the big "shocker" chick with a dick ending. However, I'm more a big fan of Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers, which is just funny, funny, funny. That one was a deliberate campfest (nyuk nyuk) that roasted its subgenre beyond Pamela Springsteen torching one of the toking and fucking Schott sisters in her holier-than-thou killing spree.
Sleepaway Camp 2 has a lot of intentional, well-written humor and the fact that the Boss' sister Pamela is playing a sex-changed murderer was just icing on the cake. She's a total prude, no one likes her, especially with her fundamentalist's credo that she bloats around in people's faces until they piss her off royally, which she makes 'em pay for... But dammit, she's funny, far more than Freddy Kruger! Still, who the hell made her a counselor anyway?
Where Sleepaway Camp 2 succeeded, the subsequent Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland ultimately fails. Keep in mind the third movie was filmed immediately after the second film was in the bag. Obviously the confidence in what was Sleepaway Camp 2 necessitated an immediate sequel to the sequel, particuarly for budget purposes. Shot at the same exact camp and given the premise that it is operating under a new name and new management (ugh), Sleepaway Camp III is nowhere near as fun as the second film, mostly because Angela (who is insanely camp-obsessed) loses her cool too fast and just kills without half of the riotous right wing banter that she "justified" the murders with in the second film. Plus, save for a couple of inspired dispatches such as hoisting a blindfolded racist cheerleader up a flagpole and dropping her to her death, as well as mulching one of the new owner's face with a lawnmower, the Angel of Death is just plain bored (and boring) this time around.
Okay, so she sets off a firecracker in the mouth of one of her obnoxious tormentors, kinda funny, but seriously, Sleepaway Camp III has little going for it, except when Angela has three of the last four campers bound to each other in a game of survival. Still, whatever; Angela inexplicably lets the final two live and tries to nonchalantly walk away from the site before they turn on her and gut her, settling up for a horribly stupid ending. At least the end of the second film was just as hilarious as she snuffs the trash-talking redneck who picks her up, then Angela stops to pick up her prim and proper "soul mate" Molly, who has a look of sheer terror on her face after getting away.
Yeah, Sleepaway Camp III has more bouncing boobies, and yeah, it has Michael J. Pollard (though he really ought to be ashamed of himself for this outing), and yeah, there's some thrash metal opening the film, though it's not as memorable as Anvil's "Straight Between the Eyes" from the second movie. So what, to all of it! What is lacks (amongst many, many things) is the gore that makes the second film just as much wackadoodle fun as Pamela does. Apparently there's plenty more gore to be seen here, but it was trimmed mercilessly to procure an R rating. Well, hellooooo, this film never made it to the theaters, so why bother? The gory footage is supposed to be restored in a Sleepaway Camp box set, though really, it's not worth it as far as I'm concerned. Happy hunting...
As Angela snuffs out a would-be camper in the city and takes her place at the new camp that is conducting a sociological experiment of blending have versus have not kids in the woods, you just have to wonder what the motivation here is, especially in returning to the scene of the crime, which in this film, is "seven years" after the gory events of Sleepaway Camp 2. Okay, so Pamela Springsteen sells it off reasonably well with her new frizzy blonde do, but she learns that the father of one of her past victims, Sean Whitmore, from the second film, is one of the new counselors. Nice touch, sorta, though a little too convenient. Didn't Sean go on about how unstably berserk his father went when Angela was released from the asylum ages ago? Convenient too that Angela gets to take out another Whitmore for the third time in this film, though their showdown in the camp kitchen is pathetic and unrealistic.
Had Sleepaway Camp III not been such an obvious rush job, it might've gotten pulled off better. For continuity purposes, Angela and her co-campers accidentally fish out the hockey mask she used in the second film, and it's been noted that the thick branch she clobbers multiple people with in Sleepaway Camp III is the exact same one from the second film. Did the universe provide in this case? Please...
This one's an annual Halloween event in our household and interestingly we watched it right at the same time as last year, so I'm gonna reprint and touch up this little writeup I did on it back then since nothing has changed....especially that "slush pile!"
Alright, kiddies, we're getting to the nitty gritty with Halloween just around the corner and I'm excited and sad that the month is coming to a close. Not that it means one stops watching horror movies afterwards, not by any means, but I have a slush pile of DVDs to review, so I'm going to have to budget my viewing time.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark... This little film is something of completed business in my marriage and it took a friend of ours named Matt to dig up the title of this classic made-for-TV movie. One of the things that solidified my relationship with my wife was not only her appreciation of horror movies, but her willingness to eat dinner while watching the original Dawn of the Dead. Now that's a woman! On occasion, she will balk if something is just too offensive (like Hostel or even the Saw films), but overall, she's got an iron gut and I love watching horror with her. Better than a long-ago girlfriend who accidentally socked me in the balls when she jumped in the theater during Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
For the longest time my wife (then girlfriend) and I were trolling around trying to come up with this film that she'd remembered from her childhood. Somehow I'd been shielded in 1973 and whatever years it re-ran on television, and there's a pretty good reason, since the little bastards that run amok through Don't Be Afraid of the Dark are nasty and for the time, scary as hell. My wife kept telling me about a film where little creatures dragged the main character away and that's all she could tell me. Back then, we rented all three Subspecies movies hoping that was it, but it wasn't. I tried Critters, Ghoulies, Troll, all of those little beastie movies from the 80s. I tried Puppet Master, Dolls, Trilogy of Terror. Nada. When Matt said he'd finally found the movie, we were excited and upset because it wasn't in print here in the U.S. I had to order this on DVD from Germany on a leap of faith and fortunately it was a good copy, so much that I ended up ordering The Burning from the same company, a great plan because that DVD had the Tom Savini installment of the Paramount documentary Scream Greats as a bonus feature. Sweeeeeeet.
Anyway, I'm dragging on here. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is absolutely one of those genuine popcorn movies, as I noted to my wife while thinking back to the Jiffy Pop stove popcorn during the pre-nuke kernel seventies and what a huge treat it was for popcorn and movie night when I a kid.
One of the big to-dos about Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was that it had William Demarest, best known as Uncle Charlie from My Three Sons in it. The film is basically this: Kim Darby and her rather obnoxious husband (played by Jim Hutton) inherits her grandmother's mansion and through persistent curiosity, she inadvertently unleashes a bunch of trapped beasties that greet you in the film with some unnerving whispering. They've been a part of the house for centuries, and as Darby ignores the warnings from Demarest not to open the sealed fireplace in the study, she keeps our film going with her naivete and ultimately pays the price.
For 1973, this movie might as well be judged by 2000 standards on the edginess bar, at least. Despite the fact that the creatures' mouths don't move, but their chins do, they're creepy little buggers who terrorize the shit out of Darby and the audience, particularly when they succeed in their mission to make her a permanent fixture of the gloomy Victorian mansion. Again, evil triumphs, and in this case, you actually feel for Darby because her career-obsesssed hubby treats her like a whining brat and he has no one to blame but himself by the film's end. Of course, had he been subjected to the constant needling by those obnoxious dwarfs, then he would probably have told his boss to get bent, or at least had their social dinner elsewhere!
There was talk of a remake of this film last year, to which I say piss off, you uninspired wankers! We don't want it!!!
Monday, October 29, 2007
In a joint venture with Heavy Metal Time Machine, Rock of Ages, Hard Rock Hideout, Heavy Metal Addiction and Bring Back Glam, we happily smashed a few pumpkins and carved others with tealight candles to the tune of some of our favorite horror-themed heavy metal songs. With the varying latitudes of heavy metal out there, to contain it to a list of merely ten is difficult for me, considering that the death and black metal genres alone have a billion horror songs for the season. But to have fun with this task that we've all undertaken today at our posts, here's ten groovy ghoulies metal style in no particular order:
1. Iron Maiden - "22 Acacia Avenue"
2. Slayer - "Raining Blood"
3. Helloween - "Halloween"
4. Misfits - "Die Die My Darling"
5. Alice Cooper - "Gail/Roses On Black Lace"
6. Lizzy Borden - "Love You to Pieces"
7. Fastway - "Trick Or Treat"
8. Cannibal Corpse - "Hatchet to the Head"
9. Wendy O Williams/Plasmatics - "You're a Zombie"
10. Gwar - "Slaughterama"
What about you all out there? What are some Halloween heavy metal cuts that get you in the mood for the season? Please go to the "Friends of the Minute" section on your right to visit Heavy Metal Time Machine, Rock of Ages, Hard Rock Hideout, Heavy Metal Addiction and Bring Back Glam
Reported from Hard Rock Hideout: Hard Rock Hideout
On a personal note, I interviewed Ricky a couple years back for my yet-to-be-finished heavy metal book. Ricky generously took time in the middle of chemo treatments to talk to me. Our chats were brief as he was understandably exhausted most of the time, but we generated about 15 total minutes of anecdotes about his drumming and playing in Enuff Z'nuff that he inspired me with his persistence and zeal for life. The world needs more like you, brother...
ENUFF Z’NUFF drummer Ricky Parent passed away yesterday (Saturday, October 27) after a long battle with cancer.
According to antiMUSIC, Ricky Parent was born in Passaic, New Jersey. His spent his childhood in New Jersey and New York before he headed to Los Angeles to follow his rock n’ roll dream. Ricky was just five years old when realized his love for the drums. One day he was in the yard playing football when he heard a marching band playing down the street. Mesmerized by the sound he found himself following it to discover what was creating that beat. Once he found out, he was hooked and like many young aspiring drummers he first turned to the ready made drum set in any household; pots and pans. Seeing the young drummer in the making he was giving his first drum set, a Mickey Mouse toy set which fueled his dream for a short while before he destroyed it. He then graduated to a Del Ray set that was covered in black contact paper but had cymbals and a snare. From there he pursued his passion with a vengeance, learning his craft from a combination of lessons, drum clinics, but primarily learning from records and songs on the radio.
“My main influence is probably John Bonham,” Ricky wrote on his Myspace page. “But I’ve gone through a bunch of phases from jazz Buddy Rich, Tony Williams, etc. progressive rock Terry Bozzio, Simon Phillips to Ringo to Ansley Dunbar, etc pretty much listened with an open mind soaking up what I admired and working it into my own.”
Like many of his generation when the time came to follow his muse in rock n’ roll he headed to Los Angeles. He was quickly established as world-class drummer and got his first high profile gig with WAR & PEACE, a band fronted by Jeff Pilson after he left DOKKEN that also featured Tommy Henricksen (P.O.L.) and Russ Parrish (HALFORD, FIGHT). The band was short-lived and disbanded after grunge revolution made it hard for them to get noticed. When Vince Neil left MÖTLEY CRÜE, Ricky was called on to lay down some drum tracks for Vince’s solo project. Ironically, Neil would soon hire away ENUFF Z’NUFF drummer Vikki Foxx.
At the time Ricky was playing in a jam band with Paul Gilbert and when word went out that ENUFF Z’NUFF were looking for a new drummer, Gilbert and Mike Varney the head of WAR & PEACE’s label Shrapnel Records, recommended Ricky to the band. He soon after relocated to the band’s home base of Chicago becoming an official member in 1992 where he was a mainstay of the group on stage and in the studio until 2004 when he took a leave of absence after being diagnosed with cancer.
Over the years Ricky was involved in other bands and projects including a brief stint with Alice Cooper as well as playing with Sass Jordan and Tod Howarth (FREHLEY’S COMET).
Will the true identity of Jack the Ripper ever be solved? Doubtful. For all we know, history has already accurately revealed it and everyone either missed it altogether or the truth is so unbearable it will forever remain concealed from the world. For all we know, reigning monarch in late 1800's Britain Queen Victoria could've posed as a man and gored the five prostitutes in the hapless Whitechapel region of London. Or not.
Of course, history buffs studying this spectacularly high-profile unsolved mystery, or "Ripperologists," have come up with so many wildly varied suspects that The Elephant Man has been blamed, as has Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland.
From Hell, the 2001 movie directed by the Hughes Brothers, who are best known for the intense ghetto dramas Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, chose to tackle Jack the Ripper because they related to the impoverished lower class Whitechapel area, where a slum is a slum is a slum, no matter what century. The Whitechapel portrayed in the movie, which is based on the graphic novel by Watchmen, Swamp Thing, Batman and Superman writer Alan Moore, is a perilous step into London's venereal underbelly, one where prostitutes working the streets had to fear for their lives not just from their johns, but also the early form of pimps, all abusive riff raff who kicked the snot out of these ladies of the night after ejaculating in their faces.
Far worse their fate in the Whitechapel of 1888 that a gory murderer stalks them. From Hell, starring the can-do-anything Johnny Depp as Inspector Frederick George Abberline and a red-headed Heather Graham as Mary Kelly (loosely based on Maria Kelly, the fifth and final Ripper murder victim) on the front is a viscerally terrifying film. It is also a deep and complex plot that serves up what the Hughes Brothers attest is the prevailing whodunit theory of the day. Some historians generally agree that Jack the Ripper was quite possibly William Withey Gull, a prominent surgeon of the day and fellow of the Royal Society to Queen Victoria.
History suggests (as does From Hell) that the prostitutes murdered in Whitechapel were alleged witnesses to an illegitimate child born to royalty. In other words, the ghastly goring and dismemberment of these prostitutes could highly be an elaborate cover-up between the throne and the underground Freemason society. That's the stance From Hell takes, thrusting us into the secretive Freemason microcosm and suggesting that Gull was a rogue member believing himself to be ordained by the grand creator to kill, and kill in surgically methodic fashion that involves the removal of female genitalia and breasts, and disembowelment so precise the entrails are slung overtop the shoulder to represent the triangular symbol of the Freemasons.
This is where From Hell treads the fine line, between murder by insanity and murder by convenience. Inarguably the real Jack the Ripper had gross anatomical knowledge; there was no random haphazard psychosexual circumstances involved in these killings. The prostitutes were reported to have known each other, if not being outright friends as the film purports, and their deaths, save for one that was merely throat-slit, were systematic and over-the-top. In the case of Maria Kelly, her body was so brutally dismembered even her face was barely recognizable. The murders can be considered ritualistic as the fictitious version of Gull leads us to believe, or it could be the quite fathomable explanation that they were direct hits ordered by Queen Victoria in order to keep the sanctity of the monarchy intact by making the murders so outrageous it would take the focus away from the throne.
The fact is there are very little facts to prove who Jack the Ripper really was. Perhaps the case existed to give insight into the serial killer mind as it was the first of its kind, one where methodical measures fingerpointed the same culprit. Of course, for all we know, there could've been one or two Jacks mimicking each other, targeting working women in the same neighborhood. Was he (or they) thrill seekers, deity appeasers or skillful hitmen for the government?
From Hell has been criticized for the way Johnny Depp's role of Inspector Abberline is portrayed as a psychic who uses an early form of LSD with absinthe to heighten his acute ESP, which has allowed him to solve many cases in east end London. The true Abberline is not said to have any paranormal capacities nor was he accused (historically-speaking, anyway) of being a drug habitue. The other thing is that From Hell Hollywood-izes the charcter of Maria Kelly with Heather Graham playing her as Mary Kelly, the central figure of the prostitute clan who are dispatched by Jack the Ripper. This Kelly survives the ordeal as the film utilizes an outsider French girl to take Kelly's place on the gory bed of death. Whether or not Maria Kelly and Inspector Abberline really had a thing going on in 1888 remains disproven, but it serves as a shaky romance for From Hell that makes the story more convenient, considering the complexity of its topic.
What the Hughes Brothers do right is accurately recreating the old Whitechapel neighborhood in their makeshift town filmed in Prague, meticulously going by archive photos of the day. It has an authentic feel about it, plus it has reknowned character actor Robbie Coltrane, best known to the world these days as Hagrid from the Harry Potter films. From Hell is stylish, brutal and very well acted. Whether you buy into the subtle conspiracy theory or not, at least the film is compelling pseudo history, and that nasty silvery swishing noise when Jack the Ripper or Gull's carriage drops its footstep is unnerving, to be sure.
If nothing else, From Hell has brought forth a thousand new theories about the Ripper case, God help us...
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Admittedly, I was quite perturbed upon learning that a remake to George A. Romero's horror pais d'resistance Dawn of the Dead was coming our way in 2004. In fact, I remember the operative phrase being "How dare this guy?" in regards to then-newcomer director Zack Snyder, whose background at the time consisted of commercials (a few bearing Clio awards) and some Morrissey videos. Fair enough, good resume, but still, how dare he?
Those of you who have seen 300 know that Zack Snyder has what it takes to create a visually-affecting violent film that still bears a conscience, and while 300 and Dawn of the Dead 2004 are his only two films to-date (with an adaptation of the legendary cult comic book miniseries Watchmen coming in 2009 and some other possible zombie mayhem sooner than that), even a pessimistic old sod like myself had to grant the younger director some credit. Blasphemous as Dawn of the Dead 2004 could've been, there's no denying it is its own beast and in its own right, it's a hell of a good film. It's not Romero, but thank God for that. If Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead was verbatim like the shameful waste of resource remakes that The Omen and Psycho were, then Snyder would be an utter cad.
George A. Romero created one of the ultimate visions of aesthetic horror in 1978 in his decade follow-up to the equally classic Night of the Living Dead. While the concept of the zombie goes back to days of Bela Lugosi, Night of the Living Dead was the first film to get brutally honest about the topic, in which flesh-eating corpses mangle and disembowel on sight. Moreover, it innovated the plight of being trapped inside a confinement, forced to deal with enclosure, as well as the psychological interaction of people with diverse backgrounds. Romero's films are always sociological at heart when you get past the guts and the gore, and that's why they're the greats they are. Removed of empathetic and usually flawed characters, you'd have an hour fifteen maybe of gut-munching and dismemberment with no moral fiber to hold it in check whatsoever. If you want that, go watch Cannibal Holocaust. If you want a story where you cringe when one of the lead actors gets bitten and is forced to deal with a sudden looming death sentence, or you watch a character survive on his sheer wits, only to be killed by misadventure at the very end, then you watch Romero's superior zombie films.
Dawn of the Dead 1978 is both primitive and advanced by today's standards of horror execution. Romero's film is indicative of the seventies, straight down to the polyester and shrubby hairdos, as well as a prevailing pastel of the surroundings itself. The mall it is filmed in, the Monroeville Mall outside of Pittsburgh, then had a lot of drab, dreary, plain color to it, much as it was a vibrant monument to capitalism that makes it enticing to our quartet of survivalists, comprised of two SWAT officers who only meet for the first time in the film's explosive opening, and a couple who work for a news station. Working class meets middle class and all are dependent upon each other to survive the slow-moving death eaters surrounding them.
With the aid of effects lord Tom Savini (also playing roles in not only Romero's film, but Snyder's as well), Romero's Dawn of the Dead sets an unprecedented level of guttural and atmospheric gore filled with meaty head shots, savage decapitations, head drilling and outrageously nauseous intestinal ripping. Still, the main reason that Romero's Dawn of the Dead remains relevant past its cutting edge effects is the fact that we have one hell of a story on our hands in which good guys are forced to turn into thieves and murderers in order to live. At the core, they're good people with upstanding character under normal circumstances.
With Ken Foree inadvertently assuming the lead of this small clan as Peter Washington, and Scott H. Reiniger as Roger DeMarco providing a stabilizing factor (who ironically becomes destabilized once the zombies intrude his comfort zone), the two are as formidable an army against a numbers-superior adversary as any, even if the initial contact in the form of sluggishly-moving reanimated flesh is hardly a challenge from a distance. With David Emge providing a slightly more white collar Joe College foil as Stephen Andrews and his pregnant girlfriend Francine Parker (Gaylen Ross) who refuses to play "den mother" to the small tribe, the social interaction between the four is so unique that it literally carries the film on their backs, just as the small handful of characters in Night of the Living Dead did. It is when Tom Savini's biker gang crashes the mall that our antiheroes have busted their asses to procure from the zombies where Dawn of the Dead 1978 exploits the inherent evil of society, one in which greed instigates the ghoulish finale of the film where most of the living die horrifically and the zombies ultimately win the day...or dawn, if you will...Romero has their "day" coming in the mid-eighties.
Zack Snyder's approach to Dawn of the Dead admirably only borrows what he needs to tell his own story, which is mostly using a mall (the Thornhill Shopping Centre) to create a microcosm of survival in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Granted, he uses a considerably larger cast inside the mall, but this allows him to explore different possibilities. After a hugely inspired opening sequence in which our lead heroine Ana Clark (Sarah Polley) goes about her daily routine as a nurse, she and her husband are oblivious to the sudden zombie outbreak, so that when it does come crashing at their door when a local girl intrudes and gnaws the husband's jugular vein, Ana is suddenly thrust into the hellish reality outside her front door in which the neighborhood has gone nuts and her zombified husband is intent on ripping her apart. It is here where Zack Snyder shows us that his zombies are more reminiscent of the hightailing runners of Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead, though gratefully, they don't speak actual words.
If you're normally accustomed to traditionally sloth-paced zombies, Snyder's sprinting pusbuckets is kind of a pisser at first, but upon repeat viewings, you have to grant that a zombie that keeps chase with you is actually more frightening. The tension level is jacked considerably because Snyder's zombies are athletic and speedy and you feel more for the characters hiding up in the mall that them even remotely thinking they can make a run for it on foot is just out of the question. This forced entrapment by not only superior numbers but superior agility is what gives Zack Snyder a hell of a lot of credit to his own rendition.
He also gives a respectful nod to Romero's classic by including quick cameos by Tom Savini as a zombie-hunting cop (not far off from the subdued hick cop on the news in Night of the Living Dead), Scott Reiniger as a soldier giving testimony on the news and Ken Foree himself redelivering his immortal line "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth," this time not as Peter Washington, SWAT buster in a double-breasted suit mourning the loss of a fallen comrade, but instead as a prophecy-bearing minister on the tube.
Dawn of the Dead 2004 explores more so the external conflicts inside the mall instead of the psychological ones. The primary battle is a power struggle between our small group of people including a police sergeant, Kenneth Hall, a young gangbanger named Andre with his pregnant Russian wife Luda, as well as a t.v. salesman with a bit more street knowledge, Michael, and a trio of control-oriented rent-a-cop security officers. The leader, CJ, is a paranoid chauvenist who grudgingly allows the small band of refugees to stay in the mall, though under lock and key in a furniture store. Nice touch on Snyder's part, creating entrapment within entrapment.
Eventually, the tides turn and CJ becomes the one under lock and key with one of his goons turning to the other side. At this point, all parties are forced to bury their inhibitions and work together, especially once a new party of people crash the mall to hide up with them. The introduction of more characters works and it doesn't, because the idenities of the primary characters have to make room for lesser principals, ones who like to smoke and fuck, even in the middle of a global calamity, ones who confess being gay and ones who slow the tempo down just a hair with their trivial backgrounds.
On the other hand, Snyder's greatest touch in his Dawn of the Dead is the introduction of an outside survivor, Andy. Whereas the original film has a gun store within the mall, this film puts the gun store outside the mall, across the parking lot that's filled to capacity with zombies. Andy and Kenneth enjoy communication through dryboards and binoculars, which gives Snyder's Dawn a touch of necessary humanity. Even more so is Snyder's gallows humor that has the mall inhabitants calling targets for Andy to pluck off from his side, ones who resemble Burt Reynolds, Jay Leno and Roseanne Barr.
Snyder further demonstrates his crazy style of humor by injecting a lounge rendition of Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness" during zombie marches, which is absolutely hilarious, though he does make sure the real version appears in the final credits as well to appease young metalheads.
Snyder's Dawn is less gory than Romero's but that's because he went for the R rating as opposed to no rating on Romero's film. Old time gorehounds will still be satiated though, because Snyder has plenty of grossouts to keep everyone happy, inlcuding some chainsaw shenanigans during the breakout sequence that are rather splattery, and a nasty splintered mallet stick through the jaw and brains of zombified janitor.
So let's have a quick roundup of dueling points to these films:
1. Romero's Dawn has a far better story, particularly since he wrote it. His focus on the humanity of not only those who are alive, but also the dead, makes it a far larger-scale tragedy. Consider the scene where Gaylen Ross is forced to look face-to-face at a slumping zombie in a baseball uniform whose tragic expression deeply affects Ross. By confining Romero's chief characters to four with a revolving door of random external extras that accentuate how badly the world is going to hell, we see just how deeply it affects our main constituents. Snyder is no less concerned about the humanity of his leads; it's just that he too many in order to really develop them deeper, not without making it a two-and-a-half hour film. Thus, the conflict of four people trying to deal with each other's weaknesses along with their strengths while creating a quasi family inside of a mall is far more compelling drama.
2. The Monroeville Mall, though dated-looking in Romero's film, is far superior to Thornhill in Snyder's film. Monroeville's oddly has its own character, so much it should've had its own credit in the film. There's something about the way it stands out instead of just being a backdrop. The clock tower and skating rink are now gone (trust me, I went on a special trip just to see this mall and was brokenhearted both are gone; the rink is now a food court, for the record, but you can see the wooden slats outlining where the rink stood). Thornhill is just another everyday mall that you find in any modern suburb. Snyder was more focused on the character conflict instead of creating the haunting everyday panorama that Monroeville is. Of course, it helped that the mall itself was still a relatively young innovation in 1978.
3. Snyder's opening is actually slightly better than Romero's, although both are adrenalized and intense, quickly creating the atmosphere of terror that we're about to be subjected to. Romero unravels his eye for detail and black humor in creating the paranoia beginning at the t.v. station in total disarray in the middle of what is already a given. Snyder opts to create a more everyman's familiarity with Ana's routine gone to hell exposition. Both are frightening as hell.
4. Romero has a better feel for dark humor, although Snyder is fully game with the examples previously mentioned. Romero's rednecks shooting zombies for sport and chugging down Iron City beer and cussing in the process is one of the most hilarious sight gags ever in horror.
5. Ken Foree and Ving Rhames probably could wipe out the entire zombie population on their own if combined of their generation-gapped forces.
6. Snyder lassoes in Max Headroom and horror character actor Matt Frewer in for a very affecting scene in which he is sentenced to die because he's been infected. Snyder tweaks the plot twist of Roger in the original film coming back to life as a zombie and being shot to interesting use. Frewer has to say goodbye to his daughter in a tearful farewell before there's no choice but to execute him. Would that Snyder had as much time to develop Frewer as Romero developed Roger's character...we're all terribly affected by Roger being killed because he's been an integral part of the story and to the quartet of zombie fighters that to see his prolonged decomposition makes his ultimate death harder to bear.
7. Snyder's ending in which Mike lets Ana and the two youngest characters go off on the boat while accepting his fate and shooting himself after having been bitten is antithesis to the original's ending, in which Ken Foree nearly gives in to the inevitable and possible suicide, only to give life one more try. However, Snyder playfully toys with the audience during the final credits as we discover that our remaining trio lands on an island that is likewise overrun with zombies. Take your pick on which is better; they're both savvy.
8. Romero's soundtrack featuring Dario Argento and The Goblins remains a heralded classic in the underground. It's been sampled by many musicians including Gorillaz. Snyder's musical choice is only memorable from the gut-busting lounge cover of "Down With the Sickness" though with occasionally loud symphonic scoring and some heavy metal here and there, particularly with Disturbed at the end. The choice is obvious...
9. Snyder really grossed people out by having Andre and Luda's newborn infant come out as a zombie. The preluding moments in which Luda is a ravenous zombie trying to bite the shit out of her husband, coupled by his neurotic decision to stick with her in a mind-snapped paralysis from his loss is heavy-handed and commendable on Snyder's part. The zombie infant is in questionable taste, though no one will ever forget it.
10. Hard to admit it, but Snyder's zombies are far better looking than Romero's, but reality check: you're talking 1978 tools versus 2004. Tom Savini is still the man to beat and his future work only got better as technological advances gave him what he needed to improve even more. But we'll give Snyder the edge for appearance and mobility, because those haul-assing zombies of his are just as scary as Savini's lumbering meatbags, though we don't have time to savor Snyder's undead posse... You be the judge
These are but a few points to chew on (pun intended) between both Dawn of the Dead films. What I'll say in conclusion is that Zack Snyder surprised the shit out of me with his Dawn of the Dead, one that has some flaws, but overall, he is to be congratulated for having his own vision and the wherewithal to explore new territories in a pre-existing universe. Of course, I'll reserve judgment for his reported Army of the Dead and rumored Day of the Dead remake... Who's gonna play "Bub," I wonder?
Single Bullet Theory - On Broken Wings
2007 Crash Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Conspiracy theorists, go find something else to do, because Philadelphia thrashers Single Bullet Theory have nothing to do with the Kennedy assasination. Ex-Pissing Razors guitarist Matt DiFabio has already gone on record as stating that his band name is more in line with how one's life can change in the flash of a second or an existence-altering event.
It is with that in mind that Single Bullet Theory randomly tries to deviate scripts dictated in their style that say thrash for a solid three minutes or growl entirely throughout the album. With former Seven Witches bassist Bill Mez in league, the duo have had to adjust to rotations in the rest of the band, but damn if they don't sound undeterred by such adversity. With even more diversity than Behind Eyes of Hatred, Single Bullet Theory jacks it up and tinkers with the formulas on their latest offering On Broken Wings, and the result is largely satisfying.
Just the vocal possession DiFabio has is a treat to listen to, because his hards are lethal and streetwise, while his cleans sound like they're coming from a completely different person. Have a go with "Throes of Man" or "Live Without Regret" and they'll come off like DiFabio has another vocalist flanking him, the homogenous persona blend is that sharp.
One of the best songs on the album is "The Reason," as it switches from a headstrong speed metal mindedness to an emotional midtempo section layered with DiFabio's soothing cleans and uplifted rock measures. In some ways, this packs more of a wallop than the heavier stanza. Or enjoy the way the brief instrumental "10203" (dedicated by DiFabio to his wife) soothingly sets up the monstrous thrash on "The Killing Floor" that goes for broke trying to set speed records without losing its bonding melody. Of course, that's nothing compared to the double-timed galloping of "Final Breath," which yanks you right out of your beat-up moshing shoes.
What's most appreciable about Single Bullet Theory is that DiFabio is a fearless songwriter who isn't afraid to tap into some classic Zeppelin and NWOBHM to elevate a cut like "That Look In Your Eyes" past its straightforward driving agro jam. Nor is he above dipping back to the Handle With Care era of Nuclear Assault and some more contemporary modes of blazing note strumming and finally some electronic subwoofing to spice up the thrash blitz of "Sea of Inequity." Furthermore, he believes in the conviction of his clean vocals to bridge the experimental bridge section into the abusively fast conclusion of the song.
While On Broken Wings is recorded well and mixed aptly, on just a few occasions, there's something slightly remiss in the production that would've made them sound even bigger than they already do. Maybe its something in the fidelity in those spots, but regardless, DiFabio's couragous altercourse piloting makes On Broken Wings one of the year's most diverse and interesting listens.
Elis - Show Me the Way EP
2007 Napalm Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Last year vocalist Sabine Duenser departed this life, leaving Swiss melodic metal band Elis at a crossroads. Sabine left behind a solid farewell statement in the form of Elis' Griefshire album, one filled with an appropriate mix of melancholy and spiritual uplifting that may be reflective of how the woman lived her life. Griefshire was widely-known as Duenser's "baby," which is why Elis chose to honor her memory by finishing the project.
Apparently there was a bit more to give from those sessions because now comes Show Me the Way, a five song EP that has three tracks featuring Sabine Duenser omitted from Griefshire, plus the newly-written Elis song "Show Me the Way" in two edits featuring new vocalist Sandra Schieret.
The three Duenser songs are really one final savoring of a lost voice and their deletion from the actual Griefshire album is for obvious reasons, though the third song "In Einem Verlassenen Zimmer" is positively gorgeous, an emotionally vivid whisper from Duenser sung entirely in German. The string section accompanying Duenser are perfectly luxurient and ironically enough, "Zimmer" is the most powerful song on this EP in its lucidity.
"Salvation" in theory is a tad corny, while "These Days Are Gone" doesn't quite possess the necessary oomph behind Duenser to push it forward, but the gesture Elis offers by exposing these vulnerable tracks to their fans is out of love for Duenser, which is why you can cut them some slack.
"Show Me the Way" is, for all intents and purposes, Sandra Schieret's formal introduction and Elis fans need not worry; the band found a reasonably familiar voice with which to entreat their new vocalist. Schieret has maybe more bite than her predecessor, but she has most of the same octave ranges and her response to Elis' traditional rock formula for "Show Me the Way" unravels a singer with some edginess to her tempered operatics. It's a pretty exciting salutation for Schieret and if the next batch of songs reveal the same kind of attitude, then expect Elis to be in plenty good hands.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Rare is it that you don't need the actual music to absorb a transfixing conceptual story, but in the case of King Diamond's indisputable metal masterpiece, Abigail, one can simply read the lyrics by themselves, cleverly written so that they appear like mini vignettes, and be utterly creeped out by this powerful horror tale.
For all intents and purposes, King Diamond to this day is still an acquired taste. His spelunking vocal octaves and operatic terror shrills and growls are off-putting to many, and yet this blackened artist nearly broke through the heavy metal mainstream on his reputation with Mercyful Fate, but more so because of his panache for telling cryptic horror yarns on his solo albums. As much as Queensryche finessed the concept album in 1989 with Operation Mindcrime, King Diamond had already created some amazing storytelling of his own in the medium with Fatal Portrait, Them and of course, the immortal Abigail.
To say that King Diamond was in the zone on Abigail is like saying Tom Brady and Randy Moss are in the zone this football season. Some things are just a given. Despite the fact that Kiss' Gene Simmons would soon file suit against King Diamond for the latter's outlandish facial paint that he thought was too reminiscent of Kiss' demon persona (hey, Gene, are you going after the entire Scandinavian region next?), King Diamond soldiered on to become temporarily known as "The Stephen King of Heavy Metal" with his masterful terror tales, none paralleling the mastery executed on Abigail.
If Mia Farrow was shocked to discover she was the mother of Satan's liege, imagine the accelerated dread zone that King Diamond's lead couple Jonathan La Fey and Miriam Natias are subjected to in Abigail. Upon claiming his inheritance, Jonathan and Miriam take their residence in the family mansion, which the locals swear a curse lays upon it. Indeed this is the fact as Jonathan is stirred awake by the spectral form of his ancestor and ushered to the family crypt where the remains of Abigail La Fey are laid out. The infanticide King Diamond depicts from which the seven horsemen of the apocalypse inflict upon the already-dead Abigail in prevention of spreading hell on earth is guttural and appropriately repulsive. Nailed to her coffin with seven silver spikes, the last one through her mouth... Not even Eli Roth can match that level of depravity.
King Diamond's tale of woe continues as Count de La Fey reveals the family skeletons to his descendent, indicating that Abigail was conceived through infidelity, though this infidelity was by none other than the devil. On "The Family Ghost" and "The 7th Day of July, 1777," King Diamond brutally recounts the elder La Fey's tragic murder of his wife and subsequent death of Abigail in stillbirth. All of this serves as warning to Jonathan as the devil is now intent on his own wife Miriam. The possessed spirit of Abigail La Fey has now conceived itself inside of Miriam and let the bloody finale ensue in the final stanza, "Possession," "Abigail" and "Black Horsemen."
When Abigail was recorded, King Diamond still had two of his Mercyful Fate posse in tow, Michael Danner (guitars) and Timi Hansen (bass). However, it is the addition of Andy LaRocque that really makes Abigail shine, particularly with his visceral solos and vibrant tapestries that complement Danner beautifully, especially on "Arrival," "A Mansion in Darkness" and "The 7th Day of July 1777." Many feel LaRocque stole the show on Abigail, which is why he earned himself a longtime post in the King's solo band. Also of note is that future Motorhead drummer Mikkey Dee slams for all he's worth on this album, and deserves a fair bit of credit as to why the album is so powerful musically. King Diamond himself delivers his most fluent performance in either Mercyful Fate's or his solo career. The broad dynamics of his vocals allows him to personify both his male and female leads, and while his jacknifing vocal structures make him sound schizophrenic, in the case of Abigail, they allow him to be the perfect narrator. All you need do is sit quietly and listen as he brings it all to life.
That being said, Abigail is one of the greatest horror tales ever set to music, bar none. There's not a black metal band alive that can touch the funereal essence and oddly Victorian feeling about this album, even set to a sonic, contemporary level. Abigail gets under you skin and stays there, embryo or otherwise...
Halloween Hoardefest: Heyyyy You!!!! Feeling Down? Tear Down the Walls! Fastway's Trick or Treat Soundtrack
Allmusic.com probably sums up Fastway better than anyone I've seen: "One of the most promising '80s supergroups that never was."
On paper, Fastway shouldn't have missed: You had "Fast" Eddie Clarke, maverick mopester from Motorhead, in-out-in-out droog Pete Way from UFO, former Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley and future Flogging Molly rabble rouser Dave King. In some respects, Fastway did have their moments. The self-titled Fastway album was pretty solid as was the following disc, probably their best, All Fired Up. Casual heavy metal fans to old leaguers still like to air guitar to "Say What You Will," but given the fact that Pete Way abandoned ship only a few weeks after Fastway was released and the rest of the crew would vanish after All Fired Up, it pretty much states what we all know about Fastway: coulda been, never did, tanked like an out-of-step Yugo.
By the time Fastway hit 1986, they'd come to an obvious crossroads, and with their third bassist (Paul Reid replacing Charlie McKracken) along with drummer Alan Connor and keyboardist/occasional 2nd guitarist Shane Carroll, the response to Fastway's omnipresent adversity was the limp-noodled synth dreck that was Waiting For the Roar. Affectionately known to many as Waiting for the Snore, the ill-advised album was a prime example of a band having fully lost its momentum. They could've crumpled completely, but opportunity shined upon Clarke and Fastway the same fall when a silly cult horror flick that tributized heavy metal descended upon theaters.
Trick or Treat was a box office dud because let's face the facts; the horror genre is a fringe subculture already, one that does enjoy the ranks of many walks of life from hardcore headbangers to jocks and businesspeople. In the eighties, anything with Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorhees was an instant success, just as Jigsaw is today in the ongoing Saw series (that is already at work on the fifth film just as the fourth one released last night). Trick or Treat caters specifically to metalheads and only metalheads relate to it. As the central focus is revenge by the persecuted upon his nouveau riche prefab tormentors, you've already alienated half of your demographic, while the other half, even in the glorious heyday of the moneymaking eighties, was still considered fringe.
Add to the fact that once the film gets its villain Sammi Curr churning through his devilish dealings, the flick becomes a bit of a turd, albeit one with absolute charm because of its stupidity.
The choice of Fastway to soundtrack the film was a bit of a shock. I mean, Fastway? Megadeth, Anthrax, Metallica and Slayer were on the ups by the time Trick or Treat came around, and obviously CBS Records (who probably invested all they wanted to with A-lister Ozzy Osbourne in his brief televangelist cameo in the movie) was not going to bank its film track on the likes of Possessed, Impaler, Exciter or even Lizzy Borden, even if all were represented visually in one way or another in Trick or Treat. That's how the film pulls off its authenticity, by acknowledging the roots that inspired it. Still, when you think about a horror film focused around heavy metal, one that steps on the "no posers, no wimps" platform in decidedly poserish fashion, you have to ask: Fastway?
The Trick or Treat soundtrack is credited as a 1987 release, but really, you didn't have to wait too long after the film disappeared (right quickly, I assure you) to get it. Those in the know who gave a rat's ass had the soundtrack fairly soon and I was definitely one of them. For whatever reason, the film stuck on me after seeing it on opening night in a local mall with maybe 20-25 people total in the theater and I and my friend being the only ones who knew anything about heavy metal. What struck me was that the music Fastway had produced was actually pretty damned catchy. Had I been in charge of the soundtrack, I would've mixed it up with some Mercyful Fate, Whiplash and maybe some Y&T just to dick with people's heads, but that's why I'm writing behind a computer in a middle class house on the east coast instead of some swanky condo in LA.
The only real bitch about the Trick or Treat soundtrack is that Fastway had only a limited amount of time to cough up tracks for the film, which time has now shown to have a billion flubs and errors that eagle eyes list out there on the web (and in Metal Maniacs accompanying a recent article I did on this film, cha cha cha). In other words, everything was a rush job, even if Marc Price was brilliant in transition from the nerdy Skippy of Family Ties to detached youth gone wild Eddie "Ragman" Weibauer. For the limited amount of time Fastway had, the seven cuts they produced are quite snazzy, even if 20 years now reveals a lot of slipups and grooveless measures that were somehow overcome when the soundtrack was initially released. CBS cheated everyone by filling Trick or Treat out with two previously-released Fastway cuts, albeit two of their absolute best, "Heft" from the self-titled album and "If You Could See" from All Fired Up.
This hackeneyed cheap ploy by the label only does Fastway a disservice because the two tracks grossly highlight how lackluster the Trick or Treat songs are in comparison. When sampled by themselves, however, "After Midnight" rocks out with a steady pulse, while "Trick or Treat" stamps with a heavy plod, both coming off like rock anthem gems of their time. Certainly when listening to Waiting for the Roar, these sound like sheer comeuppance.
All of the songs on Trick or Treat (even "Tear Down the Walls" with only one minute of actual rock to the two minutes of its brief existence) are anthemic, so in that respect, Fastway are to be commended for coming up quickly with memorable arena rock songs that gives the album and the film a spirit lift. "Get Tough" is jokey to listen to now, but who of you didn't sing along loudly with it back in the day? Same thing with the melancholic "Stand Up," which sets the film off gloriously as we watch Ragman go through his heckled exigency. Stand and up be counted, brothers and sisters...
Add the upbeat "Hold On To the Night" (which gets played in muffled garble in the film, trying to mimick Sammi Curr's backward recording) and really, Trick or Treat is still to this day a pretty dandy hard rock album that's fun for Halloween as it is any time of the year.
I do offer the disclaimer that a lengthy ostracization from this album will reveal its many flaws and it'll take a second listen before its thrusters reacclimate in your ears. Try not to laugh as Fastway gives a nod to Sammi Curr in their thank you's as well. Still, given the eventual downfall of Fastway after Dave King rolled out with the deadflop On Target and Bad Bad Girls albums (the latter of which is reportedly Girlschool backing Clarke up under pseudonyms), at least Fastway had one last moment of glory, even if only the diehard headbangers were listening back then. Today, both the film and the sountrack enjoy a cult following, so say what you will (heh) about Fastway, at least they left behind a bit of nonsensical fun, even if Dave King, now shorn of his long hair and metal falsettos, tries to hide the fact he was ever associated.
Friday, October 26, 2007
In 1920 this was revolutionary stuff. Hell, for 1940 it was revolutionary, much less 1960. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of those quiet enigmas of cinematic importance, largely due to the pioneering surrealism that prevails on the sets of this silent horror classic. Contorted frames, abstract windows and eerie, monochromatic detailing announce the arrival of industrial Germany with Dali, Klint and Magritte-like expressionism, all to heighten the film's six-act story that dabbles in themes of delusion, insanity and murder.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari gets credit as being one of the very first films to introduce the "flashback," in which the story is mostly told. The core principals in mayhem are Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), a bristly-haired carny huckster with a savage, exploitive facade and his "somnanmbulist" fortune teller, Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a predecessor in appearance to some of Tim Burton's (whom we talked about yesterday) most memorable Goth leads. The insidious freakshow duo are hypothetically tied to a string of murders in the mountain town of Holstenwall.
Dr. Caligari leads you along a thread that makes you focus on him and Cesare as the would-be villains throughout the story, while the chief narrator Francis (Friedrich Feher) recounts a series of events in which Caligari's sleepwalking henchman brings a shivery notoriety unto himself by delivering a prophecy to Francis' friend Alan, one which cites the latter has only until sundown to live. When Alan is killed in the middle of the night, Francis and his lover Jane trail after the gruesome twosome. Caligari instructs his pasty-faced (actually, everyone's pasty-faced in early black and white films in order to make their features stand out on camera) ghoul to kill Jane, yet Cesare is stricken by Jane and promptly kidnaps her with the town on his heels hell-bent to nail him.
By the time Cesare is trapped and falls to his death, Francis has discovered the shocking secret that Dr. Caligari is the head of a local asylum. Upon learning of Cesare's death, however, Caligari has a breakdown of his own and is confined in a straight jacket, now a resident of the looney bin in which he's allegedly terrorized.
So you think.
In a surprise twist, we learn that Francis is having a very elaborate fantasy about death and that his doctor has uncovered the psychosis that possesses Francis, to which he posits a cure, end of film...
Save for an extremely crummy newer score that accompanied the version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari I sat down with, the impressiveness of this plot cannot go understated, nor can the elaborateness of the dank but eccentrically detailed sets. They serve as hints that something is terribly awry, not just on the face, but beneath the surface. Only until you have the punchline of the film delivered to you do you go back and realize that writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, along with director Robert Wiene were well ahead of their years. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is wildly innovative given the primitive materials and techniques they had at their disposal. To be able to produce something of this depth in 1920 is a grand achievement in cinematic history much less horror history. It prompts you to think a bit harder about psychology and how vivid one man's psychopathy can be, so much that it is suggested that Francis has not just a dual personality, but a triplicate, and the instability of the three causes him to commit hedonistic acts.
Janowitz and Mayer fought like hell to get co-producer Erich Pommer to give them the time of day with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari instead throwing them out on their proverbial ears. Being able to reach Pommer with such a decisive pitch and an even more proficient output only increases the legend of this film. Would that the version I had in my mits contained the ambient score from The Nursery instead of the chaotic jazz fusion meets clattery coldwave, but nonetheless, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of the early-on greats of horror that should be viewed and studied by horror enthusiasts along with budding directors with a panache for eye-popping visuals...
You can always tell a Tim Burton movie, even if it's not a Rankin Bass of the Damned film like The Nightmare Before Christmas or 2005's The Corpse Bride. There's something stark, cold, post industrial and still visually aesthetic about a Tim Burton movie. Even though Beetlejuice was filled with vibrant colors as was a large chunk of Edward Scissorhands, one look at the first two Batman films or Sleepy Hollow and you know without a doubt that Tim Burton finds solace in the tenebrous shadows.
In some ways watching a Tim Burton film is like stepping into a yesteryear-flecked miasma created from the 1927 film Metropolis, which has inspired everything from Blade Runner to Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, Burton's love of the macabre and shrewd gallows humor has his mostly slate-gray composites coming straight out of the Max Shreck Nosferatu and other German silent movies as it does a handful of the early Universal monster films. Burton's charm is that he bridges the darkness to the beginning point of the rainbow. There's no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow; in fact, Burton's films won't even take you to the arc of the color barb. It's just that the light holds him in check before he turns into a Crypt Keeper without a sense of humor.
The Corpse Bride is based on an old retelling of an even older Russian Jewish folk tale called "The Finger." The corpse bride in question is actually a demon possessing a woman murdered on her wedding day and buried with only her ring finger sticking out. A man en route to his own wedding jokingly places his bride-to-be's ring on the uprooted finger and dances around like a loon until the corpse of the woman rises from the earth.
If Tim Burton wanted to, he could've gone for a PG-13 regular film and really amped up this legend to something pretty dreadful. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if there's some up-and-comer who realized there's a small fortune waiting to be made in horror remakes who's figuring out the loose ends to even go so far as an R-rated film based on this yarn. Instead, though, Tim Burton opted for a rainbow's edge stop-action bonanza that's on par with his already classic The Nightmare Before Christmas with a film that has equal dashes of black humor and a surprising amount of affecting emotion in The Corpse Bride.
The Corpse Bride was conceieved specifically for the voice talents of Helena Bonham Carter, who also did Wallace & Grommit: The Case of the Were-Rabbit the same year, another stop-action film which beat out The Corpse Bride for Best Animated Feature at the Academys. The choice to use stop-action animation for The Corpse Bride is interesting and in the end was probably far wiser than going for a conventional feature film, considering the outlandish horror effects necessary to pull this stunt off.
The yeoman's guide to the plot has a skittish bachelor named Victor Van Dort (played beautifully by Burton disciple Johnny Depp) betrothed to the curious daughter of a local bourgeoisie now bankrupt, Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson). (Methinks Burton has seen the film Victor/Victoria one too many times) With rotten role models such as her spiteful parents (Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney) who married out of convenience instead of love, Victoria has little to look forward to in her arranged marriage until she meets Victor, who impresses her by playing a nocturne on the piano. A rarity happens in that a pair of forced partners actually fall for each other. It is no coincidence that Victor and Victoria live in a gloomy Victorian era, one where primness and properness dictate they follow the conservative customs of the day, which allows for no affectionate courtship with which to build a solid relationship.
When Victor fumbles through his wedding vows during rehearsal, he is chastised by Pastor Galswells (voiceed hilariously by the enigmatic Christopher Lee), which makes him commit faux pas after faux pas until he is banished from the house until he has learned how to be a courtly statesman.
The elongated twiggy legs of Victor is somewhat reminiscent of Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, just as The Corpse Bride herself has a slight parallel to Sally, although The Corpse Bride, Emily, is both more aggressive and inhibited, as Victor will soon learn. Taking his humiliation to heart with the realization that he has found true love, Victor begins rehearsing his vows in the woods with a steadfast determination to make himself worthy of Victoria that he has no clue when he slides the wedding band onto an uprooted twig that it is no twig at all, but a petrified skeletal finger.
To his horror, a worse-for-wear but nonetheless alluring girl in a wispy wedding gown rises from the earth and declares "I do!" Unwittingly having married the dead, Victor is sent on a hellish odyssey that, without the disciplined lightheartedness of the film, would've tread the wispy line of potential necrophilia, if not outright geek grossout. Instead, the stop-action cartoonishness allows Tim Burton to be over-the-top without being offensive. With skeltons dancing (including the always wonderful Danny Elfman as Bonejangles) and a talking maggot (Enn Reitel) that keeps pushing out of Emily's eye socket and a chamber of horrors that would've cost millions to replicate in real-time, The Corpse Bride becomes a visual gore fest with a comedic hand tilting the sieve instead of, say, Tom Savini's heavy-wristed bucket binge.
Add to the plot a con artist posing as savoir faire aristocrat, Lord Barkis Bittern, who crashes Victor and Victoria's wedding party as if he's a long-distance relative everyone forgot. Bittern is the controlled chaos to the tailspun disorder of The Corpse Bride, and as Victor keeps trying to get away from Emily and consummate his true engagement with Victoria before Bittern has a chance to steal her away from him, Emily steals him back to the land of the dead in a rage, leaving Victoria open for Bittern's plucking. Bittern is as broke as the family he's wormed his way into, which is a delicious subplot and a Bonfire of the Vanities-style of the greedy outfoxing the greedy to disastrous results, and we soon discover after marrying Victoria that Bittern killed Emily after seducing his way into her good graces and ultimately her mother's dowry.
Accepting his fate as husband to the undead but still beautiful Emily, Victor goes through with actual wedding proceedings in the town church to legitimize their bizarre union. Victor has grown fond enough of Emily that he finds her charming enough to die for, as their marriage calls for his own death to legitmize it. The news of this ghastly event sends the town into a panic that dead have come to claim the earth.
Victoria sneaks into the church upon learning that Victor will be voluntarily drinking a poisoned wine that will kill him. It is here where Emily realizes the grievous harm she is about to commit and she relinquishes Victor to his true bride. Though he is powerless to marry Victoria as she is now locked to a vehement Lord Bittern, fate ushers Bittern into the church where Emily recognizes him. She is instrumental in not only restoring Victor to his real love, but she also intervenes in the swordfight between Victor and Bittern. Bittern's smugness is his undoing as he mockingly raises a toast to Emily, nastily saying "always a bridesmaid but never a bride," unknowingly tossing down the poisoned wine. As Emily and her dead clan previously had no power of judgment over Bittern as a living being, the suddenly expired Bittern is in for harsh times as Emily enjoys her final revenge.
Even though Victor and Victoria are now rightly together, one still feels for Emily, that she twice found love and twice lost love, but because she found true love with Victor and opted to set him free, she in turn is rewarded by being granted exodus into the spiritual plane instead of being relegated back to the underworld with unfinished business. Her bodily breakup into fleeting butterflies is poetic and it sends the film off on an upbeat note.
While horror purists my find The Corpse Bride a bit soft for their hardcore tastes, there's no denying the film is loads of fun and filled with tons of sight gags you need to watch a few times to absorb them all. With other notable names such as Tracey Ullman, Michael Gough and Paul Whitehouse lending voice to the film, along with appropriately jazzy ditties by Danny Elfman (I told you I was on an Oingo Boingo crusade this Halloween season) and memorable characters with elongated chins, outstretched, pike legs and Gothic but striking features, The Corpse Bride is hauntingly beautiful but most importantly, it's just fun, simply enough.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Black Cobra - Feather and Stone
2007 At a Loss Recordings
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
One of the more consistent bands in doom, stoner, sludge, however you see fit to classify this drop-tuned subgenre, is San Francisco's Black Cobra. With each release they grow stronger and on their latest album Feather and Stone, they're really in a zone. At this point, there's no reason you shouldn't be giving them your attention if you're a fan of the style.
In some ways, Feather and Stone is a step above their previous album Bestial, if not being an outright extension. This time around, Black Cobra has evolved to include more depth in their spiraling dirge, creating uppity tempos countered with a basic crawl lurking beneath the main rhythms. Call it a sludge two-step if you like, but Black Cobra really rips on songs like "Below the Cusp," "Five Daggers" "Swords For Teeth" and "Red Tide," the latter of which treads closely towards thrash. The mean beat structure of "Red Tide," coupled by the huffing guitars and bass sounds absolutely menacing, particularly when it slows down and accentuates the core riffs that almost echo in their reverb.
"Ascension" is another powerful cut that gets you bobbing slowly while letting its force fuel your insides with coursing energy, and this is the demonstrative excess that Black Cobra now possesses in their grimy arsenal. Their tonal fuzz is monstrous but it has some monolithic groove as well, and really, how can you resist that?
Maybe it rolls off the tongue in a subtly insidious way, considering that the name Angela is normally considered very pretty. Perhaps in the realm of horror, creating lead villainesses named Angela was simply an intentional antithesis to puritanical virginity. Ironic that the notorious hermaphrodite Angela Baker, aka "The Angel of Death" from the Sleepaway Camp movies is not only a virgin but is motivated (particularly beginning with the second film) to kill people she feels lack moral fiber. Just the shrill call of her name in those nutty romps (notably the ones starring Pamela Springsteen) sends shivers down your spine. Ohhhhhhh, I'm a happy camperrrrrr.... Oi.
The Angela in 1987's Night of the Demons is another paradox to the prototype skipping through the tulips with birdsong at the back Angela; this one is a fuck-off-and-die Goth chick, the one everyone in school is afraid of, the one who gets called a skank behind her back. Secretly the guys wanna get with her because there's something mysterious and oddly alluring about this Angela, played by Amelia Kinkade, but if she's going to get asked out, it'll be in some dark alley where the popular kids won't see. On a personal note, I dated a Goth chick once and lived to tell the experience, so every time I watch Night of the Demons I think of her, the one who thought of The Cure's Robert Smith as a father figure, not a sex slave, the one burning candles and incense on top of a stereo and wearing nothing but a barely shrouding black lace veil, the one who could crucify you at the drop of a dime for using the word "God" in her presence. Out of respect for her privacy, I'll omit her name, but I assure you there's a common thread I've spun here if you're paying attention.
Moving on, I'm not sure why Night of the Demons fascinates me as it does. On the face, it's a class-A mutt with horrible acting and really no redemption whatsoever. What it does have is plenty of T&A and blood, a creepy setting and when it's all said and done, Night of the Demons is a silly monster mash with dashes of comedy. Director Kevin S. Tenney plays stereotypes to his delight in Night of the Demons, and amazingly enough it all gets pulled off in entertaining fashion without being terribly offensive, that is, if you can stomach the sight of Linnea Quigley inserting a lipstick tube into her nipple and making it disappear.
Naturally, this is the visual anyone who's seen Night of the Demons will talk about. Originally the scene was scripted to have the metamorphosed Quigley barf acidic bile all over chest, which would corrode her breast enough for her to push the lipstick inside. Tenney reportedly thought this was too derivitive of The Exorcist, or maybe inside his mind he knew that was just too much moxy to avoid losing an R rating, which was a hot topic of horror in the eighties. Why else do you see so many PG-13 horror films today? Everyone was so timid of walking the line of ratability, and Night of the Demons was no exception. It may look like it doesn't pull its punches, which works to Tenney's favor because he goes down as releasing a cheeky gorefest that most younger-middle aged horror fans have historically appreciated. In the case of the aforementioned scene, no one will argue its shock value is plenty enough. Just the sight of Linnea Quigley drawing all over her face and tits with the lipstick is unbalanced enough...
The plot to Night of the Demons is non-existent, but to keep score, Angela and Suzanne (Quigley) decide to hold a party in a local funeral home and mortuary that's been long since abandoned. The locals call it Hull House (obviously wanting to avoid any copyright infringements between other films such as Linda Blair's Hell Night) and while the proposition that some of the school's elite (and not so elite with the ridiculous redneck Stooge) would agree to attend a party hosted by a social outcast is perhaps unbelievable, but then we wouldn't have a horror flick, would we?
Tenney observantly corrals all the breakfast club stereotypes he can into Night of the Demons: the jock, the princess, the hick, the sexpot party girl, the prude, the preppie, the exotic Asian girl, the cannon fodder black guy (who foils tradition by surviving this thing) and of course, the outsider. As the party struggles to find its leg, Angela holds a seance to spice things up, unwittingly releasing a legion of demons that vault inside of her and begins to possess everyone at the party through transference. The lead character Judy (Cathy Podewell) is the curious but self-contained "pure Betty" in Night of the Demons, and after her ogre jock boyfriend Jay (Lance Fenton) ditches her after she won't put out, he leaves her locked in a room to fend for herself. Creepo. At least he'll get what's coming to him.
As does everyone except for Judy and Rodger (Alvin Alexis), who look worse for their wares after thwarting their now-dissipated friends and they hilariously shamble down the street of their neighborhood at the film's end, scorned by the local crank who is introduced earlier in the film when he's pranked by kids on Moving Night. Night of the Demons doesn't seem to want to end here, and Tenney exploits his old fart for a gruesome finale that's befitting of Tales From the Crypt. Along the way we get to watch Angela do a toxic dance to Bauhaus, which again brings some very unique memories back to mind; Tenney may have her Salome's dance appear outrageous, but there's some validity to it as well. Watch your head, guys!
I barely remember Night of the Demons 2 and can't really comment on it, nor can I the third flick, which I forgot existed altogether. Such is the sequelitis curse. Night of the Demons did manage to crawl into theaters to moderate success, but in today's overcrowded movie society, it would've gone straight to video to an uncertain future. As it is, it arrived at the just the right time to make a few modest bucks and to produce enough looney jolts to be memorable. As an afterthought, Linnea Quigley, beloved by horror fans for her incomparable screams (and more so her unyielding nudity) ended up marrying effects man Steve Johnson on the set of Night of the Demons. Happily ever after? Unfortunately not. Hooray for Hollywooooood, that bally hooey Hollllyyyywooooood....
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Greetings, faithful, struggling through a lot of headaches these days, but I'm getting real excited for Halloween, which you probably wouldn't be able to tell here at The Metal Minute, wouldya? Not that I need October as an excuse to watch horror movies and just bask in the fun that is horror, but there's something about October and horror films that just go together like rum and coke.
That being said, I'm psyching myself with Oingo Boingo, which probably makes you laugh at the face, but Danny Elfman and the boys had a lot of horror anthems and lighthearted creepy crawly tunes in their initial post new wave existance, along with a bunch of hard-rocking terror odes, so they take point this week. How about 'chall?
1. Oingo Boingo - Nothing to Fear
2. Oingo Boingo - Best O' Boingo
3. Magnet School - Tonight!
4. Black Cobra - Feather and Stone
5. Wendy O Williams - Maggots: The Record
Halloween Hoardefest: Mutant Insects Rage! Part 2: Wendy O Williams and Plasmatics: Maggots: The Record
I really miss The Metal Priestess Wendy O. What a character and now, looking back at the late Wendy O Williams' career path, it's rather tragic that she chose to end her life, especially prior to witnessing what she, Girlschool, The Runaways, Exene Cervenka, Siouxie Sioux and Doro Pesch helped forge, which doesn't have the impact it does anymore. The sight of lady rockers is now commonplace, whereas back in Wendy O's time, the sight of a brazen, mohawked, gravelly-voiced dominatrix was rather shocking for its time, much less the proposition that the wild and manic Wendy O Williams might fall out of her skimpy metal garb. The titillation factor got guys interested, but also accusations that Wendy was a loose skank gave her an unfortunate stigma that followed her around. On a recent Plasmatics DVD, a story about a cop getting more than a handful of Wendy because of her "reputation" in the middle of an arrest, followed by a hellacious beatdown, is legendary, and young ladies of metal today should thank Wendy for paying everyone's dues for them.
By the time Wendy O Williams dropped out of the metal scene, she'd reportedly been working in veterinarian medicine and was a stout vegetarian. Part of the reason she committed suicide was written in a letter and it addressed the inability of mankind to see past its selfishness. Is that a reason to snuff it? Not really, but one might say that Wendy's attitudes were forged in 1987--if not before she went solo from the Plasmatics--when she released Maggots: The Record.
Most metal and punk fans would find Maggots: The Record to be unimportant, largely due to its campiness and the fact that Wendy O released the album not under her solo moniker, but as a Plasmatics album with none of the original lineup, but with stragglers in the later part of the band's career, as well as Wendy's solo outings. You had Wes Beech and Chris "Junior" Romanelli from the Coup d'Etat album, while Beech and guitarist Michael Ray played on Wendy's Kommander of Kaos solo album. It is here where older metal fans show Maggots disdain, the fact it's not a true Plasmatics album.
Going one step further, diehard Plasmatics fans found Maggots to be too thrash-oriented, which it certainly is, but it is a by-product of the times when crossover was fleshing punk and metal together, and come on, Maggots is heavier than Wendy's W.O.W. and Kommander of Kaos albums, even if the latter are both really cool in their respects.
The importance of Maggots: The Record, which I'm here as ambassador to profess, is that fact that Wendy O Williams daringly disguised a protest piece in the guise of a wildly fun concept album, one complete with a storyline filled with narration, characterization, sound effects and an outrageous plot. Consider it a radio program of the damned, one that even Orson Welles couldn't get away with. As horrifying as War of the Worlds sounded to listeners back in the 1930s, to imagine Wendy O's Maggots being broadcast to a naive listening public...oi vey...
Granted, Maggots is deliberately over-the-top and schlocky, all the way down to the abusive language, the sex and the guttural sound of mutated maggots chomping on human flesh, and even worse, the sound of worm skin being slashed by humans in their death throes. All with menacing metal grooves accelerating the terror before launching into fast-paced thrash songs that laces the story together.
The abbreviated story of Maggots: The Record is this: an unexplainable mutation is causing maggots in a city to double in size in quantum leaps. A white trash family and a sex-starved yuppie are the primary victims focused in the story, all the while the maggot population continues to grow. In quick succession, the maggots overpopulate the city, growing from "knot-wurst size" to behemoth monsters like the sand worms in Dune. The narrator descriptively keeps the pace going until the final end reveals that humanity has fucked up big-time and must pay the price. Nature is pissed and wrecking vengeance, no survivors.
What's terrific about Maggots: The Record is that it can be taken lightly as a tribute to the old '50s mutant monster films if you don't feel like thinking too hard about it. The feel of the narration is so cheeky you can just let it ride and start headbanging to songs like "You're a Zombie," "The Day of the Humans is Gone" and "Propagators." Or you can stop a minute and soak up what Wendy O was trying to tell you. Much as those '50s creature features were subtle warnings about mankind's folly through planet rape, this is the exact message Wendy was trying to bestow upon her listeners. Yeah, the gratuity of her story lightens the load a bit, but she's speaking on a basic level using that methodology to crash her prophecy through.
Now the likelihood that the Earth is going to be overrun my giant maggots is improbable, however, if you take Wendy's message to heart just enough, then the shit is pretty damned scary. Think it through, then spin it again. Chilling, isn't it?
America was on a bit of a guilt trip in 1954 as Japan was rebuilding after swallowing two atom bombs that forever changed the course of modern history. Or so Hollywood back then might've lead you to believe. Prosperity was the name of the game in a post World War II America and the Dean Martin era of popular music was about to receive a swift kick in the ass from Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly and Elvis "The Pelvis" as rockabilly and the blues ushered in the sound of teenage angst and a new vibe that also changed modern history, rock 'n roll.
Meanwhile, as the world made room for the possibilities of nuclear fusion being used for good rather than harm, Hollywood used it was a means to pack in theaters and drive-ins with insanely over-the-top monster invasions. At this point in horror history, there was very little caring about the Universal pack of hellhounds that had entertained audiences through the thirties and forties, so the 1950s were presented with the opportunity to reinvent the genre, which it did in mostly charming, sometimes schlocky, almost always entertaining fashion. Them! was one of the first mutant creature films to make a direct connection to the nuclear age. Others would follow such as Tarantula, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and even Japan would show it had something to say on the matter by luring American actor Raymond Burr to star (almost in an act of penance) in their own atomic beastie flick, one that forever defined the genre, Gojira, better known to us on this side as Godzilla, King of the Monsters.
Them! is actually one of the best of the entire lot not just because it was one of the first of its ilk, and not just because the sight of stories-high, chittering ants is really unnerving the first time you witness it. Them! is actually a well-told story that serves as a blueprint on how to set up suspense before delivering the payoff.
Them! was originally conceived as a 3-D color horror experience, but Warner Brothers executives were reportedly unimpressed with those results and ordered the film to remain in black and white and shot in standard cinematic fashion. What remains of the original test frames of Them! is an eye-popping color title bar that makes you think Ted Turner played a prank on us, but that's how it was originally presented in the theater. A nice little prick on the arm, if you will, if not a jolt in the seat of your pants as The Tingler would literally do later on in the decade as filmmakers began to get wildly gimmicky with horror.
As the movie opens we see a police plane circumventing the New Mexican desert and calling in coordinates to a ground patrol (featuring James Whitmore in the lead as Sgt. Ben Peterson) after spotting a little girl (Sandy Descher, also from The Last Time I Saw Paris and Space Children) wandering alone. Identified only as "The Ellison Girl," the catatonic child is taken into protective custody by the police who can't get her to speak. When radioed by the plane that an abandoned trailer is down the road, they investigate and find the trailer gored out, the only trace of human remains being a bloody shirt. After summoning an ambulance for The Ellison Girl, she stirs out of her shock only at a shrill sound that catches everyone's attention, but is written off by the cops and medic as strange desert sounds.
What a fabulous way to introduce a horror story! Already you're wondering the hell could've done all of that damage and what has The Ellison Girl seen that nobody else has, something so dreadful that she can't even speak of it?
It turns out the trailer belonged to an FBI agent, which brings none other than Marshall Dillon (of Gunsmoke in can you're oblivious to classic western television) himself, James Arness as FBI agent Robert Graham to investigate the incident. Keep in mind that Arness had already taken a brief hiatus from westerns (like Jack Palance as we discussed yesterday) to appear as the lumbering title menace in The Thing From Another World prior to Them! Utilizing large footprints that look like bear tracks minus the cleaved claw indentations at the forefront, a father and daughter team of entomologists (Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon) enter the picture and together postulate the theory that evolved ants are the culprits. And how!
The colony nest of ants are tracked to a location filled with radiation from previous nuclear testing and what everyone finds is more than they bargain for! The towering ants attack and are repulsed by flamethrowers, but not before a pair of queens lift off and settle in a ship offshore. Naturally they gut and gore the boat and its passengers, prompting the military to take action before news of the giant ants leak across America. Them! amusingly presents a few "witnesses" to the metamorphosis who are held under lock and key before they have a chance to spread the news to the country. In some ways, the scenes of their captivitiy is satire of the American government, far more American Dad patriotic than the neo-pats of today, as is the whole conception of rampaging ants. That's what makes Them! such a classic; it's a good, gory (for its time) horror film that has a subtle air of protest beneath it. Also keep your eye out for a quick cameo by Mr. Spock himself, a young Leonard Nimoy as an army sergeant, just like you can spot Clint Eastwood as a young air bomber who snuffs out the creature in Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Humble beginnings, as they say...
Naturally humanity wins in the end, but the final conversation between the principal characters reminds us that in 1954 we're in the dawn of an uncertain nuclear age, one presenting many uncertainties and more possible nature-goes-wild rampages via impregnation from subatomic particle ejaculate. Soon enough, lizards, spiders, frogs, you name it, are going to be running like hell all over mankind, and it was our foolhardiness in trusting nuclear energy that will be our downfall, so the movie concludes.
Obviously we've found ways to harness nuclear energy in more productive ways and the topic is so sensitive that superpowers as former adversaries may have declared a cease-fire (or a cease-arm in this case), but the delicate nature of nuclear power will be something we're forced to contend with in the next decade, if not the subsequent one. Don't say we weren't warned beforehand...