Heavy Metal and Horror

Rob Zombie on stage

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Heavy metal and horror movies go together like blood and gore. Both genres revel in shocking and violent imagery. Alice Cooper, who has been doing hard rock for decades, pre-dating metal, always incorporated elements of horror – guillotines, snakes – into his act. Metallica’s lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, a longtime horror fanatic, hosted Kirk’s Crypt at Metallica’s recent Orion festival.  Rob Zombie, through his successful, sanguinary films, has become something of an Ingmar Bergman of the rocksploitation genre; he is an auteur du splatter-cinema, if you will. Zombie is a writer, director and producer of gore – and he knows his audience very well. The self-proclaimed “Hellbilly,” according to The-Numbers, has average grosses of $29 million for films under his directorship. Over the 2007 Labor Day weekend, Zombie’s update of the moribund Halloween franchise drew record crowds – earning $30.6 million – for the Weinstein Company and MGM. Zombie’s fan base was made for horror, and, being a smart businessman, he leveraged his niche market of young men into a nice nest egg.

The term “heavy metal” itself came from counterculture writer William Burroughs’ novel The Soft Machine, published in 1962. Six years later, in 1968, Steppenwolf sang the magic, incendiary lyrics, “I like smoke and lightning/ heavy metal thunder.” The rest was history. Hair bands notwithstanding, the hyper-masculinity of heavy metal – in lyrics and in imagery — lends itself perfectly to the horror genre, where life is reduced to Darwinian survival and we are all just animated meattrying to avoid the occasional ice pick.

If metal and horror go back a long way, it wasn’t really until the Presidency of Ronald Reagan that the genre achieved full-blooded – pun intended — maturity. The obligatory cameo appearances by Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne, with their 80s hair, were a staple of that decade of greed. In the 1980s, the Golden Age of Metal (as well as of horror), it was almost mandatory for a slasher flic to have a heavy metal soundtrack as well as a music video drenched in blood. Excess, in everything, was the 80s. “In the taxonomy of popular music, heavy metal is a major subspecies of hard-rock – the breed with less syncopation, less blues, more showmanship and more brute force,” John Pareles of the New York Times famously described heavy metal in 1988. One could almost say the same thing with minor alterations in language about horror films — a subspecies of the thriller, perhaps, with less attention to narrative and character, more jump cuts, more brute force.

The 80s were, in short, an age of leather, gunpowder and – how could it be otherwise? — extended guitar solos. Punk, thrash and even glam metal scores were all the rage. The legendary Return of the Living Dead, released in 1985 with a solid punk rock score, did $14 million at the box office on a measly $4 million budget. In 1986, the aforementioned Alice Cooper – arguably more “hard rock” than hard core metal – scored much of Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives. One year later, in 1987, hair metal band Dokken, not to be left out, did the memorable theme for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (the only thing, incidentally, memorable about that movie). And in The Gate  (also 1987; also unmemorable), the cursed LP of the band SACRIFIX played backwards opens the gates to the underworld. Under the influence of Republican Presidents some of the best horror films of all time were created.

“Heavy metal and horror have a share a storied history,” writes Lauren Wise in the Phoenix New Sun’s Metal Mondays column. “Both are extreme, the kind of platforms that appeal to the misfits and the adventurous. The dual art forms have indirectly and directly influenced each other drastically over the decades.” Both also have cathartic value, as any young man could tell you. Listening to death metal, to the darker elements of hard rock, acts as a purge to negative emotions. So much the better for our civilization that we have such release valves in place.

Finally, as the staff of Slate stated in an interesting piece titled The Greatest Horror Films of the Aughts, “That the halcyon days of horror are directly proportional to the index of actual human suffering.” One cannot fail to note, in closing, that most of the films mentioned in that post were done under the Presidency of George W. Bush, not unlike the Golden Age of Horror, which occurred under Reagan’s watch. Coincidence? Just saying.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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