Friday, October 24, 2014

Scary songs to sing in the dark.

Only one week until Halloween! The suspense is terrible... I hope it lasts.

On this last theme weekend before I retreat into my velvet-lined year-long slumber, we're going to honor songs that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid, and maybe did the same for you. Over the past couple years, I've been revisiting my favorite scary books from childhood, and although there are lots that I loved--the supernatural mysteries of John Bellairs (illustrated by Edward Gorey!), the surreal weirdness of Roald Dahl (especially The Witches), the anti-conformist sci-fi odyssey A Wrinkle in Time--the scariest by far has to be Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

I still remember the exact location of this series of books in my elementary school library and the feeling of dread when I would go near them. That dread couldn't overpower my curiosity, however, and despite my fear, I read and reread all three. It's not the stories in these books that are especially scary, though. They basically retell folklore and legends that have been spun around campfires for decades, or even centuries. What is scary here is the art, and even when viewed as an adult, it is truly horrifying! 

While Alvin Schwartz collected tales from all over the country to fill the books, illustrator Stephen Gammell came up with some of the most terrifying images ever to be printed in children's literature. As a kid, I imagined the ghastly figures in these drawings had been carved out of lard--they have a spongy, waxen quality that makes them look like they would smell really, really bad. Gammell used pure grade nightmare essence as his medium, and because the pictures are so disturbing, the books have often been banned. For the series' 30th anniversary, the publisher went so far as to replace the art with less horrific fare, much to the outcry of longtime Gammell fans.

The originals can still be found in many used book outlets, however, and the video for today's song includes several of Gammell's most well-known works. It's a version of "The Hearse Song," which is featured in 1981's first volume of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The band Harley Poe, which lead singer Joe Whiteford aptly describes as "Voilent Femmes meets a slasher flick," does the song spooky justice. I can just imagine hearing this around a campfire, right before something really, really horrible emerges from the woods...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

At the late night double feature picture show.

After six years of living in Knoxville, the Tennessee Theater's annual showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is finally falling on a weekend when I am not out of town, so today's song is going to celebrate it! I am super-excited to see Rocky Horror this Saturday in such a magnificent movie palace, which will also include a shadow cast performance and a dude in drag playing the organ--sounds dirty, hope it is.

As mentioned in previous years, the influence of this film on me is difficult to quantify--it gave me a world outside the high school and small town I hated, and also jump started my film education. Once I became obsessed with Rocky Horror as a teenager, I began searching out all the old B-films mentioned in its theme song, and fell in lifelong love with horror. I know the movie has done the same for lots of other folks, and some ambitious fans are in the process of documenting the phenomenon in their Rocky Horror Saved My Life film.

Today's song is once again the show's theme, "Science Fiction, Double Feature"--yeah, I know I've used it twice already, but this time is different! This time it's by Joan Jett! I was lucky enough to see Joan play Columbia and the Usherette during the 2000 Broadway revival of the musical, which also featured Lea DeLaria(!) as Dr. Scott and Eddie, and Dick Cavett(!!) as the Criminologist. Needless to say, it was a magical night.

Joan Jett was rocking a shaved head back then and instead of doing the traditional Columbia tap dance, she did a bitchin' guitar solo. Unfortunately, she didn't perform on the cast album, but she did record "Science Fiction, Double Feature" on her 2004 album Naked. Naturally, she rocks it out and makes it her own. And for the complete listening experience, she also includes the song's wistful reprise that plays over the movie's credits. Now you just need to go out and see all the rest that happens in between those two bookends--you can be that's what I'll be doing this Saturday!

2000 was way before the days when everyone had a decent-quality video camera in their pocket, but here is a shaky, blown-out video of "The Time Warp" being performed by the 2000 Broadway cast. Show us how it's done, Dick!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

All our tentacles entwined.

Lady Gort
If your idea of romance is hanging out on an asteroid and watching B-movies with your partner by virtue of his/her/its ever-multiplying antennas (and really, whose isn't), then perhaps you should call in and request today's song as a dedication for your special someone/something. "Doris Daytheearthstoodstill" by the Future Bible Heroes is a tender love song that pretty much sounds like its title--a mix of the wholesome fun of Doris Day and the world-weary wisdom of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Unlike the classic movie, however, this time the humanoids are keeping their distance from the advertisement-glutted Earth. Instead of coming down to warn earthlings of their destructive ways, as Gort unsuccessfully did in the 1951 movie, Doris and her partner are kicking back and enjoying Earth's late night movie offerings (but probably muting the commercials). Guess it's a sad state of affairs when even the aliens have given up on us, but what can you do. Que sera, sera.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Welcome to the Museum of Natural Horrors!

Keep walking, keep walking, keep walking...ah! Here we are. At the Vincent Price/Alice Cooper exhibit. Surprised that "Thriller" wasn't Price's first foray into pop music recitations? I'm afraid you have much to learn, young grasshopper.

Alice Cooper's first solo album, 1975's Welcome to My Nightmare, is a concept album that chronicles a journey through a little boy's nightmares. The title song was profiled here a few years ago, and while its video features adorable Muppet monsters, today's stars that adorable master of the macabre, Vincent Price. The footage comes from a TV show called Alice Cooper: The Nightmare, which was made to accompany the album. Alice Cooper plays Steven, the little boy whose nightmares we are viewing, and Vincent Price is the "Spirit of the Nightmare," little Steven's guide through this underworld of no escape.

"Black Widow" begins with Price's demented diatribe on a world takeover by black widow spiders, and Cooper's song basically reinforces that plan. The scariest thing about the video might be Vincent Price's shirt, though--check out all those silky ruffles! Surely that fashion choice would be deadly on someone less sinister.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Raven hair and red lips, subtle wicked smile...

Go ahead and get excited now because the hardest working ghoul in showbiz (during October, anyway) is at it again for your Halloween viewing pleasure! That's right, your mistress and mine, Elvira, is back in the saddle--er, on the couch--and hosting horror movies for the 13 nights leading up to Halloween. 

Except for Night of the Living Dead, which premieres Halloween night, these are all movies she has never hosted before, like Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, Puppet Master, and Evil Bong. A new one will be streaming on Hulu each day, which seems like the perfect outlet for Elvira. Since there are no standards and practices for streaming content as there are for broadcast TV shows, Elvira can be as bad as she wants to be. And honey, you know she wants to be bad.

To celebrate brand new Elvira shows, today's song is an homage to her and her horror hosting legacy. "Mistress of the Dark" is a theme song written especially for Elvira in 2009 by Texas gothabilly band Ghoultown. They had met when Elvira was signing autographs at the same Texas horror convention where the band was performing. Elvira's manager happened to see the performance and told her Ghoultown would be perfect for composing her new theme. After she checked them out, both she and the band (all Elvira fans, naturally) agreed.

Other than mirroring her punk/goth/B-movie aesthetic, Elvira was excited that Ghoultown's sound wasn't death metal because in her experience, most Halloween music seems to be death metal. Instead, Ghoultown plays a dark brand of western Americana, sort of like undead outlaw country. But all of this really begs the question: why isn't Elvira reading my blog?!? Not that there's anything wrong with death metal, mind you, but there's quite a low quotient of it here. I mean, c'mon, Elvira, give a ghoul some credit.
Gris Grimly DVD art

The video for the song is just as spectacular as the song itself--it was filmed at L.A.'s legendary Magic Castle, directed by acclaimed horror artist Gris Grimly, and features both Elvira and her Macabre Mobile! The plot involves the band invading Elvira's humble dungeon through a magical portal in her TV. In the end, Elvira turns the tables on the lead singer by pulling off her own reverse magic and riding off with him into the sunset.

I wonder if I stare at the computer screen hard enough over the next few days while watching Huluween: 13 Nights of Elvira, the same fate might befall me? If so, please don't mourn or come looking for me. I'll be in a much better place.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A cry of terror, a honeymoon scream!

So many Creature from the Black Lagoon songs, so little time! Unfortunately I already used my all-time fave"Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon" by The Cramps, on a previous year's post, so that one won't be profiled this weekend. Its absence leaves space for another Creature classic, though, and this one is pure 70s magic.

Dave Edmunds' "Creature from the Black Lagoon" appeared on his 1979 album Repeat When Necessary, which came near the end of a stellar streak of albums made with his band Rockpile. Edmunds is a man after my own heart--he was heavily influenced by 50s and 60s rock & roll artists like Elvis, the Everly Brothers, and Phil Spector, but despite being Welsh, he never fell in with the British Invasion sound. Instead, he created multi-layered power pop with a rockabilly tinge. Many of his songs, like "I Hear You Knocking," "Slipping Away," and "Queen of Hearts" (which later became a mega-hit for Juice Newton) are 70s rock classics. 

Even after Dave Edmunds slowed down on recording his own albums, he continued to work behind the scenes with similarly-styled artists. He produced the Stray Cats' first album, the Everly Brothers' comeback, and k.d. lang's major label debut. Edmunds is still out there shake, rattle, and rolling, and just last year released his first new solo recordings in twenty years. Here he is during his classic period, though, singing a 50s-style song about a 50s-style monster looking for some 50s-style love.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Up from the depths of unknown waters...

...comes a creature to confound science and terrorize the world! The Creature from the Black Lagoon will shock you with its stark realism of perfected 3-Dimension! Or so promises its provocative trailer:

Pass Creech popcorn! And Sno-Caps!
Many people don't realize the film was shot in 3-D because by the time of its release in 1954, the fad was already close to running its course, so many theaters projected it in 2-D. Even so, Creature's sequel, 1955's Revenge of the Creature, was also filmed in 3-D in an unsuccessful stab at reviving the format. Renowned horror/sci-fi director Jack Arnold helmed both projects, as well as Universal's first-ever 3-D film, 1953's It Came from Outer Space. Although Arnold's films certainly contain fun, campy elements that align them with other so-bad-they're-good sci-fi/horror films of the era, his are genuinely good and often artful. Along with Creature, his Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and It Came from Outer Space are classics.

To continue our celebration of Creech's birth year, today's creature feature is performed by Switzerland's garage punk kings The Monsters! This one is from The Creature's perspective, 'cuz everyone deserves their say, right? Even if they are an aquatic man-beast from the dawn of time.