Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

In the words of the late, great Zacherley:

"Gather 'round creeps, gather 'round fools,
gather 'round spirits and gather 'round ghouls.

Listen to me, for I have a story,
of blackening fright and all things gory.

Of grinning pumpkins and demon cats
of wicked witches and scurrying rats.

Beistle art
They've all come together to celebrate and feast,
Larry the wolf, and Igor the beast.

For this is the night when little babies cry,
and orange mist pours from their eyes.

Monster girls and monster men,
patiently wait for the fun to begin.

What do they know that you've never seen? 
Well, I'll you my friend...

The glorious hootenanny called HALLOWEEN!"

With so many losses of horror and music icons in recent times, for the last post this year we're going to celebrate the life and legacy of yet another icon who left us for the next realm: Lemmy from MotorheadLemmy bucked the rock 'n roll odds by living fast and hard, but dying old. In his 70 years on earth, his music helped define heavy metal as a genre, his cracked voice (and face) became one of the most recognizable in rock 'n roll, and he made major contributions toward keeping the tobacco and whiskey industries in business. 

To honor him, last November Metallica released a song named after Lemmy's beloved bass amp, "Murder One." The video tells Lemmy's life story in Aeon Flux-style animation. See Lemmy get stranded in Canada by his first band Hawkwind, then have revenge sex with all his former band mates' girlfriends, and finally form the "dirtiest band in the world," just to show 'em. Clearly Lemmy was a master of the long game! Just spending five minutes in an animated version of his neon-lit, whiskey-soaked, chain smoking life feels a bit hard on the health--to make it to 70, Lemmy must've literally been larger than life.

And not to forget the legend himself, here is Motorhead's version of Ozzy's "Hellraiser," used in 1992's Hellraiser III film. In the video, Lemmy plays poker with Pinhead and (of course) outwits him. Silly Pinhead--don't you know your evil is no match for Lemmy's superhuman powers?

But don't get too sad at Lemmy's passing. It's Halloween after all, and besides, Lemmy wouldn't want it that way! When you find yourself feeling down, just take the advice of Lemmy and his good friend Big Mouth Billy Bass:

Monday, October 30, 2017

Long Way Back from Hell

You know that sad feeling when one of your favorite bands has been around for a while and they're still making music, but it's just not what it used to be? It's kind of nice that they're still making an effort, but it also feels like an effort to listen to their new stuff and not just replay the old. That's how I've felt about Glenn Danzig for a long, long time, until...

Back in skull make-up,
where he belongs.
Skeletons! Sure it's a cover album, but who cares? It's so good I think it deserves a fifth spot in the pantheon of great Danzig albums, alongside Danzig #1-4. The songs on it are what Glenn Danzig considers his "skeletons"--songs that fans may or may not have guessed he was influenced by. He takes on The Everly Brothers, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, and (of course) Elvis. Even the cover of the album is a cover--it's an homage to Bowie's Pin Ups

The production on Skeletons isn't top-notch, but on at least a couple songs I think that's what Danzig was going for and it works in his favor. Both of those are themes from 60s biker films: Satan's Sadists and Devil's Angels. I love both, but to me the Devil's Angels theme sounds like a long-lost Misfits song, so that's what we're going to hear today.

Devil's Angels is a Roger Corman-produced film starring John Cassavetes as an outlaw biker in a gang called The Skulls. Originally the theme was a surfy instrumental by Davie Allan and the Arrows. Because of the lo-fi production, the lyrics are mostly unintelligible (except for a pause-for-effect "Motherfucker!"), but so it goes with many early Misfits recordings. Glenn Danzig has said he wanted to record "Devil's Angels" since 1979 and used the same arrangement he would have back then, hence its time traveling sound. 

Last year Glenn Danzig reported he'd finished recording an album of Elvis covers, so if we're lucky, maybe we'll be hearing something from that this time next year. Until then, check out "Devil's Angels" and bask with me in the Danzig-is-good-again glow! 

The original theme from Devil's Angels. No lyrics, but lots of fun, fuzzy surf pop.

Wind-fast! Death-driven! They hunt in packs like rabid dogs! Beware... the Devil's Angels!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Shamrock 'n Roll

I didn't really know the Dropkick Murphys' music when I saw them this summer with the two other bands we heard from this weekend, Rancid and The Bouncing Souls, but I liked them more than I would have guessed. They put on a fun, rowdy show, with a sizable but endearing amount of Pogues worship. 

Other than being a good live band, however, several years ago they recorded a cover of "Halloween" by The Misfits, which makes me trust their taste and also makes them relevant to our purposes here. They get the gritty, steel-edged spirit of the song right, and their Celtic inclinations tie into the ancient Celtic origins of Halloween. It isn't really Halloween without a few dozen listens to "Halloween," so check out this version, but don't forget to balance it out with the original. Happy Samhain, witches! 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Evil's my BFF

Give 'em the boot!
The second time this year that I got to see yesterday's band, The Bouncing Souls, was as part of a punk rock powerhouse tour with Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys. They played to a sold out crowd of churning mosh pits and epic mohawks in a Coney Island amphitheater this summer. Coney Island is one of my favorite places on earth at any time, but on a warm night with the boardwalk lit up, the ocean sparkling under moonlight, and some of the best punk rock to survive the 90s filling the air, it's truly magical.

Rancid's 1994 breakthrough album Let's Go came out when I was in high school, so because of some MTV exposure, they ended up passing through the small college town near where I lived in rural Virginia. They weren't my first concert, but they were my first punk show, so they will always hold a special, metal-spiked place in my heart. They've stayed together all this time, and have consistently released good albums of catchy, crunchy, politically relevant punk songs. 

Today's song comes from their 2014 album ...Honor Is All We Know. "Evil's My Friend" is more about real-world evil than anything supernaturally bad, but has some Halloween-suitable organ fills that wouldn't sound out of place in an Addams Family jam session.
 Skank, Lurch, skank!

If you're gonna scream, scream with me!

Fright Rags art
If you weren't yet convinced that hell froze over in the past year, demontrated by all the natural disasters, politcal shenanigannery, and today's arrival of an alien space rock (?!?), rest assured that the fiery pit is now in fact ice-skatable. How can I be sure? The original Misfits reunited last fall! If that isn't a sure sign of the apocalypse, I don't know what is.

Sadly I wasn't lucky enough to witness either of their reunion shows, which took place in Chicago and Denver. Why not one in New York, Misfits?? You're from Jersey, for crying out loud. Don't you have to come home to get your East Coast punk cards punched every now and then? The original Misfits did recently announce they're going to do another reunion show later this year in Los Angeles, so I'm still hoping hell will get a little colder and bring a New York show down the pipeline.

More conveniently, an East Coast punk band I've loved for years but never had the opportunity to see live played New York TWICE this year! And I got to see them both times! The Bouncing Souls started out in the late 80s in New Jersey, and have been touring and recording together ever since (with just a couple of drummer swap-outs along the way). While they're known for fast and fun good-time songs that can veer toward the poppy, they have the proper amount of respect for their Jersey horror punk elders. In 2011, they recorded a cover of the original Misfits' "Hybrid Moments" on a live EP. Their version is slowed down from the original, and almost has a Roy Orbison vibe. Appropriate, since Orbison was an influence on Glenn Danzig and even recorded one of Glenn's songs a year before he died.

So sit back, flick your Bic, and enjoy this tender ballad about hybrid creatures raping faces and replicating. Who knows, with this alien space rock thing happening, this song might be reality by tomorrow.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

R.I.P. Fats

Yesterday we lost one of the great rock 'n roll pioneers, Fats Domino. He was part of the early evolution of R&B and jazz into rock 'n roll, and always put his upbeat New Orleans stamp on his music. Listening to his songs is like hearing a New Orleans jazz parade go by. The songs seem happy even when they're sad, and their boogie woogie rhythm pulls at you to get up and join the second line, even when you're listening at home by yourself.

In true New Orleans style, residents of Fats' home city have already begun to commemorate his passing with parties and musical performances of his work. Today we're going to do the same with a traditional song that Fats Domino often used as a grand finale in his shows, "When the Saints Go Marching In." In the true spirit of the song, his horn players would sometimes leave the stage to parade through the audience while playing it. 

And lest you think "When the Saints Go Marching In" isn't a Halloween-appropriate song, if you think about the actual meaning of Halloween, I'd say it's more appropriate than almost any other. Halloween originated as a celebration of the dearly departed, also known as the eve of All Saints Day. In addition to getting dressed up, eating candy, and watching horror movies, it's nice to remember the true reason for the season once in a while. Wherever Fats is marching now, he's surely leading the parade with great style and bootie-shaking rhythm. I know I'd like to be in that number one day.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Little Man-eating Mermaids

This year saw the American release of the best (only?) man-eating mermaid rock opera ever made: The Lure, from Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska. It sounds weird because it is, but also gorgeous and fun.

The story is a 1980s retelling/retooling of the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale "The Little Mermaid." Two mermaids join a rock band they encounter one day on a beach. Soon they begin performing as their own act called The Lure in a nightclub. One of the mermaids falls in love with a guy in the band, while the other thirsts for blood like a good mermaid should. She proceeds to quench her thirst via a bar patron, while the other mermaid thirsts to be less fishy and more leggy. I won't give away the ending, other than to say someone turns into sea foam and someone gets to continue swimming around and eating people. Ah, fairy tales. We can always learn something from them, can't we?

Other than imaginative characters and storytelling, The Lure's sets, songs, cinematography, and costumes are a feast for the senses. But you don't have to take my word for it--just a couple of weeks ago, The Lure was released on Blu-Ray by the prestigious Criterion Collection. So if you choose, you can invite these ravishing water nymphs into your very own home! Have a look at one of their performances in the bar and see if you're brave enough to answer their siren call.

Psycho biddy a-go-go!

One of my favorite horror genres got a lot of love this year when Ryan Murphy's new series Feud debuted its first season with the rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Call the genre what you like--psycho biddy, hagsploitation, hag horror, or my favorite, Grande Dame Guignol--it all boils down to the same thing: nutty old ladies played by even nuttier old stars.

Love the print! Do the psycho biddies 
come with or cost extra?
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? kicked off a string of  psychological thrillers that used aging actresses' crumbling glamour as a plot device. It was made in 1962, when Crawford and Davis were in their 50s and at a low point in their careers. Since the two were real-life rivals, the tension between their feuding sister characters is real and palpable. Casting them was basically a gimmick, and the gimmick worked--Baby Jane was a hit that earned Bette Davis an Oscar nomination. It also added fuel to the Crawford/Davis rivalry with the snubbing of Joan Crawford for an Oscar nomination of her own.

Heads will roll!
The two were supposed to pair up again two years later for Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and even filmed a large number of scenes together, but their rivalry had grown so intense and Joan Crawford's behavior so impossible that she was fired and replaced by Olivia de Havilland. But Joan Crawford still had some psycho biddies left in her without Bette, like the axe-murderer she played in 1964's Strait-Jacket and her real self, whom she played her whole life. Biddies don't get much more psycho than Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in the biopic Mommie Dearest. "Tina! Bring me the axe!"

What could possibly be scarier than the real Joan Crawford? The undead one, of course! Here is Blue Oyster Cult's 1981 vision of an apocalyptic future in which Catholic school girls become vampires and Joan Crawford rises from the grave. Look out, Tina! She's got the gardening shears!

Just to make things even and not rile the unquiet spirits of any jealousy-prone, passed-on psycho biddies, here is Bette Davis as the ancient child star Baby Jane. That voice! That face! I think Baby Jane's daddy was wrong--maybe you CAN lose your talent. While she squawks out one of her bygone hits, her sister Blanche simmers with hatred nearby. I bet Bette sneaked a few wire hangers into Crawford's dressing room that day. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

There's not a vampire zanier than...

With so many cult favorite TV shows being brought back to life in the last few years, I keep wondering why the best vegetarian vampire duck cartoon ever made, Count Duckula, hasn't gotten the reboot treatment. The show was spun off from Danger Mouse, which is already on Netflix in both reruns and new rebooted episodes. Why no love for the funniest tomato juice-swilling duck ever to descend from Daffy?

Nanny, has this information penetrated
what we laughingly call your BRAIN???
Count Duckula was a British production from the late 80s-early 90s that in my experience only played around 7am on Saturday mornings. It was always appointment TV for me! So far only the first season of the show has been released on DVD in the U.S., but luckily most of the episodes are available on YouTube. They usually center around Count Duckula's bumbling efforts to get rich and famous, much to the horror of his butler Igor, who is ashamed that Duckula does not follow in his vampire ancestors' footsteps. Along with Igor, Duckula is both accompanied and hindered by an enormous and extremely clumsy hen named Nanny, who is intelligence-challenged to say the least. Count Duckula is relentlessly pursued by the supremely stupid vampire hunter Dr. Von Goosewing, who, like many of my older relatives and acquaintances, just doesn't seem to get the whole vegetarian thing.

I consider Count Duckula to be part of the late 80s-early 90s golden age of cartoons/kids shows that were so smart, funny, and absurd that they became beloved by children and adults alike. For me, it's up there with the rest of its brilliant contemporaries, like Pee-Wee's Playhouse, Ren and Stimpy, and even The Simpsons. Check out an episode or ten when you can, but until then, enjoy the groovy intro and outro theme!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

In the Summerisle wood.

Half-priced wicker,
get it before it's hot!
The last couple posts have featured enough wicker to fill a Pottery Barn, so why not go ahead with a wicker fire sale and include a song from The Wicker Man itself? It is sort of a musical after all, filled with pagan-y British folk songs to emphasize the whole "circle of life by way of ritualistic murder" theme.

Brooke and I on Summerisle,
awaiting the crop-saving sacrifice.
Although the film's songs sound like they've been handed down for hundreds of years, most were composed for the film by Paul Giovanni and performed by a band called Magnet, who formed just to record Wicker Man's score. The instrumental portions of the soundtrack are based on traditional British tunes, however, which adds to the authentic (and authentically creepy) atmosphere of the film. Below is "The Maypole Song," where a few dozen kids sing a rollicking tune about the growth of a tree leading to the birth of a man, and then back to a tree. 

With such happy faces and brightly colored ribbons, surely nothing sinister could be afoot...

Don't keep the Wicker Man waiting...

During the years when Bruce Dickinson took time away from Iron Maiden to pursue a solo career, he recorded a Wicker Man song of his own. Like The Golden Girls, these Iron Men love their wicker! Bruce's "Wicker Man" is from 1997, a few years before Iron Maiden's was recorded, and follows the plot of the movie it's named for more closely than theirs.

If you haven't seen the original 1973 The Wicker Man (NOT the 2006 Nicolas Cage remake, and also NOT THE BEES!!!), fix that ASAP. Christopher Lee considered it his best film, which is saying quite a lot when you look at all of his classic performances. The movie follows a policeman investigating the disappearance of a girl on an isolated Scottish island called Summerisle. I won't give away the many surprises of the film, but it turns out these friendly island folk adhere to a very old religion that involves some very peculiar practices.

Like the movie, Bruce Dickinson's "The Wicker Man" is about an ancient pagan ritual for renewing the earth. With all of the vengeance nature has been wreaking lately, maybe one of those old rituals would do us some good today. All we need is a giant wicker man and a willing, king-like, virgin fool. Clearly from the photo above, Iron Maiden has the giant wicker man thing covered, but where does one find a virgin these days, let alone a willing and king-like one? Maybe one (or a few) of those Duggars will do.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Wicker Maiden

Up until July, somehow I had lived my whole life without seeing Iron Maiden in concert. Now I look back on all those years and realize they were only half-lived. Iron Maiden rules! Their show is heavy and fun and has lots of stuff on fire--everything that metal should be.

Today's song is the first single from 2000's Brave New World, in which longtime Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson rejoined the band after some years away. It is also the title of one of my all-time favorite horror films, The Wicker Man. The song doesn't follow the storyline of the movie, but it does seem especially relevant this year, since it's about modern society's apathetic disinterest in world events until something immensely bad happens that won't be ignored. Maybe if we'd all just wake up and pay attention, we wouldn't need Eddie the Head's giant laser finger to come single us out?

As serious as the subject matter is, "The Wicker Man" is classic, rocking Iron Maiden. Plus the video has lots of stuff on fire! Watch out for that Eddie, though. He'll run you off a cliff and steal your car. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Don't you go all supernatural on me.

Nick Cave blesses the masses at King's Theater.
Photo via @brendarbrand
This May I finally got some religion when I went to the rock 'n roll church that is a Nick Cave concert. He is known for electrifying performances, but I keep reading from fans who have seen him many times over the years that he is currently at the top of his game. Makes me feel a little less deprived that I wasn't able to see him before now!

Nick presided over the crowd at Brooklyn's gorgeous King's Theater (a cathedral in itself) like a demented priest, casting a spell on the audience with his spooky tales of murdered lovers and snowy wastelands. He played several old favorites, as well as new songs from 2016's Skeleton Tree. That album, as well as a documentary about the making of it called One More Time With Feeling, deals with the grief Nick and his family dealt with after the death of his teenage son. If you have the opportunity to see the documentary, I highly recommend it. It doesn't approach the topic of his son's death head-on, but it does show the devastation such a loss can wreak upon someone and how that person channels grief into art. In addition, the black and white cinematography (and of course the music) is stunning. 

Naturally we heard from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on this blog a few years ago , since almost all of their songs are spooky enough for inclusion. Today's video for "Supernaturally" was filmed on an earlier Nick Cave tour from when I saw him, but it gives a good sense of what he's like live: all fire, brimstone, and irresistible altar calls. Let the choir sing!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The King haunts his throne.

Don't be cruel, baby--change the
toilet paper roll when it's empty.
Over the summer, Brooklyn got a rare treat when Knoxville rockabilly band The Royal Hounds tore through town. We heard from them on this blog a few years ago, but since then they've released a smokin' new album called Poker All Night Long (heh heh). The whole thing is worth a listen, but I'm especially excited about the number of spooky tunes on it, including today's song about Elvis haunting a bathroom!

In addition to writing fun songs and being crackerjack musicians, The Royal Hounds put on a manically entertaining live show. In a tiny corner of a Brooklyn bar, the lead singer not only managed to surf his upright bass, but also play guitar while the guitarist played the bass he was surfing. Confused? It sounds less complicated than it is.

Check them out doing "Elvis Is Haunting My Bathroom" on Knoxville's great weekly live broadcast, the WDVX Blue Plate Special. No bass surfing in this performance, but that just gives you more incentive to go see them for yourself when they burn through your town!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

With a face for the reaper to fear!

I've been lucky to see a lot of great bands on tour this year, a few of which were long-time bucket-listers for me. The next few days are going to feature Halloween-worthy songs by some of them. Going backwards in chronological order, first up is a song by the band I saw this weekend: Against Me! (Exclamation point is theirs, but I'll also claim it.)

I have loved Against Me! for several years, but this was the first opportunity I had to see them live. They didn't disappoint! In addition to rocking their own heart-on-sleeve anarchic punk songs, they did covers of Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream" and a Mountain Goats song that is featured below. Most of their songs are more horrifying in a politically outraged/emotionally tortured way rather than in a fun Halloween way, but today's song is a little of both. 

"Stabitha Christie" is from Against Me!'s Record Store Day single released earlier this year. Stabitha seems to be the fickle finger of fate--she has a face for the reaper to fear, and you'll never see her coming. No one is too pretty to be safe from her clutches, so don't even think you'll get a pass. She comes for everyone, eventually!

Check out Against Me! lead singer Laura Jane Grace doing a solo acoustic cover of The Mountain Goats' "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton." Hail Satan!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Nine, ten, never sleep again...

Wes + Freddy 4-ever
After spending so much time in the virtual funeral parlor last week for three horror greats, I realized we had never properly honored the passing of director Wes Craven, who died in 2015.

Wes Craven holds a special place in my heart because Nightmare on Elm Street was one of the first horror films I ever saw, and it scared the bejeebus out of me. I was probably ten or so, and had to sleep with the lights on for an embarrassing amount of time afterwards. But Stockholm Syndrome is real, and after being terrified of horror films for a few years, I learned to love and treasure them. 

In addition to creating the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Wes Craven is responsible for several more entries in the horror canon. (Not to be confused with the horror cannon, although he may have added some bloody knives to that as well.) He directed The Hills Have Eyes, all of the Scream movies, and my favorite, the horror comedy The People Under the Stairs. I love that film for many reasons, but a big one is because it stars Ed and Nadine from Twin Peaks. They are the twisted parental figures of a horde of children they've trapped in the walls of their house for violating the see/hear/speak no evil rule. Totally silent drape runners, kids--OR ELSE!

Of all the Freddy Krueger-inspired songs that have made it to Nightmare soundtracks and/or airwaves over the years, the one I hear most is "Nightmare on My Street" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. It's a fun song, but it was never actually in any of the movies and also uses a Freddy impersonator instead of the real Robert Englund! For me, it's a distant second to my favorite: "Are You Ready For Freddy?" by The Fat Boys. That song was used as the end theme for Nightmare 4, and not only has the real Freddy on the track, but also in the video! 

So let's spend a little time with Wes Craven's most beloved creation, and perhaps let him trouble our dreams tonight. I promise it's okay to go to sleep. Freddy's not real, after all...

Head like a Hole Shatner mask.

In anticipation of the upcoming John Carpenter Anthology album mentioned last week, and in celebration of Friday the 13th falling in October, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails just released an exciting new cover of the Halloween theme! Even NPR wrote about it, and they (or at least the guy who wrote the article) don't even like horror films.

John Carpenter gave the new version his seal of approval, saying it does justice to the original. Other than a couple minutes' build up of white noise, it is fairly faithful to the classic theme. Reznor and Ross won an Oscar for their scoring of The Social Network, and a Grammy for their scoring of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, so they're well-suited for handling Carpenter's beloved and iconic masterpiece. 

As good as their version is, though, I'm still looking forward to Carpenter's own reimagining of the Halloween theme when his new album debuts on Friday. Here's hoping he directs a video for it, as he did for the Christine theme!

(Remember, don't be alarmed at the moments of silence in the beginning. It's just giving Michael some time to creep up on you.)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hang in there, Jason!

I gave her my heart,
she gave me a knife wound.
What does Jason do after a particularly gruesome Friday the 13th? Most likely he has a particularly gruesome Saturday the 14th, Sunday the 15th, Monday the 16th... But maybe once in a while he stops a minute to think about his evil deeds, and maybe even tries to change his ways.

The Menzingers' video for "I Don't Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore" details this scenario, from Jason putting up motivational posters, to doing sit-ups, to joining online dating sites. Does Jason get the girl in the end, without using a machete to do so? Watch to find out!

Friday, October 13, 2017

TGIF the 13th!

You know it's going to be a good day when it's not only Friday the 13th, but Friday the 13th in October! Please permit yourself to be a little extra wicked today.

Elvira squared
It's not Halloween without her majesty Elvira, so today's song comes from her. It's a celebration of the 13 nights of Halloween--much like the 12 days of Christmas, but better because there's one more of them, you get helpful bats instead of messy birds, and the gifts come from Freddy Krueger, not Santa. "13 Nights of Halloween" is the B-side of Elvira's 2014 single "2 Big Pumpkins," the A-side of which we heard on Halloween that year.

Sadly, this is the last year Elvira will be doing her October stage show at Knott's Scary Farm. I'm so bummed I won't be able to make it out to California to see it in person, but thanks to the good folks at Behind The Thrills, we unfortunates can make do with a video recording of it. This year's is a doozy--Elvira reimagines her classic movie, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, as a stage show. (This really brings things full circle, since her dream in the movie is to have a stage show.) She even drives the Macabre Mobile on stage and resurrects her tassel-twirling act as a grand finale! Elvira's still got it, folks. She never lost it. I will definitely be watching it again (and probably again after that) before Halloween.

Meanwhile, on the 13th day of Halloween, Elvira gave to me:

Good hands. Bad taste in cars.

Even though we've lost a lot of horror heroes this year, there are still some with us, including my favorite, John CarpenterI love his films for their thoughtfulness, humor, streamlined storytelling, often radical ideology, and incredible tension. I mean, he turned Rowdy Roddy Piper into an antifascist superhero who is more relevant now than when They Live was made in the 80s. The man is a genius!

Carpenter is a real auteur--he writes, directs, edits, and composes music for his films. His synth scores are part of what make his films so recognizable as his own. For instance, have you ever heard the urgent, pulsing tones of the Halloween theme and not had the specter of Michael Myers pop up in your brain? Or seen an image of Michael Myers and not imagined that theme? The same goes for many of Carpenter's other films.

Lately John Carpenter has been spending a lot more time on his music than on directing. In 2015 and 2016, he released two Lost Themes records, which consist of theme music to imagined films. However, in just a few days (10/20), Carpenter will release a new album of re-recorded themes to his classic films, called Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998. Luckily we don't have to wait any longer for a video from the new album. Recently he released one for the theme to Christine, which, naturally, he also directed. As if John Carpenter back in the driver's seat of that furious Plymouth Fury wasn't exciting enough, look sharp for a cameo by The (Volkswagen) Thing!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Will you wait here till I come back to life?

Just a month before we lost the great Tobe Hooper, we also lost the man that inspired Hooper to make horror movies in the first place, George Romero. Romero's Night of the Living Dead ushered in a whole new way of making horror films, not to mention a whole new type of monster: the shuffling, flesh-hungry zombie. Up until Night of the Living Dead came out in 1968, zombies were usually reanimated henchmen doing the bidding of an evil overlord. Romero's zombies weren't doing anyone's bidding except their own. They wanted to eat your brains just for the love of eating your brains.

George Romero and his creations.
Night of the Living Dead and its sequels also introduced a new level of socio-politial commentary that hadn't previously been present in horror films, or at least not to the degree Romero emphasized it. His films addressed racism, consumerism, and the general dark underbelly of American culture. This is largely because, as he has said, he decided not to make the monsters exotic, but to make them our neighbors instead. Part of what makes his films so horrifying is that we are not just watching the evil deeds of monsters, but the evil deeds of ourselves. 

After hundreds of bad DVD and VHS transfers due to its public domain status, Night of the Living Dead has finally gotten the love it deserves with a new 4K restoration completed by MoMA and The Film Foundation. Luckily, George Romero saw it before his death and gave it his seal of approval. He said it was as close as we can get to a definitive version of the film. The new restoration premieres in NYC this Friday (the 13th!) at Film Forum, and will be playing in other theaters throughout the country as well. Janus has bought the film for distrubution, which means it's very likely that Night of the Living Dead will become part of the Criterion Collection. Not bad for a little black and white horror movie filmed on the cheap in rural Pennsylvania with unknown actors.

Today's song, "George Romero," is a tribute to the man (and a few other horror legends) by the indie pop band Sprites. They put to music what we're all thinking when we watch a George Romero movie--what would I do if I was trapped inside a mall with zombies pounding at the door? I know what I'd do--swipe all the Night of the Living Dead Criterion DVDs (which will exist by the time the zombie apocalypse comes), and throw all the annoying people trapped with me to the munchers outside.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

KOKLA Red River Rock 'n Roll Request

Sadly we can't leave the virtual funeral parlor just yet. The past 12 months have been brutal for losses in the horror community, such as the unexpected death of Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper in August. 

Texas Chainsaw's legacy as one of the greatest horror films ever made can't be overstated. The terror it invokes is too much even for me--I've only seen it twice, the second time being two years ago, and I still feel like it's too soon to watch it again. I still love it, though. Aside from feeling as real and gritty as a documentary, Tobe Hooper himself has said that the heart of the movie is about meat and the killing of sentient beings. He even stopped eating meat during the filming. I'm coming up on 25 years as a vegetarian, so anti-meat is certainly a theme I can respect!

Since a song about the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre already made an appearance here a few years ago, today's song is from the 1986 sequel. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is much heavier on comedy than terror, but still features the buzz-happy Sawyer family doing the gory thing they do best. "No One Lives Forever" by Oingo Boingo is just one of many great songs on a stellar soundtrack that also features bands like The Cramps and Concrete Blonde. The video is made up of scenes from the movie, so let's all salute Tobe Hooper by taking a ride through his horror carnival.

Monday, October 9, 2017

R.I.P., Cool Ghoul

Last year the world lost one of the most fun and beloved voices in horror hosting, John Zacherle, a.k.a. Zacherley, a.k.a. The Cool Ghoul. He lived to the rotten old age of 98, and will always be remembered for helping cement the pattern that countless horror hosts after him would follow: monstrous persona, silly gags during breaks in the film, and occasionally jumping into the film itself to make a joke. Check out Zacherley's New York Times obituary for more about his long and varied career, such as hosting a teen dance party show with guests like The Doors and The Lovin' Spoonful!

We heard Zacherley's first hit, "Dinner With Drac," the first year of this blog, but he recorded many more Halloween classics as well. Today's song is a true Halloween anthem: "Happy Halloween." Zacherley's rich voice rolls off the directions and guest list to the happeningest Halloween happening in all the land. 

Perhaps one day we will meet at the great Halloween party in the sky, but until then, Zacherley will truly be missed. However, I have a hunch his spirit is still among us, haunting the bejesus out of midnight B-movie screenings everywhere. Whenever you spot a zipper in a monster's rubber suit, Zacherley is there. 

Good night, Zacherley, whatever you are!

The Maddest Story Ever Told!

Arrow dvd art.
Just one great horror theme isn't nearly enough for one weekend, so today's song comes from a movie that is about as far away as you can get from Suspiria in style and tone, yet no less entertaining. Spider Baby is not only an excellent film, but lucky for us, it has a demented theme song to match its demented subject matter. And when I say demented, I mean Lon Chaney, Jr. singing about cannibalism demented!

Spider Baby is a criminally under-seen black comedy from 1967, directed by Jack Hill (Coffy, Foxy Brown--he discovered Pam Grier!). It stars such horror luminaries as Lon Chaney, Jr., Sid Haig, and Carol Ohmart (maybe best remembered as Annabelle Loren in House on Haunted Hill). The plot centers around a chauffer (Chaney) who cares for the remaining three children of a formerly wealthy family, whose members have become the victims of a genetic disease that makes them degenerate into deformed, cannibalistic psychos. Fun family!

Now the spider gets to give the bug a big sting.
Sting! Sting! Sting! Sting! Sting!
Imagine if Tennessee Williams had written Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and you might have something close to the funny, yet sad, yet horrifying tone of Spider Baby. Although there are clear nods to its horror movie predecessors (several Psycho homages, and the Wolf Man shout outs due to Lon Chaney's presence make my heart pitter patter), but it's really unlike any other film I've seen. Maybe that's why it was a dud at the box office and is a beloved cult treasure today. Currently 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!

Several artists have paid homage to Spider Baby over the years, such as White Zombie recording a song called "Spiderbaby (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah)" on 1992's La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1. Then, in the early 2000s, Enrique Acosta wrote a musical version of the movie, which contintues to be performed periodically (free download of the musical's soundtrack on its website!). One of the most impressive homages, however, is the cover of the Spider Baby theme that metal super group Fantomas did for their album of (mostly horror) film theme covers, The Director's Cut

Their version doesn't top the original (how could it? Lon Chaney! Singing! About cannibalism!), but it does do it some serious justice. Mike Patton gets the unhinged-in-a-fun-way spirit of the lyrics just right, while the band steers the careening melody toward its dynamite conclusion. Check it out below, as well as the unsurpassed original. And if you haven't seen Spider Baby yet, no excuses! It's currently free in its entirety on YouTube.

Here Lon Chaney, Jr. sets the table for Spider Baby's wacky cannibal feast:

Fantomas offers up delectable seconds:

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Suzy, do you know anything about... witches?

Gorgeous Synapse cover art by Malleus.
Even if this year has managed to suck in almost every way possible, it has excelled in at least one respect: the salvaging of Dario Argento's Italian horror classic Suspiria! Not only is Synapse's painstaking 4K restoration being unleashed on the world at this very moment, but just a few months ago a pristine, uncut 35mm print was found in a defunct Chicago theater. The print is currently touring various art houses throughout the country. Check it out if you can--Suspiria is a movie that needs to be seen a theater to appreciate its full glory. I saw the film print in July and was blown away by how great it looks and sounds. That eye-popping Argento color palette, the Goblin soundtrack, and the (gag) attic full of maggots just doesn't have the same effect on a TV screen.

In addition to two great new ways to see Suspiria as it should be seen, Argento's house band Goblin is on tour, too! I have tickets to see them in November and can't wait. They've been on again/off again since the 70s, but lately they've been mostly on, so catch them if you can! With all the love Suspiria has been getting lately, surely they'll be playing some of their classic material from that soundtrack. Until then, let us satisfy our witchy cravings with Goblin's spooky Suspiria theme.