The Horror Connection

By David Maloney

In this monthly section we will discuss classic horror movies that either were very influential in the Metal world, or have a Metal soundtrack themselves. Metal and horror cross into each others territories quite often, be it in lyrical content, artwork, soundtracks or even stage presence.

Hellraiser

In Clive Barker's "Hellraiser", Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia (Clare Higgins) Cotton return to Larry's family home. Their already strained marriage meets a new challenge when Larry's brother, Frank (Sean Chapman), returns... from a hell dimension where he was tortured endlessly by beings known as Cenobites! After discovering that Julia is helping Frank become whole again in order to escape an eternity of extreme sadomasochistic torture, Larry's daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence), accidentally unleashes the Cenobites with the same mysterious puzzle box that Frank used to contact them in the first place.

The fact that Barker directed "Hellraiser" (adapted from his novella, "The Hellbound Heart") is one of the factors that helps the film hold up as well as it does. By all rights, it should feel incredibly dated. The hairstyles and clothing are 80s-level ridiculous and the acting is often overly theatrical, but the film still feels solid in spite of itself almost 30 years on, and Barker pulling the film directly from his own brain is surely responsible for that. The themes of BDSM and the fractured family dynamics present in the film still ring true because they rang true for Barker himself.

When people think "Hellraiser" they think—of course—of Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his Cenobite cohorts. It's always a bit jarring when going back to the original film to realize that the Cenobites are far from the centerpiece of the film. They basically act as demonic police officers here. Frank and Julia are actually the villains, and the Cenobites come into play simply to take Frank back to where he belongs. Each time the Cenobites are on screen though, they are simply riveting. Barker and the rest of the crew behind the film crafted imagery that makes an indelible mark, taking the leather and chains of BDSM to their most extreme conclusion. As Barker probably realized when he wrote the original story, the imagery walks a razor-thin line between kinky and horrifying, and that's another factor that allows the film to hold up as well as it does. The special effects overall are amazing, with Frank's initial reconstitution being especially impressive.

The less horrific moments, such as a rather dorky dinner party and an early scene with a couple of the most awkward movers anyone could ever hope to hire, don't hold up quite so well. The performances of the leads are uneven too. Higgins is gloriously vampy as Julia, but Chapman comes across as simply smarmy rather than threatening. Ashley Lawrence is fine, but her role seems at times like it was written for a film from the 50s, with Kirsty ending up in the hospital at one point for... I don't even know why. It really just seems like she got a "case of the vapors" or something. Andrew Robinson is good as the meek, cuckolded husband, but he's even better once he gets to really amp things up after a mid-film twist. The Cenobites are great, with Bradley making the role his own so much so that most people still cringe at the idea of someone else taking over the role (we'll get to that eventually, so brace yourselves)!

The film is one of the more disturbingly violent films from the period. It always strikes me as ironic that horror fans decry torture porn, but then stand by films that they have nostalgia for, such as "Hellraiser". With it's extreme violence and sadomasochistic imagery, it probably has more right to be called torture porn than any film that actually gets that label, and I mean that in the best way possible.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

The real strength of this film is in the screenplay. I can easily imagine a script conference where the writers sat down and said to themselves “hey look, we’ve got a situation where can do anything we want here. There’s an established precedent that these films occupy a universe where dreams are less an ethereal collection of subconscious thoughts assembled in random order, and more an actual alternate reality where people exist in a psychic capacity, so let’s do what people do in dreams; let's let our imaginations run wild!”

The incorporation of the fantasy elements along with the continuing thread of horror is what elevates this movie to a specific tier above the rest. As mentioned earlier in this review, the established logic of this series is kept intact while the story builds upon the existing characters and situations to expand the horizons and bring some depth to the saga. Indeed, this is the chapter where we are introduced to Amanda Krueger and her tragic past. You have to admire any movie which appreciates its central villain so much that it bothers to provide a textured back story for him.

"A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" is a classic. It follows the example of the original by sidestepping the standard slasher movie clichés and then takes the next leap and actually surpasses its predecessors by deepening the characters, raising the stakes and opening the door to a world where not only is anything possible, but the endless capacity of the human imagination may in fact be your best defense against ultimate evil. Basically, this film is the primary reason why I can still prepare to watch a horror sequel today with the faint hope it will outdo the original; this should be in the collection of every horror fan.

Prince Of Darkness

The script is the perfect blending of old horror tropes, theoretical physics, secret societies, and speculative metaphysics. Carpenter expertly takes all these elements and creates and wholly unique and original script that will grab you from the first frame. I remember seeing this one in the theaters its opening weekend and being scared shitless. I’ve seen this film about nine times since 1987, and every time I see it, I still get creeped out. This film isn’t just about the titular Prince of Darkness, but is about the Prince, who is contained in the cylinder, using his influence to summon back his father. We learn about this from an old, thick, ancient manuscript found in the church. The expert on old religions and ancient, dead languages translates the manuscript and everyone soon realizes that the religions that the world has grown up on were lies and bullshit. The true nature of the world, and the real reason for religion, was to keep this ancient evil contained. It is a fantastic story that exposes a hidden truth that the world just wasn’t ready for—and still isn’t. Throw in a little time travel and an alien threat into the mix, and Carpenter really outdid himself here!

The cast is fantastic, albeit very 1980s. Pleasence [the priest] outdoes himself here and makes his Dr. Loomis character from the "Halloween" films seem reserved and laid back. Victor Wong’s physics professor [Prof. Birack] is excitable and played perfectly by Wong, bringing just the right amount of energy and intelligence to the role. Jameson Parker, who plays Brian, helps Prof. Birack unravel the mystery of the cylinder, and Lisa Blount’s Catherine, who is another brilliant physics student and Brian’s love interest, plays a pivotal role in the uncovering of the mystery and its future. The liquid contained within the cylinder quite literally has a mind of its own and infects one of the researchers, who in turn spreads the “disease.” When things get bad inside the church, the remaining survivors attempt to escape but are held captive inside the church by a psychotic homeless man, played by rocker Alice Cooper—not your typical homeless man!

"Prince of Darkness" has lots of scares and a great atmospheric set, but the success of this film rests solely on the shoulders of Carpenter himself. In the hands of anyone else, "Prince of Darkness" would’ve been a muddled mess. The high concepts Carpenter deals with here are never confusing and make sense within the world he created. I’m no physicist and have no idea if the principles and concepts Carpenter writes about are accurate or not, and I don’t really care! What he gives us is a fun, thought-provoking, metaphysical horror film that is scary, intelligent, atmospheric, and scary! Even knowing exactly what is going to happen didn’t make this film any less scary! "Prince of Darkness" is one helluva great and effective film that will have you scared of mirrors for weeks to come.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

"Friday the 13th: Part 6" is one of the better "Friday..." sequels on the block with a really good script, better actors than the norm, solid 'atmospheric' directing and one hell of a winning sense of humor on its side. The film’s circumstantial yuk-yuks, sight gags (I loved the James Bond opening), horror nods and witty dialogue jacked up the 'fun' level of this entry to “F*CKING FUN”, making the formula feel fresh in the process.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the stock 'slasher characters' were nowhere to be seen in this tent. No jock, no virginal heroine, and not token slut (there is a tramp but she’s not one of the main teens). Instead, we get a likeable hero (Thom Mathews rules!), a tough-as-nails Sheriff, and a sexy, smart final girl who digs sex as much as everybody else—finally! Furthermore, the victims tried to do the right thing in this one: run away! Sure it didn’t make much of a difference. Jason got to them with his own brand of brutal charm anyway, but I mucho appreciated the effort. Add to all that the fact that Jason is now a zombie—which spiced up the game—some gnarly and ambitious set pieces (all about that RV scene), a couple of inspired kills (the body bending bit…ouch!) and some hard pumping Alice Cooper songs, and you get a hands down crowd pleaser.

The movie did stumble a few times though. 1) What kind of rich brats have an intimate soiree, late at night in the middle of the woods, with champagne and all in an area known for its death count? Rent a room, jerks! 2) The gore factor was low compared to previous entries (damn MPAA!). 3) Jason is no longer scary, and no matter how sympathetic the leads were, I was still rooting for him. But I let those minor boo-boos go, finding myself totally swayed by the film’s “come have a blast with us” demeanor. Jason goes legit! Who knew I’d love it! I’m A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN!

Deathgasm

It would’ve been easy for "Deathgasm" to simply serve as a fanboy Metal nerd film and be reduced to a series of winks and nods. There’s 12-sided-die guns, dive bomb riffs during money shots, and a brutally subtle jab at Poison. Skillfully, none of this feels forced. All the Metal and nerdy shit in the film feels natural to the characters and the gleefully ridiculous plot. I guarantee this is the only film you’ll see where a bespectacled dork corrects someone on the plural form of 12-sided-die and you don’t want to roll your eyes.

"Deathgasm" is a wicked low-budget film, but it’s clear every single last cent is on screen. Practical effects are front and center and they look freakin' good. The effects crew didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they obviously had a good time bloodying up time honored traditions like gaping eye sockets and seriously wild blood splatter—and slow-motion double-sided dildo fights, of course.

This is the movie the 'SXSW Midnighters' category was created for; the type of movie people put on when the weekend finally comes and their friends head over, crack open a stupid amount of beers, and cheer and laugh their faces off until the neighbors complain. I could go on about how awesome the cast is and how wicked the photography looks, but it would be pointless in hindsight of the protagonist, Zakk Hurricane, chainsawing the hell out of demons. Just get ready to party.

Rock 'Em Dead

I have seen this movie about fifty times. I love it. It is a ridiculous story about a nerd who tries out for a Poison-type band and fails miserably. He then meets a voodoo priestess and she gives him the wish to a great rock star... for a price: he has to kill to live. Part of his wish is the ability to play guitar amazingly (the amazing guitar shredding is done in close-ups for all us music freaks). He also gets three hot broads to live with him and do anything he wants. Then he meets Traci Lords, falls for her, and eventually fights her boyfriend in a funny ending. What a great movie. There are some hilarious jokes, nudity, Metal guitar playing and just nonsense in general. I loved this movie! I rent it every so often and show it to people for the first time. They always roll their eyes when I tell them the title of the movie but in the end they get a good laugh and actually appreciate it. You will too! Enjoy!

David Maloney