Metal movies

This was a piece written for a 2007 Metal Hammer special The Devil’s Music. Despite what is written in the piece, I’ve subsequently discovered that LaVey did not in fact play the devil in the Rosemary’s Baby rape scene, it was in factr actor Clay Tanner.

THEY say that the devil has all the best tunes. He also has a lot of the best movies. If metal is the devil’s music then what are the devil’s films? How do we define what constitutes a heavy metal movie?

There’s a scene in The Terminator when Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) being pursued by the relentless cyborg from the future (Arnold Schwarzenegger) takes refuge in a Los Angeles industrial metal club called Tech Noir. It looks like the best club on the planet: chain link fences inside, where heavy looking pseudo-bikers and urban Vikings grope and grapple with mohicaned cyber-sluts all to a pounding 80s hair metal soundtrack. It’s all filmed through a blue tinted filter and the neon seems to leap out of the screen at you. To those who hate metal, it looks like Hell has opened up a theme bar here on Earth. It is an evil place: you can imagine that even if Arnold doesn’t walk in and start blasting at her, there are a lot of other pretty nasty things that could happen to Sarah at the hands of these depraved drug crazed leather clad barbarians.

The Terminator is a heavy metal movie: literally, since the character of the title is made of titanium with a fleshy outer coating. It’s not a film about heavy metal and the soundtrack is fairly typical 80s pop-techno, but the overall look and feel of the movie, the pre-apocalyptic Los Angeles city of night, Arnold in his stolen leathers, the gleaming skeletal creature revealed at the end, is pure metal. Even the plot could have been lifted from a Judas Priest album.

The relationship between metal and the movies – particularly horror and dark sci fi – has always been a two way street, though in the beginning it was really only the bands who took their inspiration from the big screen.

Flashback to Birmingham in the late 60s when a local blues band called Earth had a gig cancelled on them because they were apparently mistaken for a better known pop combo of the same name. They decided that once and for all the had to come up with a better name. As if in answer to their prayers, a film called Black Sabbath was playing at the cinema across the road from where they were rehearsing. They decided there and then to call themselves Black Sabbath because, according to Geezer Butler, “no other fucker in the world would have a name like that.”

Evidence suggests, however, that they never actually saw the film. A shame, though they have also gone on record as having said that they were so scared after seeing The Exorcist that they all slept together in the same room. Black Sabbath, originally entitled I Tre volti della paura [The Three Faces Of Fear], was a 1963 Italian film by horror supremo Mario Bava that was released in a badly cut and dubbed version in 1969 to cash in on the horror boom sparked off by Britain’s Hammer films. Black Sabbath was a compendium of three horror stories, the most disturbing of which was called The Wurdalak, which starred Boris Karloff as a vampire who feeds off the blood of his own family. It was no classic but it was indicative of the way that the horror movie was going in the 60s, becoming darker and more serious. In fact, the parallels between the new school of horror film and the emergent heavy rock scene were striking. It was a much heavier kind of entertainment. By the 70s, both cinema and hard rock had discovered an unholy interest in Satan and all his works.

Rosemarys_baby_posterIn the 50s and early 60s, horror and sci fi movies were almost exclusively done on the cheap and were usually unintentionally hilarious. Screaming women were menaced by men in bad rubber monster suits,crew cut scientists foiled the plots of men from Mars who arrived in flying saucers that looked suspiciously like car hubcaps suspended from thread. But in 1968 Polish director Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby scared the shit out of audiences around the world. The plot involved a conspiracy by modern day Satanists in New York City to bring the son of the devil (played in the film, incidentally, by Church Of Satan founder Anton LaVey) into the world. It was a revolutionary horror film: paranoid, dark, treating its subject matter very seriously. There was a sense that the film was cursed, too, particularly when the Manson family broke into Polanski’s home and slaughtered his pregnant wife Sharon Tate. It was, in the parlance of the time, ‘heavy’. Interest in Satanism boomed. In the late 60s and early 70s there was a spate of Satanic cinematic treats in the wake of Rosemary’s Baby such as Witchfinder General, Blood On Satan’s Claw, The Wicker Man, Race With The Devil, Mephisto Waltz, The Sentinel, The Devil’s Rain, The Devil Rides Out, and, most notably, The Exorcist and The Omen trilogy.

ExorcistThese were not exactly pro-Satanic movies:in the case of The Exorcist and The Omen, they were informed by the worst sort of Christian rabble rousing. The Exorcist involved a case of Satanic possession in modern day Washington DC. The heroes are two Catholic priests, one a Jesuit doubting his faith and the other a veteran exorcist who has no doubts about the reality of the devil despite the fact that the rest of the church regard a personification of Satan as somewhat archaic. William Peter Blatty, the author of the novel and screenplay of The Exorcist, had once considered becoming a Jesuit and entering the priesthood. Despite the shock value that it generated, the film was well received by the Catholic church who had felt themselves to be under attack from the permissive values of the 60s. One priest said that he loved The Exorcist because it would “scare people back to church.”

OmenThe Omen draws its source material from the nuttiest Christian fundamentalist interpretations of ‘the last days’ and the Book Of Revelations. The anti-christ is born to a wealthy diplomat. It’s almost like a continuation of Rosemary’s Baby. It spawned three sequels (though the truly dire The Omen IV went straight to video) and has just been the subject of a dreadful remake.

Yet despite the fact that these were in a sense anti-occult films, their success stemmed from the public’s fascination with the supernatural.

Similarly, despite the fact that Black Sabbath were popularly perceived as devil worshippers, very few of their songs have an actual occult theme and those that do – such as After Forever – are actually pro Christian.

As well as Sabbath, though, there were lots of occult-influenced early metal bands in the 70s: Black Widow, who used to perform a fake human sacrifice onstage, Blue Oyster Cult whose upside down ankh logo suggested that they were also a Satanist sect, and Led Zeppelin, who inspired all sorts of underground rumours regarding their involvement in the Left Hand Path of magick. But while the bands may have been inspired by the movies, or were at least riding the wave of interest that they generated, there was little in the way of a metal influence in the films themselves. The characters were usually straight and suburban, the locations were often very square American small towns and the soundtracks were traditional mock-classical ominous music. Maybe the high school kids in Brian DePalma’s teen-horror classic Carrie or John Carpenter’s gory splatterfest Halloween were into mid 70s proto-metal, but they mostly looked and acted like characters from the 50s.

In the 80s, however, a new wave of horror and sci fi started to take its cues from the look and feel of punk and metal. With the rise of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, thrash and MTV and the video culture, there was a more identifiable metal look as well as a sound. The occult and Satanist influence was more overt: while Sabbath always did their best to deny any involvement in the dark arts, new bands like Venom and Slayer revelled in their notoriety.

Early attempts to put metal bands on the screen, such as 1987’s KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, were pretty poor: it owed more to the high campness of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Phantom Of The Paradise than anything else. Alice Cooper’s big screen acting debut Monster Dog, a spectacularly dire Spanish/Puerto Rican film is one of the most awful films ever made. One neglected gem, however, is The Incubus, a trashy Canadian film that features a cameo appearance from Bruce Dickinson, then lead singer with cult NWOBHM band Samson

A new type of low-budget horror movie was emerging in the 80s: so called video-nasties like Return Of The Living Dead had killer soundtracks that included the likes of TSOL and The Cramps. They also looked like the album covers of some of these new school metal bands come to life. It seemed that film-makers had at last found out who their target audiences were.

Films like the Mad Max trilogy – particularly the second and third films in the trilogy The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome – were set after a nuclear war and it looked as though the only survivors had been at a Motley Crue show when the bomb dropped. Mohicans, leather, studs and biker boots became the favoured look of these post-apocalyptic anti-heroes and villains. In the wake of the aforementioned scene in Terminator, this whole genre of films – Bronx Warriors, Robocop, Escape From New York – began to be dubbed Tech Noir.

By the 90s, this Tech Noir look and feel had crossed over to the more traditional gothic horror film. The Lost Boys, Hellraiser and, especially, The Crow mixed up characters with punk rock haircuts dressed in fetishistic leather gear with fairly traditional horror movie themes of vampires, demons and vengeful spirits. The Crow is one of the first films to explicitly recognise that large numbers of goths, punks and metal fans are also big horror fans. The Crow of the title Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) in his leather and corpse paint looked like he had just come from an audition with Emperor. The movie’s soundtrack covered the goth spectrum from The Cure to Nine Inch Nails. It was the forerunner for a whole sub-genre of goth movies that also includes director Alex Proyas’s next film Dark City as well as such direct descendants as Underworld, Van Helsing and of course The Matrix.

The big fear at the centre of horror films in the 70s seemed to be that the boogeyman would come and mess up the cosiness of America’s white-bread suburbia, the new school of metal horror was set in a goth neverland, part Blade Runner urban sprawl, part supernatural necropolis. They became less about scaring people and closer in spirit to the action adventure genre, albeit involving vampires,werewolves and similar children of the night. Today’s vampire hunter isn’t a doddering old guy with a stake and a small glass of holy water. He’s going to dress in Rob Halford-like leathers, will carry a machine gun that fires wooden bullets and will shoot holy water out of a high pressure hose. 

The Matrix has been the most important recent film in terms of a metal cinema crossover. Again, it is the look and feel and soul of the film that is heavy metal rather than anything specific about the plot or soundtrack. For no apparent reason, the good guys in The Matrix favour black leather and PVC clothes while the bad guys go for straight two piece suits. Keanu Reeves looks vaguely like Trent Reznor, his long duster coat and shades look was reputedly the real inspiration behind the misfits who went on a rampage at Columbine.

It’s a case of trying to figure out who is imitating who because The Matrix so quickly established itself as a cult that the look, the themes and ideas all started to filter back into metal videos, album art and lyrics. 

But for all the crossover that there is, it’s maybe remarkable how little there has been in other areas. Given their overwhelming influence on heavy rock from day one, you might have expected that the soundtracks of Conan The Barbarian and Lord Of The Rings might have had some input. They are both pretty metal-looking films but the soundtracks are pretty anodyne. Imagine how much better it would have been to have had the battle of Minas Tirith set to something by Slayer rather than the pseudo-classical orchestral pomp that they settled for. Of course, that would really have upset the Tolkein purists. There’s never really been a great metal sword and sorcery film, though many of those movies – Excalibur, Dragonslayer, Lord Of The Rings – have been hugely influential. We hope in future to see one of the members of Turisas sitting on the director’s chair to make the long awaited film of The Mighty Thor. We can but dream… 

Metal had always been one step ahead of cinema in terms of how shocking it could be. Films like Se7en may have been pretty grim stuff for mainstream audiences but they could hardly compare to the deluge viscera contained on a single Cannibal Corpse song or album cover. But as film-making special-effects got more sophisticated, it became possible to show almost anything on screen. And as public tastes became hardened – films like The Exorcist that were pretty shocking in the 70s looked tame 30 years on – so film became more extreme.

There were, perhaps very sound commercial reasons for making the crossover between metal and movies a more solid thing. When director David Lynch cast Marilyn Manson in a cameo as a porn star in Lost Highway and included a few of his songs on the soundtrack – against the express wishes of his one time mentor turned embittered rival Trent Reznor who was supposedly responsible for compiling the music in the film – he caught the wave of his ascent. The soundtrack album became an artefact that even people who didn’t go to see the film would want to own. And when Korn’s Jonathan Davis compiled the soundtrack for Queen Of The Damned, he made an album that was infinitely superior to that prize turkey of a film.

It was inevitable that the lines between cinema and music would blur further when rock stars began to write and direct as well as act and compose soundtracks for films. To be charitable, though, these haven’t always been wildly successful.

Despite the fabulous title, House Of 1000 Corpses never really lived up to all that director Rob Zombie seemed to promise. It’s a slick, rather too-knowing homage to classic slasher movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but it was played for laughs and hence singularly failed to cut it as a great horror movie. The follow up The Devil’s Rejects was better,a grindhouse tribute to 70s exploitation cinema, with fewer laughs and more gore.

Glenn Danzig is currently filming Ge Rouge, based upon his voodoo-inspired comic book of the same name. “It’s gonna be a horror movie like you’ve never seen before. There will be a lot of zombies, all kinds of rituals, snake worship, too much to mention,” Danzig told Hammer before the film went into pre—production.

And Marilyn Manson is currently filming Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll, a movie based on the creator of Alice In Wonderland that Manson assures us will “redefine the horror genre”. Manson will also appear in the film as Lewis Carroll alongside teen model Lily Cole as Alice and – reportedly – Angelina Jolie as the Red Queen.

And in the darker realms of the metal and cinema underground, we look forward to Harvest Ritual from cult US death metallers Necrophagia’s frontman Killjoy. It will go straight to DVD and will be the most extreme film that you can imagine, he claims.”There will be things in this film that have never been seen on the screen before,” he says.

We await them all with baited breath. 
 
 

TEN MOST INFLUENTIAL METAL FILMS 

THE WICKER MAN [1973] 

Cult Brit horror about pagan human sacrifices on a remote Scottish island. Inspired Iron Maiden’s song of the same name, and Edward Woodward’s cries as he is led away to be burned is much–sampled by death metallers. 

WITCHFINDER GENERAL [1968] 

Fantastic under-rated British movie set during the English Revolution. Puritan fanatic Matthew Hopkins, played by Vincent Price in one of his best ever roles, hunts for heretics. A very big film for doom metallers like Cathedral and Reverend Bizarre 

THE OMEN [1976] 

How many times have you seen a band come onstage to Jerry Goldsmith’s marvellous soundtrack to this li’l devil? The movie itself isn’t really much cop but without it there’s probably the odd band who wouldn’t know what the number of the beast was. 

THE EXORCIST [1973] 

Several death metal grunters have confessed that they really tried to sing like the voice of the demon Pazzuzzu in The Exorcist. The voice, incidentally, belonged to veteran actress Mercedes McCambridge whose fag consumption gave her the sort of growl that would have got her a gig with Deicide. 

ROSEMARY’S BABY [1968] 

Unfortunately you never get to see the baby, though the scene when she looks in horror in the cradle and somebody says: “He has his father’s eyes,” is priceless. Anton LaVey loved this film as it portrayed Satanists as smart, strong and ruthless. 

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [1974] 

The first proper video nasty, the title basically tells you everything you need to know. Avoid the smug remake; the original will make you puke with fear. 

DRILLER KILLER [1979] 

The film that launched a million grindcore bands, a completely immoral and horrible piece about mindless slaughter for its own sake. How can you not love it? 

DRACULA [1958] 

The first outing for Christopher Lee in the count’s cape, would there be any goths in the world had he not done so? Blood and big bosoms abound. 

THE DEVIL’S RAIN [1975] 

A group of backwoods devil worshippers led by Ernest Borgnine has the power to melt their victims. Quite why they would need to do this is never explained; some great – and again much sampled – black mass scenes. 

LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT [1972] 

Two girls go to the big city to see their favourite band BloodLust. Along the way they meet up with the Charlie Manson-like Krug and his gang and end up raped and murdered. Then a bloody path of revenge follows…really nasty.

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