Series of articles on Rock & Pop Video Clips - 1985-87
 


Rock & Gore:
In The World Of Rock & Pop Video Clips

published in Waves No.79, Melbourne, 1986

From Screaming Jay Hawkins to Wolfman Jack, horror was ever-present during Rock'n'Roll's puberty years. If you were into Rock'n'Roll you just had to be into monster movies. B-Grade filmmakers cottoned onto this fairly quickly and churned out appropriate films like The Giant Gilla Monster, The Blob, I Was A Teenage Werewolf, Werewolf In A Girls Dormitory and Teenagers From Outer Space. This kind of merger of horror and rock has been dead since the fifties, but now thirty years later it is on the rise again. Horror have been creeping back since the late seventies, and many rock groups have started to display outward affection (and affectation) for these kind of films.

It all appears to have started with The Ramones and The Cramps in the late seventies. Their early songs collectively referred to films like Freaks, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Fly and Blood Feast, and their trash-punk/shockabilly has spawned many admirers and immitators. But this new fusion of rock and horror was different. Gone were the oh-so-mysterious wonderings of Brian Jones, Jimmy Page and Black Sabbath, whose music attempted to seriously penetrate the dark forces of satanism. Gone too were the camp sensibilities of horror as promoted by Glam acts like David Bowie, Alice Cooper and The Tubes. The eighties have nurtured heady hommages and delerious debts to anything and everything trashy, cheapo, B-Grade, tacky, tasteless, illicit, sick, wacko, over-the-top, perverse, freaky, psychotic and maniacal. The endless offspring of The Cramps and The Ramones have formed a subculture whose epitaph reads : "sex, drugs, rock'n'gore equals teenage heaven".

The only problem is that when it comes to strongly conveying this imagery - through video clips - not enough bands have carried their horrific obssessions through to the small screen. (I for one think it's outrageous that The Cramps haven't given us a horror rock video clip to blow our eyeballs away!) Still, there has been a substantial amount of video clips which have visually explored the TV taboos of horrific gore and violent fantasy. Let's have a look-see and make some of their partially obscured connections with horror movies a bit clearer.

The definitive gore video clip has to The Ramones' Psychotherapy. Taking one of their favourite subjects to the hilt, this clip features cadaverous living skeletons who perform a lobotomy on a young guy - and a mutant midget head (nicknamed Lobo) bursts out of the guys face! Alien meets The Beast Within meets The Manitou all in one bloody burst. Psychotherapy breaks new ground (and heads) considering that the sensitive subject of lobotomies was handled more tactfully and less graphically in Golden Earing's When The Lady Smiles and Black Sabbath's Trashed. AC/DC really delivered the goods with their clip for You Want Blood? How could one not be left speechless when Bon Scott picks up a guitar and impales poor Angus with it - through his chest and out the other side. Angus then spends the rest of the song staggering around Peckinpah-style, gushing out blood and refusing to die. Not suprisingly, You Want Blood? received limited airplay while Psychotherapy didn't hit out tubes at all.

One gore clip that has received limited exposure os Lou Reeds' No Moneyy Down. Now old Lou has never really lost it - he's just been laying low. As a violent gesture, though, this clip (directed by Godley & Creme) is the visual equivalent to his unforgettable noise double-album Metal Machine Music. The clip contains only two shot : the first is of a dummy head of Lou with sunglasses and leather jacket mechanically miming the lyrics like a Thunderbird puppet. The second shot is of the dummy minus the sunglasses, and two hands (appearing to be Lou's) reach up and slowly .... tear the head apart. The beauty of this clip is how unsubtle the message is : the dummy rock star tearing himself apart to reveal nothing but its own pathetic mechanics. Considering the realism of the dummy head (due to skillful latex crafting and complex animatronics) one can't help but be transfixed by the horror of a human tearing apart its own flesh.

Perhaps there are a few undergorund films and clips floating around which - realizing that they won't get any airplay - go over-the-top with sex and gore. America's Screaming Mad George (who has fronted groups like The Disgusting, The Mad and The Irrational) has made a few videos which feature scenes like a man peeling off his own skin, and another man having his brains scooped!

No doubt television restrictions (determined by what stations believe to be 'good taste') have curtailed the amount of performers who have tackled excessively violent images in their clips. Non-graphic horror, then, is the predominant way in which most rock and pop videos have fueled their songs with the odd shock.

Michael Jackson's Thriller is without doubt the most significant clip in this area. No matter how much you dislike the media saturation of Jackson Incorporated, this clip did break new ground. By involving known-director John Landis in such a large scale project, the cinema had to finally acknowledge that video clips could be more than cheap pop ads, and by involving SPFX-make-up maestro Rick Baker, televsion got some of the most realistic and hair-raising state of the art horror make-up. Not to mention the original concept of mass zombie choreography set to a funky Motown beat with Vincent Price rapping! And just to prove the clip is cool : sitting in the theatre behind Michael Jackson is Forrest J.Acckerman (editor of Famous Monsters Of Filmland) ; Jackson's girlfriend is Ola Ray (Playmate of the Month) ; the posters in the cinema foyer are of Landis' ape movie Schlock, Corman's Poe-esque The Masque Of The Red Death, and the 3-D smash House Of Wax ; and the end scene of the video is a remake of the zombie finale to George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead (1968). Thriller does know what it's doing and pulls it of.

Limping behind Thriller came Ozzie Osbourne's Bark At The Moon. The production stills looked good, but the finished clip (shot fairly unimaginatively on video) is quite ineffective. Ozzie's make-up is impressive (supplied by Greg Cannom) but the clip doesn't cut it. Perhaps cheap video production is responsible for preventing Greg Khin's Jeopardy from achieving a truly gruesome effect. It features a variety of zombies at a deadly wedding ceremony, complete with a bride as beautiful as Dick Smith's creation for Ghost Story (1981), plus a Poltergeist-like thrashing tentacle that pulls Greg down the aisle (make-up by Rick Lazzarine & Syd Terror). Production values certainly get in the way of The Jackson's Torture. Showcasing the talents of SPFX make-up by Ed French, The Jacksons encounter all manner of living nightmares : a wall of moving eyeballs; a Dr.Phibes (1971) influenced organist playing with a grin (literally) from ear to ear; a goo-covered hand throwing an eyeball; and three of the Jacksons take off their shades to reveal no eyes! Admittedly boasting a huge budget, the Torture clip does work extremely well.

Over in the corn corner we have a variety of clips ranging from the camp to the damp. Ray Parker Jr.'s I'm In Love (With The Other Woman) resembles a crowd of horror fans at Halloween on their way to a blaxploitation dusk-to-dawn. Ray himself looks like Blacula Jr. but if this clip was more caring and cunning it would have had Ray in size 12 sideburns backed by some buxom afro-girls in jumpsuits. Rockwell's Somebody's Watching Me likewise misses the opportunity to send up blaxploitation horror (someone's got to do it soon!) and opts for the tiresome scenario of modern day paranoia, symbolized by various haunting figures in Rockwell's house. The zombie postman, though, is worth looking out for. On the other side of the Atlantic, Yazoo go for straight out parody in their clip for Don't Go : dry ice in a tinsel and tack laboratory, cheap coloured disco lights on skulls and skeletons, and lots of weird camera angles of spiralling staircases. It looks like reject footage that the you'd expect The Damned to have done something better with. (Unfortunately The Damned's clips have been equally banal, even though Dave Vanian is a professed horror addict.) Ray, Rockwell & Yazoo are all intent on tongue-in-cheeks and elbow-in-ribs, but their efforts pale when compared to the corn-ball spook antics of Alice Cooper's television work in the 70s.

Ah, yes - Alice Cooper. Regardless of some boring-old-fart American journalist's recent attempts to tell the world how America invented "Shock Rock" ("more outrageous than Punk"), Alice Cooper does play an important part in the blending of Grand Guignol theatre (bloody low-class theatre in France in the 1890's) with the spectacle of a live rock concert. Other exponents of this sort of horror show include Screaming Jay Hawkins, Screaming Lord Sutch, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, and Iggy & The Stooges, and goes right up to Bowie, The Tubes, Kiss, Skyhooks and The Plasmatics. Cooper's live shows were real theatrical spectacles, highlighting many strong links with horror imagery (the Black Widow, the Cyclops, the Haunted Merry-Go-Round, etc.) played out for both chills and giggles. Far from actually shocking anyone, Cooper manipulated those elements in a showman-like manner with a leaning toward vaudeville and burlesque. In fact the only performers mentioned above who did attempt to shock people totally were Iggy Pop (with his extremist body contortions) and The Plasmatics (with their apocalyptic self-destructing stage shows). It is real suprise that most horror rock videos verge on vaudeville due to rock's earlier relationships with theatre. Cooper, meanwhile, has been on the comeback trail of late with live shows that are just as spectacular as they were ten years ago. The only difference is the decidedly modern themes he now deals with - like singing the theme song for Friday The 13th - Part IV!

Some clips have foregrounded their desire to purely play with horror images rather than make them part of any shock tactics. Kate Bush's Hammer Horror is both an interesting hommage to one of the better periods of British cinema, and quite a chilling song. In the song's clip Kate does one of her choreographed dances with a man wearing a stocking over his head. The imagery and concept is simple but effective. Likewise, her clip for Sat In Your Lap takes its cue from the mood of the song to create some appropriate visuals for a scary effect. Black mass imagery strongly reminiscent of Hammer's 1968 film The Devil Rides Out combines with Kate Bush's choreography and direction, giving us another example of how she incorporates horror imagery for a spooky effect.

We now come to all those clips which allude to the visual inventiveness of horror movies. To many people some of these clips might seem startlingly original, but they usually range from bastardizations to pastiches of key scenes from infamous films. A good example is Billy Idol's Dancing With Myself. Directed by Tobe Hooper, it consciously recalls the 1971 film The Omega Man with Charlton Heston living in a penthouse appartment fighting off the nuclear mutant Brotherhood. (The Omega Man, incidentally, is a remake of The Last man On Earth from 1964 starring Vincent Price, and both films are based on the Richard Matheson story I Am Legend.) In Dancing With Myself, Billy plays Charlton's role and adds a few nice touches - like electrocuting himself for kicks. Idol's clip for White Wedding comes after Khin's Jeopardy and contains a weird mix of cinematic references that include To The Devil ... A Daughter (1976), Kenneth Anger's underground hit Scorpio Rising (1963) and the classic The Black Cat (1931).

Another 'remake' clip is the little-seen Eaten Alive by Diana Ross. The film remade here is the 1933 version of H.G.Well's The Island Of Doctor Moreau titled Island Of Lost Souls. It stars the inimitable Charles Laughton as a crazed doctor experimenting in turning animals into half-humans. (Devo's call sign "Are we not men?" is taken directly from this movie.) To its credit, Eaten Alive (which is also the title of a 1976 Tobe Hooper film!) really does look like the original B&W film, except with Diana Ross as a sexy mutant (looking very much like Jackson in Thriller) stalking a lost and confused sailor. Hard rock outfit Aldo Nova loosely remade the 1981 remake of Cat People for their clip to Hold Back the Night. Unfortunately no graphic transformations are included.

Perhaps the best and most accurate remake is Richard Lowenstein's clip for INX's Listen Like Thieves. The film remade here is John Carpenter's Escape From New York (1981) - in particular, the scene where Snake wanders into the drag burlesque show in a derelict 42nd Street grindhouse. Granted that there is not one ounce of original effect in this clip (I mean, it's already all there in Carpenter's film) the clip does reshape the film's imagery and mood to blend in with the song - something rarely achieved in remake video clips. Lowenstein has cleverly 'borrowed' from a wide range of films for a number of clips, marking his clip work sometimes as more interesting than his films.

To get an idea of how one can either succeed or fail in remaking films for video clips, one only has to compare Listen Like Thieves to the many excesses of Russell (I wish I was Ken Russell) Mulchay. One of his first video clips to fully realize his cinematic pretensions was Kim Carnes' Draw Of The Card. For this clip he appropriates (more insidiously than referentially) Cocteau's classic symbolist fantasy Orphee (1950), recreating the scene of the film's lead character going through the mirror to the underworld. Ironically this video is another world when compared with the poetry and majesty of the original film. Mulchay's scenario is so cheap, weak and sycophantic one wonders if it is evidence of how bluntly he percieved the original film.

Mulchay's favourite plundering has to be the eerie hallway with protruding arms from Beauty & The Beast (1946) which pops up amongst a whole stack of European art movie quotations in his clip for Ultravox's The Thin Wall. However, that image had already been appropriated with a much clearer artistic effect by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen in An American In Paris (1951); Busby Berkeley in Small Town Girl (1953); and Roman Polanski in Repulsion (1965). The total remake of Beauty & The Beast is to found in the Rich Kids' video for Real Life's Send Me An Angel. Perhaps the intention was to construct a scenario as insipid as the song? Send Me An Angel features a beast made up exactly like Cocteau's (and the make-up in the clip is of note) but whatever beauty the original film has is here replaced by heavy-handed art design and pedestrian direction.

Mulchay's magnum opus (Latin for "watching opera at gunpoint") has to be Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of The Heart. This clip confirms that Mulchay would be at home with the kitsch and gaudy fantasies of any state opera company and their rotting delusions of grandeur. The main 'inspiration' for this clip is Village Of The Dammned (1960) and its follow-up Children of The Dammned (1964, and also the title of a Black Sabbath song from '71). These British sci-fi/horrors star those haunting evil children whose eyes glow when they terrorize people. In the video, Bonnie Tyler plays a school mistress whose sexuality is a creative/destructive force in setting alight the hidden powers of her young grammar school boys. The clip is so bombastic with (yawn) 'haunting, beautiful, rivetting images' that it becomes a loud blur, failing in doing anything other than slapping some of the film's most obvious imagery onto a directionless and over-edited video.

On the other hand, the Total Eclipse Of The Heart video does compliment Jim Steinman's mega-opera approach to architecturing poetic facades out of cliches. The point is that the direct employment of quotation (as in remaking whole scenes from films) disrupts the visual surface of anonymity which would best match the luridly cliche-ridden song. Julian temple took the 'anonymous' approach of not referring to any 'classic' movies for ABC's Poison Arrow clip, combining images, words, gestures and sounds which are all of the same sterotypical density. Moral : if you're going to quote (and so many people think it's such a cute thing to do) you should know you're material - otherwise stick to manipulating symbols, archetypes and icons.

Most horror and fantasy video clips exhibit neither the pretension of Mulchay nor the skill of some of the videos mentioned earlier. They simply throw in a scene from a favourite film just for the hell of it. Sometimes it's dull ; sometimes it's sharp. The prologue to The Angels' Nature Of The Beast has a shower scene from Psycho (1960) but quickly forgets it once the song starts up. The Hoodoo Gurus' clip for I Want You Back with toy dinosaur animation is an affectionate send-up of Ray Harryhausen's work on film's like One Million Years B.C. (1966).

Alison Moyet's Love Ressurection gets a mention here only because she claims that the clip is inspired by The Heretic : Exorcist II (1977) but the connection largely remains lost to me. Then there's the early Icehouse or Iva Davies' clip (the title escapes me) which combines The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Carrie and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, but its scenes of domestic furniture and hardware blowing away more resembles the Big M ad that pastiches Razorback's tacky loungeroom demolition. (Hang on, didn't Davies do the music for that film?) An honourable mention for bedroom demolition goes to Quiet Riot for Cum On Feel The Noize as the headbanger attempts to turn down his stereo to stop his room blowing away - or his mom will be real pissed, man.

As far as exploding rooms go, Bowie was a bit more restrained with the exploding kitchen in his video for Ashes To Ashes, a surreal remake of Nicholas' Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) which of course starred Bowie. (Roeg returned the exloding room image in his Insignificance in 1985.) A more horror-derived image appears in Bowie's Loving The Alien where he looks into the mirror with a bright blue face, trembling and on the verge of giving us a Scanners (1981) head bang. The video for Bowie's Underground is less fragmented than the other two mentioned here and strongly resembles some of Brazil's (1985) dream sequences. Replacing that film's Kabuki-masked dwarves are some trolls halfway between The Dark Crystal (1982) and The Ghoulies (1985). They run around looking ugly but not gruesome. The clip contains a mild shock when Bowie appears to peel off his skin (a al Altered States, 1980) to reveal a scratch-animated being inside. On the other hand, this is Bowie still unable to get away from the basic alien being imagery from his The Man Who Fell To Earth. A more direct reference to Ken Russell's Altered States is in A-Ha's video for Lean On Me, once again with more animation effects. There seems to be some poetic justice here, though, in a bad arty clip copying a bad arty movie.

Mental As Anything's Spirit Got Lost contains scratch-animation and pixilated photo-collages of skeletons, hearts and voodoo ceremonies. The do-it-yourself gore make-up adds some laughs in keeping with the Mental's distinctive B-grade style. Wall Of Voodoo's Mexican Radio finishes with a riveting image of Stan Ridgeway's head suddenly bobbing up from a pan of cooked beans. It instantly recals many floating decapitated head films : The Incredible Melting Man (1981), The Beastmaster (1982) and The House On Sorority Row (1983) to name a few.

Def Leopard's Photograph, strangely enough, is one of the few HM clips to do a DePalma, with stabbing switchblades, coroner's chalk body outlines and newspaper headlines of 'The Passion Killer'. A similar style is adopted for Falco's video to Jeanne which consciously recalls images from a variety of DePalma's stylish psycho movies. A different kind of pyscho is pathetically mimiced in Dragon's Dreams Of Ordinary Men, where an attempt has been made to recreate the hillbilly mutant terror of Wes Craven's seminal The Hills Have Eyes (1977). The psycho in this clip though looks like a fat bank clerk with a bad mowhawk wig. John Fogerty's Old Man Down The Road comes much closer to suggesting the aura associated with inbred mutant pyschos. For another video clip - Eye Of The Zombie - Fogerty even more abstractly suggests images of primitive cannibalism practiced by the never-dead. At the other extreme, The Cars' You Might Think goes for all out camp, parodying King Kong (1933) and The Fly (1958) among other old films. The Cars continued this soft corny approach with The Girl Of My Dreams which showcases some Barbarella-influenced sexy aliens whose make-up work truly is stunning. Pulsalama's The Devil Lives In My Husband's Body stars Joel Reed (director of Blood Sucking Freaks, 1977) as the neurological nutcase with an equally nutty wife who reads too many NATIONAL ENQUIRERs.

Going totally over-the-top, Weird Al Yankovic's clip for Like A Surgeon contains some truly gross images in its open heart surgery scenes! Frankie Goes To Hollywood opts for stylish chills in Welcome To The Pleasure Dome, but only end up mixing Fellini with Kubrick in an attempt to present some freakshow imagery, but the imagery is unbelievably tame for such a 'controversial' group. The Station's Fear & Fascination involves a couple of vampires in a setting straight out of - you guessed it - The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, a 1919 German expressionist silent horror which has also influenced videos by Bauhaus and Propganda. A big deal was made over William Friedkin directing Laura Branigan's clip for Self Control, but the result is a fairly vacuous, over-stylized reworking of The Phantom Of the Opera (any version) mixed up with an eighties night club party. Stylish chills though unsettling imagery certainly come off better in The Eurythmics clip for Missionary Man, where Lennox is transformed into a flesh'n'leather humanoid. It should be mentioned, though, that Debbie Harry's video for Backfired (directed by sci-fi artist H.R.Giger) was the first video to combine the sexy with the mechanical. And finishing up in the underground, The Resident's One Minute Movies (four in the one set) should not be overlooked. Each of the four movies contains enough nightmare imagery to give you at least a hint of the horrors through their surreal manipulation of images and symbols.

Well, that's about fifty video clips which in some way make references to horror, fantasy and terror movies. No doubt there's some more floating around (especially in the underground scenes) and no doubt there's more to come. Hang on to your eyeballs!