Some days just get away from you. Today was just one of those days. I need music more on these days than others. And it’s not just soul-revivers or some Kenny Loggins’ soundtrack jams. Any music can movie you. Even parody.
I’ve been re-watching all of the episodes of Flight of the Conchords while I work out recently and I’m once again in awe of this show. I never make a weekly ritual out of watching a particular TV show. Certainly I look forward to catching up with Don Draper every Sunday but, as it generally goes, I don’t get to watch the new Mad Men until Wednesday or Thursday. I made watching Flight of the Conchords a priority. I watched it when it aired live and I recorded it on my DVR so I could watch the episode again during the week. My obsession with Community comes close. As funny as many of these FoC songs were, they had a depth beyond mere parody. They had heart and reverence. Jemaine and Brett deconstructed the genres, but still managed to respect the source material.
While I ponder how to kill a character with a string trimmer in my horror/coming-of-age/literary short story I felt compelled to share the song that kept me sane today. I had my daughter bobbing along with my own rendition tonight, and she, of course, latched on to one of the more inappropriate lyrics (Who’s touching these monkeys, please / leave these poor sick monkeys alone / they’ve got problems enough as it is) and repeated it, ad infinitum. To me, this song is the pinnacle of the Conchords’ songwriting and video production powers. And it makes me happy. Here’s the live version, just in case you hadn’t seen the stage show performance. I’m also assuming you’ve seen the show. You’ve seen the show, right?
People watch shite horror movies. I witness the proof every time I stumble across the box office numbers. Why does anyone bother attending these pre-manufactured, uninspired crapsicles? (I dare not do an image search for crapsicle. Perform at your own risk.) In my neverending goal to better the world through music and movie appreciation I decided to force upon you (five or six) loyal readers my picks for the perfect 24 hours or 1440 minutes of underappreciated Halloween horror picks. I leave off some regular favorites for good reasons. You’ve probably seen them too much. Or they suck and you just don’t know it. It’s up to you to judge which side of the fence I’m on. My picks might be scary. They might be funny. They might be gory for the sake of it. They might be all of the above. I won’t waste space with Hitchcock, The Shining, Poltergeist, The Exorcist or any nonsensical remakes of unintelligible Asian horror. If it’s on here, I think there’s a good chance you’ve never seen it, forgotten it, or just needed reminding.
(btw, I can’t insert images into my posts right now. Sucks. So just use your imagination.)
GORE FOR THE SAKE OF LAWNMOWERS TO THE FACE – 189 minutes
Braindead (aka Dead Alive) / 1992 / Peter Jackson – 104 minutes We’re so happy for Peter Jackson that he finally got enough clout to complete an unnecessary remake of King Kong. Don’t get me wrong. Great remake/homage… but it sucks because he’ll probably never go back to making New Zealand schlock films like this. I like new post-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson. He’s like a metrosexual Ewok. But I loved the pre-fame Peter Jackson that just made cool gore flicks with diseased monkeys, zombie slaying priests and the longest zombie-slaying/lawnmower sequence in cinema history.
Evil Dead / 1981 / Sam Raimi – 85 minutes See the whole thing about Peter Jackson above. Sam Raimi used to make cool flicks before Spiderman. I thought cool-as-hell Sam Raimi had disappeared for good until he made the creepy/funny/cool Drag Me to Hell in 2009. Evil Dead 2 gets most of the love, but the original Evil Dead had a lower budget, bad acting and was just plain creepier. Plus, tree rape. I had this poster on my wall. The really cool blue one with the hand reaching up through the ground to grab the throat of the woman with the tattered lingerie. I miss that poster. But alas, we must be adults and adults don’t generally line their bedroom walls with schlock posters anymore. C’est la vie.
GIALLO: THE REAL SLASHER FLICKS – 195 minutes
Opera / 1987 / Dario Argento – 107 minutes
John Carpenter didn’t invent the slasher flick. He made it American. The original slashers came from Europe. They were stylish, grand pieces of gore and violence and genuine terror that played like symphonies. Argento is most remembered for Suspiria – a triumph of style and oddly unsettling macabre. It is also, potentially, his most palatable film for the average viewer. Opera is less perfect, more haunting and, dare I say, brilliant. You’ll never look through a keyhole again. Some might also substitute Argento’s Deep Red or Tenebre. Still others favorite Phenomenon or Inferno. The Argento catalog runs deep with the blood of his slain vixens.
Blood and Black Lace / 1964 / Mario Bava – 88 minutes …but before there was Argento there was the original master of Italian horror: Mario Bava. Without Bava there’s no Argento. Bava’s films run the gamut of horror-styles from haunting brooders to giallo and odd horror/sci-fi offspring. If you’re going old school watch Black Sunday or Black Sabbath. If you want to watch the movie that kickstarted the giallo genre, watch this masterpiece of scantily clad chicks and creepy dudes with ill intent.
MINDF#CKS – 185 minutes
Cube / 1997 / Vincenzo Natali – 90 minutes
A much buzzed about movie at the time of its release, Cube has lost some of that mojo in recent years. It spawned a couple of pointless sequels and probably overshadowed the coolness of the original. A group of people with no obvious connection is dropped inside a maze of puzzles and intricate traps. Each room provides a new challenge and a new and creative way to get chopped to oozy bits. Without Cube there’s no Saw and therefore no Saw 5. With that in mind… Damn you, Cube.
In the Mouth of Madness / 1994 / John Carpenter – 95 minutes John Carpenter made better movies. He made scarier movies and more purposeful movies. But it took a massive John Carpenter-sized ego to unleash this unusual beast into the world about Sam Neill gone insane… or has he? Or has the audience. And what’s with the creepy kid on the bicycle. The movie’s nonsense fosters the creepiness in images that won’t soon leave you. I saw this twice in the theater. This might explain a few things.
EURO-STYLE: GENERATIONS – 197 minutes
Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man) / 1994 / Michele Soavi – 105 minutes
Most trips to the movie theater are inherently forgettable. Buy your ticket, maybe some popcorn and plop your but down in an uncomfortable chair for 90 to 120 minutes. And then there’s the time I went to see Cemetery Man at the Denis Theater in Pittsburgh. I happened across a small review on the Post-Gazette for a cool Euro-trash zombie flick showing at one theater in the city. At the time I’d just discovered the wonders of George Romero. So I was down for whatever. The flick played in the tiny old upstairs theater at the Denis where you sat above the screen and looked down unto the action. Anyway. Long story shorter… 17 year old mind blown. Zombie killing. Rupert Everett having hot freaky sex on graves with Anna Falchi. Zombie killing. Lots of funny. And Rupert Everett before he sang and danced with Julia Roberts. I devoured everything that Michele Soavi (Argento apprentice) ever directed and then backtracked to Argento and Bava.
Black Sunday (The Mask of the Devil) / 1963 / Mario Bava – 92 minutes The aforementioned early work of Bava might not appear scandalous by today’s standards but the film was banned in the UK for nearly 8 years. Launched the careers of Mario Bava and English bombshell Barbara Steele and became a worldwide success. One particularly creepy sequence makes this good film a necessary horror standard.
MODERN CLASSICS – 424 minutes
Session 9 / 2001 / Brad Anderson – 100 minutes
Don’t watch this movie with the lights off. Just leave them on. Serious. If they’re off you’ll spend all night making sure they stay on. If David Caruso doesn’t scare you, the whole abandoned mental institution and scratchy cassette recordings will surely put you over the edge. But man, David Caruso. Creepy.
28 Days Later… / 2002 / Danny Boyle – 113 minutes
Danny Boyle can direct anything better than you. He wants to direct a Kubrick homage. Bam. Sunshine. He wants to do Bollywood. Bam. End credits of Slumdog Millionaire. He wants to redefine the entire zombie oeuvre. Bam. 28 Days Later… He takes everything that made the original Night of the Living Dead a classic scarefest and then makes the “diseased” fast and more deadly. This movie is pure, adrenaline-fueled paranoia.
The Devil’s Backbone / 2001 / Guillermo del Toro – 106 minutes
Guillermo del Toro’s made a few stellar flicks (including Pan’s Labyrinth) but this one is his crowning achievement. The horror in this movie is both real and imaginary. Set in Franco’s Spain, the movie depicts a number of real world terrors, the alienation of an isolated orphanage and a ghostly boy. This one qualifies as a slow brooder that creeps up on you with a shocking conclusion that you might have seen coming if you weren’t so absorbed in the story. Rattled me to the core.
Below / 2002 / David Twohy – 105 minutes
Admit it. You’ve never even heard of this movie. That’s fine. The marketing for this movie sucked and there really wasn’t anyone in the cast of note except for the jerk in Legally Blonde and Bruce Greenwood, the guy that played JFK in Thirteen Days. The premise is brilliant. Submarines. Claustrophobia. Sensory delusions. Twohy does a terrific job of sucking the viewer into the “is it real?” / “is it imagined” terror. This is Event Horizon of the deep… except better.
THE ONLY LEGIT EDGAR ALLEN POE ADAPTATION (aka ROGER CORMAN MADE GOOD MOVIES… SOMETIMES) – 89 minutes
Masque of the Red Death / 1964 / Roger Corman – 89 minutes
I’m as shocked as you are. I wrote a massive paper on Poe’s resistance to cinematic adaptation in college and used this as the one exception to the rule. Corman shows a surprising amount of restraint regarding pacing. While not outwardly horrific or terrifying, Red Death impacts more upon reflection.
Nosferatu the Vampire / 1979 / Werner Herzog – 107 minutes
Klaus Kinski is just a scary dude but not as creepy as Max Schreck in the original Nosferatu (1922) — mostly because Schreck really thought he was Nosferatu. Here Herzog created the defining vampire film and probably one of the most beautifully photographed movies in cinema history. His use of chiaroscuro lighting speaks louder than words. Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula comes across as corny (but still a lot of fun) by comparison.
Tremors / 1990 / Ron Underwood – 96 minutes
Steven Keaton and Reba McEntire with shotguns and assault rifles. And KEVIN BACON and REALLY BIG WORMS! God, I love this movie.
TOTAL: 1482 minutes
(Just fast forward through some slow bits and you can sneak it under 24 hours… but no potty breaks)
NO HORROR LIST IS COMPLETE WITHOUT (YOU MAY HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW GOOD THEY REALLY ARE AND THEREFORE THIS IS JUST A REMINDER AND DOES NOT COUNT IN MY 24 HOUR RESTRICTION)
Bride of Frankenstein / 1935 / James Whale – 75 minutes : Whale was unparalleled. The Mummy / 1932 / Karl Freund – 73 minutes : Karloff’s better performance? Cat People / 1942 / Jacques Tourneur – 73 minutes : Horror-master Val Lewton’s first production. Skillfully explicit yet still implied horror, sex and violence. The Haunting / 1963 / Robert Wise – 112 minutes : No haunted house flick will ever equal this original adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. Suspiria / 1977 / Dario Argento – 98 minutes : Argento’s coven-based symphony of horror. Dawn of the Dead / 1978 / George Romero – 126 minutes : Romero’s perfect zombie film. Alien / 1979 / Ridley Scott – 117 minutes : Aliens still gets more press… BUT IT’S NOT A HORROR MOVIE. Thank you. Also James Cameron is dead to me. The Thing / 1982 / John Carpenter – 109 minutes : Carpenter’s best movie. Easy.
I first introduced the concept of “synesthesia nostalgia” in my rumble-worship about movie soundtracks of the 1980’s. Catch up here. In the wake of this rumble I wanted to compile a list of my favorite soundtrack moments from the Me Decade. In order to qualify for the list the movie soundtrack moment must:
A) accompany a memorable scene from an 80’s movie;
B) contain contemporary ’80’s music — either reconstituted (but still representing the ’80’s) or written exclusively for the film;
C) not be played only during a static credit crawl. I’ve allowed opening credit tracks (see #10 and #7) because the set up for a movie can be infinitely more influential than anything that takes place while everyone’s deciding whether or not to take their leftover popcorn home with them.
11. National Lampoon’s Vacation – Opening Credits
Song: Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham
I wanted to include Iggy Pop’s opening credits from Repo Man here to be “edgy.” I just couldn’t shake the Griswolds though. “Holiday Road” is such a recognizable stalwart of the 80’s soundtrack pantheon that I couldn’t deny Lindsey Buckingham the credit he deserves. He certainly doesn’t get enough love for being a vital cog in Fleetwood Mac (damn you Stevie Nicks for stealing his thunder). I’m sure a mention in this rumble will certainly put his confidence over the top. Opening credits? Sure. But as far as I can recall this song plays through every second of the entire movie.
10. Back to the Future – Too Damn Loud
Song: The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News
The Power of Love appears early in Back to the Future when Marty skates to school after blowing the amps at Doc Brown’s. It then reappears, perhaps less memorably… perhaps more, here when Marty’s band, the Pinheads, audition for the Battle of the Bands and a bespectacled Huey Lewis proclaims the song to be “too darn loud.” A short scene empowered by the song’s repeated appearance in the movie and the trilogy as a whole.
9. Beverly Hills Cop – The Cigarette Truck Chase
Song: The Neutron Dance by the Pointer Sisters
One of my favorite opening scenes to any ’80’s movie. Axel Foley. Cigarette truck. The Pointer Sisters. Movie magic. A perfect blend of synesthesia nostalgia. Fun wiki fact: the Russian government misinterpreted the song, believing the lyrics to be about nuclear war. I’m not sure but this might also have been the first R-rated movie I ever saw. Bonus points for that. And the banana in the tailpipe. And Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F. And Rosewood. And Taggard. I love this movie so damn much.
8. Caddyshack – Opening Credits
Song: I’m Alright by Kenny Loggins
Dancing gopher. That’s really what this is all about. Nobody can listen to this song and not think Caddyshack and the gopher. Kenny Loggins was the Grandmaster of Ceremonies for the 1980s and this is his happy funtime anthem. Unfortunately I can’t get a clean embed to the actual movie footage. Instead here’s a fan video of the dancing gopher… since that’s really all we really want anyway.
7. Flashdance – The Last Dance
Song: What a Feeling by Irene Cara
Regrettably I have no choice but to place this song in the countdown. Like it or not Irene Cara’s anthem is dripping, oozing with synesthesia nostalgia. This is the epitome of the concept itself. Movie and music are inextricably linked in form and memory. Still it pains me. Jennifer Beals has really aged well though, hasn’t she? The guitar solo at around 4:30 just kills me a little inside every time I hear it. I doubly cringe because now I must also think of Jennifer Lopez too. Urgh. What I would give for this song to be erased from our collective memories.
6. Better Off Dead – VanFrankenBurger
Song: Everybody Wants Some by Van Halen
I can’t really vouch for the song. On it’s own, it’s just not a very good Van Halen song. And then you have to get into the question about whether Van Halen was really a decent band rather than just a fascist conglomerate. I’m not prepared to go there. I am prepared to laud the awesomeness that is Better Off Dead. This is the best scene in Better Off Dead and it just happens to involve John Cusack doing a Dr. Frankenstein impersonation with a few pounds of raw ground chuck that turns into he and she burger patties singing Van Halen and it’s suddenly the best that Van Halen has ever sounded.
5. Footloose – Chicken Race
Song: Holding Out For a Hero by Bonnie Tyler
I’ll spare you another Kenny Loggins anthem. It would have been easy to pick just about any clip from Footloose and call it iconic. What moment in that movie isn’t strikingly noteworthy for one reason or another? I challenge you to find one menial, tedious moment in the whole film. Trick challenge. There isn’t one. But if we’re downplaying all the more awkward musical/drama moments, the scene that rises above all others is the Chicken Tractor Showdown. Pure teenage stupidity played for thrills and set to Bonnie Tyler?? Movie magic while the theme for Footloose just makes me think of ratty sneakers in close-up.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High – Phoebe Cates
Song: Moving in Stereo by the Cars
We could be more subtle about the reason for this scene’s infamy, but why bother? Any male knows this as the Phoebe Cates scene. It might not be immediately obvious but there’s a song playing when she exits that pool. And whenever men of a certain age hear this song by the Cars, they’re 90% more likely to experience a spontaneous erection than, say, men of any other age. It might not fit the other criteria for true synesthesia nostalgia, but there’s true potency in those subliminal messages.
3. Say Anything – Boombox
Song: In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
This is by far my least favorite entry in the countdown. Not because I don’t love the song… or the movie… but because I hate being predictable. There’s no way to exclude “In Your Eyes” because no 80’s movie moment is more iconic than John Cusack standing outside Ione Skye’s window with that boombox. I miss the days where it was socially acceptable to haul a 20 lb. apparatus for blasting treble-heavy tunes on your shoulder. Maybe this should be #1 but I prefer it here. In the middle. Fun fact: the original working title of the film was …Say Anything… instead of Say Anything…
2. Ghostbusters – The First Call
Song: Cleanin’ Up the Town by the Busboys
What else did the Busboys do? I dunno. Don’t care. Their song begat the Ghostbusters into this world on their first honest paying gig. This is enough for three for four lifetimes. The best Hollywood movie of the 80’s has to have a killer 80’s soundtrack. While Ray Parker, Jr. got all the press (good and bad – shame on you for stealing Huey’s beat) the Busboys cranked out the real hit. Is it a great song? Without the movie, nobody remembers the band or this song. At the same time, what could have replaced the song? The whine of Ecto 1’s siren has become one with the jazz-fueled piano riff. (For the record, they put out a pretty decent record called Minimum Wage Rock & Roll.)
1. Top Gun – Beach Volleyball
Song: Playing With the Boys by Kenny Loggins
So you wanted “Danger Zone” did you? “Danger Zone” is a great track. I’m pretty sure I’ve tested all of my car stereos by cranking it up to 11. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some “Danger Zone” but when you hear the song what scene in Top Gun comes to mind? Maybe my experience has been warped somehow but I don’t think of anything other than F-14s flying around and landing, taking off and landing like I’m at some Blue Angels festival in the glowing dusk sunlight. There’s no scene attached to the song. And yes, I know I included the song from Caddyshack because of the dancing gopher… but that’s different. That’s different because there wasn’t the greatest homoerotic beach volleyball scene in history slapped dead in the middle of the movie backed by yet another killer jam from Kenny Loggins. The man really was a god among boy scouts.