Dancing in the Moonlight

I stumbled across this quote recently from Eli Roth about Last House on the Left and songs in horror movies:

“Even as a kid one of the things that stayed with me was the music, done by lead actor David Alexander Hess. I couldn’t understand how the same guy who was raping and carving up the girls on screen was singing these peaceful, almost hippy-like folk ballads that underscored the horror. I remember reading the credits, thinking I’d misread it, that David Hess wrote and performed all the music. Sitting in that theater, where I had gone by myself, and knew no one, I felt this overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. I just missed those songs, and I missed when songs like that were commonplace in horror. (Romero’s “The Crazies” and later “My Bloody Valentine” are other examples.) Often the lyrics of the songs reflected what the characters were going through, and the tone was somewhere between Harry Nilsson and Simon & Garfunkel. I will be forever grateful for what David did, and for all the memorable performances and everlasting music he gave us. Thanks in big part to David Hess, my road led to somewhere.”

Now, I could write forever about songs in horror films, and I just might in a later post, but as I was recently discussing the forest disco scene in Just Before Dawn, I thought I would write about song’s second cousin, dance.

If you need reminding of the scene, you can see it below:

Dance has always been important in film as a euphemism for sex and sexuality, much as it was in the lyrics of Pop songs, as in “Let’s do the Twist!”. In Just Before Dawn, it’s used in exactly that way, and there are more examples to follow later in this post.

Evil Dead II has a very odd dance sequence, where the decapitated Linda performs a Ray Harryhausen-esque ballet to a fantastic score by Joseph LoDuca. Unusual for a lot of ’80s horror film dance sequences, this doesn’t function as euphemism for sex or even an attempt to make the character seem sexy or ‘with it’. Instead, we see the stop-motion version of Linda presented as a horrifying parody of human form and movement designed to give Ash a further nudge towards the precipice of insanity.

In contrast, dance sequences in The Wicker Man, like its song sequences, function as if song and dance naturally spring up in the real world at regular intervals. On the one hand, we have a number of dance scenes which relate directly to sex and pagan fertility rites, such as the Maypole dance and the dance of the maidens – hopeful of parthenogenesis – leaping over the fire. On the other, we have dances, such as Willow’s overtly seductive and sexual dance in Willow’s Song, which throw out any pretence of euphemism and are intended purely to tempt the Sgt. Howie into getting jiggy*.

In some ways, in The Wicker Man, song and dance function more like they would in a musical than they would in any other type of film, let alone a horror film. This quirky relationship with music, song and dance is a huge part of the film’s charm and makes it unlike any other horror movie I’m aware of.

All this thinking about dancing leads me back to my favourite scene in a more recent movie, House of the Devil. Now, House of the Devil is not a prefect movie by any means, but what it does really well is evoke the cinema of the late ’70s and early ’80s, even down to casting a star (Jocelin Donahue) with the uncanny ability to evoke the spirit of Margot Kidder. It’s a true homage, rather than a parody or modernisation, which seems to be what many film makers who think they are making an homage are actually doing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the-amityville-horror-margot-kidder1

It may, then, come as no surprise that my favourite scene in this movie is the dance scene.

Brilliant! It’s got it all. (I’ve warned you, a blog on the dangers of Walkmans and ghetto blasters is on the way.)

What I like about this scene, and what makes it different to most dance scenes in horror movies of the ’70s and ’80s, is that she is dancing by herself and for herself. We could, if we wanted to, speculate about adolescent masturbatory fantasies and what not, but there is an innocence about this scene that I really like and that makes what’s to come all the more horrific.

Of course, most of the dance sequences in horror films of the ’70s and ’80s were actually nowhere near this tasteful.

My proof?

See below.

Mwahahaha!

*See what I did there?

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Duck Duck Goose

My friend Hannah Nicklin and Jamie McDonald of your neighbour the liar have started a new record label called Duck Duck Goose in order to help emo/indie/punk/DIY bands get their music released.

That’s pretty fucking cool!

Having done my share of DIY/Punk scene many moons ago, I have some inkling of how tough it is and how much passion and dedication are needed to even get these things beyond the just-talking-about-it stage. Not only that, Hannah and Jamie aren’t taking the ‘easy’  route (there is no easy route, just numerous varieties of hard route) of digital download only, but are putting these releases out on vinyl too.

That’s even fucking cooler!

Duck Duck Goose’s first release is an EP called Where the Wires Ran by Without Maps and I put my order in as soon as I heard this track on Soundcloud. In fact, I snapped a copy up so quick, that I may well have been their first customer.

There’s a fantastic energy to this record and more than enough musicality and control involved to keep fans of bands such as Circle Takes the Square happy. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

The EP is available as a vinyl 10″ which will ship at the end of the month, but as soon as you make your pre-order, you get the digital download version. I’m listening to the download at the minute and it’s great, but I can’t wait for that slab of vinyl to hit the doormat.

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Just Before Dawn

just_before_dawn-posterI firmly believe that the best cure for a cold is to wrap oneself up in a duvet on the sofa and watch Slasher films. It probably works for any kind of film that’s a guilty pleasure, but for me it’s Slashers. Last time I had a cold, I got through the iconic The Burning,  the leaden The Slayer, the forgettable The Mutilator (in fact, I had forgotten about it until I started writing this post), the its-got-one brilliant-sequence-in-it-that-makes-it-worth-watching-y The Prowler, the inspired My Bloody Valentine and the entire Sleepaway Camp series. However, I was a bit disappointed I couldn’t find a copy of Just Before Dawn.

Just Before Dawn has been one of those films that I’ve wanted to see for years, but have never managed to get hold of. Just the title is provocative enough for my teenage self to be compelled to watch it, but combine that with the image of the machete wielding hillbilly and it becomes positively irresistible.

Well, I finally got hold of a copy and couldn’t wait until I caught another cold. It was Friday the 13th anyway, so I was pretty much obliged to watch it before attempting to make my way through all ten Friday the 13th movies.

WARNING: May contain spoilers.

This 1981 kids-camping-in-the-woods Slasher was directed by Jeff Lieberman and starred George Kennedy, who, incidentally, seems to have the creakiest clothes possible in this film. Either that or his horse is more elderly than it looks. In general, the film visuals are pretty good, with some colourful sunrises and sunsets and a lovely night scene with George Kennedy lit by the reflections from a forest lake.

The plot, as you might expect, is pretty routine. A gang of five kids made up of Slasher archetypes, a flirty girl keen to take her bikini top off, a bespectacled nerd, a joker who always takes things a step too far, a jock and his smart, pretty, but lacking in confidence girlfriend, go camping on a forested mountain. What follows is the familiar pattern of unheeded warnings by locals, hiking, frolics, topless swimming, dancing, more unheeded warnings by locals, death, mutilation, told-you-so-s from the unheeded locals, slight “twist” and heroine’s face off with a psychopath. Those familiar with the tropes of the Slasher will know that the smart, pretty, but lacking in confidence female character is the one to watch, as odds are she’ll make it to the end, or at least very nearly to the end. Given her chances of survival, it’s worth me giving you her name. It’s Constance, or Connie, if you happen to be foolish enough to go camping with her.

Now, besides the creakiness of George Kennedy’s clothes (or bones, or even possibly, horse), there are plenty of other sounds in this movie.  The music by the incredibly prolific Brad Fiedel (The Terminator films, Fright Night and its sequel, and Night School, to name but a few) and, although it’s likely to have been one of his rush jobs, it’s actually not bad. The first thing that strikes you in the opening credit sequence is the eerie whistling over the picturesque dawn skyline. The whistling appears throughout the film and is often used to indicate the presence of murderous hillbillies. Sometimes the characters seem to be reacting to the whistling, so although it clearly forms part of a musical soundtrack, it has moments when it may or may not be diagetic.  I’m also a sucker for analogue synth soundtracks of the ’70s and ’80s, and this film has its share of voltage-controlled squelchiness.

On the subject of music, have you ever thought to yourself, “You know, there just aren’t enough Slasher films with disco dancing sequences in dark forests”? Well, look no further than Just Before Dawn. In fact, there’s an absolutely brilliant disco dancing in the woods scene in this film. The synths are squelchy and funky, flirty girl flirts with everyone and there are plenty of “Ah, baby”s, just to help anyone in the audience along who somehow isn’t familiar with popular culture’s dancing-as-euphemism-for-sex technique. Basically, everyone’s having a wonderful time until the ghetto blaster gets shot.*

The “twist” that we’ve come to expect in a Slasher is not all that much of a twist in this movie. In fact, there’s a massive clue right at the beginning of the film (I’ll resist spoiling it, although I doubt it would ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the film). What is far more interesting about this movie, and that makes it stand out a little from the crowd, is the final showdown between the surviving female Connie and the hillbilly psycho.

In the early part of the film, Connie is portrayed as soft-hearted, careful and a little bit frumpy and square. On several occasions, she berates herself for her timidity and her inability to act when afraid. Her jock boyfriend, on the other hand, takes everything in his stride and seems to cope to a certain degree even when the bodies start to show up. However, once he starts getting chased by a killer hillbilly, he soon starts to lose it a little. Once the killer starts chasing Connie, she flips and shows no indication of going Ripley on anyone’s ass.

Then suddenly, we’re at the film’s climax.**

Convinced that any inbred, hillbilly psychos in the area are well and truly dead, thanks to the sharp shooting of George Kennedy, Connie and the jock are packing down their part of the campsite (the jock being convinced that his friends aren’t dead, so wants to leave their tent up for when they get back), when suddenly an inbred, hillbilly psycho with crazy eyebrows bursts into the clearing and stabs the jock in the belly. As the jock falls squealing to the ground, Crazy Eyebrows starts scrapping with Connie, who this time, instead of being paralysed with fear, manages to get one or two good cracks in, despite the psycho’s superior size and strength.

However, Connie ultimately seems to be outmatched, and, soon enough, huge psycho hillbilly has her in a bear hug, squeezing the life out of her. All seems hopeless, although the audience, knowing the tropes of the genre, is frantically looking round for George Kennedy to come bursting through the undergrowth to the rescue, or for Connie or the jock to stumble on an item that can be used as a surprise weapon.

What actually happens comes as a bit of a shock.

Instead of continuing her struggle to get free, Connie wraps her legs tightly round the psycho hillbilly’s waist and punches her hand down his throat.

What?!

just-before-dawn

Yup, she wraps her legs around him and punches her hand down his throat. What’s more, as the psycho hillbilly falls to the ground, she rides his writhing body and forces her hand down his throat even further, until finally the life is choked out of him.

That’s right. She fucks him to death.

At first, this seems a surprisingly strong act for a character who has doubted her own abilities throughout the movie and who, up until that point, had been afraid of her own shadow. Yet the signs were there. Connie has become increasingly confident sexually as the film progressed, borrowing flirty girl’s outrageously tight hot pants, joining flirty girl in her flirty, dark forest disco dancing and getting it on with the jock by the falls.

This is what makes the movie interesting because it is a well known trope of the genre that sexy women/women who have sex/sexually confident women get killed first in a Slasher. In fact, the big problem that many commentators have with these movies is that gruesome deaths can appear to be dealt out to women as if in punishment for having sex or being sexy***. Yes, in Just Before dawn, flirty girl gets killed after showing her boobs, sexy disco dancing and pretending to seduce the bespectacled nerd, but Connie fucks the bad guy to death!****

Basically, by fucking the psycho to death, while her jock boyfriend looks on whimpering,  Connie makes the whole situation look like a woodland partner swapping party gone wrong.

In summary, this isn’t a film for everyone, but if you enjoy Slashers, it’s got enough going for it to be worth seeking out.

Enjoy.

*I should really do a blog post on the dangers of ghetto blasters and Walkmans in ’80’s horror movies.

**Pun very much intended.

***One might suggest that nerds, jocks and assholes are equally punished for being nerds, jocks and assholes.

****I am in no way attempting to excuse misogyny in Slasher movies; I’ll leave that for some other fool.

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Death Waltz Records

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Death Waltz Records must be one of the coolest companies. Essentially they specialise in vinyl reissues of soundtracks to cult horror and sci-fi movies. Lots of these soundtracks are established classics, such as these two of mine, but they also have reissued newer soundtracks, such as Donnie Darko and Let the Right One In. Probably the most up to date records must be their release of the soundtracks to the 2011 low-budget gangster/horror crossover The Devils Business and the 2013 remake of The Evil Dead.

If, like me, you’re a lover of John Carpenter soundtracks, this has got to be the current ‘must buy’.

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What the Future Sounded Like

If you have any interest in electronic music of any sort, you should really check out this Australian documentary about electronic music in Britain and EMS in particular.

It wasn’t all Radiophonic Workshop you know.

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View from the Stage

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Sadly, I wasn’t waiting in the wings with my Les Paul strapped on, ready to dash on the the cheers of an adoring crowd, but sneaking on quietly during Fall Out Boy’s set to chat with one of Nine Inch Nails’ guitar techs who was right in front of that big stack of gear you can see.

 

 

Maybe next time…

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Bad Pollyanna – Hollow

I’ve been shockingly slack on the blogging front for ages.

This is just one of the things that has been keepng me busy.

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