Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Rock 'N Roll Party Monsters

Movie monsters usually represent the raging id fighting the boring mainstream middle-class values. Thus, they tend to get to have all the fun. Monsters are often sexual creatures, and thus also know how to party. In the hedonistic 70's this was over-emphasized as the growing affection and gentle lampoon of the monster-movies of yester-years grew. That's why the flamboyant, colorful new breed of movie monsters were a clear sexual threat as well as unreliable beings capable of destruction and murder.

Also this was the time when rock music adapted horror movie imagery. It was a clear step beyond the limits of mainstream boundaries, as rock was deemed dark, forbidden and dangerous at the time. It soon was also clear that new monster movies had to adapt rock music vice versa. The combination of the might brought out some very unexpected monsters, sensual and threatening in the very sense of the word. The combining of powers also allowed for some quite vivid and formerly tabu sensual desires to have a new form. It was no wonder several of these rock musicals became beloved cult classics.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Director: Jim Sharman

Based on Richard O'Brien's famed stage play, RHPS is a cult film like no other. The devotion the film's fans have over it is almost fanatic and goes way past just knowing the lines and songs of the movie by heart and chanting them aloud. Screening RHPS with the right audience is a pre-packaged party in itself. There are plenty of rules and ways to experience the ultimate Rocky viewing party, but one just can't sit still at one's seat. Much like the maniac mansion it features, the movie has long since left the realm of being "just a movie".

Brad (Barry Boswick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) are a bland, white-bread couple who decide to get hitched. They rush off to announce the news to their friend Dr. Scott, whose science exhibit was once the place where they found each other. But driving on a dark night in a dreadful storm, they get lost and must take shelter on a nearby castle. The odd servants Riff-Raff (Richard O'Brien) and Magenta (Patricia Quinn) allow them in but reveal that the castle is hosting a party for oddball Transylvanians. When the Time Warp dance is on, there's no turning back.

The lord of the manor is Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a transvestite scientist on the verge of creating a new boy toy for him, Rocky (Peter Hinwood). But Frank's sexual appetite is not that easily satisfied, and during the night he manages to seduce both Brad and Janet separately. While Brad tries to still keep up appearances, the experience is a true eye-opener for Janet who has her own sexual revolution. But this may all be playing into the bigger plans of Frank-N-Furter.

As a film, RHPS is actually is nothing very innovative and at times, it shows its stage-bound origins. It's more a cavalcade of macabre style than a coherent movie. But the film has several other things going for it that have clearly fed its cult status. The movie's humour is silly, fast and surprising, often relying on quick-witted dialogue. It seems to have been heavily influenced by the films of the Marx brothers. The simple staging, which often has only a few colors (most often red) as a leading theme, is a big part of the draw. But the biggest asset of the film is its magnificent cast which inhabits their strange roles perfectly, and have their inner workings pinned to even the smallest gesture. It's sad most of them were more or less typecast after this.

What starts out as a parody of cheesy old-time sci-fi/horror films, becomes a fetishist fantasy, and furthermore a bizarre burlesque cabaret. Screenwriters/masterminds behind the entire scheme, Richard O'Brien and Jim Sharman blow raspberries in the faces of modesty and chastity. Like the time it was made, the film features as hedonistic events as they come. The message of the film is to enjoy a healthy sexuality (nevermind the gender of your partner) but not to cheat, force or otherwise become "too extreme". This can be also seen as a call-back to the lost ideals of the hippie movement.


Labyrinth (1986)
Director: Jim Henson

Okay, bear with me here. This is not a horror movie or even a musical per se, but it does have monsters and musical sequences in it. Plus, if the sex appeal of Tim Curry in tight leather clothes didn't do anything for ya, we have Sexy David Bowie starring in here. Things couldn't get much more sexy, and though at a surface level this is a children's movie, the theme of sexual awakening is pretty obvious here.

I would've written a Twilight joke here, but I bored myself to death thinking about it.

The early-teens Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) feels threatened by the arrival of a new baby boy in her family. Frustrated and furious, she wishes her loudly crying brother would be taken away by goblins. Thanks to the puppetry of Jim Henson and the Goblin King (Sexy David Bowie), this wish soon comes to pass and Sarah realizes it's up to her to travel to a magical land to get the baby back. But the Sexy Goblin King won't allow here to just come and go to his kingdom. He challenges her to clear his labyrinth, and makes sure every turn is filled with perils and temptations. If she can't make it before midnight, the baby shall become a goblin.

One of these guys, not one looking like Sexy David Bowie.
It isn't until long that Sarah has a party of misfit creatures to accompany her on her quest. The film is really creatures galore, and the vivid imagination of Jim Henson is beautifully realized in the sets and visuals otherwise as well. Too bad the puppetry feels a bit cheap at times. Although the supporting characters are pretty much your basic fantasy/fairy tale archetypes, the world created by Henson has a sort of threatening mood, which makes everyone's loyalty is suspect. As one tends to have in fairy tales, victory can only be achieved when one lets go of selfishness and learns to put others' needs before oneself.

But really, the sexual aspect is the more interesting part in this. The Goblin King announces that he's after Sarah's dreams, and is able to invade them as well. The famous ball-room scene features Connelly staring slack-jawed at smart-dressed Sexy Bowie at his most charming and handsome. The dance the two do is unnervingly alluring, but luckily Henson has good taste and we won't have to see Bowster get his mack on with a 14-year-old. I bet his performance here helped a lot of pre-teen girls reach puberty back in the day. In the end Sarah chooses to party with various-sized goblins, which does feel like an unbelievably perverted choice, particularly when put together with lines such "I learned that I really need you."

Oh, but does Sexy David Bowie sing? Sure.


Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Director: Brian DePalma

When looking for the most colorful, inventive and crazy monster musical, one doesn't need to look further than Brian DePalma's ingenious effort. It just may be the auteur's best movie. Mixing classic gothic horror fiction such as The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Faust, Paradise Lost and The Portrait of Dorian Gray laced with popular glam rock music, satire and the director's own angers with authority and big businesses while also adding a good dose of pure silliness. With these ingredients DePalma was able to create a film so vivid it's hard to digest with one viewing. But it really makes subsequent screenings all the more rewarding and the film just seems to get better and better with time.

Warning, this clip spoils. But rush off to see the movie, I'll wait.

The movies main monster isn't the Phantom but Swan (Paul Williams), the leading record producer in the business and a worshipped musician. He's been on the top of his game for a long time, yet he harbors a terrible secret to his success. He is also a hedonistic asshole, who lives from other people's hopes and dreams yet finds it amusing to crush them. He also invites young girls to his mansion to audition, only to give them to his second-in-command, Philbin (George Memmoli) for sex.

What he lacks in outer sexiness, Paul Williams makes up with a sleazy performance and some magnificent songwriting.

When looking for some new music for the opening of his new rock club, the Paradise, he steals the music of a young aw-shucks musician Winslow (William Finley). The skilled young composer and piano player is a true artistic soul, but timid, shy and adamant to not let everyone else play his music other than himself.

But Swan cruelly cheats Winslow out of his own copyright. When the young artist comes to demand his share, Swan has him imprisoned. A desperate rush for freedom and his rights at Swan's record-pressing plant leaves Winslow scarred, mute and as good as dead. But he manages to rise up and get himself the gear to hide in the back stages of the Palace. There he will fight against the misuse of his music as The Phantom. But Swan is a devious person, and he may find a way to tame even the raging Phantom. A key figure is the beautiful young singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper), whom The Phantom believes is the only one with a voice beautiful enough to sing his greatest work; the rock opera Faust.

DePalma plays a lot with his main themes of voyeurism and the other side of it, reliving life through various medias. The source of Swan's evil is found on the fact that he records everything around him. Swan  He likes to replay the tapes of himself and finds satisfaction mostly from the time he mistreats hopeful young people. The bitter image the film gives on the music industry, which devours its innovators, is quite clearly also something young DePalma felt was evident in the way major studios dealt with oddball young directors.

The film is at times hilariously funny, at times edge-of-your seat exciting and at times heart-breakingly sad. The scene featuring the love-struck Phantom watching through roof window as Swan seduces Phoenix and his cries in the rain and thunder are truly the mark of a tragic monster.

The film something very unique, the only thing even close to this film's mixture of colorful sets, music, the speed and the overflow of unordinary visual ideas, are the rock musicals of Ken Russell. Although Russell liked to have fun as well and throw bizarre visual images into the mix, he never really seemed to have so much substance within the movie as DePalma has. And Brian's script is funny as hell to boot. The scene-stealing flamboyant rock star Beef (Gerrit Graham) and his narcissist, cowardly ways are a laugh riot every time he's on the screen. DePalma had a good eye on what was going on in the world of rock at that time, since glam and stadium rock would only get more ridiculous from there on.

Here's the Beef!

The movie is worth seeing just for DePalma's incredible homage to A Touch of Evil, with a long take from two different perspectives follows a bomb being planted and blowing up a car. It also has the evil version of The Beach Boys called The Beach Bums, who get blown to smithereens. Genius.


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