You don’t have to think for too long to discover the commonalities between heavy metal and Halloween. Evil, horror, blood, gore, and ugliness go hand-in-hand with the imagery often used by your favorite metal band. And even people who don’t listen to metal seem to love to dress up like a campy, C-grade ’80s hair metal band — or, for those with a bit more imagination, a member of Slipknot. But this year, Flavorwire encourages you to think beyond the stereotypical metal-themed Halloween revelry and dig deep into the darker psychological recesses of human existence.
To help you do this, we chatted with Mike McPadden, author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos & Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear-and Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! We picked ten horror — or just plain psychologically disturbing films — from McPadden’s book that, while not always “metal” in the strictest sense, spotilight religious and spiritual tropes that are often used within metal lyricism and imagery, with enough blood and gore splatter to make your Halloween evening a memorable – if not disturbing — one.
(McPadden’s first reaction to this suggestion was “ugh.”)
Mike McPadden: The band Autopsy took their name from this movie, which automatically qualifies this. That band was one of the first to introduce death metal and goregrind, and those bands signify horror movies set to music. It was important in that case, but it was definitely one of the earliest splatter films, and its gross and insane and intense. It’s for fans of the genre – it’s for completists. I wouldn’t recommend it for casual passersby, not because it isn’t intense, but because it’s a bit shitty… but awesome.
McPadden: When I was writing this book, more and more low-budget Viking movies were being made. I was trying to catch up, but eventually was like, “Fuck it.” The 1987 film is a good one, because it was gross. This is a slasher film about a Viking that was made on the back end of when the first Jason and Halloween movies were being made. This is about a bunch of young people going camping and instead of running into a guy with a hockey mask, they run into a Viking – a Berserker who wears fur pellets, and its pretty amazing.
Flavorwire: I was thinking of the band Manowar for some reason!
Flavorwire: This film depicts bizarre sex orgies, and also scenes of torture and death, but is it metal?
McPadden: It’s a unique film. It’s an experience like nothing else in all of cinema, and obviously it’s horrifically offensive, it’s not for sensitive audiences, I would say [laughing]. And it’s pretty terrible. Again, it’s a combination of where terrible and awesome intertwine into one film. It’s not well done, but it’s perfectly done and it’s boring and thrilling. Because it’s a film of incredible contrast and one of a kind, I would recommend it to anyone who can stand it. The story behind it is amazing — the fact that there are multiple versions of it, there are hundreds of hours of footage that has never been released. It’s a phenomenon to itself, so as a movie fan, as a horror fan, as a metal fan because [of the] extreme nature of the subject matter and the eagerness to push everything as far as it can, I would recommend it to everyone.
McPadden: Combat Shock is one of the most depressing films ever made, the most incredibly effective movie made with effectively no money. Buddy Giovinazzo, who has since gone on to become a renowned film professor who is now teaching in England, shot it in Staten Island. I picked up on it right away – it is an adaptation of the ten-minute song by a band called Suicide called “[Frankie] Teardrop.” Suicide is an important metal/industrial band, so even though it came out of the punk scene at CBGB, Suicide has really influenced more metal bands than punk. The film is about a Vietnam vet who comes home from the war, can’t feed his wife or his kids, so he goes on a killing spree. There is incredible Vietnam War footage that was actually shot on Staten Island for no money. It’s a really impressive movie – but not fun. It’s a real drag.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Flavorwire: Did Rob Zombie, who directed this film, use any of his own music in the score?
McPadden: Yes, he incorporated some of his own music in the score, as well as some bluegrass, and a lot of classic rock tunes, like the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” and of course “Freebird,” so it evokes the ’70s exploitation movies which it pays homage to. Whether you like it or not, Rob Zombie brilliantly translated his music into another medium with those movies.
The Gate (1987)
McPadden: It was a hit in its day, but unfortunately it’s fallen through the cracks. But it’s a perfect movie to introduce kids to both horror and heavy metal. A couple of suburban kids play a metal record backwards and it opens up the gate to hell in their backyard. What comes through are really imaginative monsters, including this little army of creatures that were so much cooler than anything that CGI could ever do. There is a giant hand that chases them around. It’s spooky and it’s funny without being too silly and it’s scary, just enough to get kids to love it, and I love it.
Heavy Metal Massacre (1989)
McPadden: Oh God. I’d like to say that it’s biologically impossible to sit through. It’s anti-filmmaking to the point that you have to admire and marvel at it, and I have to say that I enjoyed that film, but not in the typical definition of enjoyment. The guy that made it is a fascinating figure who then became a professional wrestler and made an unaccredited remake of the Last House on the Left. This version was really nasty, even more savage than the first version. His version was called Chaos. And it was incredibly savage and really well made, especially since he was the director of Heavy Metal Massacre.
Judgment Night (1993)
Flavorwire: I saw this movie when it came out, and I remember the importance of the soundtrack, which consisted of collaborations between rap and metal artists. What did you think about the film in general?
McPadden: I think that this film – especially the last scenes – were the introduction into the grindfest era. It was during a time where, in the theaters, there was a plethora of these medium action horror films, and they were often set in urban areas with a lot of street combat scenes. I moved to Hollywood around that time and went to the Vine Theater, which is a semi-existing grindhouse theater, and plunked down my three dollars and felt that I got my money’s worth. It was mean-spirited, had some good violence, and I thought that Dennis Leary was a good villain. I felt that there was some good imagery, in addition to a very ambitious soundtrack. But one image has always stayed with me in the movie: when the yuppies are initially lost in the projects, there is a shot of a kid in a swing in the middle of the night, alone, that is really chilling and has a real sense of foreboding. For a silly kind of semi-sleazy toss-up action movie, it really has some good touches. Plus they attempted to do something new with the soundtrack.
Flavorwire: I remember seeing the movie when I was eight — and I was scared, but fascinated at the same time. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a horrible movie it was.
McPadden: A classic in all of its terribleness. It aired on NBC in 1978 as part of their Saturday Night Movies program and it aired a couple of days before Halloween. As a ten year-old, obsessed with and terrified by KISS, it was awesome. Even then I knew it was stupid but campy and ridiculous, but I loved it – and still love it. It played in Europe in theaters, and I can’t imagine the experience of paying and going to watch it. That was my entire childhood relationship with KISS. Scared but fascinated.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Flavorwire: In the foreword for Heavy Metal Movies, Alice Cooper discusses a number of horror movies he appeared in. It was really cool to read his accounts of those times.
McPadden: This is probably the best one he appears in. He doesn’t say a word in it. He plays a homeless guy, and the film is really this mind-bending horror, sci-fi theme in which the essence of Satan is captured in a bottle and kept in a church. It starts to bubble up, and it may break out of the bottle. The area surrounding the church gets real weird, and the homeless people outside of the church start becoming entrenched, and Alice is one of them. As [Cooper] told me, the original plan was that because he knows the director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York), he was just going to visit the set, and Carpenter asked him to play one of the homeless guys.
Carpenter said, “The camera is going to pan over them really quick, but perhaps some people will recognize you,” but what happened was they started shooting this and the camera was going by, and Alice had such a terrifying look on his face that the camera just focused on him. And that became one of the indelible horror movie scenes in the 1980s. He’s very frightening even though he doesn’t saw a word – but at one point he does throw a bicycle through someone’s chest.
For more ideas on metal-themed horror films, check out Heavy Metal Movies, a must-have guidebook containing over 666 movies and TV shows that range from straight made-for-TV movies to blockbusters.