The Halloween edition of Sonic Attack continues with the chaser to last week’s shot, Music to Get Your Spook On!: The Album Edition, presenting you with the perfect spooky music video playlist to accompany all things going bump in the night.
- The Hitmen “Bates Motel”
“A man after meat/Out in the street/The edge of your seat/Forever”
The Hitmen, not to be confused with the Aussie band of the same name, were a British power-pop-rock group who released two albums in 1980 and 1981 before breaking up. (Judging by some of his comments in past interviews, Hitmen lead singer Ben Watkins, who would go on to forge some fantastic musical ground with his band Juno Reactor, among others, indicates fairly nasty band and breakup experiences.) Bad past feelings aside, The Hitmen were really underrated and while they never did get the break that weaker bands got in that era, they did at least get to make mark with their cult song, “Bates Motel.”
The song is already great, ripe with ugly imagery, sinister sonic tones, and all the better, a great hook. The video is its equal, featuring Watkins as a young man inspired by Norman Bates, while the rest of the band watch flickering images that have some inspiration from the Lady in the Radiator in David Lynch’s Eraserhead. There is implied snuff footage and some superb shots, including a close up of Watkins’ eye looking out through a rain streaked window with single droplet of red fluid on the glass sliding its way down. Unfortunately, trying to find an untampered version of this video online is currently foolhardy, with the main version being truncated on both ends, as well as some massively unneeded filters put on the original. (Including one that completely ruins the aforementioned window show.) Seek out the original, which did air as part of Elvira’s MTV Halloween special in 1986.
- Bauhaus — “Mask”
A band like Bauhaus does not need an introduction and if you’re reading that and still going, “Who?”, please, go to the horn o’plenty that is the Internet and delve into both the original German Art movement but also, especially in the case of this article, the groundbreaking UK post-punk band. Creating music composed by four distinct personalities coming together to forge a group that sounds as original and fresh now as they did back when they released their first single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” in 1979, Bauhaus were and forever are, one of the best. Their music is the kind that keenly begs for a merging with fitting visuals.
Working with a young filmmaker named Christopher Robin Collins, who also put together their concert film “Archive” a year later, the band’s video for their 1981 song “Mask” (from the album of the same name) is ethereal, funereal, and gorgeous in that way that the dark unknown can be. The video features such images as drummer Kevin Haskins in skull paint looking voodoo resplendent, bassist David J crawling on the ground to something we can’t quite see, guitarist Daniel Ash being glamorously primitive while spitting into the mouth of singer Peter Murphy, who is laid out stiff and in corpse repose. It is the resurrection scene of the latter that extremely stands out, making it more eerie and visually compelling than most horror films that have come out in the past twenty something years.
- The Gun Club — “House on Highland Ave”
I have already waxed poetic about The Gun Club on this site before, but one can never have too much Jeffrey Lee Pierce in their life. The Gun Club were one of those bands whose work was barely ever represented with official music videos. (Also see the Rozz Williams era of Christian Death for similar under representation.) Which for a band in the 1980s was a bit unusual. The Gun Club may have lacked in video quantity but the clip for their song “House on Highland Avenue” (from the Death Party EP) is better than most bands’ entire filmographies.
Featuring Texacala Jones (from Tex & the Horseheads) as a raven-haired waif who has somehow ended up at a dingy pit of a motel with a blond-haired man (Pierce) who nervously paces around when he’s not vaguely menacing her or cracking up while Son of Frankenstein (1939) plays on the filmy-looking TV. Intercut are shots of Pierce in a wheelchair, idly playing with what looks like a bracelet and standing over a bathroom sink rubbing rust colored smear on his face as his damaged eyes look onward. Is it mud? Is it gore? What exactly happened to the girl? You never find out, which makes the proceedings all the more unsettling.
- Screaming Lord Sutch — “Jack the Ripper”
Born David Edward Sutch in Hampstead, England, Screaming Lord Sutch was a pioneer in the fine art of combining pulp horror presence with good old rock & roll. Years before Alice Cooper was scaring parents, Sutch was terrifying and delighting teenagers, with his cover of Clarence Stacy’s 1961 song, “Jack the Ripper.”
Also standout was the Scopitone music video made to accompany it around 1964. Featuring a dimly lit set and Sutch in all of his rangy murderous glory as he stalks around murdering an assortment of lovelies, “Jack the Ripper” plays out like the most deranged and fun yellow papered lurid novel. The clip even opens with a mid-shot of his shoe grinding on a victim’s hand like it is a tossed cigarette. Amazing. Can you imagine if H.G. Lewis had gotten to make a film with Sutch? If Heaven is a realm where our dearest dreams come true, then the master of American cult film Guignol and the most colorful British shock rocker ever have made a film together and it is good.
- Beasts of Bourbon — “Psycho”
I don’t know what was in the water in Australia in the late 1970s and early 80s but whatever it was, it was glorious. The Screaming Tribesmen, Lime Spiders, Hunters & Collectors, The Birthday Party, Rose Tattoo, etc etc. Another one that is truly stellar are the Beasts of Bourbon. The name alone is pretty perfect but lucky for us, the band can back it up. Fronted by alpha-dog Tex Perkins, it was their cover of the Leon Payne-penned twisted country chestnut “Psycho” in 1984 that cemented them as a band to keep an ear and eye on.
The video for it features a set that is both static and rotating, with Perkins at the foreground as our oil-slick-sexy narrator. In Zoetrope-esque motion, the band comes in and out while images of the unsettling story involving mental illness and ultimately murder, unfurl. It is an eye catching, supremely well executed work that is further proof that with the right piece of music and creative vision, a music video can be every bit as effective as a feature film or anything branded “non-commercial.”
- Greg Kihn Band “Jeopardy”
Greg Kihn is a cultural Renaissance man, from creating some respectably great rock & roll (“The Breakup Song” has to be one of the best songs to have graced the audio waves in the past forty years) to radio DJ to novelist and even some key charity work. However, it was the video for his song “Jeopardy” in 1983 that freaked out my toddler-aged self.
“Jeopardy” was directed by award winning music video creator Joe Dea and stars Kihn as a likable though nervous groom to be at the altar. Things quickly take a messed up turn. A smiling older couple transform into grinning ghouls with a fleshy, throbbing growth connecting them and his beautiful bride to be turns into a screaming skeleton as the wedding party become zombie-like and the church floor is cracked open by a large green snake monster. Me at three years old was not educated on things like “bad acid trips,” but if I had been, then “Jeopardy” would have instantly triggered some Lysergic acid addled preschool PTSD. Finding out that Kihn is a huge genre film fan and even centered his novel, Horror Show, around B-Movie filmmaking, makes perfect sense when you see this insane and still effective video. CGI does not scare me but cheap, pulsating bladder tumors connecting old people will permanently terrify me.
- Billy Idol — “Dancing With Myself”
Originally recorded by his band, the great punk-pop outfit Generation X, Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” is by itself, not at all dark or macabre or tonally strange. It is a really great, infectious rock song that could go on for 10 minutes to the complaint of few. The video however? Totally entrenched with creatures and men of all sorts of sinister purposes and with legendary film director Tobe Hooper at the helm, you know it’s gonna be good.
In some post-apocalyptic urban area, Idol gets on an elevator while we see peek after peek of some of the building’s tenants. Decayed corpses, a silhouette of a woman tied up and struggling while a greaser looking guy sharpens a knife, an oblivious housewife sitting down while her husband is swinging a mallet behind her, while two guys have a martial arts match are the key big ugly shows we see. On top of the building, there is a brief respite until a throng of zombies start scaling the building and crawl onto the roof. Utilizing the power of electricity, I’m guessing, Idol manages to repel the horde off by zapping them into the air. These creatures though are as hideous as they are headstrong and keep coming back. By the end of the video, they start having a dance party on the roof, because it was the 1980s and also, cocaine. Good, strong, Colombian grade marching powder. Actually, I have no proof of that at all but it would explain some things.
- Skinny Puppy — “Worlock”
Collage art and industrial music are two bed mates perfectly matched for each other. The video for Skinny Puppy’s 1990 song “Worlock” is a fantastically edited, grue-filled result of such a merger and serves as both a great visual stamp for one of the band’s best songs, as well as a valentine for modern day horror film fans. “Worlock” is composed from dozens of films ranging from 1981’s Dead and Buried and at least four Argento films (Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Suspiria, Tenebre and Opera are all recognizable), to more obscure titles like Luther the Geek, and the promo film for the never to be fully completed sequel to William Lustig’s Maniac, entitled Maniac 2: Mr Robbie. There is also some original footage with singer Nivek Ogre getting roughed up and presumably killed in a dirty alley.
“Worlock” has never been legally released, with the main reason initially given was that it was banned due to the extreme violence that runs throughout. The more logical reason, however, is more tied to the legal nightmare it would be to clear all of the rights of the vast assortment of films that the video is sourced from. I actually first saw it back in college thanks to my friend Jason having a Skinny Puppy bootleg that he had obtained. The tape not only had “Worlock,” but some of their other videos, including the equally awesome “Dig it.” Skinny Puppy have remained one of the best bands that came out of the electronic/industrial field and if you enjoy “Worlock,” you owe it to yourself to seek out more of their work.
- Marilyn Martin — “Night Moves”
The worlds of feature film and music video have intertwined more than most have examined. The two have borrowed from each other since almost the beginning of the music video form. In some cases, film has taken more recent inspiration from the shorter format. (A lush example of this would be playing the video for the Canadian band Spoons song “Nova Heart” next to Panos Cosmatos’ 2010 sci-fi masterpiece, Beyond the Black Rainbow and noting the similarities.) A reverse would be Tony Scott’s 1981 tone poem to age, vampirism, and flowy fabric, The Hunger, and the 1986 music video for Marilyn Martin’s “Night Moves.”
Martin maybe best known for her duet with Phil “Angry Gerber Baby” Collins in 1985 for the White Nights soundtrack, but instead of that, let’s focus on her song and video for “Night Moves.” This is the kind of music and theme that lends itself so perfectly to say, an LA version of Forever Knight and as someone who loves both The Hunger and Forever Knight (Lacroix forever!), this is a good thing. The video features Martin playing as a cool blonde black widow who is leaving a trail of good looking young men drained of blood for the local police to find. The shot of her warehouse type room littered with bodies hanging from the ceiling and cocooned in white fabric is a superb one. Did Phil Collins ever have that in his videos? Methinks not!
- 45 Grave — “Partytime”
If it’s horror and punk you want, then LA based 45 Grave are just your ticket with fangs, vinegar, fog, and a willingness to examine both true horror, as well as the occasional cheeky “Groovie Ghoulie” swing and sway. Formed in 1979, 45 Grave broke graveyard dirt with their debut 1983 album, “Sleep in Safety.” Considered one of the first major deathrock albums, it was the single “Partytime” that brought them some deserved attention. (A lyrically changed version of the song, subtitled the“Zombie Version,” famously appeared in the film The Return of the Living Dead, as well as on its stellar soundtrack.)
The original version of the song was released with a music video directed by none other than music video and film maverick, Graeme Whifler. A master of incorporating elements occasionally humorous but also skin and psyche crawlingly weird, Whifler was a perfect choice for the band. The original video features both the band as suburban white bread types emanating nothing good at a children’s birthday party and as their fabulous, spooky looking selves. The birthday footage, shot in what looks like someones Super 8mm home footage is so brilliantly creepy, with even the more innocuous of images feeling off. Given that the song is about the abuse and murder of a little girl, it’s made even more discomforting. It is the big ugly and I say that with complete respect.
- John Fogerty — “Eye of the Zombie”
Not many lists are going to feature 45 Grave and Skinny Puppy along with former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty, but while some may call this madness, I just call it three nights of sleep deprivation and living off of coffee and Altoids. In all seriousness, while it is easy to write off Fogerty as a classic rock old guard kind of musician, his song and video for the title track off of his 1986 solo album, “Eye of the Zombie,” is worth seeking out.
Musically, it is that kind of pseudo-blues-bar-twangy-Southern-tinged rock you would expect, but has some atmospheric lyrics that you might not. Lines like, “From out of nowhere he’s there/Flashing hideous teeth/Panic in the crowd/Helter Skelter/We’re brought to our knees,” paint a darker tableau. The video enhances all of that, with figures shrouded in fog and running around, some of whom maybe living and others obviously otherworldly. There’s even brief zombie nudity, which is always a plus. Directed by famed American director, photographer and illustrator Matt Mahurin, “Eye of the Zombie” has the look of a fever dream while reading an old dusty and outdated text about voodoo.
- Landscape — “Norman Bates”
The early 80s gave us not just one terrific new wave song inspired by Psycho, but two, with the second one being “Norman Bates” by the uber-fun and quirky British synth driven band, Landscape. “Norman Bates” was one of the two major singles from their 1981 album, the exquisitely titled, “From the Tea-Rooms of Mars…To the Hell Holes of Uranus” and boasted an aces video to boot.
Shot in black & white and featuring an actress who is a near dead ringer for Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, the video show her driving at night to a large, isolated looking estate that is riddled with faux Mother Bates, creepy paintings and an assortment of odd characters. While it is quite a bit more tongue in cheek than The Hitmen’s “Bates Motel” from the same year, “Norman Bates” is a rich tribute to one of the greatest modern horror films ever made. Plus, who could not love a song that gets to recreate Norman shouting out, “Mother!? Oh my god!” The karaoke gods will love it.
- The Cramps — “Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon”
There are bands you enjoy, bands you love, and then bands you might possibly get into a bottle-breaking fistfight over. The Cramps are a 110% in the latter category. A band so fantastical, so balls out rock & roll, and everything that makes life worth sticking around for, The Cramps were a band that never ever could let you down. All of their musical and music video work is more fun and swinging than Tempest Storm at a Link Wray show, but it is their 1990 single, “The Creature From the Black Leather Lagoon” that is prime time for Halloween party inspiration and Samhain shenanigans.
Directed by one of the best in the business, Rocky Schenk (who also worked with Devo, Redd Kross, Barnes & Barnes and Combustible Edison, among others), “Creature” has everything your warped heart could desire. Uber cool hoodlums destroying a 1970s styled middle class living room? Check. Lux Interior in stylish black underwear, leather jacket, and matching pumps? Yes, please. Lux turning into a monster and ravishing the flame haired hotsy-totsy Ms Poison Ivy? Absolutely. Monster birth? Sweet lord Roger Corman, yes. If you have a friend who doesn’t like this video, then you need to cut them from your life stat. Our time in this realm is far too short to waste on the unworthy.
There you have it, folks! Some mondo-great sonic and visual inspiration for one of the most glorious times of the year. Even if it’s not anywhere near Halloween when you read any of this, remember, it is never truly too early or too late to celebrate the darker and stranger side of life, throw on a monster mask or eat a tiny piece of candy with a cartoon bat on it. Be safe, stay strange, and Happy Halloween!