Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Elvira 1986 Halloween MTV Special-The Music Video Review Edition-Part One


Halloween has always been my Christmas. That’s not to knock winter holiday celebrations of any stripe, whether you are celebrating the birth of Jesus, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, or simply, the great cult of Claus. But Halloween has always resonated the strongest with me. The combination of plastic skeletons, cheap costumes, free candy, and the overall haunting ambiance of the latter Autumnal days was and will always be a lethal combination for me. The sight of jack-o-lanterns still sends me into a schoolgirl like place of giddiness. (Not to mention my husband and I got engaged around Halloween.)

As a wee one, I also had an instant love of all things horror and camp. Together or separate, I love it all. So it was a natural thing for me to immediately glom on to the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira. Gorgeous, vampy, and a total smartass, she had all the marks of an early role model for little me. (Right along with David Lee Roth and Booger from “Revenge of the Nerds.” Yes, I was a weird little kid.) Truth is, I still love Elvira. In fact she practically looks the same now as she did when she hosted MTV’s three-hour plus Halloween special back in 1986.

Yes children, there was a time when MTV actually played music videos. I’m sure there is a generation of kids now that probably think that is a myth, but yes there was a time when instead of fake reality shows featuring the blandest rich white people this side of Gwyneth Paltrow, they showed musicians showcasing their sonic wares in a visual format.

Now one of the things people tend to gloss over about “the golden age” of MTV is that even when it was good, it was never that great. It was more often than not a sea of mediocre to decent videos by artists like Huey Lewis and the News, Lioneld Richie, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Madonna, and the rest of their ilk being put on an endless loop. Every so often you got to see something legitimately good but it was like mining for diamonds. To this day, I still get twitchy when I hear the opening strains of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” because they played it so frigging much. And I love Peter Gabriel! Don’t even get me started on Phil Collins.

Anyways, I digress. When I get my mitts on this special recently, I had no idea what the video selection would be. I knew I could count on the interstitial bits with Elvira being cute and funny, so there was at least that. But MTV’s play list was always a crapshoot, so I had no real idea of what I would be in for. My fears of a crappy music video fest were quickly put to rest by the surprisingly diverse mix of videos. Well for the most part. Let’s examine this, shall we?



Siouxsie & the Volcano-An Image from "Cities in Dust"

The proceedings immediately bode well, as they begin with Siouxsie & the Banshees “Cities in Dust.” From their excellent album “Tinderbox,” the song itself is about destruction of Pompeii from the volcano Mount Vesuvius. The video mirrors this in a very dark but lovely way, thanks to director Tim Pope, whom fittingly directed a good chunk of the Cure’s videography. Oddly enough this song was the first single of theirs to be released in the US. It’s a beautiful video for a haunting song.



Lost son of Lux Interior and David Bowie? No, it's just Peter Murphy from Bauhaus!

Speaking of now legendary post-punk bands, things go from good to great with Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” I love Bauhaus the way other people love their kids. Along with the Cramps, The Damned, Wall of Voodoo, and Blue Oyster Cult, Bauhaus has always been a band that I can listen to any time of the day and never ever tire of. Like the perfect meal, they always hit the right spot. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is now considered a Goth rock classic and for good reason. It is a cacophony of mood, rock, and guignol ambiance that results in the best kind of epic. Unfortunately we don’t get the full 9-minute track, but instead a severely truncated version featuring footage from the Tony Scott vampire film The Hunger. So you get plenty of Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, a young Ann Magnuson as a red haired punkette, and singer Peter Murphy looking like the offspring of Lux Interior by way of Hammer Horror. (In other words, awesome!) Hearing this song cut up like this does not come even close to satiating the average Bauhaus fan but it should be enough of a taster for the uninitiated.



Ghoul in waiting

Didn’t think this could kick any more ass? Then you would be wrong because after that we get The Damned with “Plan 9, Channel 7.” This ode to Ed Wood’s cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space and in particular, its eternally gorgeous star, Vampira, is one of the band’s best and still a fan favorite. The video is typical Damned, mixing cheeky humor and some seriously great music, though the sentiment is genuine. Parts of the video feature Vanian pining for a gorgeous Vampira-esque ghoul while the rest of the band ham it up, especially the impish Algy Ward and the ever-lovable Captain Sensible. It ends the way any great video should…. with equipment on fire and musicians going batshit. Eat that “Thriller!”



The greatest punk band ever-The Damned


Up next is a band that makes total sense for this sort of special, which is none other than Oingo Boingo with “Weird Science.” This song, as well as the movie with the same name, was huge at the time. It’s a cute movie but this song has frankly never done a whole lot for me. There are much worse songs from the time period but this is pretty weak for an incredible band like Oingo Boingo. I personally would have gone for “Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me” which is an infinitely better song and a more typical Boingo-esque video featuring surrealist imagery, hula girls, skeletons getting stabbed, a head on a platter, and a little person dressed up as a baby. What’s cooler, that or a bunch of girls painted silver and Kelly LeBrock looking like a failed member of Expose? You be the judge.


Danny wishing he was in a better video


After that we get Ozzy Osbourne’s classic werewolf rocker, “Bark at the Moon.” The video is well made and we’re treated to a whole Jekyll/Hyde twist with Ozzy playing a Victorian mad scientist who has created a lycanthropic beast that may or may not be the man himself. There’s lot of great shots of the Ozzman hamming it up, horror movie style, which is perfect for the season. The song is the title track from Ozzy’s 1983 album, which was his first without later guitar maverick Randy Rhoads. Even though former Black Oak Arkansas and Thin Lizzy drummer Tommy Aldridge is on the studio version of this song, it’s ex-Vanilla Fudge and every other rock band in history drummer Carmine Appice in the video. (I would recognize that Guido-stache anywhere.)



Ladies and Gentlemen...the Guido-stache!

One of the cool things about this special is that there are a few artists here that don’t totally fit into the Halloween theme. Luis Cardenas’s “Runaway” is definitely one of them. Yes, it’s that “Runaway,” the Del Shannon hit. Cardenas has the distinction of being a drummer and a singer and was once a member of the rock band Renegade. The cover is decent enough, despite that tinny production quality that plagued a number of rock-pop artists. Now none of that is scary at all. Hell, the video is not scary either, but dammit, it has DINOSAURS. I’m talking big Claymation dinosaurs playing electric guitars and rocking out! No matter what your opinion is on this song, you should never deny the fact that dinosaurs are like ranch dressing…they make everything better.



Dinos rule!

While dinosaurs aren’t really scary, they are huge creatures with sharp teeth, so it sort of makes sense to have it here. However showing video for The Cure’s “In Between Days” doesn’t. Yes The Cure are considered to by some to be the ultimate Goth band, but they were not always on the dark side of that genre. Certainly not here, given the fact that this is one of band’s sunnier sounding songs. The only thing that makes it halfway Halloweenie is the part of the video where it looks like Robert Smith has Day-Glo eyes. Oooky spooky. It’s a stretch, though I love The Cure and Tim Pope’s stuff always looks good.



Liquid Sky-lite

Thankfully the next video is completely appropriate and is one of the best out of the whole special. Directed by Jon Poll, it’s “Hollywood Halloween” by Paul Broucek is a catchy tune with a weird, almost melancholy vibe. The video is comprised of Super 8 footage of a wild assortment of devilish and flat out weird characters in Hollywood on Halloween. (Fittingly enough.) This entry is unique due to the fact that this song, as far as I know, has never been released commercially. Broucek is a successful musician, but more in the field of Hollywood films, including The Golden Compass (2007) and A History of Violence (2005.) Jon Poll has also gone on to have some success in H-wood, doing editing work on Scary Movie 3 (2003) and co-producing Bruno (2009).




Yum!


In a cool twist, after that we have LA death rock band Kommunity FK’s “Something Inside of Me Has Died.” The video is gorgeous, at times looking like a European 20’s and 30’s film. If I knew nothing about the band, I would have guessed that they were from Europe. Whoever directed this video knew exactly what they were doing because this is beautifully made. The song itself at first seems like a decent gloomy dark-rock dirge, but it does grow on you. Good moody music created by some beautiful, china-doll like musicians.



Drama club gone rogue!


Patrick Mata, lead singer of Kommunity FK, who was a big influence on such artists like Perry Farrell.


Such a pretty video.

Speaking of awesomely made, atmospheric videos, we have Landscape’s “Norman Bates.” There was no other band really like Landscape at the time and this song is a good example of that. A band that has ties to such equally cool and diverse bands as Shock and Shriekback, it was a given that they were bound to stand out. The song is movie soundtrack worthy with a great video to match. There are some nice English twists to the Hitchcock classic, featuring a large stone estate and “mother” being the lead singer with a crocheted blanket around his face. The camera work is fab and the girl playing the Janet Leigh type role looks A LOT like the actress. To the point where at first I thought they had inserted clips from the movie into the video. A+ all the way.



Great shot from "Norman Bates."


Did I mention that Landscape did an album called “From the Tea-Rooms of Mars…to the Hell Holes of Uranus?” This band is officially badass.


Surrealism, ala Goude.


Continuing on in the vein of badass, we get “Slave to the Rhythm” by the one and only Grace Jones. This is one of the videos that doesn’t really fit into the whole Halloween theme but it is so compellingly strange and mind-blowing that it’s great to see regardless. Jones needs no introduction other than she is the living definition of an Amazonian Goddess that everyone should bow down to. All of the fantastic visuals are courtesy of Jean Paul Goude, who was Grace’s lover and creative collaborator for years. Interestingly enough, almost all of the clips are culled from Goude’s various commercial work in Europe. For you eagle eyed viewers out there, you will spot one of the dancers running around with a tray of Orangina bottles. Having had Orangina, I would be running the hell away from them. That drink is an assault to the fine reputation of Oranges.



Trust me, it's not as good as it looks.

There is nothing that can properly follow that up, but I will never turn down a little Iron Maiden, especially when it is “Wasted Years.” The song is great and one of my favorites by them, though it is too bad the video is nothing but still images edited together with some bland footage of the band hanging out and playing. Then again Maiden is one of those bands whose epic music rarely matched their music videos. The sole exception would be the clip for “Can I Play With Madness” featuring Graham Chapman trying not to play with madness. Too bad that came out around a year after this special aired.


Great band, boring video.


The disappointing video blues are soon saved by the highly underrated Lords of the New Church with “Dance with Me.” The combination of the Lords and visionary director Derek Jarman (Jubilee, The Tempest) proves to be an inspired one as we have key visual triggers (fire in various forms, innocence running and lost) and one sinister-sexual juju man in the form of the late, great Stiv Bators. The song is great too, with it being the classic Lords mix of crunch guitars with a post-punk flourish. For those of you not in the know, the Lords were a super group comprising of Stiv (the Dead Boys), Brian James (The Damned), Dave Tregunna (Sham 69) and Nicky Turner (The Barracudas). In short, the Lords of the New Church were a truly great band who never did a shitty song ever. We love the Lords.




Only Derek Jarman could provide such an image. He will be missed.



C'mere baby!



In the spirit of super groups, after that we get Strange Party with the catchy and funky “Imitators.” Now this is not scary, sinister, spooky, Halloweenie at all, save for a brief shot of someone with a knife, but it is a helluva lot of fun. Not to mention this was one of the few, if only times this bad boy ever got airplay on MTV. Strange Party was mix of who’s who’s in the NYC art/theater/music scene in the early 80’s The band was comprised of George Elliot, Page Wood, Joey Arias, Tony Frere, Ann Magnuson, just to name a few! The video is a wholly successful experiment with video editing and composition. More current video directors need to watch this and other early video and soak up the pioneering spirit. There are a few famous imitators with my personal faves being Joey Arias as a surprisingly sexy Dali and Magnuson as a beatific Gala. Maybe it’s because I am so used to seeing Arias in drag (he does a helluva Billie Holliday by the way), but he really rocks the handlebar mustache. Not since David Lochary has a man looked so handsome with such facial hair.




Joey Arias or Dali?



New wave shadows in "Imitators."




They can’t all be winners, so up next we have the Eurythmics and their song, “Missionary Man.” I have friends who may lynch my ass for this, but I think the Eurythmics are overall an overrated band. Sure they’ve had moments of brilliance and I don’t think anyone in their right mind can deny that Annie Lennox has a gorgeous voice. But for every great song there’s a spotty song right behind it, hence “Missionary Man.” It’s not even that sinister, save for maybe Dave Stewart handling a snake and the fact that it goes on too long. The video is well lit and creative enough but any visual coolness is muted by the blah-ness of the song. Annie looks great, but knowing what these two were capable of, this song is just more of miss than anything.




Cool visual, too bad the song is meh.


Now from the weak to the sublime, MTV atones for its sins and follows it up with The Hitmen’s atmospheric “Bates Motel.” If there was such a thing as getting a degree in music video making, it should be mandatory to watch this video. It would have been all too easy for the director to go with a cheesy Psycho rip-off, but instead you get a thoughtful and creepy video. There are plenty of Hitchcockian nods but they are all done tastefully and if anything add to the ambiance. The song is terrific too and the Hitmen in general were a very, very underrated band. (I highly recommend their album “Torn Together.”) Lead singer Ben Watkins is great here, aptly handling both singing and acting duties and looking genuinely menacing. The lyrics perfectly set the tone for the video. I’ll turn my home into Bates Motel, with the Watkins character coming across like a Norman Bates copycat, while the rest of the band watches a film that may or may not be a snuff film. Between that and such imagery of a droplet of red blood mixed in with the rain while he watches makes this all very heavy viewing. This is the real deal folks.




"Man after meat, out on the streets..." One of many effective shots in "Bates Motel."

Random trivia note, Watkins went on to form successful electronic band Juno Reactor, who are perhaps best known for being featured in the soundtrack for the Matrix films. Sadly Watkins has pretty much disowned his work with the Hitmen. Which is too bad because great work is great work and that band certainly achieved that. There should never be shame in good art.



Watkins looking very cool and sinister.


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After that is one of the best bands to have emerged from the Los Angeles 70’s punk scene with X’s “Because I Do.” The video is great with Exene looking especially lovely while grieving, pining, and plotting the fate of her next lover. Shot in black and white, it’s a gorgeous video that looks like a cross between Maya Deren and Man Ray. Plus the song is classic X, so this cannot be beat!




Exene Cervenka=Goddess


It’s hard to follow that double whammy up and while Madness is hardly spooky, they are always fun, so it is hard to complain. “House of Fun” does have a carnival type feel musically, which the video reflects with the lads being wonderfully ridiculous and doing dance moves that I sadly busted out way too many times in my wee years. (Now THAT is spooky.) Oddly enough, the song is actually about a young man dealing with getting over his own fears over trying to buy his first pack of condoms at a drug store.



Who would not want to hang out with this band?


The goodwill gets even better when after that we get The Ramones with “Psychotherapy.” Directed by Francis Delia (aka F.X. Pope when working on such fringe film classics like Nightdreams), who had directed Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” three years prior to this special, does a predictably awesome job here featuring the band playing a bunch of inmates in an insane asylum. In addition the cast of the characters around them, which includes a blonde elf child-woman, a python, and one cute punkette that looks like Gia Carangi’s cousin. But the big highlight is Dennis Edwards (who was also in the Delia produced, Stephen Sayadian directed CafĂ© Flesh) as a troubled young man whom after going through ice baths and shock treatment, has a creature burst out of his head?!? Unfortunately, the monster money shot is trimmed thanks to the censors at MTV. (Notice they didn’t roll this bad boy out a couple of years ago when MTV2 did their ‘Most Controversial Videos of all Time” special.)



Hey wait a minute...that's not Elvis Costello! A great zombie shrink from "Psychotherapy."





Up next we get the video classic “White Wedding” by the man, Billy Idol. Yes MTV did play this to death back in the day, but for once it was a video that was genuinely good. The video was directed by the very capable of David Mallet, who also worked with such legends as David Bowie (including the incredible video for “Look Back in Anger”), Queen, Blondie, and Joan Jett. Tonally this is a dark video playing up the domestic image of the bride right next to gothic cynicism. I think everyone and their mother by now should know about Idol, so let me focus on the fabulous Perri Lister playing the lead female here. Lister, in addition to being Idol’s non-legal wife for 9 years, was also in the banned by MTV video for Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur” and was a part of the excellent synth pop band Visage. So give some props to Perri because she’s awesome.





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Finishing up part one, we end on a ghastly high note with Bauhaus’s “Mask.” The fact that MTV ever played this video is a near miracle. Not because it is terrible or anything. In fact, it’s incredible, but this is probably one of the most disturbing videos that ever graced their airwaves. (Not counting the entire Loverboy oeuvre.) Keep in mind that this is the same channel that banned the video for Blue Oyster Cult’s “Joan Crawford.” (Which is definitely worth looking up, by the way.) The song itself is one of the band’s more abstract and haunting tunes, which for Bauhaus is saying a lot. Filled with loads of shadowy and surreal imagery, particularly involving Peter Murphy as a dust covered corpse that rises up towards this end, you will not forget this video anytime soon. Unlike the clip for “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” shown near the beginning of the special, we get to see lots of the other band members here, including drummer Kevin Haskins as a ghoul and Daniel Ash looking like some kind of sickly tribal revenant. This is the stuff great nightmares are made of.




The Shadow is Cast-Peter Murphy in "Mask."

All in all, this is a very fine first half for a music video oriented Halloween special. Who knew that MTV had it in them? Will the final two hours continue to bring on the spooky music video goodness or will it fall prey to the great monster of suckage? Stay tuned for Part Two and find out!



4 comments:

  1. Awesome blog. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this special. Funny thing, I got this in a trade probably four years ago and have send it out in many trades and boots since while i was still running Nightcrew Video. So in a way I probably propagated it's availability in a big way. Your copy was probably copied from my copies at some point! Great stuff

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  2. This is SO AWESOME. Please give us part 2 soon.

    My friend Kim Levitt, who lived in Hollywood in the '80s and had MTV and a VCR before I did, taped Elvira's MTV '86 special off the air. When he died of AIDS in '91 I inherited the tape. In '98 I gave it a thorough listen and so began my journey into Gothic rock.

    Glad to find out I'm not the only one who obsessed on this.

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  3. Alan, first of all I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. It's amazing how much art can connect us to our loved ones.

    Secondly, thank you for the awesome comment. Part two is definitely in the works. I'm hoping to have it up and ready by Halloween. (Naturally.)

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  4. Wow, this was fun to read. I taped this back in 1986 and have watched it every Halloween since. I also dubbed the whole thing to audio tape, skits, commercials, and all, and kept a copy in my car during the weeks before Halloween. You might be interested to know that some of the lesser songs (like "Missionary Man" and "Shot in the Dark") were huge hits on MTV at the time and were undoubtedly included to keep the more mainstream fans tuned in.

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