One of death metal’s pioneering vocalists has passed away today. Frank “Killjoy” Pucci of Necrophagia died this morning as revealed on the band’s Facebook page. One of the original tape traders of death metal, Killjoy’s legendary vocals on the phenomenal Season of the Dead album (which predated Death’s Scream Bloody Gore by several months) paved the wave for the death/black metal technique and inspired some of the greatest artists in metal. (more…)
Article by Johan P continuing Death Metal Underground’s progressive rock coverage.
Morte Macabre is a collaboration between members of the Swedish prog revivalist groups Landberk and Anekdoten, who joined forces to create progressive rock that is equal parts beautiful and disturbing. Their only album – Symphonic Holocaust – is a real treat for those who enjoy creepy music in general, especially 1970s Italian horror movie soundtracks. It is a tribute to the darker side of 70s progressive rock, with reference to Italian groups and composers like Celeste, Goblin, Museo Rosenbach, Fabio Frizzi and Riz Ortolani. An explicit Red-era King Crimson influence permeates the album as well.
Featuring several authors from many backgrounds including members of metal bands Manilla Road and Solstice, Swords of Steel is an exciting collection of short stories that are for the most part squarely rooted in the tradition of serialized weird fiction.
The Witch is a non-Hollywood movie set in the 1630s dealing with a witch psychological attacking a family of New England colonists. The Witch here is typical of traditional European folklore. The filmmakers took cues from historical documents, “first hand” accounts, and contemporary folk tales. Lurking behind the vague but shocking impressions veiled in mystery that our post-Christian society still has, are the insubordinate traditions and purposely asocial philosophies that defined the attitudes of practitioners of the left hand path.
The eighties, as any other decade, had its own particular flavor, and popular culture had turned to fantasy and horror as a sort of addictive drug. The most grueling slasher films with fake yet more tangible appearances than the digitized reproductions directed at desensitized audiences that we have today. It may be guessed that a lot of this was an outlet for repressed feelings of hopelessness towards the end of the Cold War, in the midst of death squad strikes and political assassinations throughout the world by the very pseudo protectors of liberty.
The menace of a nuclear holocaust made the idea of a post-apocalyptic scenario not so much the stuff of dreams but a possible (and plausible) future not more than a few decades ahead. There was terror in the air, as desperation and fear had already become the habit of a whole generation raised in the shadow of the fairy tales of the great wars and disarmed through the enhancing of shadows on the wall as their very protectors backstabbed them.
The kids born of this former failed generation of proper workmen and citizens grew to distrust all the bullshit thrown at them. Growing up in this era of tension and constant threats outside a bubble of hypocrisy and bigotry made young men of a more realist mentality long for the collapse of the system of lies built by the ‘mature and responsible’. This is the world that gave us death metal as Slayer’s lessons were ran through hardcore punk and then grindcore.
1. Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel (1986)
Expressing the most bare-bones discontent with society with a sincerity that only the punk spirit can deliver, Cro-Mags adopt metal riff phrasing techniques to give further elaboration to paint pictures of collapse and humanity’s demise that are more grim and nihilistic than the lyrics themselves.
2. Repulsion – Horrified (1989)
While Age of Quarrel is the image of a decadent civilization malfunctioning its way to its own zombification, Repulsion shows us the explosion and its aftermath. The first is fear of impending doom, this latter is terror, desperation and psychotic breakdown in the face of monstrous reality.
3. Carnage – Dark Recollections (1990)
Beneath the blatant visions of disaster and discomfort, the reveling in what is seen as an unavoidable outcome, or perhaps an already present state, is laughed at with the humor of a cancerous patient that knows no clean escape from his own impossible situation. It takes death metal to come out as the triumphant anti-hero, shotgun in hand, ready to do away with the weakness of modern man.
The combination of metal and horror films presents a challenge because you cannot have two strong forces without having one trigger the other. In Death Metal Zombies (1995) it was a recording send from an on-air contest; in The Lords of Salem director Rob “Zombie” Cummings features a terrifyingly enigmatic piece of music that, played over the radio, invokes demons. In Deathgasm, a downtrodden teenage metalhead in New Zealand uncovers an ancient hymn for summoning a dark deity, and launches (nearly) the end of the world.
As with all in the genre of New Zealand horror, Deathgasm features a tight integration of absurdist humor with its horror plot. Like reading Mad Magazine, watching this film requires the viewer to be attentive to background details for extra laughs, but there are also outright comedic lines delivered at pivotal points in the plot. Much like the best underground films of the 1980s, Deathgasm also serves as a revelation of society from a metalhead’s point of view: boring, pointless, disorganized, with people already possessed by ideas before the demons even get the glimmer of personality transubstantiation in their beady little eyes.
Once having accepted that the plot will revolve around a teenage metalhead, his band, and an ancient curse, the viewer can proceed to enjoy this film for what it delivers: buckets of gore, wry laughs, and an honest sense of terror for these characters caught in an absurd world gone even more nonsensical. Protagonist Brodie just wants to make it through high school and away from his horrible foster parents, maybe picking up axe-slinging sweetheart Medina along the way, but his world has collapsed… and then the demons arrive.
Tightly scripted, and filmed with an eye for the natural beauty of New Zealand as well as as a pervasive creepy suspense that makes ordinary settings look threatening and surreal, Deathgasm applies perhaps the lightest touch working metal into the film as both topic and soundtrack, immersing us in the world of the metalhead facing a demonic horror that, like the adult world around him, is both incomprehensible and threatening. Look for the classic metal tshirts and other details of the underground metal world.
Unlike many horror films, Deathgasm follows more of the adventure movie plot (think: Die Hard, the apex of the genre if you ask me, which you didn’t) in that it involves humans attempting to surmount disbelief and low self-confidence to take on supernatural forces. Its characters, while caricatures, also reveal some of the truth of our varied social roles in this wonderful modern society. Rising to the inevitable conclusion, this film spills buckets of blood and guts and makes its audience identify with the struggle for survival against forces beyond our control.
Old school horror books often focused on plotlines where an inner psychological trauma became manifested in a physical evil. Metaphorically, this plot generates a lot of appeal because it mimics the worst of the human condition: neurotic and blinded to our own inner corruption, we humans have a tendency to act out our psychological dysfunction on the world. The horror story takes this only one step further by mythologizing it, and putting abstract dysfunction into a visual form so we can recognize it, unlike when it remains within us.
The Babadook takes on this plot family — comparable to riff archetype in metal — and makes of it a movie that is one-half tedium and one-half incoherence. It holds up the metaphor reasonably well, but loses sight of its purpose early on, and like many movies with female directors, concentrates on “atmosphere” to the point of making the audience lose sympathy for the characters. Although it brings itself full circle without pandering to the easy options for plot conclusion, such as character insanity or dream, its failure to make sense of the challenge to the main character, Amelia, renders the storyline into gibberish at the end.
The setup is simple: Amelia has a son, Samuel, who was born on the day her husband died. The husband, Oskar, was killed in a car crash on a rainy night as he drove Amelia to the hospital to birth Samuel. Seven years later, she still becomes morbid and withdrawn as the day that Samuel was born approaches. The child, on the other hand, never has a guilt-free birthday party. Working the standard pointless modern job, and struggling with her own inability to snap out of her reverie, Amelia struggles with the more profound problem of Samuel, who acts like a child with severe emotional problems. As the movie goes on, both Amelia and Samuel essentially retreat or are exiled from the world as their increasingly bizarre and dangerous behavior threatens others.
During the midst of this, Samuel finds a pop-up book that tells the story of a creature called the Babadook. The book is written in annoying sing-song rhyme, but it makes its point that is essential to the metaphor of the story: the more you deny the presence of the Babadook, the more he takes over you. The obvious analogy to grief itself, and the inability to escape or unwillingness to give up prolonged mourning, shows us the weakness in Amelia that allows evil to enter… or escape. In some of the most tired plot devices in horror, the book keeps re-appearing after being destroyed or hidden, adding new lines to the rhyme as life falls apart for Amelia and Samuel.
Like many other modern films, The Babadook features characters who are chronically sleep-deprived. This bit of realism resonates with audiences, so many of the newer generation of psychological horror films adopt it. Here it is worn to death and repeated to the point of tedium during the first half of the film. At the midpoint of the film, everyone changes roles. Samuel, the useless and destructive child, suddenly becomes responsible. Amelia suddenly spaces out and becomes useless. Unfortunately for all viewers of this film, the remaining “suspense” repeats the same three techniques very slowly so we understand the atmosphere, and as a result avoids sheer tedium but replaces it with predictability and storyline nonsense as characters undergo brain damage in order to allow the plot to stay together. That and gratuitous (and mostly ineffectual) pet death are supposed to shock us into dropping our iPhones into our arugula salad and calling our husband who are working late at their corporate jobs, in hysterics at how “shocking” it all is. Except that it is not. It is babble.
This film could have been great because the metaphor resonates with us all in this time of intense victimhood. For it to do that, however, it would have to overcome its favorable view of victimhood and get serious about its own metaphor, producing a creature that is believable which mimics grief in its ability to consume people, instead of just making them go crazy and act completely against common sense, which makes it impossible for the audience to identify with them. The plot needed a careful structuring to show the reason for the projection of grief into this creature, and then needed some kind of plot device that defeats the evil. It has neither of these. It hides behind sloppy screenwriting which it justifies with the idea that it enhances the mystery or atmosphere, but it does neither. This script is incomplete and what was there did not stretch for the full length of the film.
The Babadook falls short of not only its own potential, but the standard it would need to meet for the experienced suspense-horror audience, but could easily have achieved greatness. The acting — especially by Essie Davis as Amelia — is very well-executed. Cinematography does not strike an excessive note, nor does it stand out as particularly excellent, but it rises far above mediocre. The problem of the storyline dooms this film. “Atmosphere” serves as a cop-out for what really needed to be done: to tell the story of grief and self-pity with an unblinking eye, and by showing us that psychology as a metaphorical monster, revealing what must be done to defeat that crippling choice and sensation in ourselves.
The genre of psychological horror often gets ignored because it does not deliver the tangible impact that sheer horror does, but unsettles the watcher as in the coming days that person contemplates what he has seen. Proxy attacks psychological horror by combining Swedish introspective cinema with the type of suspense found in movies like Psycho, delivering what is ultimately a biting critique of modernity.
Without giving away the plot, this movie involves the tendency of people to project and transfer their own psychological drama onto others, centered around the idea of family. In this film, people treat others like objects of their own egos, which creates secondary consequences that render characters unable to stand themselves. Through prolonged psychological exploration, including an insight into the way the world appears to those who are intensely lonely, this film explores the sources of modern alienation and why this society starts us out as alienated isolates from within our own families.
Filmed with more of a sense of intense subjective awareness than an objectivity which the camera always betrays, Proxy explores the confrontation between detached and disaffected young women and their attempts to start their own families. It shows how people project, or live vicariously through others by assuming their role in a narcissistic conception of self, and then undergo transferrence, or conditioning their own happiness or sadness on the acts of others. These conditions like PTSD and other mental afflictions follow a binary progression, in that the person holds on to the reality they can parse for as long as they can but when it cracks, it does so violently and leads to a culmination of violence and emotion that are perfectly paired into poignant yet devastating circumstances.
Like any movie tackling the inner workings of the human mind, this film touches on subjects which many of us would rather not witness because they reveal too much to us of our own fears. In particular, it has a sense of being Generation X art, reflecting the wave of children who growing up under manipulative families tended to wall off huge areas of life and stick with only what they know and trust, probably because their own parents viewed them as accessories for showing off (or blaming) like owning a British motorcar. The characters in this find no peace and no contentment as they rage through life, tricking their own perception into creating what seems like what they desire, only later finding the hollowness within, and the rapid transition to danger caused by illusion and its collapse.
The best horror films combine all of the elements of a good tale with a dark journey — violence, terror, suspense, quasi-supernaturalism, a lone protagonist — and balance them so that variety coexists with a clear narrative. The Town That Dreaded Sundown creates a compelling tale in which the horror is a feeling of helplessness and paranoia as one might have when facing a mythological evil.
Centered in the divided town of Texarkana, which exists in both Texas and Arkansas and has duplicate governments, this film explores the cultural attachment to a serial killer from two generations before. Using shots from a 1976 movie which documented those killings, The Town That Dreaded Sundown begins its story with the possible return of that original killer or a copycat.
While the storyline itself is well-known, this 2014 film makes the best interpretation of it possible and keeps the origin mysterious throughout the film, which heightens the suspense. Its strength is in its idiosyncratic but expressive cinematography, which features odd angles, indirect focus and often room-encircling pans that create a sense of urgency and lack of control. The plot accentuates this instability by like a good Stephen King book showing human denial at every turn, enabling evil to thrive while a lone protagonist confronts it. The film uses violence and gore sparingly enough to make them shocking, and with high contrast created by film technique, allows suspense to predominate so that expectation of the horror is greater than the acts themselves.
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Death metal and horror films go hand in hand. Screaming victims, howling chainsaws, death and destruction, subjugation and helplessness, existential angst and nihilistic outcomes. But what about death metal and a film that crosses horror, suspense, sci-fi and disturbingly investigative psychological tension?
Brandon Cronenberg, the son of edge-of-insanity filmmaker David Cronenberg, directed Antiviral which hit the screens in 2012. Following in the family tradition, he peels back the layers of justification and shows us a metaphor for our psychology in this odd and disturbing modern time. Unlike his Dad, Brandon offers more of a sense of personality horror; this is abundantly character-driven in addition to being concept-driven.
In this tense film, which seems to be set in an alternative present, celebrity culture has reached a peak mania. People are so besotted with the celebrity experience that there is a lucrative trade in infections that have their origin in celebrities. A specialized industry contracts with celebs for their diseases, harvests those diseases and then reproduces them so that ordinary people can infect themselves and share an experience with the stars of the big screen.
The biggest of these stars is Hannah Geist, a starlet of comparable stature among the fawning life-dropout masses as Jennifer Lawrence back in our reality. She is worshiped by the herd and represents top-notch product for those who wish to sell diseases. Cronenberg emphasizes this with shots of people who act like slow-motion zombies, lost in an orgiastic reverie of union with celebrities, the focal point of social interest in the culture.
Brandon offers more contrast-based filmmaking than his father. Where the elder Cronenberg relishes the organic, the younger relishes the symbolic and the disturbingly out of place. He films in a kind of breathless patience that is moving full speed ahead to notice everything, which requires a manic (Adderall-like) focus on stillness and the smallest of events. He shows characters confronting their own limitations and fears, and as a result, has characters who do more than act out an experience. They grow, even if in dubious ways.
Much like the fiction of William Gibson, Antiviral is heavily metaphorical and reveals some unsettling truths about our rather mundane world through an exotic one. In doing so, Cronenberg creates an atmosphere of the surreal and disturbing that infiltrates all thoughts of comfort and stability and upends them with a view of the dark rotten core of own celebrity-crazed culture.