Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Beast's Music Vault- Black Sabbath, Born Again

Black Sabbath is a band everyone has heard of, even if you're not a metal fan.They're the first true Heavy Metal band (I don't care what you Zep fans say, Zep is a rock band, not that there's anything wrong with that), and every Metal guitar player owes Tony Iommi a dolar every time they plug in, as far as I'm concerned. They started and perfected the whole 'evil'/horror-movie vibe that Metal is known for...even if the lyrics of most of their songs were anti-evil( clue: the crosses they wear are all rightside-up), their song titles, and more importantly, their very sound was pure sonic Satan. Ozzy Osborne was the first vocalist for Black Sabbath, and many of the Sabbath classics (such as 'Iron Man, 'War Pigs', 'N.I.B.', etc.) were recorded during his tenure with the band. A lot of Sabbath fans (and radio, for the most part) look at the Ozzy period as the only one that mattered. However, there were many vocalists and line-ups of the band after Ozzy's departure and before the inevitable reunion tours. In my opinion, there's a lot of good stuff in the post-Ozzy period of Sabbath's recording fact, some of my favorite stuff is from the Dio era (Ronnie James Dio, of Elf, Rainbow, and of course, Dio fame). But I'm not going to talk about those records today. Instead, I want to discuss a line-up you may never have heard of, that only lasted for one album and tour-the album was titled Born Again, released in 1983.

The band, musician-wise, was basically the same as the Ozzy/Dio era...Tony Iommi on guitar, Geezer Butler on bass, and Bill Ward on drums. The vocalist for Born Again was to be Ian Gillan, formerly of Deep Purple. I'd always liked Gillan's singing, but when I first heard he was to be Sabbath's new voice, I wasn't sure how that would work out. "Deep Sabbath' and 'Black Purple' remarks were being made in the press and amongst my friends. The family trees of these bands have intertwining branches...Dio was the singer of Rainbow, which was founded by Ritchie Blackmore, formerly of Deep Purple, Gillan was once the singer for Purple, now in needed a scorecard to keep up with it all. Anyway, I was also initially skeptical when Dio took over vocal chores in Sabbath, and he kicked ass during his tour of duty, so I figured I'd give Gillan a chance. The end result-while Born Again is not your typical Sabbath album, it's still pretty good, in my opinion.

The first track, 'Trashed' is a fast tune about drinking while racing cars, or at least go-carts, if I remember an interview from back then correctly. It doesn't have that classic Sabbath sound, but it's good, nonetheless. Other tracks that fall into the same category are 'Digital Bitch', 'Hot Line', and 'Keep It Warm'. Of these, the best of the bunch are 'Trashed' and 'Digital Bitch'.

On some of the tracks, however, the trademark 'evil' Sabbath sound comes creeping out. The first one on the album is 'Disturbing the Priest'. With its horror-film guitars and Gillan's fearsome scream/howl, this one sounds dark and menacing. 'Zero the Hero' is another such track, probably my favorite cut. Although the lyrics are sort of an anti-slacker anthem, the music is pure Iommi dark goodness (or should I say badness), starting out quietly and getting ever louder, the guitar riff inexorably coming forth like some beast rising from its crypt. This riff that comes before the main rhythm and returns again later in the song is could easily be in a horror film soundtrack. The title track also shares this 'evil' quality ...while slow and subdued for the most part, when the chorus comes up, the guitars merge with Gillan's howl in a perfect union of doom. Filling the gaps out are two short instrumentals, 'Stonehenge' and 'The Dark'.

The album cover art was eye-catching, to say the least. It depicts a baby devil in damn-near glow-in-the dark colors(it was the 80s, after all). When I first saw it, I said, "Hey, it's Rosemary's Baby!" The artwork offended some Christian groups , if I recall correctly, but that was pretty much par for the course for Sabbath anyway(and Christian groups, for that matter). As for myself, I don't find it scary or offensive...the little bastard is kinda cute in his own way, and honestly, kinda goofy looking. If they'd have had a gruesome fake devil baby made by some special effects guy and had photos taken, it may have been scary, but the dayglo artwork just doesn't summon up menace and doom...but I did once have a keychain with the cover image on it, now that I think of it.

On tour, Ward was replaced by former ELO drummer Bev Bevan (ELO-what the ...???). I didn't get to see them on tour, but I remember some syndicated show, called Live at the'something'...I don't remember the whole title. But it was a weekly show that featured live acts at some club in California, and there were many rock/metal bands in attendance. I recall seeing Dio, Y&T and...Black Sabbath! The songs they showed were 'Digital Bitch' and 'Zero the Hero'. Gillan's hair at the time was very long, even longer than mine, I think, and while performing his mane flew around like a dark cyclone, his face rarely visible during the show. There were big crosses that lit up and moved around in the stage set, too. Not present at this particular show, though , was the mock-up of Stonehenge that was their backdrop on stage for most of the tour. This was about the same time Spinal Tap, the mock rock band /mockumentary came out, which also featured a Stonehenge replica, although Tap's replica was about 15 inches long, prompting the line(and pardon me if this isn't excact),"Our Stonehenge was in danger of being crushed under the heels of a dwarf!!"

This period of the band has been kind of pushed aside, for whatever reason. Gillan himself has said that he's probably the worst singer Black Sabbath has ever had, but they made it all work somehow. I don't think that Gillan is the worst singer the band's had...technically, Ozzy is the least talented singer to have ever been in Sabbath...and before all you Ozzy fans start sending me hate mail, I am a fan of Ozzy and his stint in Sabbath, and I do like his voice...but from a purely skill/talent perspective, he doesn't match up with Gillan, Tony Martin, Glenn Hughes, or Dio. From a song perspective, the songs weren't the best that have ever come from the Sabbath camp, but they certainly weren't the worst, either. In my opinion, Born Again is a pretty good album, and deserves a listen, if you're a Metal fan at says The Beast.

The Beast's Movie Cave- Eraserhead

I have a fridge magnet that I picked up in Las Vegas years ago(at least I think it was Vegas...anyway...) that depicts the poster for the David Lynch film Eraserhead, with the blurb from Newsweek stating "The most original horror movie in years". It got me thinking about the film, and how I hadn't seen it in years. I got home early from work yesterday and checked what was on the free movies on demand channel, and on Sundance was none other than Eraserhead! Life is strange sometimes...and in the world of Eraserhead, it's very strange, indeed. I suppose I do agree with Newsweek's assessment of the film as horror, although it's not what one would typically think of as horror...there's no big scares, no killer on the loose, nothing of that sort. There are what could be considered supernatural forces at work, however. What the film does have is a pervasive feeling of dread and fear, an atmosphere of surreal creepiness that sets in from the very beginning and doesn't let up at all. If you've read my reviews of films like The Beyond or Phantasm, you know that I enjoy films with a dream-like feeling to them. Eraserhead is probably the most dream-like, or rather nightmare-like film that I can recall seeing. It's overall feeling is like that of a dream that's creepy , and you want to wake up, but nothing quite bad enough to make you jump up awake screaming happens, so you keep on going through this weird, unsettling dream, and things happen that you don't understand, and you're getting more and more freaked out...this is Eraserhead.

Eraserhead is about Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a fellow with a strange hairdo, who goes about in an equally strange world. He goes to have dinner with his girlfriend Mary (Charlotte Stewart), who he hasn't seen in a while. He meets Mary's family and finds out that Mary has had a baby, and claims that Henry is the father. Mary and the baby move in with Henry in his small apartment. The baby is sick, and cries almost constantly, which takes its toll on Mary, who leaves.

Now, reading the above paragraph, you may think that this all sounds fairly normal...oh boy, are you wrong. While the plot, when boiled down to its basic core, may seem ordinary, it's how it's presented that makes it a living nightmare. Meeting your significant others' parents and finding out you're a father can be distressing enough, but in Lynch's hands the situation becomes horrifying. Matter of fact, nothing in Lynch's world of Eraserhead is normal or reassuring. Henry, from the first time we see him, always seems apprehensive at best, or downright scared at other times. Nobody that Henry encounters acts what one would call normally...and then there are characters such as The Man in the Planet and the Lady in the Radiator...who, or what are they, exactly? And the 'baby'...definately not what any parent wants to see in the nursery at the hospital, trust me.

Though this was Lynch's first feature-length film, he set the bar high for extreme cinematic weirdness and surreal horror. If you've ever seen any of his other films, such as Lost Highway (1997), or Mullholland Drive (2001),or his TV series Twin Peaks(1990-1991), you know that he's a master of the bizarre. None of these hold a candle to Eraserhead, in my own humble opinion. Everything about the world Henry Spencer inhabits is strange and a bit terrifying. As I stated above, Henry is always nervous and apprehensive, as if he dreads whatever this weird world has to throw at him next. The film is in black-and-white, which adds to the atmosphere, making it like a demented film noir, but instead of crooks and dangerous dames, we have mutant babies and bleeding chickens. Strange touches in the background are also present, like the framed picture of an atomic bomb mushroom cloud, and the tree growing out of a pile of dirt on the nightstand in Henry's apartment. Sound also plays an important part in the film. There's usually something going on in the background, sonically speaking...either distant jazz music, as if from an apartment window far away, or more ominously, wind blowing or loud industrial sounds . These background sounds keep the viewer unsettled, wondering what's going to happen next...much like Henry, I suppose.

I could go into greater detail about the strangeness that abounds in Eraserhead, but I want you, if you've never seen it, to discover all of the nightmarish goodies for yourself. There are lots of opinions on what the film is about...anything from fears of fatherhood to fears of domesticity in general. Lynch , as with most of his films, isn't forthcoming on what he had in mind when he made it, though I believe I remember reading that he said nobody's gotten his interpretation correct yet. Most people either love this movie or hate it...if you haven't guessed yet, it's one of my favorite films. With films like Eraserhead or Mullholland Drive, part of the fun is figuring out what it's about, or at least your own interpretation . It's a creepy, challenging , nightmare on celluloid, and if you haven't seen it yet, I think you should. After seeing it yesterday, I wondered why the Hell I don't own a copy...I think I'm going to get one this weekend.

As always, feel free to discuss this film with me...I'm interested to see what you think of it. As I said, if you have Time-Warner , its on the free movies on demand channel this month, under the Sundance channel. I believe its on Netflix's watch instantly option, as well. I don't know if Blockbuster or Hollywood video stores are enlightened enough to carry a copy, so good luck there. Until next time, good readers...

"In Heaven, everything is fine"
-The Lady in the Radiator

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Beast's Movie Cave- Martyrs

When you watch the director's introduction on a DVD and he tells you that you may have selected the wrong movie, and apologises for making the film, you know that you're in for a cinematic experience that's out of the ordinary. I'd read about French director Pascal Laugier's film's been described as 'existential torture porn', and that viewers at screenings ran out, vomited, and fainted. After reading all this, I decided this was a film I had to see. The French have been producing some powerful horror films lately( Inside comes to mind), leaving our own U.S. made remakes and kiddie-horror-lite flicks like Twilight looking like the weak-ass efforts they are...comparing them to films like Martyrs and Inside is like drinking a glass of watery Kool-Aid and chasing it with a glass of 100 proof is weak and unsatisfying, the other kicks you in the ass and makes you wonder if you should have even drank it in the first place.

Martyrs opens with a young girl escaping captivity...she has obviously been tortured. She makes a friend at the orphanage she is sent to. 15 years later, the former captive, Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) finds who she believes to be the ones that tortured her years ago, and takes violent retribution, not only on her torturers, but their family as well. Her friend, Anna( Morjana Alaoui), trying to help her, is brought into this bloody scene of revenge . Anna doubts Lucie's judgement in locating her former tormentors, because said torment has left Lucie mentally tortured long after the physical wounds have healed, and her sanity is , well, questionable, to say the least. After yet another tragic and bloody episode, Anna learns that although Lucie's sanity is shattered, there is a dark and disturbing group working in the shadows, and the acts of torture are far from over...perhaps worse, the torture has a twisted reasoning behind it get closer to God.

Martyrs , as the title suggests, works with the old belief that pain and suffering, and being on the precipice of death because of it, brings one closer to God, and through being near such a person, one can possibly catch a glimpse of the other side, and maybe God himself. Near the film's end we are given the definition of the word martyr, essentially being 'witness'. I think that it's this underlying theme that brings the film a few notches above your average 'capture -people-and-torture-them' flick...the director actually had ideas in his head (dark as they were), and I think it shows.

Ideas notwithstanding, Martyrs is an extremely dark and violent film, and much of it it is hard to watch . I don't necessarily enjoy violence done to women, even if it's imaginary...I'm ingrained with a sort of rough chivalry(I think it's due to repeated viewings of old swashbuckler movies as a kid blame Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn), so it was a bit of an excersize in cinematic intestinal fortitude to view a lot of the scenes in this film. Laugier has said in interviews that he was in a very dark place when he made this film, and it definately shows. Even though it was difficult to get through parts, I would much rather be challenged as a viewer and have a director be able to get his vision across, that to sit numbed and bored by the latest sanitized, mindless, PG-13 concoction Hollywood has to offer. Mind you, I'm not against a no-brainer, fun, 'popcorn' movie, but once in a while it's good to watch something that actually makes you think and feel, even if it's not shiny, happy feelings and thoughts.

The acting in Martyrs was very well done. The leads Jampanoi and Alaoui had very intense and physical performances. The sadness, fear, rage, shock, and horror that the young women go through is strong and even heartbreaking at times. A standout scene for me is one where Lucie expresses her rage , hammer in most of the film, it is not for the squeamish.
If you're looking for a whimsical, carefree, feel-good movie, this is not the one for you...go find the latest Matthew McConeghey celluloid offering instead. However, if you are up to a dark, challenging film experience, give Martyrs a go...and , as always, feel free to come back here and discuss it with me...or curse my existence for even suggesting such a film, heh. Either way, I'll be waiting. Oh, the version I saw was unrated...I don't know if there's an edited version out there, but don't bother with it if there is...if you're going to see it, there's no sense in half-assing it.
" The only thing I can say is that the actual world is so shitty that horror is the perfect genre to express the most honest and concrete things, things that say a lot about our real lives. This is contrary to what television programs constantly do. Doing a feel-good movie right now, considering the state of the world and the brutality of our system, would disgust me. I'd take it as a self-betryal. More than ever, horror should embody the absolute escape from the lies of official society. The genre has a great opportunity to be really countercultural again after years of having been softened by the cynical postmodernism of our times. That's my feeling, anyhow."
-Pascal Laugier, writer/director of Martyrs, from Rue Morgue magazine