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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Lucky 13 Returns! Week Six: Horror Musicals

Ring-a-ding-ding, Vault dwellers! For those heathens who may not be aware, this past weekend marked what would have been the 95th birthday of the one and only Francis Albert Sinatra, who only happens to be my very favorite musical performer of all time. And so, I managed to coerce both Brutal as Hell and the crew here into dedicating this week of The Lucky 13 Returns to horror musicals and music-related horror films in general.

So pour yourself a Jack & Coke, light up a Lucky Strike, and swing easy, baby! It's what Frank would've wanted...

B-Sol on The Wicker Man (1973)

It's interesting that this film is very often not really thought of as a musical, but it kind of is. It contains a couple of very atmospheric folk tunes from Paul Giovanni ("Corn Rigs" and "Gently Johnny") which totally stop the dramatic proceedings in their tracks. And as with most well-done films of musical bent, this does no harm to the film whatsoever--rather, it enhances it. And of course, we also have the deeply disturbing Middle English rondo "Sumer Is Icumen In" performed during the picture's chilling climax.

So we've established that the British cult classic is very much about music as well as horror. What we also need to establish is what a damn fine horror film it is. But you don't need me to tell you that. The Wicker Man is, simply put, one of the finest horror films ever made, and still has the power to shock in a very real way. Interestingly enough, the movie's sheer shock factor is in direct counterbalance to the hauntingly beautiful music featured throughout. And if anything, that juxtaposition makes the whole thing even more terrifying than it would have been otherwise.

There's a reason this film consistently makes just about every short list of the greatest horror films of all time. And while it's an even bigger deal in the U.K. than it is here in the States, it is definitely the kind of cult classic movie that needs to be seen and appreciated by all who consider themselves serious enthusiasts of the genre. Christopher Lee is at his insidious best, and of course Edward Woodward is so damn powerful in the lead role of Sgt. Howie. If you have never seen The Wicker Man (and I mean the original here--don't bother seeing the remake unless you need a good laugh), then do me a favor and fix that right away, okay? Very good.

Missy Yearian of Chickapin Parish on Wild Zero (1999)

When I first watched Wild Zero, I was pretty sure I had stepped into an alternate dimension. I had never seen anything so absurd in all my life. In fact, I am pretty sure I will never see anything quite that absurd. Wild Zero is ninety odd minutes of insanity, and it’s one of the funnest experiences one could have with a movie, but even within all that senselessness, there is something deeper going on.

Ace is obsessed with the band Guitar Wolf (played by the real-life band of the same name). When he witnesses a club owner about to hoodwink the band, he stands up for them. Ace and the band vow revenge on their double-crosser Captain. Meanwhile, space aliens land on Earth causing the dead to rise in rural Japan. As they fight for their lives, Ace falls in love with a young transgender named Tobio.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a convoluted mess, but it’s a pretty incredible one. From Guitar Wolf throwing guitar picks to protect himself to Captain’s incredibly tight hot pants, the film is an experiment in what-the-fuckery. While I might have said those words at least forty times while watching the film, I was still engrossed all the way through.

The factor that holds the whole film together is the love story. Ace and Tobio begin sweetly, but as her trans status becomes an issue the film manages to pull itself out of its own farce just enough to ally itself with a queer agenda—and all before the turn of the century. The film is incredibly entertaining, and while it might not seem like it’s coming out firmly on the side of queer politics, given its release year, it’s really quite ground-breaking. So if you decide to sit down and take in this strange little zombie romantic comedy, look forward to one of the most ludicrous activist films ever made.

C.L. Hadden of Fascination with Fear on Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

The legend of Sweeney Todd has been immortalized on stage and screen countless times throughout the years, and there have always been questions raised as to the validity of the supposedly true story. Starting out as a penny dreadful in the mid 1800's, it was most recently adapted for the screen in Tim Burton's 2007 version starring Johnny Depp in the title role.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Fleet Street is first and foremost a musical, and uses the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler music and lyrics made popular in the late 70's Broadway smash. At once dark a dark and sinister production, the songs tell the story of Benjamin Barker (Depp), a simple man - a barber - whose life is forever changed when the corrupt Judge Turpin (the eternally impressive Alan Rickman) covets Barker's beautiful wife and goes to extremes to see her his. He throws Barker in prison on a trumped up charge and moves his heartbroken wife and young daughter into his own home.

Fifteen years later Barker is back, now calling himself Sweeney Todd. He's hellbent for revenge after he finds out his wife has poisoned herself and Turpin has his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) locked away in an upstairs room of his home. He sets up a barber shop above the overly-zealous Mrs. Lovett's (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shoppe with the intent of luring Turpin there. Thing is, Todd isn't just shaving necks, he's slicing them open and sending the bodies to the basement through a trap door in the floor. Once in the bowels of the meat market the corpses are ground up and used in Mrs. Lovett's meat pies. Gah!

Oh the scandal of it all! To think something such as this would be made not only into a movie but into a musical is in and of itself a bizarre notion. But trust me, it works. A bleak and overtly grim London is portrayed in the seediest fashion imaginable, with poverty and hardship duly noted as our characters interact with not only each other but the hopeless city itself. Not a singer by trade, Depp's performance is actually more than just acceptable. He does an excellent job with the material, and had even the most wary critics backing him when the film came out. Bonham-Carter's voice isn't quite as stellar, but she certainly looks the part.

While it may seem to be a far stretch from your typical musical - and it certainly is a graphic little slice of cinema - Sweeney Todd is the musical for people who hate musicals. And it's perfect for horror fans. You do have to wait awhile for the gory carnage to start, but about halfway through the film the red stuff starts to flow freely. How they depict this on stage is beyond me, but Burton's film version not only looks amazing, but pulls off the story in fine fashion and is more than worth a look. After all, the bottom line is they are grinding people up and eating them. Even if you hate musicals, you have to admit that's pretty nasty.

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Join us next week for the Christmas edition of The Lucky 13 Returns!

Week 1: Halloween
Week 2: Man vs. Nature
Week 3: Veteran's Day
Week 4: Thanksgiving
Week 5: Hanukkah


Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Dude, that was the first thing I thought when I saw Wicker Man for the first time recently. I was like, Soooooo this is a horror film? Not a musical? But it does make for a creepy atmosphere. That one where the girl is dancing and singing around in her room nekkid? Kind of awkward.

Marc said...

These were great picks. Totally forgot about the awesomeness of Willow's Song. And Sweeney Todd? I'm embarrassed. Though, admittedly I went a bit more rock n' roll rather than playing off of Sinatra!

B-Sol said...

Yeah, few people realize Wicker Man is really kind of a musical... Weird when you think about it!

Thanks Marc! What can I say, we kept it classy here in the Vault, in honor of the Chairman! Ring-a-ding-ding!

Tiffany Renee Harmon said...

You mentioned that you don't know how the stage production of Sweeney Todd shows the gore. I saw Sweeney Todd on stage a few years ago. The whole production is amazing. The cast only uses a small portion of the stage, and instead of a large orchestra, all of the characters sing AND play multiple instruments that are on the edge of the small bit of stage they use. All of the set changes are remarkable because the actors act as stagehands as well. In regards to blood, they don't really show anything. When someone's throat is being slashed, there is this loud, sharp whistle sound and a huge red light encompasses the stage. Then the person who has died just kind of skulks away in the shadows and disappears. Seeing the show was an incredibly unique experience.

B-Sol said...

Sounds breathtaking, Tiffany--I'd love to see a live production of Sweeney Todd at some point....

Keelee von Cupcake said...

Haha, I couldn't believe no one had ever told me The Wicker Man was a musical before I saw it either! It really, really is. As you say, there's at least like 3 times that the film just stops so people can fully voice and dance some entire song. Which just made me love it more.

B-Sol said...

It caught me off-guard too, Keelee!

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