A Heavy Metal Valentine

When Kristi and I were growing up and had just come back from Germany, we were spoiled for a couple of years because we had access to MTV. But then we moved to a small town where we had cable but no MTV for the first year we lived there. Luckily my resourceful sister had taped the best heavy metal videos from Headbangers Ball, which takes a real knack because you don’t want to record commercials or crappy videos. Her transitions were seamless, and that VCR tape was the loop and soundtrack to some angsty teenage years. We would watch that tape every day and I still remember the order of the videos. It started with Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” and then segued to KISS’s “I Love It Loud.”


We still have that tape. One day I’m going to get that transferred to DVD, and then we will be the happiest sisters in all the world. Sometimes we stay up late and play a game on YouTube, where we surprise each other by dialing up metal videos, which the next person has to feed off, and so on. But I’d still like to listen and look at old Metal Music—666—My Shit.


Now I’m working on my heavy metal novel (about twenty thousand words in), and one of the first things I do when I’m writing is compose a playlist that thematically relates to what I’m working on. Here’s the first playlist I’ve come up with, and I’d like to have about four more so nothing gets stale. I’ve put up the music on 8tracks—my heavy metal valentine to you—and Kristi lettered and decorated it à la high school heavy metal and horror, which is what my story’s about.

A Heavy Metal Valentine

Sadly I wasn’t introduced to the awesome pairing of horror director Dario Argento and heavy metal band Goblin until after college, but all good things can wait. I would have probably died of the awesomeness if I saw their work too young.

Vixen was a lady metal band put togeher like some of the boy bands of the eighties and nineties, N’ SYNC and New Kids on the Block, and the only prerequisite was that a member be a female and hot. That’s something I’ve struggled and thought a lot about with metal—why did the ladies always have to be so tarted up?—and an issue I find myself writing about.

Whitesnake introduced what was probably the first video vixen—Tawny Kitaen—who was the epitome of the metal chick in the eighties, but she was always featured as an accessory to the band. First she dated the guy in RATT, then she made the rounds with Mötley Crüe and Whitesnake, until she went batshit crazy and beat her ex-husband with a shoe.

I do include Joan Jett on my list, though she spans many genres—punk, hard rock blues—and might not be considered heavy metal by some. She embraced the bad, tough girl ethos, though, which was what it meant to be a heavy metal lady and taking what you wanted.

And then, of course, we have the reigning highnesses of metal—Lita Ford and Doro Pesch. They’re the real-life versions of the warrior woman from Heavy Metal magazine.

The Possession: Don’t Open the Box!

I was so happy when I saw The Possession take the number one spot at the box office two weeks in a row. It was the little horror movie that could, yet people seemed completely shocked when that happened. They shouldn’t be. When a screenplay agent visited the last coworking studio I was at, Paragraph, he did not recommend doing a screenplay on spec unless it was a low-budget horror movie script because those were always sellable. He also said writers shouldn’t slum and try to do a horror script to break into the business. You really have to believe in your material and bring something new to the table to impress today’s jaded horror fans.

Though I was impressed with The Possession’s success, I ended up being tardy to see the movie. It’s on its way out of the theaters now, and I think part of my problem was finding someone to see it with. Everybody had already gone when I wanted to see it, and it’s no fun seeing a horror movie if you don’t have somebody to scream with. This ended up being the second feature in me and Valerie’s horror movie weekend. While watching, Valerie said she always learns something in horror movies, and within the very first few minutes of seeing this one, the number one lesson was apparent: Don’t open the box.

The Possession has an original premise that reminds me of Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box (where the protagonist goes to great lengths to secure a haunted object advertised on the Internet). The movie opens with a scary scene where an older woman confronts an antique wooden box on her mantel. It emits spooky sounds like a Goblin song from a Dario Argento movie, and it’s pretty obvious who or what is going to win in this matchup.

Next, the audience is introduced to a fractured family—mom (Kyra Sedgwick) and dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) have divorced and their two daughters, Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Em (Natasha Calis), are shuffled between two separate residences. Dad has just moved into a new prefab house, and on the way there, the family car passes a yard sale. The girls convince their father to stop—after all, what can be more pleasurable on a fall day than a yard sale? The girls play dress up and frolic, but then the younger daughter, Em, finds the antique box containing the dybbuk and falls under its spell immediately. She convinces her father to buy it, and with that and a whole load of other items, the family makes out like bandits, paying only fifty dollars for everything.

Once the family gets everything home, Em asks for help opening the box, which seems to be impossible as it has no seams. Eventually she’s able to do it by herself in her room, and the box opens to show off all manner of ugly things, like desiccated moth bodies, a huge yellowed tooth, and an antique ring that Em immediately slams on her finger. It’s such an old-lady ring, and Valerie and I were both surprised that her parents didn’t see and comment on such a thing, especially when it starts discoloring her hand like a spreading bruise.

Em begins exhibiting unpleasant personality traits that are not very becoming to a little ten-year-old girl, such as stabbing her father with a fork between bites of pancake, tackling a kid who takes off with her box and beating him senseless, and presenting her mother’s boyfriend with a disgusting gift. Strangely enough, it’s her part-time father who is troubled by this behavior when it was his absenteeism that brought about the divorce in the first place. Her mother blames all the misbehaving on the divorce.

As the undesirable behavior escalates in Em, her father is denied access to her after what looks like an incident of child abuse. But he knows something is seriously wrong with his little girl and goes to find help first at his university, where he coaches basketball, and then with a group of Hasidic Jews in Borough Park, Brooklyn. (Another lesson we learned: Help is near our neighborhood. If a dybbuk ever threatens us, we now know where to go.) He’s turned down by the shul, but one rebel Jew, Tzadok (Matisyahu), agrees to help him. By this time, Em’s mother realizes something is up and has taken her daughter to the hospital, where there’s further confirmation that something’s not quite right. This ended up being one of several scenes that seemed liked paler versions of The Exorcist.

The only difference in the exorcism scene at the end was the religion used, but this wasn’t enough to make it new or scary. Also, I felt there was some cheating. The religious authority said the dybbuk was attracted to innocence so some of the possession choices the spirit made were quite puzzling if that’s the case. Because of this, the movie ended on a rather blah note for me, which was disappointing after it had been going along so well. Endings—they’re so hard to get right.

Opera by Dario Argento

I love ravens. My love affair started with them in college at the University of Iowa, where flocks of ravens would wing around the Pentacrest and other areas of the campus–it was so thrilling to watch, like nature’s fury unleashed, but with bodies attached. I’ve always been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and that’s been my golden standard for creepy use of birds, the strange alien intelligence they seem to have. Second in line is Sam Raimi’s ravens in A Simple Plan, a bad omen, symbol, used most effectively. But I think both are surely eclipsed by Dario Argento’s use of ravens in Opera. (Check out the link below for Opera‘s international trailer.)
begins with a fabulous opening shot from the perspective of reigning opera diva Mira (Daria Nicolodi) as she has a meltdown during her rehearsal for Verdi’s Macbeth when the ravens start attacking her. The camera jerks aggressively up and down and side to side as the diva, who we never see, makes her way from the stage and out of the theater to the street, all the while hurling insults and comments to those who dare get in her way. Mira is injured when a car fails to yield to her and runs her down.

The ingenue and understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) then gets her chance to step up as the lead at the opera house, but she has deep misgivings because in the theater world a debut as Lady Macbeth is bad luck. This production of Macbeth is put together by former horror director Marco (Ian Charleson), and though his crepe trappings are made fun of by the press, Betty is applauded for her brilliant debut.

It’s soon shown that Betty has deep psychological problems. She’s frigid due to something dark that happened in her childhood, which she doesn’t remember, and hates sex, proclaiming she’s "lousy at it." Shortly after Betty makes this announcement, a psychotic with shiny black leather gloves takes a fancy to her, tying her up so she’s immobile, a perfect audience, and taping needles beneath her eyes, forcing them wide open, so she has to see what he has to show her.
The psychotic then performs most artful murders that only Betty witnesses. When he is done, he lovingly caresses Betty’s body before freeing his captive audience.

I loved the ideas of performer and performance that are played on in Opera, and my favorite scene, when the ravens from the production of Macbeth take on a life of their own, wheeling around the auditorium and frightening the glitzy, well-heeled audience with more than they bargained for–that particular mise-en-scene is going to stay with me for a long time. Maybe forever.

Jenifer by Dario Argento

Jenifer is a blend of old and new Dario Argento, and I’m still undecided about how I like the combination. The last Argento film I saw was on the big screen–The Card Player at the Pioneer–and in fact, that is the only Argento film I’ve seen in the theater. It was a taut thirller, but the production values were grimy. Nothing like Argento’s cinematic splashes of red, his giallo style that he’s know for, with crazy wizard rock music serving as the backbeat during murders, of which there are many.

Jenifer starts out with the ho-hum production values of a cop drama, but much more low-key than an episode of Law & Order. Two cops sit in a car, piggishly poking through Chinese food while on break. They appear to be on the edge of a park, some type of wooded area, when their dinnertime is interrupted by piercing screams, the backside of a beautiful woman, and a fat, course man pursuing her with a butcher knife. The cops give chase, and one corners the man who has the woman bent over for the kill, a sacrificial virgin in a see-through dress, while his butcher knife arcs down.
The cop kills the man, who mutters something incomprehensible in an asthmatic wheeze, and from that point on, he inherits Jenifer.

From the back, Jenifer is seductive, a graceful, shapely body and long flowing blonde hair, but when she’s turned around, that beauty is canceled out by her face. Jenifer is horribly disfigured with rictus lips exposing gums and teeth, looking like she’s been turned inside-out. On top of that she’s mentally disabled. The cop learns she’ll be institutionalized for the rest of her life and takes pity on her, knowing what the state care system is like.

He brings Jenifer home to his family and puts this full-grown woman in a room suited for a small girl. Soon the cop learns that Jenifer’s appetites aren’t normal when she disposes of the family pet–a full disclosure in old Argento style complete with wriggling viscera.

The cop loses his family and finds himself drifting from place to place while bonded to Jenifer–a union that takes place in his car with unflattering lighting and a repulsive Beauty and the Beast moment all rolled up in one package.

Jenifer is a shocking and disturbing horror short, but I do feel it has something to say about love and jealousy, pity, and being taken for the fool. It’s not just gratuitous violence. After watching, I learned that Jenifer was filmed for a series called Masters of Horros, and Argento’s short was the only one that had to be censored. Horror has always been closely associated with sex, but apparently Argento crossed the line in Jenifer.