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The Devil,
Death and
Rock 'n' Roll



Horror films, like rollercoasters, are often linked with rock music. Moshing the senses with a rock band is synonymous with the adrenaline that pumps through the veins of the participant, whether they are fleeing death from a serial killer or riding a looping carriage. As individuals, we mostly experience these types of thrills separately, but sometimes they are mixed into one adrenalin-filled 90 minutes of screen horror.

      The first film that comes to mind is the third instalment of the Final Destination franchise. Directed by James Wong, Final Destination 3 has Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Wendy, a girl who has a premonition of a rollercoaster-crash at a theme park, which causes her and most of her friends to vacate the ride before it proceeds. After the crash, the 'survivors' are picked off one-by-one by the personification of death. The Final Destination series is well known for exploiting the dangers in everyday scenarios, the first of which occurred on a plane, the second on a motorway and the third on a rollercoaster. Other films in the franchise have death at the bottom of an escalator, in a movie theatre and even at the gym. The link between the scary ride and the horror film in which it features is simply a setting for Final Destination 3, but what about films made by lovers of heavy metal themselves? 

      Rob Zombie is the perfect example of a ‘metal-head’ horror director. Zombie is noted in the music industry for his heavy metal work and he has featured on more soundtracks than he has made movies. But he has also made quite an impact on the genre, with many iconic metal-inspired films over the years. Zombie is responsible for House of 1000 Corpses (2003) - a film infamous for its name as well as its content, and its sequel, The Devil’s Rejects (2005), as well as two Halloween remakes. His 2012 film The Lords of Salem is based around a rock-themed radio station in the witchy town of Salem, and it combined his and his wife's (Sheri Moon, who plays Heidi in the film) love of all things horror and metal. 

      Another director who married his love for metal and horror is Sean Byrne. Despite having only two feature credits to his name, there is an obvious stylistic similarity to both which links them. Byrne incorporates heavy metal into the storylines, to emphasise how horror is interpreted in the music as well as onscreen. The Loved Ones (2009) was Byrne’s first film, the plot of which is disturbing to say the least. This Australian horror focussed on Brent, played by Xavier Samuel, a high school pupil who is kidnapped on prom night by a deranged girl and her doting father, simply because he wouldn’t take her to the prom. Brent spends the first part of the film listening to loud, hard rock to drown out the guilt that he feels over the death of his own father in a car accident. Hardly original, but it does give Byrne an excuse to saturate the film with metal. In contrast to this, the music that crazy Lola likes consists of prissy pop songs such as 'Not Pretty Enough' by Kasey Chambers, the actress who plays her in the film. In The Loved Ones, heavy metal is used to represent the pain and rage that the characters feel, as the sister of another boy who had previously gone missing also listens to metal and dresses in black. The 'metal' motif here is ultimately one of anger and frustration, rather than adrenaline-fuelled excitement.

      Byrne’s second feature, The Devil’s Candy, came out in 2015 and that too incorporated heavy metal into the plot, but in a different way to The Loved Ones. This time, metal is used to represent the Devil and an evil force from beyond. The story follows struggling artist Jesse (Ethan Embry) and his family as they move into a house that has a dark history. It is clear that Jesse is a metal-head from the beginning of the film, from the way that he dresses and the music that he listens to in his car, so from the off, we are given to understand that he will be the one plagued by the demon nesting in the walls of his new home.

      There are a few less well-known horror movies from the past that also incorporate heavy metal, including Hard Rock Zombies (1984), Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987) and Deathgasm (2015), but now that Sean Byrne and Rob Zombie are on the scene, who needs the likes of Heavy Mental (2009)?

      Why is it that we have been tutored into relating the sound of heavy metal to death and horror? Some say it’s simply due to the music itself being influenced by graveyard imagery and the occult, but why are metal-heads so often seen to be the ones who attract evil in these films? Perhaps it all goes back to the Swinging Sixties' fascination with alternative religions and the fad for putting 'hidden meanings' onto vinyl, such as the urban legend about playing some of The Beatles' tracks backwards, or the Stones' dabbling with Old Nick on Sympathy For the Devil and others. Associating music with occult ritual has a long history, and heavy metal is just a modern incarnation of of the founding myth that certain mysterious tunes were actually written by the Devil himself. A lot of heavy metal simply sounds like it might have been! Whatever the reason, music can be as integral to a genre as styles of acting and directing, so the next time you’re alone at a motorway service-station and some heavy metal starts to pound out incongruously over the tannoy - run!