Hemlock Books

For the best in film horror, mystery and the macabre

Books • magazines • dvds • posters • collectibles


It's Only Rock

Pop stars, eh? Where do they get off? With their singing and their dancing and all the guitars and the drums and their CDs and concert tours and pop videos. All of that and it’s still not enough, apparently, because sooner or later some of them decide that they can also act. Just because they’ve pranced around on stage and been in a few pop videos.

Let me tell you, being in a pop video isn’t really acting. Heck, I’ve been in a pop video. You can probably even find it on YouTube if you’re bothered. It was for a song called Phasers on Stun by an indie band whose name Urusei Yatsura came from some dodgy old anime series. The video was directed by my old pal Tony Luke, whose various creations include animated British horror feature Dominator, half-hour stop-motion/live-action Sci-Fi Channel UK production Archangel Thunderbird and, back in the day, a Nemesis the Warlock photo-story in 2000AD.

Anyway, Tony had got the gig to make this video and had decided to film it in a London bar which was decked out in a Star Trek theme. I was cast against type as a nerdy sci-fi fanboy. Stop sniggering at the back there. The basic plot was that the band were playing in this bar and a load of sci-fi fans were rocking out to the music. I was equipped with a magic remote control that I mischievously used to turn the musicians into cartoons (using the same sort of limited proto-Flash animation that was in Dominator). However, the jostling of the crowd caused me to accidentally spill the pint of a nearby Klingon (played by an Afro-haired guy named Manny) which prompted him to knock the remote control from my hand and stamp on it. At which point all hell was let loose with people turning into cartoons left, right and centre, including my own fanboy nerd character transforming into a giant mecha-MJ which could only be defeated by the members of Urusei Yatsura joining together to harness the power of rock 'n’ roll. Or something.

That was the intention at any rate. I’m really not sure any of that comes across in the actual video, which was shot in one afternoon on a budget that could barely afford the cost of Manny’s pint. Those were the days long before YouTube, of course; long before there was any feasibility of putting any sort of moving image on the web. In those days pop videos were made to be shown on TV (all four channels of it) and occasionally swapped on VHS tapes. Incredibly, Phasers on Stun WAS shown on TV! The old ITV Chart Show on a Saturday lunchtime used to rotate three specialist top tens: indie, rock and dance. And one week when it was the turn of the indie chart, Phasers on Stun was somehow at the top thereof – and there was me, Manny, the band and the rest of the extras actually on national TV. Thus was my brush with rock stardom.

Of course, fantasy/sci-fi/horror imagery in pop videos is nothing new. For example, most of Meat Loaf’s videos over the decades have been pretentiously daft gothic fairy tales, and it was spotting the man born Marvin Lee Aday in a movie which actually prompted this blog. I was watching Bloodrayne, an incomprehensible vampire medieval saga directed by my mate Uwe Boll, as part of the research for my next Hemlock book. The star-studded cast includes Ben Kingsley, Geraldine Chaplin, Udo Kier and Meat himself (credited as Meat Loaf Aday) as some sort of vampire playboy/sheikh. Surrounded by a scantily clad harem (played, rumour has it, by local prostitutes to keep the budget down) and with some risible periwig on his head, Meat Loaf’s character was… well, I don’t know. By that point I had lost track of everything and if it was ever explained who/what he was, I missed it.

But it did set me thinking about the genre films in which the man has appeared over the years, and the broader theme of pop stars in horror movies. Meat Loaf actually has about 70 IMDb acting credits (mostly, it must be observed, since he turned 50 in 1997 and started slowing down on the big rock gigs) and actually it’s surprising how few are horror, considering the gothic theatricalities of his stage persona. Way back in the mid-1970s, of course, he was Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, having played that role (and Dr Scott) in the first American production of Richard O’Brien’s stage show. (As an aside, I wonder whatever happened to Paddy O’Hagan, who played that dual role in the original 1973 London production? No-one seems to know, but there’s a gentleman of that name, of about the right age, who looks passably like the only two extant photos of O’Hagan in character, who now runs the Wells Food Festival in Somerset. Apparently he previously had a 'varied career in the arts and Civil Service'. Hmmm…)

Twenty years later, after occasional acting forays which included episodes of Tales from the Crypt and Monsters, Meat Loaf starred in one of the oddest bigfoot films ever made. There have been dozens of movies about bigfoot or the abominable snowman or some similar creature, but most of them have involved a large, ape-like monster. To Catch a Yeti is unique in that the beast is actually small and cute, it just has disproportionately large feet with which it leaves misleadingly large footprints in the Himalayan snow. Meat Loaf plays a big game hunter tracking the yeti, initially in Nepal, later back in New York, on behalf of some rich, mean employers in this Canadian DTV curiosity, which was actually directed by British effects legend Bob Keen. The Loafster can also be spotted in deceptively-titled 2005 serial killer feature Chasing Ghosts (among a terrifyingly psychotic cast that also includes Gary Busey, Michael Madsen and Danny Trejo!) and in intriguing-sounding 2007 zombie obscurity Urban Decay alongside Dean ‘Superman’ Cain and Tim ‘Jack Death’ Thomerson.

Of course, when one thinks of rock-meets-horror, an obvious name that springs to mind is that charming young lady Miss Alice Cooper. He’s in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and also in 2001 horror-comedy The Attic Expeditions aka Horror in the Attic, alongside Jeffrey Combs, Ted Raimi and Seth Green. Unlike Meat Loaf, who is very much an actor in his own right, Cooper plays up his horror persona and is cast because of it. So when the makers of unfortunately-titled 2009 horror-comedy Suck, about a vampire rock band, were looking for a bartender, they cast Alice in the role (and his daughter Calico Cooper as a barmaid). While they were at it, they recruited some other rock gods too: Iggy Pop (also in Rock and Rule, Tank Girl, The Crow: City of Angels and a memorable episode of Deep Space Nine), Henry Rollins (also in Johnny Mnemonic, Psychic Murders, Feast, Wrong Turn 2 and a bunch of Batman cartoons) and, um, Moby?

According to the old Inaccurate Movie Database, Moby (whose name stems from the fact that he is a direct descendant of Herman Melville) has a previous genre credit in Joe’s Apartment, the first movie ever made by MTV, in which Jerry O’Connell plays a guy whose flat is over-run with talking cockroaches. There’s one I haven’t seen in a while. Also in the cast of that picture is Sandra Denton, better known to you and me as Pepa out of girlie hiphop duo Salt’n’Pepa.  Which brings me to the subject of rappers in horror films, of which there are many, many examples, some of whom I have actually heard of, despite being an old farty white guy.

So we find LL Cool J in Halloween H20, Deep Blue Sea and the entirely unnecessary Rollerball remake; Redman as himself in Seed of Chucky (alongside Hannah Spearit from S Club 7!); Ice Cube in Anaconda and John Carpenter’s eye-gougingly awful, Ghosts of Mars; Ice-T in Leprechaun in the Hood (and Sticky Fingaz in Leprechaun Back 2 The Hood); and king of the bad hair days Coolio in Pterodactyl and the hilariously awful Dracula 3000. Ice-T, who was also in Tank Girl and Johnny Mnemonic, is now a proper actor what with starring in Law and Order: SVU and so on, although his weirdest, and possibly least known, ‘horror’ role is a cameo in Frankenpenis, a porno produced by Ron Jeremy and starring John Wayne Bobbitt (if you don’t recall who he is, do not google to find out!). Some sources reckon this was directed by Umberto Lenzi but I frankly doubt that. Hollywood, as we all know, has a tendency to include a TBG – Token Black Guy (or Girl) - when putting together an ensemble cast for a horror film, and one gets the impression that some casting directors don’t really know any black actors and simply look through their kids’ hiphop CDs to get some names.

Sometimes low-budget movies can be a way for faded pop stars to reacquaint themselves with the record-buying public. It can’t have done any harm to the back catalogue royalties of squeaky clean 1980s teen poplet Debbie Gibson when she was cast as the female lead in The Asylum’s genre-defining giant monster hokum Mega-Shark vs Giant Octopus. She calls herself ‘Deborah’ Gibson nowadays but UK distributors Metrodome were having none of that and called her ‘Debbie’ on the sleeve. Spotting that they were onto a good thing, The Asylum promptly cast Gibson’s chart rival Tiffany in Mega-Piranha and then made a male generation’s dreams come true (including those of the late, great Bill Hicks) by casting both ladies in Mega-Python vs Gatoroid. Honestly, the plots of these films don’t matter a jot. What matters is that they have cheesy CGI giant critters and teens-turned-MILFs playing unlikely scientists. Pure exploitation – bravo!

Of course these are fun monster films rather than horrific terror-pictures (although Tiffany was also in something called Necrosis) and part of the fun is in the ladies playing against type, ironic casting rather than the less imaginative trend of going for performers who might have an established Fangoria-reading fan base. Which brings us to the heavy rockers. Who can forget Ozzy Osbourne (pre-reality TV reinvention) and Gene Simmons in 1986 horror hoopla Trick or Treat? Or Motorhead’s Lemmy as cinema’s least comprehensible narrator, mumbling his way through iambic pentameter in Troma’s Shakespearian reimagining Tromeo and Juliet? And a special mention must be made for Jon Mikl Thor, bodybuilding frontman of crappy OTT rockers Thor, whose triple whammy of big screen horror credits consists of Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare and Zombie Nightmare (both in 1987) and, 18 years later, something called Intercessor: Another Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare. Say what you like about his music (and his acting), you can’t knock the fella for consistency.

Mention of Gene Simmons reminds us that sometimes the whole rock-stars-in-films thing gets taken to extremes with entire movies being built around a band. Hence the unforgettable viewing experience that is Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Another example is Dark Floors, the movie that was made to showcase Finnish rock-monsters Lordi after they set a record for the highest points total ever in the Eurovision Song Contest. Oh, and it’s Eurovision this month too, which makes this blog topical.

Rapping TBGs and faded teen starlets aside, today’s pop stars seem less keen than their predecessors to add a horror movie to their CV but the occasional bit of stunt-casting does still pop up and is always fun to spot. Pop stars are often frustrated actors and, as many producers have discovered, when it comes to adding name value to your movie, they can be used as a substitute for the real thing. Which is all well and good, but how many of these so-called pop stars have been turned into a giant cartoon robot on national TV as a result of a dispute with a lager-swilling Klingon, eh? Answer me that.








MJ Simpson has been writing since he found out which end of a pencil makes a mark. After editing sci-fan club mags he spent three years on the staff of SFX and helped to launch Total Film before switching to freelance work for Fangoria, Shivers, Video Watchdog, DeathRay and other cult movie magazines. He has a number of scripts in development and has been working on his third book, a biography of 'Bride of Frankenstein' Elsa Lanchester, for a very long time, but he promises to have it finished soon (-ish). Mike lives in Leicester with his wife, Mrs S, and his young son, TF Simpson. By day he edits the university's website and in the evenings he edits MJSimpson.co.uk. He should probably get out more.