Saturday, December 03, 2005

Monster Sounds and Dance Music

I own some albums Rob Zombie would covet: mid-1960s dance records with lots of reverb and warbling screams of terror. These are low-rent entries (and that's setting your sights pretty low) of the monster pop canon; I suppose the masterwork is Zacherle's "Monster Mash," which needs to be taken in context with a frayed tapestry tied together, in a Forry-Ackerman-Meets-Basil-Wolverton kind of way, with any number of threads of adolescent boy culture, from monster trading cards and stickers to Aurora plastic models and Herman Munster talking hand puppets, from Creepy Crawlers (often a kid's entree to the world of second-degree burns, fingertip division) to the Kustom Kar Kraze (R.I.P. Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and Ratfink). When I was nine or so, I plunged headlong into this humid, poorly reproduced world of bad puns and luridly curving claws, of profuse sweat-drops and clammy waxy surfaces--Topps-ed off with a deadly sharp piece of gum, powdered and pink like a dessicated tongue. It was a mess.

Just like The Devil's Rejects (2005). Although Zombie's movie is primarily an homage to 1970s travel-n-splatter movies--The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and of course The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) spring immediately to mind--Rejects also has at least one horned toe dipped in the Herschell Gordon Lewis pool of Incredibly Strange Ideas That Stopped Being Movies and Became Mixed-Up Cult Classics, like Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965), not to mention the subcategory of zonked-out corpse-grinders culminating in, I think, the dirtiest Satan-hippies of them all in the non-Lewis I Drink Your Blood (1970), who eat meat pies infected with rabid dog blood, and go off on one of those killing sprees. I actually have this movie, as yet unwatched, in my possession. Yech.

Rejects enjoys itself immensely, and I must admit I knew exactly what Zombie was up to, but the more I saw the movie rolled up in a big sticky ball with all those dregs of my childhood, the more I grew weary of it. I reminded myself once again that I prefer the past to stay the past, or at least itself, and whenever a film pays tribute or evokes something or other, there's always more than a whiff of self-congratulatory winking. As usual, I'm tempted to blame Quentin Tarantino for this. The Kill Bill double bill has yet to engage me in any significant manner--aside from drawing me to its sources. Sin City (2005) has the same effect; creative Xeroxing is simply not enough. Now, I won't entirely discount the basic impulse. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) works well on its own, constant references to other movies notwithstanding. Sure, there's a nerdy appeal to such in-joking--"Hey! There's Tom Savini!"--and, looking at what I've written thus far, I must admit this entire piece in many ways has been an exercise in such smugness.

But let's move on.

A real music-lover I know used to disdain the whole idea of the Blues Brothers back when they were a hot bit on Saturday Night Live. He wanted people to buy the original records, not Jake and Elwood's covers, no matter the backup band's pedigree. I argued it might open the door to that music--and I think it did to a certain extent--but he was convinced that by and large people would remain satisfied with the hepped-up new model, irony included--and I also think by and large he was right. After all, it's been twenty-plus years and the Blues Brothers persist, if only as local car dealership pitchmen and high school halftime shows; but in all that time, I don't think anybody ever did a Sam and Dave impression.

I bring this up to figure out what to do with Rob Zombie. Now, we can easily argue that Zombie's sources don't need to be treasured or protected; they're alive and unwell on DVD. (And as far as the Angels of R&B are concerned, they seemed awful happy with their speaking roles, bit parts and cameos in 1980's The Blues Brothers.) Maybe, though, the effort to pay tribute to all that is creepy and kooky and altogether ooky (See? I'm doing it again; down, fanboy, down) is only marginally worth the trouble. Personally, I'd rather watch the originals or, better yet, use my conveniently selective and softly, almost imperceptibly fading memory--bolstered by the Web's bottomless image archives--to spread the past before me like a Tarot deck designed for reverse engineering.

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