Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.
For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…
This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. Ok, ok, let’s face facts… get down to brass tacks. I’m fucking behind. A whole heap. Two nights in fact. Hence why I am going to be making two articles in a row. However, given that we’ve only touched upon horror films and a tv series, I figured we ought to take a look at how Horror culture transcends other mediums, such as notably music. And man oh man oh man, is there ever any bigger name to horror-inspired music than…
Goblin… But a close second…
The Misfits. That name alone heralds how much these kids from New Jersey must’ve spent their early days just randomly watching whatever trashy movies would be playing on the old busted tv in their living room or their local drive-in. That name, for anyone who doesn’t catch it is based on the 1961 cowboy flick notable for being Marilyn Monroe’s final film (and written by her then-husband Arthur Miller).
If any singular band has been unashamed with combining the base cultural fascinations with single-minded music and sitting down watching a movie, it’s been the Misfits. And, in spite of their continuous turmoils, they left behind a blazing trail in both the horror culture and punk rock scene since their rampage in the late 70s to the early 80s. You can’t even mention the idea of horror culture without my mind going to the glorious trashiness of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and this catchy as fuck punk rock band. Maybe Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse shortly after.
It all began in the borough of Lodi, New Jersey and if you’ve heard of that place, it’s only because you were born because otherwise bullshit. Self-taught musician Glenn Danzig happens to be among the few people who have been born there and he decided in 1977 to put together his own band by assembling a motley crew of musicians, smashing through very simple power chords and simple Damage beats with the most brainless and primal intent. These three people turned out to be Diane DiPiazza, Jimmy Battle and Manny Martinez and not a single one of these musicians would be sticking around by the end of the year, hinting at the future turbulence that would define and continuously steer the band’s direction.
Despite constant musician changes within the band during their years, the classic line-up most associated with the band became Danzig on vocals (despite having started on an electric piano), “Jerry Only” Caiafa on bass (later taking on vocal duties after the band’s run of frontmen runs dry) and Caiafa’s younger brother Paul, better known as “Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein” on guitar. The drumming responsibilities is shifty, but it seems the most definitive name associated with drumming on the Misfits is Arthur Googly, who would drum on their most notable album as well as touring with their most notorious shows. Speaking of albums and shows, you’ll most certainly notice that there’s a severe lean on how few albums they have. By their initial break-up in 1983, they had them only seen themselves release two albums (others were recorded; one was shelved and one was only released after their reunion) but multitudes upon multitudes of singles they would dish out after a brief recording session and especially loads and loads of shows.
See, the Misfits were essentially Do-It-Yourself of the most hard-working sort. Danzig created their label Blank Records in his mother’s basement and just kept working on merchandising with the rest of the band for their official “Fiend Club”, making t shirts, posters, catalogues, fan mail replies and all over without any middle man to lessen the load. Doyle and Only would be working at their dad’s shop together to fund the band. And it didn’t take long for the band to know that if they were going to make a mark, they had to have a signature. An image. Something definitive.
See that hair? That is the devilock that Jerry Only employed on himself and then was adopted by Doyle and Danzig following the appearances.. Looking like a teenage version of Eddie Munster on the head of some meathead, that devilock single-handedly embodies the originality of the Misfits’ vision of being a band that doesn’t look to shock but instead like to celebrate the idea of shock. The image that embodies their homage technique, though, that would be their logo…
Font and styling look familiar? Let me help you with that…
Yep, enough of a project based on fangasming all over the idea of 50s B-movie and horror shticks that they would straight up homage the fans themselves. Famous Monsters of Filmland is actual a novel classic magazine that would keep kids in track of what new beast was stomping onto the silver screen, looking to remain relevant. While the actual icon would be ripped from the 1964 film Crimson Ghost.
Using flourishes like this alongside Danzig’s lyrical takes on old science fiction films and horror movies that got people excited in their little hometowns where nothing ever ever happened, the Misfits crafter themselves into an undead form of rock music that seemed to be absent from punk rock music at the time. Like Black Sabbath did to metal, the Misfits had a lower, darker quality to their melodies and rhythms that made them seem more sinister, quite ghoulish, alongside their anthemic rants of terrifying movies or ideals like “Last Caress” or “Night of the Living Dead“. But much more impressive that they weren’t given enough credit for was how much they appealed as impressive musicians…
Arthur Googly’s drumming was semi-inspired work laying a clockwork tempo for the band to catch up to it. And catch up they did. Only’s bass styles seemed way too inspired by John Entwistle and groove concepts in their early songs like “She” and “We Are 138” (worlds below Entwistle’s ability, but what bassist that isn’t James Jamerson or Geddy Lee isn’t?), swinging the moment about wherever the music says so. Doyle himself is admittedly not an immense talent to the group, having been taught to play at the last second by Only and Danzig just so they could draft him into the band, but what little he knows about playing, he’s clearly willing to learn and slowly improving as a guitarist. And overall their sound just seemed to be a nostalgic form of the 50s Buddy Holly rock and roll phrasing rather than just simplistic punk phrasing, leading to a very twisted portrait of the Nuclear family era by taking their tunes, shoving them through distortion amplification and lyricism about monstrosities that can only live on your television set during a late Saturday night and you got a perfect recipe for a surprising window to the darker side of the social image in a long by-passed era that the members of the Misfits happen to have just missed by birth. They probably would have given those people heart attacks.
But Danzig is honestly the true champion. While every one of them would sink their fingers deep into the creativity of the band, Danzig was the clear leader of the group, always deciding what would be the next direction or move of the band – whether is was bail jumping to avoid missing a show they had to play or making a new album in their studio time with “Skulls” or “Hybrid Moments”. But he’s also, in my opinion, the most talented of the group (while not exactly showboating as a vocalist in Misfits the way he did in Samhain or Danzig). Possessing a clear controlled baritone, Danzig’s voice first took a leaf off of the greats like Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley, before decidedly diving into a raw sexuality with his solo work that showed off a blatant masculinity that is quite worthy of both mocking because of how ridiculous it is and of respecting with how dedicated he is to pretending he is the man. I can’t talk about him without posting these videos, honestly.
In the end, though, all dynasties must end. It’s clear with a group of so many involved members, with a trail of kicked out individuals and disputes with everyone from recording companies to fans, that some of the people there would prove to be extensively headstrong (and that’s frankly putting it lightly – Glenn Danzig may be one of the best modern-day baritones, but he’s also undoubtedly the biggest prima donna in music today as well. His fights and feuds are the shit of legend. As an anecdote, my friend’s wife told me of how Danzig walked out on signing merchandise for him when he saw it was all from the Misfits). And just look at these guys.
They’re big and muscular with personalities to match their physique. Much like all other bands before them that would die out because their members were hardasses who hated each other like The Who or Pantera or Oasis, they’re trying to come off as manly men and that doesn’t just mean they will take their ball and go home. They will kick each other in the nuts and deflate their friend’s balls to pretend that they are the only ones who can play. And that’s just about what happened. Slowly deteriorating the relationships he had with the Misfits, Danzig first kicked out Googly. As the shows went on, Danzig got less and less into it until a dreaded Halloween Eve show in 1983 where they brought in a drummer at the last second who got blackout drunk before coming onto the stage, leading them to use the headlining band’s drummer. During the show, more fights started ensuing and Danzig announced on the spot that the band was finished to the crowd.
Of course, now they’ve all moved on ideally. Danzig was involved with a project he started called Samhain very briefly before fronting his own solo project (both of which I honestly prefer to the Misfits, if I am honest), occasionally trying to sue Jerry for the Misfits rights, while the Misfits continue on Jerry Only’s back now and not half as prevalent in the punk rock scene as they once were – largely because Only took the whole band into a more heavy metal stylization. I saw Danzig in concert a few years back and thankfully he seemed less bitter about the Misfits streak, because he played some of their songs and it was decent. But, if I could get a time machine to see them at their prime, I would do it (though that goes for most punk rock bands).
The Misfits ideally belonged to one era and one era alone and yet seem to have leaked themselves both retroactively into 50s cruiser culture (watch a clip of a dance swinging to the sounds of one of the Misfits tunes and tell me that shit doesn’t synchronize) for their fascinations and 90s punk culture for their attitude and 00s goth Hot Topic culture for their style and they will probably move forward. Their legacy is endless with band upon band upon band upon band upon band upon band upon band upon band upon band upon band all stating that they owe themselves to the trails of the Misfits. All just thanks to the fact that a small band out of some shit town in New Jersey was able to make a business out of loving horror movies.
Not bad for a band that can hardly kept itself together as a group of people. At least they could be icons.
Interested in listening by the way? Here’s my perfect setlist for when I’m in the mood:
“Dust to Dust”
“Where Eagles Dare”
“We Are 138”
“Die Die My Darling”