An evening with Alice Cooper's movie nightmares at the BFI
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Rock's Prince Of Darkness makes a good case for being the king of horror geeks...
While it's true that Ozzy Osbourne may well be the Prince of Darkness, there is only one undisputed King, a man who has rocked and shocked audiences all over the world with his outrageous, and outrageously entertaining live shows for over four decades, and who shows no sign of letting up any time soon. I speak, of course, of the one and only Mr Alice Cooper, a man who has forgotten more about horror movies than most people know to start with (with the possible exception of the encyclopaedic Kim Newman), and in whose company I was privileged to spend an hour and a half on the Friday before Halloween at the British Film Institute in London as he discussed his favourite Nightmare Movies with an audience of just 400 or so people.
As Alice took to the stage, along with Fright Fest founder Alan Jones, who was hosting the talk, the atmosphere in the room full of film buffs and costumed fans (one decked out in a magnificent silver glittery School's Out suit, complete with top hat) was electric.
Enjoying a night off from his current 'Welcome 2 My Nightmare' tour, which laid waste to London's Alexandra Palace the following night and brought the unique Alice experience to Glasgow on Halloween itself (we had the pleasure of experiencing it last year at the legendary Roundhouse in Camden), Alice was relaxed and charming as he spoke of his first experience of horror movies as a child, when he and his sister and their friends would spend their Saturdays at the local movie theatre, a venue that he returned to many years later as a headlining act, but initially failed to recognise because he was seeing it from the stage.
Having become well-versed with the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman, Alice revealed that the first movie to really scare him was The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), an experience that had him on his feet and running for the door.
Moving on to the first couple of the night's film clips, we were treated to short scenes from Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (1962), with Bette Davies singing ‘I’ve Written A Letter To Daddy’ while her sister looks on in fascinated horror, and Barbarella (1968), where Jane Fonda's character first meets the villainous Great Tyrant, Black Queen of Sogo (the delectable Anita Pallenberg, though her voice was dubbed by English actress Joan Greenwood [ or Fenella Fielding - there's some dispute - Ed ] ). These two movies, Cooper explained, and particularly the characters of Baby Jane and The Great Tyrant, were what shaped the whole Alice persona, with Bette Davis's increasingly cracked make-up, and the sexy evilness and whirling wrist switch-blades of The Great Tyrant striking a resonating chord that endures to this day. Alice then revealed that his band actually ended up living next door to Bette Davis in their early days, and that not only was she flattered when he told her of his makeup theft, but that it was she, and not the up and coming shock rock stars, who was the terror of the neighbourhood.
After a clip of Dario Argento's seminal Suspiria (1977), in which ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives at Munich airport in the driving rain and attempts to hail a cab while the hypnotic score builds to a crescendo, Alice professed his love of Goblin, Argento's long time musical collaborators and, in response to Jones’s observation that Argento had used a lot of rock bands on his sound tracks but never Alice, admitted that he would happily have acquiesced had he been asked. He also professed his love for Argento's Demons (1985) and Demons 2 (1986) (actually directed by Lamberto Bava but co-written and produced by Argento), acknowledging them for the dumb fun that they are.
Following the clip from Sam Raimi's Evil Dead (1981) in which Ash (the legendary Bruce Campbell) is being coaxed to open the cellar door (never a good idea, as any self respecting horror fan knows) by the possessed Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Alice positively gushed about the whole trilogy, acknowledging that a good horror movie can be both scary and funny, and was very complimentary about the fact that the first movie was made for such little money, and with such faith from Raimi's friends and family who kept funding him until it was finished, enabling him to step onto the world's stage and ultimately become a big name director.
Moving on to his own movie career, we were treated to a clip of Alice as Freddy Krueger’s stepfather in Rachel Talalay’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), a role that he was clearly proud of, reasoning that as evil as Freddy is, he got to play the guy who made him that way. Alice also talked about Claudio Fragasso’s Monster Dog (1984), his first lead role in a feature, recalling that he took the role because he’d only recently become sober after years of alcoholism, and needed to see whether he could actually pull off an acting gig while on the wagon.
As it turned out he could, but he was then most amused to find that although the lead actors all spoke perfect English, their voices were then dubbed into ‘Spanish English’, Cooper’s by veteran dubber Ted Rusoff who has worked on over a thousand movies. This triumph was so significant that Alice recalls it as being the turning point in the evolution of his on stage persona, the point at which the alcoholic, victimised Alice metamorphosed into the controlling, sadistic Alice that we know and love today.
When asked about his favourite directors, Alice spoke about John Carpenter, who he revealed was a huge wrestling fan, having met him at Wrestlemania III where Alice had been in Jake 'The Snake' Roberts' corner during his match with The Honky Tonk Man. Talking about his experience on the horror maestro’s Prince of Darkness (1987), Alice revealed that he had originally been asked by Carpenter to do a brief cameo just for fun, but as the shoot progressed his role got bigger and bigger until the director asked him whether, akin to the special effects Alice used in his stage shows, he could thrust a bicycle through somebody, which naturally he could.
As the main part of the evening drew to a close, Alan Jones threw the floor open for a brief Q&A session in which Alice was asked why he had never written a song about a werewolf (he just hadn’t gotten around to it but would give it some consideration), his thoughts on 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man (he liked it but had no clue what Nicolas Cage was doing in the remake), what his wife of 35 years, Sheryl, thought of his obsession with horror movies (he revealed that the secret to the longevity of their relationship was that she watched horror movies with him and he went to the opera with her), and what piece of movie memorabilia he would like to own (which he answered by telling the audience that he actually owns the trowel used by Kyra Schon in George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) to kill her mother, played by Marilyn Eastman).
To round off a fantastic and fascinating 90 minutes, Alice then spent another quarter of an hour signing anything and everything that the audience wanted before returning half an hour later to introduce a special screening of John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween (1978) in which he revealed that Michael Myers was his favourite of the masked slashers, because he was emotionless and there was no rhyme or reason to why he killed, he just did.
All in all, a unique, entertaining and memorable evening for those of us who were lucky enough to be held in thrall by Alice Cooper, and one that I will certainly never forget, not least because not only did I spend an hour and a half with one of my favourite musicians, I finally got to see Carpenter's Halloween on a big screen.
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