THE MISFITS GUIDE TO FILM
BY SCOTT BASS
Consider this your yearly Halloween treat from PSF, some seasonally-appropriate movie suggestions inspired by the original Horror-Punk band, The Misfits.
Glenn Danzig's love for old monster movies is well-known, however few but the most obsessive fans appreciate the true level of inspiration The Misfits drew from the silver screen. When originally creating the concept for the group, young Glenn clearly drew influence from early horror culture that included not just the films themselves, but also film celebrities, posters, toy models, comics, and whatever else was in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The scope of this article focuses only on the original Danzig-led version of the Misfits, even though the reformed group has continued on with the original vision of paying homage to the early roots of Horror films.
Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (1958-1983)
Recognize the font? (clue: see above)
The Misfits (1960)
Not a horror film, but it definitely belongs on this list. Based on a screenplay by famous American author Arthur Miller, and starring his then-wife Marilyn Monroe (along with then-megastars Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift), The Misfits is a pretty big picture about a group of friends that just don't quite fit in with regular folk. They decide to make a go of working for themselves, and it looks great on paper but proves rather difficult in execution. Perhaps the boys from Lodi saw a kinship in the characters' "us against the world" mentality.
Monroe's marriage to Miller was falling apart when this was being made and despite her heavy drinking, she manages to turn in the most mature acting performance of her career, of which this film would be the last. A decent watch; and definitely a favorite of the band as Glenn thanked the cast in the liner notes of the "Cough/Cool" single, his first release as the Misfits.
Danzig's label Mercury's label
The "Cough/Cool" single (b/w "She") was released on Glen's own Blank Records in 1977, featuring a pre-Jerry and Doyle version of the group that had Glenn playing organ along with a couple of guys he never recorded with again on bass and drums. With no guitars to be heard anywhere, this first-take version of the band was not quite fully-realized.
Right around that time, major label Mercury Records coincidentally created a sub-label called "Blank" to release Punk records. Mercury's first two (and only, as it turned out) releases were in the works when the repetition was discovered, and rather than cause marketplace confusion the wise executives at Mercury offered Danzig free studio time in exchange for the name of his label. That studio time was used to record the aborted Static Age LP (released many years later in it's original form) and Glenn got the opportunity to come up with a better label name, this time one that was inspired by classic film like so many of his songs. Combined with the realization that guitars are good, Danzig had come up with the proper formula. The Misfits on Plan 9 were a different beast entirely than the same-named band on their previous label.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Considered "the worst movie ever made" by people unfamiliar with a true contender like Manos: The Hands of Fate, this monstrosity of a picture is probably deviant/maverick director Ed Wood's best-known film. The first eight plans were all deeply flawed; but the ninth time around they got the strategy right! When tasked with coming up with a new label name, Danzig chose to pay homage to this wacky flick by christening his new label "Plan 9 Records," a name that pays respect to the memory of Wood's work as well as the notion of trying different plans (cough, Misfits lineups, cough) until you find one that works.
Featuring a morphine-addled Bela Lugosi in his final film performance, as well as Maila Nuini (AKA Vampira) who had been doing the late-night horror hostess thing on TV for years at this point, this is a movie that everyone should see at least once -- if only to gawk at the spectacle of it all.
Even though she lost her case when she took the issue to court in 1989, the general opinion amongst horror aficionados is that cultural icon Elvira stole Vampira's shtick. Sure. she added some ditz and cleavage, but the basic formula of a seductive death-obsessed B-movie color commentator was well established before Elvira's rise to celebrity and cultural relevance. Glenn knows who the real deal is, and she's a big part of why people still watch this "so bad it's good" movie today.
Maila with Jerry, Doyle, and Glenn "Vampira and the devil-locks"
The Crimson Ghost (1946)
Although they had used the image on flyers before, it wasn't until their 3rd single, 1979's "Horror Business," that The Misfits adopted this public domain ghoul as their unofficial mascot. The Crimson Ghost was a 12-part film serial from the ‘40's that featured the eponymous villain trying to steal "a counter atomic device known as Cyclotrode X, which can short out any electrical device." All of the shorts are available as one long movie, which is on YouTube. The Crimson Ghost continues to serve as the group's unofficial mascot and is forever associated with the group.
Horror Hotel (1961)
The Misfits "Horror Hotel"
Also known as "The City of the Dead," this early example of English horror features Christopher Lee in one of his most well-regarded performances. The plot concerns witchcraft in a quiet town in Massachusetts that culminates with a curse placed upon the titular hotel.
Taking inspiration from the plot, in the Misfits song, Glenn once again shows that he has a pretty good sense of humor. He imagines himself checking into the horror hotel and rather than becoming victim of a curse, he joins in the evil debauchery, partying with "underworld scum" because he likes "necking" with his "vampire girlfriend."
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The Misfits "Night of the Living Dead"
It's pretty hard to overstate the importance of this film. Not only did NOTLD bring zombie films back into popularity, but it also served as an early cultural milestone by being perhaps the first widely-released film to feature a black protagonist helping to save an almost entirely white cast. George Romero says he wasn't trying to insert racial politics, at least not intentionally, but it's worthy of acknowledgement regardless. This movie is a legitimate horror masterpiece and anyone that has never seen it really owes it to themselves to check it out. It's no surprise that this song is also one of the Misfit's most memorable singalongs that also serves as proof that Danzig is a clever lyricist. "Stumble in somnambulance, pre-dawn corpses come to life" is such a great first line that not only sounds good but has also likely caused many a young punker to reach for a dictionary. That's got to be a good thing.
"WORDS for our BRAINS!!!!"
This one was pretty huge then and is still huge now, and no doubt young Danzig was a devoted fan. Thanks to a quirk in 1960's copyright law, this film is now in the public domain because the original distributors forgot to put a written copyright mark on the prints. So have at it if you don't have it already!
Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)
The Misfits "Die, Die, My Darling"
Also known as "Fanatic," this Hammer Films production stars acclaimed stage actor Tallulah Bankhead in her final film performance as a demented zealot. A fairly compelling Anglo-Giallo film (even the poster is yellow) that benefits from the inclusion of veteran actor Donald Sutherland. Not the best movie on this list but far from the worst, the title practically screams "make me into a song!"
"Your future's in an oblong box"
Return of the Fly (1959)
The Misfits "Return of the Fly"
The sequel to The Fly, a true sci-fi classic originally released in 1958, and remade with great success in 1986 starring Jeff Goldblum. How often do remakes actually live up to the originals? Not too often.
There's no debating what this song is about as the first line is literally: "Return of the Fly... with Vincent Price" and the lyrics of this one mention characters Francois and Helene Delambre. The Misfits' version of this title finds the author (Danzig) providing commentary on the lead's foolish self-experimentation, admonishing: "you guinea pig!" Pig, fly, same difference. You don't want to be either, but you should check out any of the films in this series as they are all pretty good.
The Misfits "Halloween"
The Misfit's fifth single was released on Halloween, 1981. Even though it's a topic any horror-punk outfit would consider exploring, the fact that the same-titled movie from three years earlier was a massive hit makes it hard to deny at least a tenuous connection between the two. Danzig denies the two are in any way related so it's likely just coincidence; but hard to leave off of a list like this. Although, it's kind of funny that both Carpenter and Danzig would produce sequels...
No similarity here!
Please move on.
Hollywood Babylon (1972)
The Misfits "Hollywood Babylon"
One of the few non-horror movies here, this film was based on the bestseller book by filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Written in 1959, it was not published in the States until 1965--where it was then banned ten days later. Finally reprinted for wide distribution in 1975, it was a cultural sensation at the time as it offered insider gossip on some of the juiciest, most tawdry Hollywood Scandals of the era.
It's quite likely Danzig owned the 1975 edition as that edition spilled significant ink on the unsolved murder (or was it suicide) of Marilyn Monroe, from which Danzig clearly drew inspiration...
"Could it have been the Kennedys?
Or the LAPD?"
TXH 1138 (1971)
The Misfits "We Are 138"
George Lucas' first movie and possibly the most impressive student film ever made. THX 1138 depicts a bleak future of government-controlled conformity and prominently features android police officers that enforce the chemical enslavement of the populace. It's a pretty great slice of period sci-fi with a horrific premise that is far more bleak than anything ever encountered in the Star Wars universe.
This is another one that Glennhas disputed in interviews but the evidence is clear. "We Are 138" is the only Misfits song to mention robots, a central concept to the movie. Definitely worth checking out.
The Astro-Zombies (1968)
The Misfits "Astro Zombies"
Starring B-movie hero John Carradine, this film was made for under forty thousand dollars, which even in 1968 was peanuts. The main concept concerns a mad space-agency scientist who creates a race of astro monsters to take over... well it's actually a confusing hot mess. This movie is so bad that it got the Rifftrax treatment. Oh, but that poster!
The corresponding Misfits song is a picture-perfect example of how to take a lousy sci-fi film and turn it into a infectious Punk classic. Danzig re-envisions himself as that space-age scientist and rewrites the original plot into a much more succinct and successful script. "Prime directive: exterminate the whole human race!"
"...your face drops in a pile of flesh..."
If the Astro-Zombies don't get you, the "Teenagers From Mars" probably will.
Blood Feast (1963)
The Misfits "Bloodfeast"
Considered the first ever "splatter film," this ridiculous story of a blood-crazed caterer that wants to awaken an Egyptian god via human sacrifice really put director Herschell Godon Lewis on the map. This movie caused him to pivot from a career path of producing forgettable soft-core nudie shlock into becoming the bloodmaster general of indie film with other "classics" of the genre to follow like Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red.
It's fair to assume that Gordon Lewis made quite an impression on young Danzig as his films were generally very bloody, but also very tongue-in-cheek to those that were hip enough to catch on.
The Psychopath (1966)
The Misfits "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?"
This one is pretty out-there, showcasing a killer that leaves a lookalike doll beside each murder victim. It's hard to surmise what Danzig would have found more inspiring about this one -- the gonzo plot or the inclusion of blonde beauty Judy Huxtable as the film's protagonist who is trying her best not to be the next doll. The tagline from the poster was used for the American release of the movie and is what inspired the song. Definitely not a "B" movie, this one is worth checking out.
The Brain Eaters (1958)
The Misfits "Braineaters"
This one is so simple it sort of feels like it was written in five minutes but the results were good enough. This movie is about people that eat brains... talk about a plot spoiler of a title. For this song, Danzig takes a rare comedic turn and wonders what things would be like from the perspective of the brain eaters; wouldn't it all get a bit monotonous? "Brains for dinner, brains for lunch, brains for breakfast, brains for brunch. Brains at every single meal, why can't we have some guts?" That's funny.
The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
The Misfits "Mephisto Waltz"
And you probably didn't think Alan Alda had any Punk cred, but here's proof to the contrary. Mr. M*A*S*H stars in this atmospheric film about a Satanic cult that no doubt inspired the writing of this obscure track, never officially recorded by the band. Not technically a "Misfits" song, but still worthy of inclusion here. A rehearsal version of the song, rumored to feature future Samhain-member Eerie Von on bass, appeared on 1995's Collection 2.
Even creepier in French
This is by no means a comprehensive list and a couple of the entries are up for debate. Other films that could have been included here include Ratt Pfink a Boo Boo (1966), Night of the Ghouls (1981), The Wasp Woman (1959), Devil Dog the Hound of Hell (1978), and Monster from Green Hell (1957). I'm sure there's plenty more.
By no means should this article be interpreted as "he ripped it all off!" Art always seeks inspiration from the past and recycling old ideas (like movie monsters) into new paradigms (like punk rock) is completely kosher. And frankly, we wouldn't even be thinking of the Misfits all of these years later if the songs weren't so damned catchy. Considering that Danzig's vocal quality is arguably also ‘50's inspired -- one could call it almost Orbisoneque -- it's remarkable how deep the ties to the past really cut.
That should be no surprise as everything that's old becomes new again, like a zombie climbing out from a bed of dirt.
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