24 Hours Of Horror With Metalocalypse’s Brendon Small
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Brendon Small grew up loving heavy metal and horror films, and he never let go of either passion. After co-creating and starring in the animated series Home Movies, he co-created the grisly, gleefully over-the-top Adult Swim series Metalocalypse, about the world’s most popular band, and the bloody, head-exploding mayhem they sow wherever they go. An accomplished musician and voiceover artist, Small provides the music for the show’s central metal band/world power Dethklok, and the voices for three of its five members. With Halloween approaching, and Metalocpalypse's third season just due on DVD and Blu-Ray November 9th, The A.V. Club asked Small to program a theoretical 24-hour horror-film festival that brave souls can enjoy at home. (We asked Eli Roth to provide the same service back in 2007.) The results, which range from traditional choices to looser definitions of “horror,” didn’t disappoint.
The A.V. Club: Let’s say we’re starting at 8 p.m. and going from 8 p.m. to 8 p.m. the next day.
Brendon Small: I actually did the homework, because this would be really embarrassing if I weren’t prepared. I’m really proud of myself for taking the 14 minutes to scribble down names of movies. Congratulations to me!
AVC: Yes, we’re all very proud of you already.
BS: That’s all I wanted to hear.
8 p.m. Poltergeist (1982)
BS: I started out with some of my favorite horror. Great ghost stories: I put that before slashers, before suspense. And the first scariest thing I ever experienced as a kid would had to have been Poltergeist.
AVC: What kind of impression did it make on you?
BS: It was really scary. A scary impression, I would have to say. I was probably like 7 years old at the time, in Springfield, Illinois. Everyone was talking about it. Every kid in school. I saw more fucked-up movies when I was around 7 years old than I am seeing now. Like Conan The Barbarian. I think I saw bits and pieces of Caligula. I’m not sure. There’s some great art.
AVC: Caligula is a great kids’ movie.
BS: Kids love it. You know what? Kids do love it. I was a kid, and I saw part of it. And you know what? I thought it was fascinating. I wasn’t like, “Oh, this is terrible.” I was like, “This is awesome! I want to be a ruler and misuse my power one day!”
AVC: I saw Poltergeist in the middle of the afternoon on a very small television, and it still scared the shit out of me. I think for people over a certain age, it’s the original traumatic moviegoing experience.
BS: Absolutely. I didn’t see it in a theater. I saw part of it in the theater, because that’s like looking through a window, looking through the cracks between the two doors at a movie theater. But that was terrifying. My body language was like “ready to escape.”
I love Tobe Hooper anyway, even though they say Spielberg pretty much directed that movie himself. But that movie is so great, because it did something that horror failed to do constantly, as long as we’re actually talking about horror films, and not in a smarmy, smart, sarcastic way. That movie does something that’s great: It actually creates a world that is believable. That suburban house with that family is so believable. And the first 20 minutes or so is just the family going through its life. So when things start getting strange, they really start getting strange, because we believe that to be us. They do such an amazing job making this house feel like it’s lived in, the construction that’s going on, the pool they’re building, all that stuff. That suburban neighborhood, the neighbor with the same channel-changer, on the same frequency as his. Just all those little tiny things did so much to make that world believable.
AVC: It’s so cluttered, too.
BS: Yeah, it’s a messy suburban house. Just kids and toys and dead birds and licorice and all that stuff. People make horror films kind of look like car commercials these days, and the question is “Where do I fit into this picture? How can this happen to me?” The most fucked-up thing in the world is a home invasion. And that’s why The Exorcist is also on this list. They did such a great job at making life believable. Throwing away conversations, having the clutter and the hustle-bustle of life happen.
10 p.m. The Exorcist (1973)
BS: I’m going to put that on next, because it’s a classic, and I want to get some of these classics out of the way before I get into just absurdity and stupidity. I’ll have a lot of palate-cleansers.
AVC: I’ll confess to never loving The Exorcist, and I’m not sure why. What do you love about it?
BS: I think compositionally, musically… I think about that movie often, because it sets a really great tone. And because I’m a film nut, I remember from the commentary, William Friedkin talking about louds and quiets throughout the whole movie. That’s how comedy works, and how horror works too. That’s how death metal works, and that’s how great music works. Contradictory sections. And that movie definitely has great contradictory sections, where things are incredibly quiet, then incredibly loud.
The other thing is the believability of that world. It’s not something we can totally understand. The father has gone away somewhere, and the mother is a famous actor. Where do I fit in? I don’t know. But the relationship between the mother and daughter is really real, and the acting is so believable and understated. And it’s filmed like a European art film. You’ve turned one of the most innocent things in a world into the most disgusting, fucked-up thing in the world. And the voiceover… Again, my love of loud/quiets, the voiceover of the demon, the woman’s voice, is one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever heard, in terms of voiceover acting.
AVC: Mercedes McCambridge. She won an Oscar for All The King’s Men, and she was in Giant.
BS: I love it, these old actors who smoked 4,000 cigarettes a day, just to pass the time as they’re reading scripts. She tore her throat out to do this voice. She smoked three packs of Marlboro Reds a day just to get her voice sounding crackly and fucked-up. You know it just hurt her to talk, and you can hear that in the performance. That’s an amazing voiceover feat. After tearing my voice doing death-metal vocals, my heart goes out to that lady. That lady’s voice sounds like dry sandpaper and gravel. I haven’t heard a death-metal person sound that tough. And they’ll probably agree with me.
AVC: That brings us to midnight. What is your midnight feature?
BS: Again, some of these are not in any particular order. But I’m going to go with something really stupid. Palate-cleanser. There a lot of things that make things horrible. Just a horrible script sometimes, horrible acting. Sometimes a horrible sequel. In this case, I’ve picked Eddie And The Cruisers II.
12 a.m. Eddie And The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! (1989)
BS: One of my favorite things in the world is a great movie that has to do with things about music, the world of music, etc. There are only like two or three great music-movies, but there are tons of really fucking awful music-movies, and I watch those almost more than I watch the really good ones. As far as great music-movies, there’s Amadeus. Spinal Tap is one of the most authentic music-movies. And then there’s a bunch of movies that missed the mark. They should have talked to a couple of musicians and gotten the world right. It’s real easy. You can find one. They’re right down the street from you.
So Eddie And The Cruisers II is a movie where Eddie has faked his death already from the first movie. You don’t have to see the first movie to really understand it. You’ll get it. It’s just too much. Too much too fast, and he had to get away, and he’s escaped to Canada. But he can’t seem to get away from the music. It’s still inside him, and it’s gotta get out. It’s got this whole “Is Elvis dead?” thing going on, and he’s got this Bruce Springsteen working-man, blue-collar, rock-’n’-roll star. Will he reveal himself to the public? Won’t he? If he’s going to, he’s going to have to put a band together, and that’s where your story starts. Eddie And The Cruisers II, it’s a real piece of shit. But I think if you watch things that are good all the time, then you start to go, “Oh yeah, well, that’s one’s great too.” It’s like living your life—I’m healthy, I’m fine, and then I get a cold every once in a while, and I go, “Oh, right! I forgot how good I had it before!” And that’s what Eddie And The Cruisers II does. It reminds you that you were much better off before.
2 a.m. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
BS: That’s a good one to wake you up. Unfortunately, some people have ruined the surprise to that movie, so if you know the surprise, don’t ruin it for your friends. It presents itself as a slasher movie, but it ends up being a little bit more. [Laughs.] You don’t see it coming unless your friend ruins it for you.
AVC: You don’t see it coming because it makes no sense, but apart from the twist, I think you could watch and turn it off before the final scene, and still have a reasonably satisfying viewing experience.
BS: It’s basically a murder-by-numbers, so you’re still lining them up and killing them. There are some slasher films that I think are really fantastic, and there are some that are in one ear, out the other, and that’s why you can make 13 of them and go, “Hey, yeah, we still got plenty of story to tell.” Because there is no story to tell. But this one presents itself as a slasher and has one of the most bold, fucked-up twist endings I’ve seen in a movie. It’s so fucking absurd, it really makes me happy that someone went that way and then said, “Fuck it, this is how we’re ending the movie.” And I don’t know if that was the plan the whole time… I guess it was.
AVC: There’s sort of foreshadowing.
BS: Yeah, either way, it really does work. And the still-frame they land on is such an odd, weird shot, it looks like the head is too big for the body. There’s something wrong about everything there. It looks like it was superimposed, like there was a fake face on top of a body. Something just looks off and wrong, which gives it another strange, lurching feeling.
AVC: It’s like a fucked-up version of the last shot of 400 Blows.
BS: In my mind, what they may have done—my brother [Jeff Small] works in special makeup effects; he builds molds and makes monsters, and he worked on Where The Wild Things Are, and all that stuff. So I sit there with him when I watch all these movies, and as kids, we’d sit there and watch and think, “That would be cool, to work with weird silicone latex and stuff.” And now he does all that stuff. So now we’ll watch and I’ll go, “How’d they do that? How’d they do this?” From this one, what we deduced was that for this one, it’s a molded face on a body, and it’s a little big, and it just doesn’t fit the dude’s body that well. And maybe that’s why they freeze-framed it. It was probably wobbly and weird and didn’t fit the dude’s body right.
4:30 a.m. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)
AVC: I’ve actually never seen that, but I remember when I was a kid, it played for like a week.
BS: There’s something very wrong about this movie. It’s with the kid from The Facts Of Life, [Mackenzie Astin]. This is one of those movies that doesn’t function as a horror film in any way whatsoever. Sometimes I will put it into the category only because there’s so many weird, fucked-up creatures. Other than that, I don’t think it’s a horror film at all. It’s just really fucking stupid, and I love when a movie like this gets made and finished, because it is so fucking hard to make a movie. It’s so hard just to get up and get lights on a thing and not have three shadows going on at once, and to have somebody fix that light, it takes like four hours. And then you make this whole movie on top of that. I don’t really have much to say, other than this is another palate-cleanser, and this is so stupid, but you may thank me for reminding you of this movie. And it’s available on DVD. In the bargain bin.
AVC: I’m looking it up, and I don’t recognize anyone except Anthony Newley. That’s something.
BS: It’s funny, you give an actor a part, and then they want to do it right. It’s so funny, the whole world of show business. “A movie, yes? Who am I playing? Is he important? Where did he come from?” They want to do a good job!
6:30 a.m. Hostel (2005)
BS: I picked one slasher, and my slasher is Hostel. That movie is fucking death metal as far as I’m concerned. I talked to the Cannibal Corpse guys to see if they’ve seen that movie. “Have you seen this movie? It reminds me of your lyrics about all these just horrible, horrible creative ways of dying.” Because that’s what Cannibal Corpse does. I talk to them about their lyrics all the time. It’s almost like a slasher film, you know, trying to find a creative way to kill somebody. You know, when somebody gets splayed in two, and their body falls to the left and right. And that’s funny, and people laugh. That’s why they call it a gag in the horror industry. There is something almost jokey about them.
But this movie, it’s amazing. The major dialogue, the exposition, just stops [after a certain point]. It becomes almost a silent film. And he works so hard. His movie beforehand, Cabin Fever, was a really fun movie. What was Eli Roth, like 26 when he made that? Obviously he’s got a lot of energy, and he cares about what he’s doing. And that movie was fun, but this movie… I thought the score and the camera work were outstanding. I thought it was such a fucked-up brutal situation. And at some point, the guy’s covered in his friend’s body parts, escaping out of this place, this gigantic horrible castle of paying-to-kill-people. I thought, “ This is a pretty fucked-up movie. This is some of the most fucked-up stuff I’ve seen.” I think you forget that that really is some of the most brutal slashing and killing and slaying and defingering and whatever that has happened in a movie.
AVC: There’s so much more craft in that than the movies it’s lumped in with.
BS: Oh, fuck yes. There are Hitchcock moments. There’s a lot of craftsmanship. That was the thing that really attracted me. You see fight sequences and horror sequences and remakes of old John Carpenter movies, and it really is just slash/dab coverage chip-chopped together. But this guy, you can tell, boarded everything. There is no doubt in my mind that he knew exactly how every shot was going to happen before he got there.
AVC: Roth talks about how he has a political agenda with his films, and this one in particular appeared in the middle of a decade where anti-American sentiment grew extremely high, and torture became an issue of public debate. It’s a loaded film in that respect, as well.
BS: Oh, fuck yeah! That’s the great thing about horror: The best of it always does have some kind of wake-up call somewhere in the middle. That’s what The Exorcist was. Poltergeist, too. We’re not so safe after all.
8 a.m. The Funhouse (1981)
BS: I’m going to keep going with horror—Funhouse. I watched that again recently. Tobe Hooper. I love this movie. First off, they just don’t make movies that look like that anymore. I think it’s the film stock, it’s those lens flares and all that stuff Spielberg used in the early ’80s. They’re all over E.T. I’m a sucker for lens flares. The way this film looks, all the night shots, all the lights around the actual carnival, it’s just a really cool, moody film. It’s so fucked-up, though. The story is basically, it’s a traveling carnival, and within the carnival, there’s a fucked-up family. They’re carnies, but the son’s face is mangled and fucked-up, so he’s has this deformed face that’s totally unique and weird and almost Alien-esque.
9:30 a.m. Birdemic (2008)
BS: My buddies Tim [Heidecker] and Eric [Wareheim] loaned me a copy of this one, but I saw a trailer of this on YouTube, and I became fascinated by it. It largely borrows from The Birds. It’s a story of a man making his own film. And it’s great. Watch the trailer if you can’t get a copy. It’s one of those great filmmaking moments where in the first couple of minutes, they violate the 180-degree law. They shoot from every different angle, and are like, “Ah fuck it. You get it. They’re talking to each other.” [Laughs.] But they’re all facing the same direction and talking now, and he’s single. But it really is a movie with a message. It’s a movie about environmental consciousness. You’ll get that. At one point, just like in The Birds, they’ll turn. But in this movie, these birds are computer-generated. In animation, we talk about frame cycles, and I think this is a two-frame cycle, like wings up and wings down. [Laughs.] “It’s a bird, right? You get the idea!” It’s like when you’re fascinated with the idea of making films early on, and you are like, “Yeah we’ll get some bird sound effects, some cawing, etc.” But they just reuse the same bird sample over and over again. They didn’t find some other bird sample, so you start to become very accustomed to this one sample.
AVC: It’s one of those cases like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Birdemic director James Nguyen has tried to embrace the film’s popularity, even though it’s gotten popular for reasons he would probably not prefer.
BS: That’s its own phenomenon. That’s what makes The Room fantastic. “This guy knows really what’s going on, doesn’t he? [Whispers.] He doesn’t really know that we’re making fun of him. He doesn’t know.” And you know what? I’ve gone and seen The Room live, I saw it like six years ago, and everyone immediately plays the part of “We think you’re great.” Not “Dude, what are you thinking?” Everyone always says the nice thing. Everyone plays the nice part. Three hundred people in the theater cheer wildly. They cheer it to be great. Everyone plays the ironic part. It’s really strange. The thing that makes a terrible film fantastic is that there is an earnestness behind it. I think The Room has that. And this movie does as well. There is a real earnestness. They believe they’re really doing it.
AVC: It seems like Birdemic is warning people against the perils of the environment, whereas The Room is warning people against the perils of women, if I interpreted it correctly.
BS: I know, I know. You can never really trust anybody. [Laughs.] I think that’s part of the thing. It sees itself as a Tennessee Williams-style chamber drama, which it is.
11 a.m. Battlefield Earth (2000)
BS: It has all the illusions, all the accoutrements of a horror film. It’s got a big scary monster. Maybe fast-forward through it a little bit. I was very excited to see this movie. I thought, “They’re doing it, they’re really doing it. And look at those monsters! Whoaaaaah! Those don’t look so good. But this must be what they want. This took like what, 10 years in the making?” But they really do look like a rock band, GWAR or something like that. Which is kind of awesome. But they don’t have guitars. Most movies would be so much better if the characters all had big electric guitars. This is one of them. I think Clash Of The Titans, the remake—I think if Ralph Fiennes’ character had a Flying V, just flying around, he wouldn’t have to play it—I think it would make that movie better. I think if these guys had guitars at their sides, it would have skyrocketed to No. 1.
AVC: What kind of music should they play in Battlefield Earth?
BS: I think they would play prog rock. They would play Trick Of The Tail Genesis, maybe Gentle Giant, and possibly, I don’t know if they’re hip enough to pull off King Crimson. Maybe. I think they would have the worst prog cover band. I’d like to see that, actually.
AVC: Maybe after this piece runs, someone can make up a Battlefield Earth/prog-rock fan cut.
BS: I would love to see that. If someone could do that…
AVC: Let’s consider that a request, then.
BS: Yeah, but it would have to be in the style of, let’s say… I think it has to be King Crimson. I feel there would be some Zappa elements in there. I’m not sure. You decide. I’m saying 1970s prog rock. That’s a suggestion.
I saw that when it came out in a movie theater in Chicago with my brother. I have a very strong stomach for terrible films that go nowhere, and every single shot is a Dutch angle. The acting in that… These are all great actors. Forest Whitaker won an Oscar. He’s an amazing actor. Travolta is a great actor. But these decisions they made, these choices and inflections… “Rat-brain!” And these long laughs, where they throw their heads back. I think there are two kinds of directors. There’s the kind of director who directs you into that place. And then there’s the kind of director who just sits down and has coffee and a doughnut and stares at the monitor and shrugs, and goes, “Yeah, that’s fine.” I think either of those two directors could have made this film.
There’s weird color-correcting stuff going on. Weird glowing eyes. Black-light stuff. Everything about that music visually is just weird. At one point, my brother turned around to face the other way. I’d never seen anybody do that. I thought, “This is a powerful film.” Because it’s uncomfortable to sit the other way. Chairs are designed to face forward.
1 p.m. Dead Alive (1992)
BS: This is a movie I grew up loving. Dead Alive is… I don’t think there’s one dull moment. Every single frame of this has some fucked-up, weird thing going on. Him taking care of his mother, who’s clearly a zombie. The baby. And at the very end, it’s the lawnmower he uses—which is probably one of the more brutal things you’ll see in a movie, because he uses the open end to kill around a hundred people. And that’s Peter Jackson. Goofing off. Having fun.
AVC: Oscar-winner Peter Jackson.
BS: But you know what? There’s something about those films that they’re harder to make. You realize with the latex—especially with my brother being in the effects business for the last eight years—you realize that no appliance or creature is perfect. You’re building to order constantly, so every one of these gags has to be invented on the spot, no matter what it is. And that’s what’s so cool about that industry. It really is so inventive and creative. When I’m asked to do music or whatever, there’s some kind of way to do it all the time. I’ve got a guitar. I tune it. And I play it, and I do what I’m told. But this is like, “Okay, I’ve got to drill a hole through this wall. That’s where that guy’s head is going to stick out. We’re going to put the body underneath his head. Take that away from him. But his head’s gotta drop down. How are we going to do that?” They figure out all this weird stuff. And that movie has got so many of those weird, fucked-up gags. And sometimes they’re running out of time and money, and you can see around the corner, and see how they’re doing it. Even if it’s bad, I kind of like crappy effects almost as much as good ones. That would be how I would judge a movie as a teenager. I would look at a VHS cover and see how many effects there were, and how much foam latex there was.
3 p.m. The Sentinel (1977)
BS: I’ve got some movies where you can just fast-forward to certain parts. The Sentinel: Just fast-forward to the end. It’s a story that’s slow-moving, but then at some point… The big blow-out is that they hired real freaks, like in the movie Freaks, people with strange facial deformities that are semi-nude all kind of wandering around in a dark room, and you just see bits and pieces of them and you go, “Okay, that’s pretty strange.” That’s The Sentinel. That’s why the movie’s famous.
3:15 p.m. Troll 2 (1990)
BS: This is another one. This is one I show tons of people, and I don’t know if it’s hacky at this point, but… In great bad sequels, it just kind of missed the mark of the original. I haven’t seen the documentary about it, Best Worst Movie. I’d seen parts of it on cable, and was reminded about it about five years ago. And then I went on tour with the band Chimaira. Chimaira is a bunch of guys from Ohio. They were fascinated with this film. I in turn introduced them to The Room. We switched movies on this tour, and they showed me Troll 2. I immediately fell in love.
4:45 p.m. Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
BS: I think for children, the idea of divorce is the scariest thing in the world. My parents stayed together, though I tried to send them divorce papers several times. I tried to perform a citizens’ divorce. It didn’t work. Great movie. Terrifying. When he breaks the glass, and that French-toast sequence… Great movie. It’s a palate-cleanser. That, or You Can Count On Me. You can choose.
6:45 p.m. Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
BS: I hate when my things are cliché, but I think this is one of the best movies. I can’t think of a movie that tried to get inside a serial killer’s mind before that. Can you think of any?
AVC: I liked Manhunter, but Anthony Hopkins in Silence Of The Lambs… You kind of understand who this person is and where he’s coming from, and that’s terrifying.
BS: It really is. Jonathan Demme did such a great job making it terrifying and believable. If you remember what Hannibal Lecter was in the book, I think he had six fingers and red eyes. They made him a monster. And Demme did what he could to make every single part of it believable. It wasn’t fantastical, even though this guy was building a dress from women. It was all real enough in this world to be scary.
AVC: That brings us back to where we started, with Poltergeist. This also feels like a real place.
BS: For horror to really work, it’s gotta come from a place that’s scary, believable, and real.