[THE BIG QUESTION] WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PERFORMANCE BY A MUSICIAN IN A HORROR MOVIE?

October 2019 is a celebration of horror and musicThe Big Question is where multiple Daily Grindhouse contributors and friends offer their answers to some burning question. In observance of Rocktoberfest 2019, all of October’s questions will be about the intersection of horror and music. Check in every Friday afternoon in October to see what some of your favorite writers have to say. The results…may surprise you.

Today’s big question is…

What is your favorite cameo/performance by a musician in a horror movie?

Musician Brandy in slasher revival I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER

Many famous musicians have made cameos in movies. Sometimes they play themselves—Bobby Brown in GHOSTBUSTERS 2, Digital Underground in NOTHING BUT TROUBLE, Gleaming Spires in SCHOOL SPIRIT. And sometimes they play other roles—Ice Cube in ANACONDA, Sting in THE BRIDE, Vitamin C in DRACULA 2000, etc. Which is your favorite musician in a horror movie and why?

Ground rule: The person should be primarily known as a musician (at least at the time the movie was shot). Example: Ice-T and Ice Cube basically became full time actors but for a while were mostly known for their music. On the flip side, Jennifer Lopez and Lindsay Lohan launched their (noticeable) music careers after they were established actors, so that wouldn’t count.

Samantha Schorsch — LL Cool J in DEEP BLUE SEA

This movie sucks and so does this role, and, as such, I adore them both. A schlocky movie of hyper intelligent sharks that have an impeccable sense of dramatic timing and gory style mixed with some of the worst character acting of the 2000s can only be improved by one thing: Preacher the chef (LL Cool J) and his parrot.

When that parrot died I wanted to kill EVERYONE (I was only awarded one main catharsis…fine…bitch.) It was refreshing seeing a character who was genuinely funny and had a fully rounded personality in a movie where almost everyone either overdid it or phoned it in entirely. AND he did a rap for the credits? Nice. Indeed my head is like a shark’s fin, LL; indeed it is.

 

 

Keef Rutledge — Ozzy Osbourne in TRICK OR TREAT

TRICK OR TREAT is a delightful horror movie wherein Skippy from Family Ties becomes possessed by a demonic rock god and turns into a total murderous badass. It assembles rubber-faced ’80s horror delight, grease paint, and satanic panic into one goofy film—and that’s a killer combination.

Ozzy makes an amazing cameo as “evangelist and moral crusader” Reverend Gilstrom, preaching against the evils of “rock pornography,” which is perfect and beautiful. Ozzy’s appearance is brief, but it is magnificent:

 

 

Andrew Belonsky — Mr. Busta Rhymes in HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION wasn’t Busta Rhymes’ first acting role, but it was certainly his most memorable: Freddie Harris, the director of a live-streaming internet reality show, Dangertainment, that sends a bunch of kids into Michael Myers’ old house for a night of staged thrills and chills. 

Of course Michael shows up to inject some actual reality into the set-up, leading up to one of the greatest, yet also worst, scenes in the HALLOWEEN franchise’s history: Rhymes going all hand-to-hand on Michael with kung-fu after announcing “Trick or treat, muthafucka.” Even better/worse, Rhymes lands the “killing” blow: live wires right in the balls of Haddonfield’s favorite son.

Sure, these were ridiculous casting and plot decisions that could only exist in the zeitgeist circa 2002, but they left an indelible impression, and only add to this stinker of a movie’s odiferous yet alluring stench.

 

 

Stephanie Crawford — Leif Garrett in CHEERLEADER CAMP

While Leif Garrett’s reign as a teen pop superstar predates my birth, I became aware of him during my days of binging VH1 “Where Are They Now?” and “Behind the Music” episodes, where the now-middle aged Garrett sported a bandana and regret where sunkissed youth used to dwell. Post-teen pinup but pre-confessional documentaries lay 1988’s CHEERLEADER CAMP (aka Bloody Pom Poms), a mostly lukewarm slasher that’s stayed in a surprising number of memories thanks to its amazing poster art: a skeleton cheerleader who somehow has underboob.

Musician Leif Garrett acts in CHEERLEADER CAMP (1988)

While Garrett did do some childhood acting and had scattered grown-up roles, by then he was mainly known worldwide for his not-so-long-ago singing career. Garrett had a lot of screen competition with Betsy Russell, Buck Flower, and classic ’80s movie hijinks that included mooning, breakdancing, and “kinky” PG-rated sex. But he came through by having the name “Brent Hoover” and providing some of the worst white guy rapping ever, and we all know how crowded that field is. He usually looks bored and about a decade older than he was, but that only adds to the short shorts magic. He’d immediately follow this with the much more intense PARTY LINE, and bless him for it.

 

 

J. Tonzelli Tom Waits in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA 

Horror doesn’t get more operatic than BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. Featuring a powerhouse cast (and a regrettably terrible, studio-imposed Keanu Reeves) screaming for the rafters in over-the-top performances, along with an array of seemingly complex but slyly simplistic in-camera visual effects, Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the legend remains a bonafide classic and the focus of sad tumblrs everywhere. When you’ve got heavy hitters Gary Oldman as the titular foe and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, foe to his foe, what perfectly eccentric performer could play the small but vital role of Renfield, raving lunatic and Dracula’s human familiar?

Enter Tom Waits.

Either as a musician or an actor, Tom Waits fits exactly into one category: Tom Waits. Between his bourbon-drenched, tobacco-infused gutter throat, and his extremely dry, odd, yet charming and melancholic screen presence, he’s appeared in numerous Coppola productions over the years. His appearance in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA is brief but, as the bug-crunching, straightjacketed lunatic Renfield, Waits fits right in with the overly dramatic production and has the unenviable task of trying to be even more overly dramatic than everyone else, as demanded by the role. Whether he’s going big and grand, or in the smaller moments he shares with Mina Harker (Winona Ryder) through the bars of his asylum cell, he’s fully committed (pun!) to the character and a total delight to watch.

 

Musician Tom Waits as Renfield in BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA (1992)

 

Nathan Smith — Paul Williams in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

Paul Williams is no stranger to making film appearances throughout his long and illustrious career. Not only did he appear in THE MUPPET MOVIE, he also appeared in features like BABY DRIVER, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (and its ensuing sequels), and THE RULES OF ATTRACTION—which features my favorite line courtesy of the songsmith: “It’s toe-tag time in Teenville, tonight!” However, my favorite Williams performance is in Brian De Palma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE in which Williams relished the opportunity to take the classic musical and put his seventies glam rock spin on it via upbeat tunes and moody ballads. Plus he got to take a stab at the multitude of snotty record producers he’d encountered in his day-to-day profession.

Williams is pitch-perfect as haunted, cruel record producer Swan who takes the young songbird Phoenix under his wing and proceeds to turn her into a musical product, ripping the artistry out of the artist, making her a vapid, hollow star. De Palma brilliantly create a chasm, using Williams’ youthful, handsome appearance to further in his ugly, unjustifiable behavior. And we mustn’t forget to mention his valuable contribution to penning the soundtrack, which is one of the best ever—making PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE better than THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (gauntlet thrown).

 

 

Alejandra Gonzalez — Aaliyah in QUEEN OF THE DAMNED

I know I literally said this movie is trash when I wrote about its soundtrack, but I can certainly overlook that to say that I absolutely love Aaliyah in QUEEN OF THE DAMNED. I know she may not present the best performance, but for some reason the notion of an incredibly popular hip hop/R&B artist dipping her toes into acting by starring in a vampire movie is extremely amazing to me. I just love it. I also love that Aaliyah plays a badass vampiress of color among a bunch of white emo vamps in leather. Her entire presence in the film checks so many of my boxes, and I’ll never tire of how interesting that casting was. QUEEN OF THE DAMNED is so concerned with its soundtrack and musical genre that one would assume they’d cast a nü-metal artist for the role, but they instead chose Aaliyah—perhaps as a way to broaden the target audience for the movie. Either way, the casting never ceases to bring me great joy and for that, Aaliyah is my favorite musician in a horror movie.

 

 

Jeremy Lowe — Henry Rollins in FEAST 

When the television show Project Greenlight announced their selected screenplay for season 3 was  horror film FEAST, I don’t think anyone expected it to be a laugh riot gore fest with a cast of genre stalwarts and pop culture icons. Thankfully, that’s exactly what we got. 

Among the impressive list of actors to appear in FEAST is punk rock and hard rock icon Henry Rollins. Henry Rollins is usually known for being a smart, but tough, guy. In FEAST, he plays “Coach“—a goofy, self-help guru. All the deaths in FEAST are outrageous, blood drenched riots, and Henry Rollins is no exception. 

I’m a big fan of ’80s splatterfests and FEAST is a great homage to those films of the past while still staying fun and current. Henry Rollins’ cameo helped propel it to cult status. If you have never seen FEAST, change that ASAP; and then you can understand what Coach truly means when he says, “Whoa, monster cock.”

 

 

Bill Bria — Cherie Currie in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is an unsettling watch, for reasons both intentional and infamous. As a result of so much going on with the anthology film, some trivial elements in the movie are often overlooked. One of them is the appearance of the former lead singer of rock legends The Runaways, Cherie Currie, in the “It’s A Good Life” segment, directed by Joe Dante. Like many rock stars, Currie had a decent side career as an actor, and before TWILIGHT ZONE had appeared in FOXES (1980) and PARASITE (1982) in fairly substantial roles. Her part in Dante’s segment of TWILIGHT ZONE was allegedly meant to be bigger, but several factors—the already overcrowded number of characters in the segment, scheduling issues, and Currie’s then-current struggle with drug addiction—meant that it got cut down considerably.

The segment is an updated remake of the classic Zone episode of the same name, in which a lonely young boy lures strangers that he meets to his home and uses his supernatural power over reality to make his new “family” lead the life he wants to live, or else. That “or else” is implicit until Currie’s scene, where the boy, Anthony (Jeremy Licht), is giving his new friend Helen (Kathleen Quinlan), a tour of his house. They pass by a darkened bedroom which features a series of empty children’s beds, and a girl with her back to camera watching a cartoon on TV. “That’s Sara, my other sister. She was in an accident.” Anthony says, and as the two walk away Dante cuts to a shot revealing Sara, who is wide eyed, helplessly watching television, and has no mouth. It’s a scene that effectively sets up the stakes for the story, and moreover it’s an image so quietly indelible that it leaves a lasting, chilling effect, one of the scariest images of Dante’s career. Currie’s part in the movie may be small and silent, but its impact is as big and loud as the scream built up inside Sara that she just can’t let out.

 

The Runaways' musician Cherie Currie in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

 

Mary Kay McBrayer — David Bowie in THE HUNGER (1983)

I did not understand every girl my age’s obsession with David Bowie until a guest on our horror comedy podcast suggested THE HUNGER for an episode. My co-host immediately responded: BOWIE. BOWIE!

While the movie’s convention makes little sense—all I could note for sure is that the elder vampire, Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) turns her lovers into demi-vampires. They don’t age for centuries, and then they age all at once. Miriam totes their living corpses around city to city. Is it sadism, masochism, or love (or all of the above?) that drives her to do this?

The only thing that let me relax in the absence of convention was David Bowie (one of Miriam’s such lovers) saying in the shower after a grisly, sexual kill, “Forever?” After that, I pretended it was a music video…which THE HUNGER essentially is. A rocking ’80s music videoo. And even though the old-age makeup effects team was great, Bowie never looked as old as when he aged in this film, even when he was ACTUALLY sick. He is the epitome of charisma, or as we have re-branded it, Big Dick Energy. And to all my friends who shouted his praise, I need to say…now I understand.

 

 

Justin Yandell — The Offspring in IDLE HANDS

1999’s IDLE HANDS was released at a time when studios still made mid-budget original horror IP. Today its $25 million-dollar script would be cut down to something that could be made for under a fifth of the cost. That would have been a shame, because we may have been denied a glorious cameo by one of the biggest musical acts of the era, The Offspring.

IDLE HANDS is a fairly low-key horror-comedy slasher grounded in physical comedy and weed jokes until it goes for broke in the third act. It’s common for teen slashers to climax at The Big Dance but this one’s notable for The Offspring’s appearance and the near-immediate scalping of Bryan Keith “Dexter” Holland by Devon Sawa’s severed, possessed hand. It’s a short and sweet gag guaranteed to satisfy the group’s fans and haters alike.

 

The Offspring perform in IDLE HANDS (1999)

 

Jay Alary — Debbie Harry in VIDEODROME, without hesitation. 

I grew up with Blondie and Harry’s platinum blonde locks, but seeing her as a brunette in David Cronenberg’s prescient body horror was revelatory. It’s not her hair colour that deserves merit, however, it’s her performance. Though her character, Nicki Brand, isn’t in the film a lot, she wrests control of James Woods’ Max Renn and the narrative by her presence. Nicki’s masochistic tendencies not only arouse Renn (Woods has never been sleazier on film), but her disappearance after auditioning for the mysterious BDSM Videodrome TV show compels him to investigate. Her soft-spoken delivery is mesmerizing, soothing, and terrifying. She beckons to Renn like a hallucinatory techno-banshee, the face of a mind-altering cult intent on revolution (Aldous Huxley would be proud).  Part banshee and part vampire, Nicki’s cathode-ray visage calls to Renn, her “Renfield” (hey!) to be with her and he’s happy to oblige. I’ve watched VIDEODROME multiple times and I still don’t have all the answers, but I do know that Cronenberg casting Debbie Harry was yet another example of his creative genius at work.

 

 

Jedidiah AyresHenry Rollins in HE NEVER DIED

HE NEVER DIED is one of the most conceptually satisfying vampire tales I’ve ever seen. It holds horror, humor, and un-humanity in a masterfully balanced execution of tone and timing, and at the center of it all: Henry fucking Rollins. Damn. Nothing works unless his performance does and it’s a hell of a thing. I’m always happy to see Hank on screen because he’s fun, he’s doing the work, and he wants to be worth his paycheck. But I don’t remember being particularly struck by the nuance of any of his other performances in the past. The perfection of this one can’t be oversold. Melancholy and hilarious, resigned and seething, nihilistic and sweet. Everything at once.

 

 

Rob Dean – Tiny Tim in BLOOD HARVEST

Tiny Tim, born Herbert Khaury, was mostly known as a performance artist and novelty musician. His falsetto versions of old timey music and current pop songs, along with his antiquated outfits (perhaps he was patient zero for hipsters?), made him a big hit on variety shows like Laugh In! and The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. His greatest claim to fame was his song “Tiptoe Through The Tulips,” used as sort of gimmicky sing-song medley in cartoons and whatnot before re-invented by James Wan for the INSIDIOUS films, turning it into an ironically dreadful signal of bad things ahead. His wedding to Miss Vicki (Vicki Berlinger) on the Tonight Show in 1969 drew the largest audience for a late night talk show of all time to that point. So…he’s an interesting fellow with lots of curious affectations and achievements. 

Clearly a born performer, emerging from the Greenwich Village hippie and yippie scenes of the ‘60s, Tiny Tim uses all of that to deliver a singular and haunting performance as Mervo in 1987’s BLOOD HARVEST. A person who is possibly developmentally challenged or has some mental health issues, or both, Mervo spends his day being unintentionally creepy to his female friends, walking around in clown make-up, and generally seeming like all of the characters of THE ROOM compressed into one dude with a slap of grease-paint on him. It’s unnerving, tragic, hilarious, creepy, and a true dive into the uncanny valley where it seems almost human but not quite. That lasting impression of a person who kind of has an idea of how people are makes this my favorite performance by a musician in a horror film.

 

 

Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi — Chris Isaak in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

The “Wicked Games” and “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” singer’s first cameo for Jonathan Demme was a killer clown (not that kind) in MARRIED TO THE MOB. Though it was his turn as the SWAT Commander in Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, whose chiseled handsomeness is a striking contrast to his prey—escaped sociopath, serial killer, and genius, Hannibal Lecter—that assures the audience that the good guys have arrived. Lecter escapes his temporary cell after flaying two policemen; posing one’s corpse, leaving one alive. Tensions rise as the SWAT team hunts down Lecter, eventually finding him lying prone on the top of the elevator car, pinned in both above and below by the SWAT Team. Wounded, out of options, Lecter has nowhere left to go, or so we think. This scene is pivotal in setting up the third act, where Clarice must venture out on her own having lost both mentors, one to good intentions (Jack Crawford) and the other to flight (Lecter.) It’s Isaak’s SWAT Commander, though, and his cameo as an audience surrogate—so confident that the good guys will win—only to discover the smoke and mirrors much too late that sets up the darkness of the climax.

 

 

Jon AbramsIggy Pop in THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS

Why haven’t genre films used Jim more often? I’m naming his role in THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS for these purposes because that’s the first time I saw him on screen. He was only an evil henchman, but he enters the movie while his own music is playing (“I Wanna Be Your Dog”), and I remember being a youngster in a multiplex outside Boston in 1996 seeing that entrance and thinkin he was the coolest guy. The filmmakers makes the weird choice of casting an evil henchman who is more charismatic than both the lead villain and the film’s hero.

 

 

Then again, the movie also makes the weird choice of making Iggy’s hair even blonder than usual and giving him funky bangs, so that he ends up resembling any one of those impossibly-blond blondes with skeletal faces who are so common in the Trump administration (i.e. Ivanka, Kellyanne Conway, Betsy DeVos). Come to think of it, that is pretty scary. 

 

 

Far as some other cool horror roles on his CV, Iggy’s also Angry Bob the radio DJ in HARDWARE, kind of the Greek chorus, like Sam Jackson in DO THE RIGHT THING, but for the red-skied and smoldering post-apocalypse. 

According to IMDB, Iggy is slated to make a horror movie with Dario Argento called THE SANDMAN where he plays the titular monster, so here’s to hoping this actually happens. There’s good cause to think it might not. Lastly, I’ve been holding off on seeing THE DEAD DON’T DIE for a couple reasons, mainly because I know he plays a coffee-craving zombie in that one and there’s no way any movie can match the movie already playing in my head. Kind of the same reason I have always refused to see CONGO because I know who’s in the cast and there’s no way any film matches my vision of Bruce Campbell fighting a horde of angry gorillas.

Rob Dean

Rob Dean

Based out of Austin TX, Rob writes some things for the Internet: sometimes film reviews, sometimes funny stuff, but all embedded with secret Masonic messages. He loves film, comic books, and is still mourning the loss of Pushing Daisies. His dream is to one day have his musical based on The Goonies debut on stage. Yes, that last part is real.
Rob Dean

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    3 Comments

    • Reply
      Alex
      October 18, 2019

      Alice Cooper in Freddy’s Dead.

    • Reply
      Jim
      October 21, 2019

      I’d also give an extra nod to Bowie in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” He’s on screen for barely a minute, but it’s thrilling. His performance is all disorientation and panic and reaction, a man flickering between two worlds. At the time of the film’s release, it was just an odball cameo, almost a total non-sequitir. But after the glorious “Twin Peaks: The Return” it proved to be such a key moment, answering questions that hadn’t been asked yet.

    • Reply
      bastardjackyll
      November 4, 2019

      Henry Rollins, Wrong Turn 2, Ice Cube, Anaconda/Ghosts of Mars, Rah Digga, 13 Ghosts.

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