Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Heath Holland On...Alice Cooper at the Movies

by Heath Holland
Welcome to my nightmare.

I love Alice Cooper for so many reasons. While constantly reinventing himself, he never strays too far from the persona that has secured his legacy as a lovable monster. As Cooper himself has stated over and over throughout the years, rock and roll is full of people who want to be Peter Pan; he, on the other hand, always wanted to be Captain Hook, the rock and roll villain. With such an obvious love of the macabre and his flair for theatricality (not to mention how much of his persona is an homage to classic horror films from the black and white days), it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he’s contributed to a ton of movies over the years, both as a musician and as a performer on screen. He’s a Hollywood darling, never one to shy away from the spotlight.

While not professionally trained as an actor, Cooper is clearly a ham. The world at large got their first fistful of Alice on the big screen with 1975’s theatrical concert film Alice Cooper: Welcome to my Nightmare. Pop quiz, hot shot: what do you get when you combine Mrs. Furnier’s baby boy and Vicent Price in a variety show gone wrong? Well, it turns out that you get something that no one was really interested in watching when it was originally released but that fans champion as a cult classic. Cooper next popped up as “The Sun King” in the abysmal live-action Beatles tribute movie Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. The less said about this, the better. If you haven’t seen it, you should run for your life. It was only with his 1978 ground-breaking appearance on The Muppet Show that people started to realize that no harm would come to you from hanging with Mr. Cooper. It’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when his routine was actually considered dangerous and morally subversive; it all seems so tame and overtly campy now. Still, it took years for the establishment to realize that he wasn’t going to burn Hollywood down from the inside. I think it’s pretty cool that it was Jim Henson who helped break down the walls and put Cooper in front of a captive family audience.
Several years ago I wrote about an odd little movie from 1980 called Roadie that stars Meatloaf and Kaki Hunter about a country girl traveling to an Alice Cooper show where she’s convinced she will lose her virginity to the rocker. It’s the first truly mainstream theatrical movie that featured Alice Cooper (it was distributed by United Artists), and while it’s more of a road comedy than anything else, Cooper gets to be the character that he created and is absolutely at home in front of the camera. Shout! Factory put this out on Blu-ray not that long ago, and I recommend it if you’re in the mood for something really bizarre and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. This thing is like The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Smokey and the Bandit.

When it comes to horror, my heroes have always been slashers, and it’s these slashers that I revisit every single #ScaryMovieMonth. I guess I’m a pretty lucky guy that The Coop has contributed significantly to both of the big franchises, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street and that he’s been an outspoken champion of both Jason and Freddy for over thirty years now. While you won’t see his face, Cooper’s presence looms large in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI with a whopping three of his songs featured prominently in the movie, including one of my favorites, “He’s Back (The Man behind the Mask),” serving as a thematic anthem for Jason Voorhees. Cooper still performs the song live with a hockey mask, and I love it to death. He also made an uncredited appearance in 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare as Freddy Krueger’s abusive, adoptive father, Mr. Underwood. If Freddy Krueger is the ultimate movie monster, who else could you possibly cast as the sire of evil? You get the man who practically invented modern, theatrical evil. Any time someone makes a retrospective documentary on these two franchises, you can always count on Alice Cooper to sit down and discuss why he loves the monsters so much.
There have been a couple of other prominent dirty diamonds that feature Cooper acting on camera. I’m a big fan of a campy little Canadian horror movie from 2009 called Suck. It was written and directed by Rob Stefaniuk, who also stars alongside Jessica Pare (right before she was cast in Mad Men) as members of a struggling rock band that discover they’re much more successful after they all become vampires. It’s my favorite kind of horror because it doesn’t take itself too seriously (I’m like Dana Gould’s character in Tales of Halloween), and it’s that lighter tone that makes Alice Cooper a perfect fit as a sage bartender in the film. It’s also filled with a ton of other rock stars and actors that you know in small roles, making it a great candidate for a fun pick this #ScaryMovieMonth. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Cooper’s short-but-notable appearance in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows movie, an adaptation of a classic television series that Burton might actually have never seen. Seriously, it gets so much wrong, but what it gets right is the addition of Alice Cooper to this Johnny Depp vehicle. Probably not too much of a surprise since Cooper and Depp are long-time buddies and even have a band together (Hollywood Vampires).

Then there’s the mother of all cameos, the one that probably introduced a whole new generation of fans to the shock rocker. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about his appearance in Wayne’s World. It might still be my favorite of any of his film cameos, allowing him to perform one of his early ‘90s hits (“Feed My Frankenstein” from the album Hey Stoopid), but also be the charming, intelligent personality that he has always been when the music stopped. Not only does he get to be a part of the whole “we’re not worthy” thing that every 11-year-old mimicked into oblivion in the early ‘90s, but he also gives a remarkable insight into the origin of the name Milwaukee. I’ve always been delighted at the bit, and I still am.
When it comes to his contributions to film soundtracks, I literally do not have the space to list them all here. He’s been on A LOT of soundtracks. I’ve already noted that he had three songs in that Jason Voorhees movie, but he also contributed to the soundtrack of John Carpenter’s satanic horror film Prince of Darkness with the title song, making a cameo in that film, too. Outside of the obvious (like Dazed and Confused), you can also find his songs in Rock and Roll High School, Iron Eagle, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, Chris Columbus’ Elvis movie Heartbreak Hotel and the underrated Sly Stallone/Kurt Russell flick Tango and Cash. The man clearly doesn’t have a problem licensing his songs out for movies, television shows, and commercials.

And though it’s not quite a horror film, my favorite of Alice Cooper’s contribution to filmed entertainment isn’t a movie at all, but rather a documentary. Super Duper Alice Cooper chronicles the creation of the character, the rise of the band itself (Alice Cooper was actually the name of his music group and he still pays his former band mates annual royalties for its use), his subsequent superstardom, struggle with alcoholism, and eventual redemption. What makes the 2014 documentary so compelling is how much Cooper and his wife reveal about their lives off the stage and recount how the character of Alice nearly killed the man who wore the costume. As it turns out, you can’t be a monster off the stage if you want to be a monster on it. It’s a real achievement in rock journalism because it abandons the posturing and pretense and cuts straight to the heart of its subject.
I’m sure that even as I am writing this, Alice Cooper is filming a spot for someone’s TV show or a cameo in some movie, or probably signing the paperwork that will allow his music to appear in the latest Marvel movie. I’m also sure that this is my last word on Alice Cooper. This is the last temptation, the last time I’ll write about the man who has provided me with so much entertainment over the years. See, even though I listen to him throughout the year, Alice Cooper was MADE for Halloween. I was lucky enough to see him live on Halloween night a couple of years ago, so I will forever associate Alice Cooper with #ScaryMovieMonth, chilly nights, and the sounds of monsters approaching the door. Every year when I watch the Friday the 13th movies and the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, there he is. When I watch Scream or Ash vs the Evil Dead, there’s his music. The symbiotic relationship between Alice Cooper and the movies we love is undeniable, and so is my appreciation for the man who shared his nightmare all those years ago. Thanks, Alice.

Note: If you’re looking for some lesser-known Alice Cooper tunes this #ScaryMovieMonth, may I offer a suggestion? His 1987 hair metal album Raise Your Fist and Yell contains “Prince of Darkness” from John Carpenter’s movie, but it also contains a trilogy of songs that closes the album out and serves as sort of a mini-concept album that tells a single story. The songs are “Chop, Chop, Chop” about a man known as The Creeper, “Gail,” which is about The Creeper’s lost love, and “Roses on White Lace,” which brings the whole story home. They aren’t from a movie, but they certainly are cinematic in their storytelling and convey a tale that Vincent Price would have been perfectly cast in as the lead. It feels like the long lost Roger Corman movie that he never made…but with more hairspray.

Also, I’ve hidden several Alice Cooper album titles in the text of this piece. Can you find them all?


  1. This article makes me think I'll need to rewatch Monster Dog for Scary Movie Month...

  2. I've never seen it! I'd ask you if it's worth watching, but with Alice Cooper getting top billing, I know it is.

  3. Amazing, you guys on here come up with the most random brilliant column ideas, Well done Heath, loved it, Epic stuff