Pretty much any mediocre shock-rock act can douse themselves in stage blood, slip on a ‘scary’ mask or strap on a prosthetic claw or two in some vague and half-baked attempt at passing themselves off as a 'dark' or (worse still) 'edgy' musical collective. Indeed, the horror genre and its assorted wealth of sinister, richly atmospheric trappings has long served many a lacklustre band pretty well as far as masquerading a distinct lack of musical talent goes. But what of those rare artists for whom a love of horror is as ingrained and instinctive a part of their being as the very lifeblood coursing through their veins? With their own raggedly visceral trademark cacophony of classic death and thrash metal sourcing inspiration from an equally illustrious legacy of classic and contemporary horror cinema, Vampire frontman and genre buff Lars ‘Hand of Doom’ Willfors reveals five cult movies that proved instrumental in inspiring the Swedes’ delectably sinister sound.
THE MASK OF SATAN (1960)
The first one is an Italian film from 1960 called The Mask of Satan. It's not the original, which I believe was originally called The Demon Mask, or something like that. It's essentially a film in black and white about a woman who was burned at the stake and she has come back from beyond the grave to wreak havoc and execute vengeance on basically anyone in sight. It's one of those films that somehow feels more modern and it's actually surprisingly fresh despite being made in 1960. It's a bit a bit like when you watch Psycho and it's amazing that that film was made just a year after or basically at the same time as all those ridiculous movies from the 1950s, and Mask of Satan is a bit like that. I mean, the 50s were so kooky and ridiculous and then The Mask of Satan is pretty dark and also looks and feels really compelling. One song on our previous album, called ‘Midnight Trial’ is basically inspired by this film. It's one of many Vampire songs that deal with some kind of female, dark entity or some kind of feminine negative force. So that's basically why I decided to bring that up. It's like certain films are so well made that they sort of transcend the context that they were produced in and it just becomes this kind of instant classic. The lead actress’s name was Barbara Steele and I think most of the stuff she’s been in wasn't that great, but this is probably one of the best films she ever made.
JU-ON: THE GRUDGE
The next one on my list is a modern classic, much more well known, and it's Ju-On: The Grudge from 2002. I suppose that you must have seen at least one film in that series. So Ju-On was originally two films made for TV: Ju-On: The Curse, part 1 and Ju-On: The Curse, part 2. And then Ju-On: The Grudge is the first one made for the cinema. And then there are all sorts of sequels and remakes and whatnot coming after that one, but the one from 2002 I think is the best one. And the way it's structured is pretty interesting because the timeline doesn't just simply go from A to B to C. There are episodes that don't really make sense because they appear in a somewhat confusing order. It’s only when you see a couple of films that you start to see the greater pattern, or you can see what that scene at the beginning of that film really meant and who was she and who was he and how did they know each other and stuff like that. And that's pretty interesting. I mean, apart from that film also inspiring one song on our demo called ‘Under The Grudge’, the way those films work together is pretty interesting and inspiring. And that irregular sequencing can really alter the impact of a story in quite a major way. Because first there is confusion and then there's this sense of control and with control comes safety, but then you're lost all over again. So it's a bit of an on-and-off feeling of control when you watch those films, which is a pretty cool and sophisticated way of scaring the audience, to sort of have them lost in this labyrinth that is that story.
Another pretty interesting thing about those films is that they all revolve around this haunted house, essentially where something terrible has happened. I mean, there are lots of ghost stories and horror films about haunted houses so the trope itself isn't very complex or compelling, but there's just something about those films that seem so serious and so adult in a way. You don't have to believe in ghosts to sort of hear something ringing pretty true with that movie, because anyone who has ever visited the concentration camps, for example, can understand the idea that, as with any place where something terrible has happened, there's some kind of common energy being being spawned there in a way. Moreover, there's the female ghost again, in those films. That's another very Vampire-ish thing about the two Ju-On movies. That the scariest thing about the whole film is actually a pretty girl.
THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971)
And speaking of pretty girls, the third film on my list is The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave from 1971. Have you seen that one? No? You probably don't have to, because the title is actually the best thing about the film. We liked it so much we actually used 85 percent of that title in our song, ‘The Night It Came Out of the Grave’, but otherwise the song doesn't have anything to do with the film. It's just an example of a very inspiring title that is, in fact, way better than the film itself. I mean, the Italians in the 1970s were the experts when it came to putting titles on films. And it’s basically the same way as the people behind the Hammer Horror films in the 1960s and 70s in the UK approached it. First you come up with a great title, and then you come up with a great poster. And then third, you have someone write the script with that title and I guess the Italians in the 1970s probably operated in much the same way because there's so many great, pretty long film titles. Anyway, it’s one of those giallo films, so it's basically a very dark and gothic story about a man who kills his wife and then marries someone else and tries to get on with his life with his new bride. But guess what? Evelyn has come back from the grave, but if I remember correctly, Evelyn doesn't really come back from the grave, it's just someone playing spooks on him so it’s more of a detective kind of thing rather than horror. It has lots and lots of horror aesthetics though and basically plays out as a pretty messy gothic horror film.
THE BEYOND (1981)
So if you haven’t seen this one, you should probably hang up and watch it right now because it's fantastic. It's one of those films that every death metal band in the world probably has at least one song that’s been inspired by it because The Beyond is such a massive classic in the death metal genre and our Beyond song is from our first album and it's called ‘Ungodly Warlock’ and it's basically a phrase from the film where someone is calling someone, “You ungodly warlock!”, and it's another haunted house film. Basically, it's a bit difficult to summarise the story because, as in most Italian horror films, the story doesn't really make any sense at all whatsoever, but it's more like a sequence of nightmarish imagery and pretty confusing and uncanny and upsetting events with lots of violence and very good music throughout written by guy called Fabio Frizzi. And I’ll be honest with you, it's one of those films that definitely wouldn't have been the same without the great music, so the soundtrack is probably at least 50 percent of the experience. And the music gives it a certain nostalgic quality and there is so much longing and passion and sorrow in the music. In a way, that’s very much how metal music usually works. If you only read the lyrics, they make absolutely zero sense, but when they’re paired with some really raw and ugly and compelling metal music, it suddenly makes all the sense in the world. So I guess it's no wonder that metal musicians seem to enjoy films that follow suit in that respect because he [director, Lucio Fulci] was basically doing what we do in a way.
BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971)
So, last one on my list, and it’s the only film that didn't really find its way into Vampire in any tangible or obvious way, but it's a film that nonetheless really sums up the vibe of what we're striving for in our overall aesthetics and in my lyrics as a whole. And it's another early 1970s film. I think I mentioned it when we talked last time. I don't remember if it made its way into your story, but it's Blood on Satan's Claw. It's basically another one of those folk horror films, a bit like The Wicker Man - not as good, but the same kind of atmosphere and the same kind of romantic natural aesthetics, I suppose. And it's another one of those costume drama horror films that were popular in England in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And it's not a film by Hammer but it's from one of their competitors called Tigan Films, and I don't know anything about Tigan Films, but they certainly got this one right. To be perfectly honest with you, I don't really remember the story, but it's set in the English countryside in the 1700s and there is a farmer that finds something very strange on his farmland, it's a skull that can be identified as one specific animal. And next thing you know, strange things start happening in the village. There seems to be some kind of cult activity or people meddling with forces that they should really stay away from. And it's another one of those films that wouldn't have been nearly as great if it wasn't for the soundtrack. So music plays a big part there and the music, much like The Beyond gives the film sort of…not depressive, but mournful or nostalgic, soft sad atmosphere that isn’t really in the story. The music gives the film a dimension that the music really needs and makes the whole experience very beautiful in a way that you wouldn’t really expect from a sort of low-budget countryside horror film from the 1970s, so it’s well worth a watch.