Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Best of Ronnie James Dio Part II and The Horror Heavies You Need to Know!

2013 is here and the apocalypse has yet to arrive. Let me tell you now; if the world was going to end the prince of darkness would know about it! Can you imagine the amount of prep that would be required in the underworld for that kind of mass extinction? The gates of Hell would freeze shut like in Little Nicky. Not because anyone was trying to get out but because too many would be coming in. The gatekeeper just isn't capable of handling all those admission forms on his own so I would have to send a couple of my assistant demons to aid him and that would thin out my department, "Soul Reaping." Then my lines would be backed up around the corner and many a sick bastard awaiting eternal punishment would just get to hang out and chew gum until their time arrives (which could be a very long time). Punishment must be immediate! Now that we have that apocalypse stuff out of the way we can get down to the nitty gritty. Today's blog from hell will be a continuation of the "Best of Ronnie James Dio," article I started Sunday and we'll cap it off with a list of "The Horror Heavies You Need to Know." The Dio section will dig into the Black Sabbath years and the horror part will discuss actors, filmmakers, producers, and even musicians that aren't as well know these days. Despite the fact that they aren't as famous as say, Wes Craven, Boris Karloff, Clive Barker, Stephen King, Robert Englund, or Elvira they have done some great spooky work that should be just as lauded.

Without further ado, let's get started!

The Best of Ronnie James Dio Part II: The Black Sabbath Years

The year was 1978 and all was not well in Rainbow. Ronnie James Dio didn't want to make radio pop rock tunes. He was heavy in the heart and he wanted to rock. Ritchie Blackmore, on the other hand, wanted to pursue the Top 40 audience. He wanted a clean poppy sound and more accessible everyday lyrics dealing with love and partying. He had had hits with his previous band Dee Purple and the songs that seemed to resonate the most with the mainstream crowd were songs like "Smoke on the Water," "Highway Star," and "Hush." "Hush" was a cover tune with a British Invasion Beatles-like sound. "Smoke on the Water" had an addictive chorus. "Highway Star" was about driving. All 3 songs spoke to the everyman. In Rainbow, with Dio, songs were more fantastical. They explored Ronnie's historical, religious, literary, and folk interests. Titles like "Stargazer," "Temple of the King," "Man on the Silver Mountain," "Gates of Babylon," and the like spoke for themselves. As a result of the conflict of musical direction, Ronnie split from Rainbow. Lucky for him, another opportunity was right around the corner. Black Sabbath had also tired of their vocalist though the reasons were more on a professional level. Ozzy Osbourne was notorious for missing gigs, showing up late, and being too high to record or just not showing up for recording sessions. After arranging a meeting they agreed to a jam session. In their first session they gelled so well that they penned "Children of the Sea." Black Sabbath Mach II was on the way.

1. Black Sabbath Heaven and Hell- The first, most well known, and biggest selling of the Dio era Sabbath material, Heaven and Hell  was a fresh bombastic 80s metal record. The album kicks off with "Neon Knights," an infectious fast paced rocker, intended as filler. Ultimately it became one of the most revered songs in Sabbath's discography. "Children of the Sea," their first song written together, is a slower paced darker song, but still heavy. "Lady Evil," another Ronnie penned "evil lady" tune about a witch. The title track is a song that Ronnie himself has called his masterpiece on many occasions and it's easy to see why. It's an epic heavy slice of metal with some of the most insightful lyrics Dio ever wrote. "Lonely is the Word" is a personal favorite, with a beautiful layered guitar sound. The rest of the album rocks and rolls in a similar fashion, cementing the new Black Sabbath as a force to be reckoned with.

2. Black Sabbath Mob Rules- Mob Rules would be the last studio effort with the Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice lineup for over a decade. I suppose I should mention it is also the first with drummer Vinny Appice. Bill Ward left after the recording of Heaven and Hell to deal with personal issues. Anway, the band became split down the middle with Ronnie/Vinny squaring off against Tony/Geezer. Many explanations have been provided from both camps over the years but at the end of the day everybody seemed to bear some blame. Okay, that was confusing. Let me simplify things. Mob Rules was followed with a live album called Live Evil and it is said that the two sides had different preferred working hours so the mix became quite difficult. Supposedly Tony would mix the guitars high and Ronnie would come in later and turn up the vocals. Years later both proposed the theory that the producer was responsible for all the remixing in an effort to cause "creative tension" within the band. Whatever the cause, the band would split and go their separate ways. Ronnie and Vinny formed "DIO" and Tony recruited a new vocalist and drummer and soldiered on under the Black Sabbath banner. Mob Rules, though an end in 1981 was a hell of a record. The title track was a massive punch in the face and is beloved by legions of fans. Musicians such as Dave Grohl, Tom Morello, and Kirk Windstein have all voiced their love of the track and the album it appears on. A true balls to the wall rock song! "Falling Off the Edge of the World" contains one of the doomiest riffs ever written and "Over and Over" sounds like early 1970s Black Sabbath. "Voodoo" is a mid-paced swampy tune with a lyrical warning and "Sign of the Southern Cross" is as heavy as a dump truck full of iron. "Country Girl" shows off Dio's vocal chops and "E5I50" is an ominous gloomy instrumental.

3. Black Sabbath Dehumanizer- A short lived reunion with a massive sound, Dehumanizer is one of the heaviest albums in all of Black Sabbath's 42 year career. "Computer God" is a massive smashing opener, "I" is lyrically one of the heaviest songs of all time, and "After All (The Dead)" is as doomy and scary as death itself. "Letters from Earth" shows some heavy bass pounding courtesy of Geezer Butler and "Time Machine" found its way into the hit comedy Wayne's World. "It's Too Late," "Sins of the Father," and "Buried Alive" are grim crashingly heavy rockers and "TV Crimes" is a scathing rip on Televangelists. Black Sabbath Mach II came to a swift end once more after Ronnie James Dio refused to open for Ozzy Osbourne. With good reason, he wasn't willing to sacrifice his dignity to honor a man who had made horrible public statements about him personally and the band as a whole. After all, Ozzy wasn't in Black Sabbath because of his own mistakes and unprofessional behavior. Rob Halford, of Judas Priest, took over for Dio to complete the "Ozzy Osbourne Reunion" tour.

4. Black Sabbath The Dio Years- In 2006, Rhino Records wanted to put together a compilation album to celebrate the work of Black Sabbath with Ronnie at the mic. They called up Tony Iommi with a request: 2 new songs. After much discussion, Ronnie and Tony sat down to discuss the prospects of recording the new cuts for the compilation. It was as if all their past baggage had been forgotten. They ended up writing 3 new songs. Bill Ward was offered the drum kit as the songs began feeling like a Heaven and Hell reunion but he wasn't comfortable with the material. Vinny returned once more and Geezer signed on as well. They recorded the tracks, released the CD, and after much demand embarked on a small tour in support of the "Best Of." Demand was stronger than anticipated and since things were going so well, they agreed to continue touring. The creativity was flowing, they were getting along famously, and they finally agreed to begin work on a new Black Sabbath record. Only they would call themselves, "Heaven and Hell," as not to confuse anyone with the Ozzy fronted era of the band and the various lineups that had come in between Dio's tenure. It was also widely speculated that since Ozzy Osbourne was a 1/5 shareholder in the band name, he was entitled to profits every time the name was used. Regardless of his status in the band. This is Black Sabbath Mach II, however, and as Ronnie said, "By any other name, it's just Black Sabbath." Oh, by the way, the new songs are top notch. The songs are "The Devil Cried," "Shadow of the Wind," and "Ear in the Wall." A slow tune, a mid-paced cut, and a scorching fast paced rocker. Listening to those songs you would never sense the animosity that existed at the end of their last working relationship. The chemistry was still there.

5. Heaven and Hell The Devil You Know- The Devil You Know is a phenomenal album. Black Sabbath have long been considered the creators of doom metal and The Devil You Know could hardly be classified as anything else. The album is thick as a ton bricks, bleak, and yet intense. The opening of "Atom and Evil" roars with a massive "boom, boom, boom." The song also shows the band at their most melodic with surprisingly smooth vocal lines. "Fear" rumbles and screams along at a pace that's hard to describe. The general feel is doom. Yet the guitar sometimes lends itself to a power metal type riffing and Ronnie's ominous howls of "Fear...." slide under your skin like a hypodermic needle. The album's first single, "Bible Black," starts off slow but quickly roars into gear. The lyrics are somewhere between religion and a horror movie and lines like, "Here's another spell. It could take me straight to hell. And I feel I'm getting closer to my home," really encapsulate you in the feeling that is "heavy metal." "Double the Pain" has this spring sounding synthetic opening that gives way to pulverizing drums, thudding bass, a fast guitar, and high octane vocalizing. "Rock N' Roll Angel" is melodic but early 70s Black Sabbath in its heaviness. "Turn of the Screw" reminds one of the Henry James novel with the same title, when Dio talks about "Another face at the window. To take me away from you. To a place that I just won't go." "Eating the Cannibals," besides being a really fun title is the fastest song on the album and it rips much like "Ear in the Wall," one of the new tracks recorded for The Dio Years. "Follow the Tears" is so heavy not even the world's strongest man could bench press it. The riffing that opens the song is hard to describe. You just have to hear it. I know that's a cop out description but what are you going to do? "Neverwhere" is just a good hard n' heavy metal song carried at a medium pace and "Breaking into Heaven" closes the record grandly. Unfortunately, The Devil You Know was once more an end for the band. While touring Dio began suffering sharp stomach pains and found himself unable to eat without becoming ill. When the tour in support of the new album concluded, Dio sought the counseling of a physician. After tests were performed the doctor returned with terrible news. Dio was suffering from stomach cancer. He began treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Texas but unfortunately the disease hadn't been found early enough to stop it from spreading to his liver. Dio passed away in May, 2010.

The story of Ronnie James Dio was over but those songs he created will never die. It brings a tear even to my wretched eyes thinking about what the world lost on that morning in May. Dio was a hell of a talent and a good man by all accounts. One has to think what could have been with Heaven and Hell and his solo band. We all wanted new music, we still do. Though that's now an impossibility. The prospect of new music didn't matter though when we found out Dio was sick. We just wanted him to get better because of how much he meant to us. Because he had given us hope and joy. Because he had entertained us for so long and asked for so little.

It is with a heavy heart that I end my assessment of the Dio years of Black Sabbath. Next time I will talk about the DIO band albums. It may be a little easier now, having got the hard part of the Dio story out of the way here, to go back and review those albums. Knowing the DIO band went out on a better note: his return to Black Sabbath. The Best of Ronnie James Dio Part III coming up!

Now, my list about the "Horror Heavies You Should Know." The men on this list have gained some acclaim deep in the horror fan circle and some have been honored with prestigious awards in their native countries (If they are not American) but they have not, reached the household name status of Stephen King or Tobe Hooper here in the states. I don't want to keep you waiting so here we go:

1. Jose Mojica Marins- Mr. Marins is best remembered for his alter ego, Coffin Joe. If you don't know who Coffin Joe is, and I suppose a good sum of you reading may not, look him up now! You will not be disappointed. Coffin Joe is an eccentric black cloaked, top-hatted, evil man with abnormally long fingernails. He sees himself as some kind of supreme intellectual because he mocks religion and superstition and feels that all who participate in the belief of such things are inferiors. He has one lone goal and that is to find the "perfect" female to bear his superior son. This woman would of course be at his intellectual level and laugh in the face of bronze age myth. His quest is a long one and various women are tortured, terrorized, and murdered on his way to find the right one. At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, Coffin Joe's introduction, is a delicious gothic horror film with a tone not unlike the Universal Haunted house films of the late 1920s and the 1930s. The sequel, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, is even better. The low budget limitations of the first film are remedied with a slightly larger budget and the crazed maniacal tortures of Joe are upped to the ceiling. A great highlight is a scene in which Joe has a nightmare about being wrong and immoral. He sees a brightly colored surrealist vision of hell that wakes him from his deep sleep denouncing the tricks his mind plays on him, a sign of repressed doubts. The film ends with the townspeople taking revenge on Joe for all their fallen daughters and chasing him out to the swamp where he supposedly drowns. He returned over 40 years later in Embodiment of Evil, however, and once again, Marins ups the gore content. There are some delightfully twisted scenes in the film but I won't spoil them for you. If I did you might throw up on your keyboard! Oh, an I won't be telling you if Joe finally succeeds in siring his superior spawn either! Jose Mojica Marins is Brazil's premier horror writer/director and his films, all of them not just the Coffin Joe trilogy, warrant a viewing from horror fans everywhere.

2. Ray Dennis Steckler- Ray Dennis Steckler is one of those guys that has done it all. Actor/writer/producer/director/photographer/pornographer. Yep, there was no end to the man's talents. One day he would be directing hilarious over the top children's films like The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters trilogy, the next one he makes one of the worst horror films of all time with the first monster musical The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, followed by a genuine classic like The Thrill Killers, and finally a low rent porno flick. His horror ventures lie in the "so bad they're good" box and still they're plenty worth your time. Let's face it, there are a lot of films out there with greater technical knowhow but will they entertain you on the level of Blood Shack? Not likely. Others worth a peek: Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, Sinthia the Devil's Doll, Body Fever, and The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher.

3. Joe Bob Briggs- Joe Bob isn't a horror guy persay but he's a big fan of horror guys! Joe Bobb Briggs is most likely the single biggest champion horror filmmakers have ever had. Born John Bloom in the rough and rowdy state of Texas, he pursued a career in journalism which allowed him to snag jobs writing columns for various newspapers and magazines. Using his alias, Joe Bob, he wrote witty humorous reviews of horror and exploitation cinema as seen at the local drive-in. The character he developed was a stereotypical redneck, complete with cowboy hat, hairy knuckles, and a penchant for law breaking, beer drinking, and boob grabbing. He's released a couple books compiling his column reviews of classics like Basket Case, Friday the 13th, Incubus, Terminator, Conan the Barbarian, Beastmaster, Phantasm, Death Wish, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I Spit on Your Grave. He's also released a couple books that examine horror and sleaze films from the more academically grounded eyes of John Bloom. Top that off with his hilarious DVD commentaries for should-be Academy Award winners like Samurai Cop, Hell High, and The Double-D Avenger and his late night horror hosting gigs and you've got a real horror everyman.

4. Russ Meyer- Russ Meyer loved the ladies. Especially the ones that could really fill out a wet t-shirt. He started his career as a wartime photographer and thousands of miles away from the nightmares of war  he put his talents to work photographing his favorite subject, women's breasts. Without Russ Meyer there would be no nudie film. I bet you're wondering, why the hell am I talking about a guy whose big thing was naked chicks in a horror article? Well, he's crossed over into the horror/exploitation world on a number of occasions and each time he brought his love of knockers with him. Take Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! into consideration. What you get is 3 women with nothing more to do than running around stealing and killing. Varla, the leader of the trio is the most vicious. She breaks a guys back with her foot and leaves him for dead in the desert. But she does it in Russ Meyer style, a tight black shirt showing off massive cleavage. Motorpsycho is about a deranged Vietnam vet who thinks he's still in the Southeast Asian jungle and as a result, kills a number of people without even really stopping to think about it. Meyer's films have garnered a lot of interest in the horror community over the years though, because they play completely against the horror norm. Think about it. One of the great criticisms of slasher films has always been the brutal killing of helpless females. In Russ Meyer's films, the women are the aggressors. They beat, kill, steal, and use sex to get what THEY want. Take that feminists!

5. Screaming Lord Sutch- Screaming Lord Sutch was one of the original horror rockers. His horror themed stage show was nowhere near as elaborate as Alice Cooper's and he once confessed that his vocal range was quite limited but he's still very important in the history of horror-themed rock n' roll shows. With novelty tunes like "Murder in the Graveyard," "All Black and Hairy," and the hit "Jack the Ripper," Sutch vocalized gothic horror stories for the Beatles crowd. He dressed in a cape and top hat and often powdered his face in white for an extra ghoulish appearance. In the early 70s he released a more traditional rock record called "Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends," which is often called the worst rock record of the decade. Despite the fact that Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Jeff Beck, John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix),  and Nicky Hopkins (The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Pretty Things) all played on it. Sutch was actively involved in British politics and he even started his own political party, "The Official Monster Raving Loony Party." Despite all his eccentricities and bad reputation as a musician, he made fun rockabilly tunes about vampires, grave diggers, monsters, zombies, and werewolves and he is instrumental in carving a road that Alice Cooper later paved in gold. Sadly he hung himself in the late 1990s after years of suffering from depression.

6. William Castle- William Castle is one of those guys whose films you know well. In his heyday he was a widely loved producer. Yet these days no one seems to remember just how important he was. House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, Strait-Jacket, Mr. Sardonicus, 13 Ghosts, I Saw What You Did, Homocidal... What a filmography! Each of his films did well commercially and the biggest reason for that is he was perhaps the greatest promoter in B-movie history. The man practically invented the in-theater gimmick, the 4-D experience. With "Shock seats," audience participation, carboard props given to ticket buyers, and newspaper publicity for things like putting a million dollar life insurance policy on a cockroach from the movie Bug, Castle established himself as the premier movie showman. His influence can be seen to this day with large cardboard cutouts, 3-d models, and life-siz props in movie theaters everywhere. In the horror genre alone, many filmmakers took to his crazy gimmicky approach and in tribute,  handed out barf bags, masks, comic books, and cardboard cutouts to patrons coming to see their films.

7. Mario Bava- Mario Bava was a painter turned filmmaker very popular in his native country of Italy. On this side of the pond, he's best remembered by horror diehards for his revolutionary work in the splatter sub-genre. He never made a movie that was as commercially successful as Jaws or Halloween here in the US of A, but his influence is certainly prevalent within those films.  His film I Vampiri is often considered the first Italian horror film and his 1960 masterwork, Black Sunday is one of the most chillingly effective gothic horror films of all time. Blood and Black Lace laid the foundation of the modern slasher film and Twitch of the Death Nerve highlighted graphic violent killings which would become a staple of the slasher picture. Hell, Friday the 13th Part II even borrowed the twin impalement-by-spear kill from the latter film. Danger Diabolik was a clever adaption of the Italian comic book with the same name and The Girl Who Knew too Much is considered by many to be the original Giallo film. The Giallo style was of course popularized by well knowns like Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, and Lucio Fulci. Bava's films were also well revered for their use of color and beautiful photography. Two things horror films have never been known for. This was probably because of his background as a painter and his understanding of the wider color spectrum. He brought an artists' touch to his films. The camera was his palette and the screen his canvas and no one made films as aesthetically pleasing as he did.

8. Terence Fisher- Terence Fisher was an English film director famous for his work with Hammer Horror Studios. His films were essentially gothic horror filmed in color. His adaptions of Dracula and The Mummy, both starring the charismatic deep-voiced Christopher Lee, are considered classics of the traditional gothic horror style. The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Brides of Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Gorgon, The Earth Dies Screaming, Island of Terror, and The Devil Rides Out are all terrific terror films made in the 1960s and 1970s where traditional horror films upped the onscreen blood and sex was no longer repressed. Fisher's films were classy, gory, and sexy. Directors like Clive Barker, Tim Burton, and Peter Jackson have cited Terence as an important influence on their own creations. Watching a film by any of the aforementioned directors is all the proof you need of that though! Let's just say they've done a terrific job in cementing his horror legacy.

9. Jack Arnold- Jack is another one of those guys whose name you probably don't immediately recognize. But you will certainly recognize his credentials. He's the man behind The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, It Came from Outer Space, and Monster on the Campus. Outside of horror he made a couple blaxploitation films with Fred Williamson and directed numerous TV shows like Bionic Woman, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch, Mr. Terrific, It Takes a Thief, Rawhide, Peter Gunn, and Perry Mason. In addition to directing some of the greatest horror and Science Fiction films of the 1950s, he's also responsible for spring-boarding the career of a young Clint Eastwood. He worked with Clint in Revenge of the Creature, Tarantula, and Rawhide.

10. Tom Holland- Tom Holland as a writer and director is responsible for some of the greatest cult films of the 1980s. As a writer he penned the excellent Psycho II, which was way better than it had any right to be, as well as Class of 1984 and The Beast Within. As a writer/director he helmed Child's Play, Fright Night, and Thinner. On TV he directed Stephen King's The Langoliers, Masters of Horror: We All Scream for Ice Cream, and 3 episodes of Tales from the Crypt. Certainly a guy whose work is worth looking into.

Well, that's all for today minions. I shall see you again very soon. It's a little cool in hell today so I got to get my thermostat fixed.