As a kid I spent a lot of bored Saturday afternoons watching whatever cheap horror movies the local station used to fill time in between commercials for Marshall Brodien card tricks, Statler Brothers albums or tilt-in windows (“We’ll return to Taste the Blood of Dracula in a moment. Folks, let me tell you about these windows, look how easy these are to clean…”). If the weather and rabbit ears were just right, maybe catch the Cleveland signal and settle in for a Godzilla flick or watch Superhost at a friend’s place. Late Friday nights were spent with Hoolihan and Big Chuck, a steady stream of awesomeness: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death; Zontar, The Thing from Venus; Equinox; Count Yorga, Vampire (as opposed to Count Yorga, Accountant),and Little Shop of Horrors every Christmas-the Corman version, years before it was redone on stage and on film with big stars. The internet didn’t exist, we had Famous Monsters of Filmland. Happiness was tinted in Basil Gogos day glow paints and leached out Hammer Horror color.
A few years later, back in the heyday drive-ins, my local plex would show a first run film, then put in whatever filler they could get their hands on as the second bill. Stick around after the main show and you’d get treated to whatever reels made their way from some twisted distributor at (no doubt) bargain basement rates; a little something sleazy and bloody to allow the concession stand to sell more popcorn or give couples time to make out before the main feature began again. Stay dusk to dawn if you want, just keep buying stuff. You don’t have to go home, and you can stay here. Settle in for a mainstream flick, doze off and you might wake up confusedly staring at some blood-splattered Italian Fulci zombie Fu, the combination of cheap fluorescent blood, Mickey’s Big Mouths, onion rings and leaded gas fumes enough to make you swoon-disoriented like Suzy Bannion jetlagged in the Freiburg rain, unknowingly walking into a coven of witches.
That woozy dissociation and blend of high and low art was on my mind as I watched Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson last night at Riverbend. Their current tour is called the “Twins of Evil: Hell Never Dies” tour. It’s the third go around for this bill (following Twins of Evil in 2012 and Twins of Evil: The Second Coming Tour in 2018. Next up, Twins of Evil 4: Seriously, We Aren’t Stopping Anytime Soon). The posters borrow both the title and graphics from a classic Hammer vampire film (starring Peter Cushing and twin October 1970 Playmates Madeleine and Mary Collinson, worth checking out on Blu-ray).
Zombie and Manson (that sounds like an unlikely 2020 Presidential ticket, but, hey, these days anything is possible – Make America Goth Again!) started making music and broke out about the same time (mid/late ‘80s start, early/mid ‘90s break through). If they were just shock, they could have burnt out long ago or run the risk of the material not aging well. Danzig: “Mommy, can I go out and kill tonight?” “Now, Glenn, you know it’s a school night. Plus, you’re 64…” Manson and Zombie have always been smarter than their critics give them credit for; it takes a lot of smarts to sell a dumb joke. Manson on “Deep Six”, “Do you want to know what Zeus said to Narcissus? You better watch yourself. ”Zombie referencing the Newport Folk Festival and Lon Chaney in an obscure Todd Browning film (The Unknown) in “Get Your Boots On! That’s the End of Rock and Roll:” “Well, Dylan Bob went electric today/Laughing through walls of distortion/Alonzo the Armless chopped his arms to pray/And all the little folkies cried ‘revolution." There’s real craft there; you don’t stumble into those lyrics casually.
Zombie started out doing nu-metal with White Zombie and the video for “Thunder Kiss ‘65” shows the conflict between a kitschy black and white Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussy Cat, Kill! Kill! style and unfortunate forays into early- ‘90s fashion (Rob sports leggings, multiple bandanas, goggles, flame print shorts and a zebra print leather jacket). Somewhere Tura Satana is smirking, “Easy baby, you’re almost a fire hazard.”
As Zombie split off to his solo career, he went darker, streamlined his style and fully embraced his love of horror and grindhouse. He started creating more aggro work as a visual artist and movie director (including the remake of Halloween, The Lords of Salem, The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses, 31 and the upcoming 3 from Hell). Whatever people may think of his directing work, he hits a nerve and makes genuinely unsettling movies, ones that would feel at home flickering out into the darkness at one in the morning as your windows fog over in the drive-in.
Marilyn Manson, as spooky as he presents himself, is still at heart a kid from Northeast Ohio (Canton) that has managed to plumb his own idiosyncrasies to blur gender and genre lines. He grew up about the same time and place as I did and it’s a fair bet that he spent some nights watching similar schlock as he dreamed of what was outside Ohio waiting in his future. Yeah, Elton, “I’ve seen that movie too.”
Both artists (especially Manson) were shocking in the ‘90s and caused much whingeing about their effect on American youth culture. Then someone went and punched a hole in the heart of our country on 9/11 and suddenly real life was way scarier than anything they could dream up. Monster Zero and the Dark Intruder? That’s cute. Take off your shoes and remove all liquids from your carry-on, Mr. Cummings. Step in, put your hands up. Good. Next. Anything fragile, liquid, hazardous or perishable Mr. Warner? Yeah man, all of it. Every damned bit.
Now, some of Manson’s lyrics seem quaint compared to the endless torrent of stark news in any given news cycle. Manson: “Are you motherf*ckers ready for the new shit? Stand up and admit tomorrow’s never coming!” Have you seen twitter lately? Somewhere Billie Eilish is rolling her eyes: “I’m the baaaaaaaad guuyyyy…duh.” The world is far fiercer and faster than it was in those pre-social media days. It’s like entering a dark room and being unbalanced at the initial shock. Slowly, your eyes adjust, the rhodopsin regenerating as the room comes into view. What seemed unbelievably bleak is now just baseline. We’ve adjusted to the darkness so much, we don’t even notice it anymore; a nation of dark- adapted eyes.
Zombie and Manson share the same love of darkness and horror, but that’s a whole spectrum of shades and flavors. You can be blunt like Herschell Gordon Lewis or straight razor-elegant like Dario Argento; go for rapid fire Sam Raimi-splatter or slow down and foster Roman Polanski -dread. Manson embraces sleek androgyny and the sexier, glam side of horror while Zombie is more biker-burly and churns through B-horror and grindhouse tropes with a 42ndstreet projectionist’s delight. Zombie is battered, dusty leather, Manson gleaming S&M vinyl. They are both visual artists and that influence shows up in their sonics. Back in 2010, I saw a painting exhibit of Manson’s beautiful and eerie Francis Baconesque watercolors matched with David Lynch’s short films in Vienna and felt like it a perfect match. It suits his music- industrial buzz mixed with streaky muted colors and amorphous, disturbing shapes. Zombie’s art has a fun Ed “Big Daddy” Roth Rat Fink hot rod/hot wire style and that mix of nervous energy and humor. resonates in his music. The stylistic differences even play out in their choice of music before they come on. Manson plays Bowie and Helmet, Zombie spins Thin Lizzy (“Jail Break”, “The Boys Are Back in Town”) and The Runaways (“Cherry Bomb”). It doesn’t make a difference that this is their third go around as a double feature. As Joe Bob Briggs (America’s foremost drive-in movie critic and host of Shudder’s Joe Bob’s Last Drive-In) would say, “Have we seen it before? Of course we have. But have we seen it with fake snow, a ten-foot robot monster ape and bouncing inflatables? I think not.”
Technically, it’s a triple feature. Palaye Royale opened and their heavy Black Sabbath-y sound warmed the crowd up well. They did a great, energetic job of getting hands in the air and building some excitement for the main acts.
It’s summer in Cincinnati and you can’t always wait for full darkness to start a concert, so Manson took the stage when the sun was still out. The curtains parted, revealing a huge black and white American flag with inverted crosses in place of the stars and bars. The crowd roared as Manson entered on a towering telescoping platform. He sported a heavy black leather coat, his face painted with a David Bowie-blue slash as he pursed his lips and purred into “Angel with the Scabbed Wings”. The heat was oppressive, and he quickly ditched the coat and greeted the crowd, “Ohio, greetings, I know you like the back of my hand.” He burned through “This Is The New Shit:” “Rebel rebel party party/sex sex sex and don’t forget the violence” and again addressed the crowd, “Ohio, give it up – you made me.” Given his name and history, it’s a surprise he doesn’t mention Charles Manson and his Cincinnati ties. Manson exited and changed outfits. The flags dropped and revealed mirrored panels and the gig turned meta, Manson watching us watching him watching us.
His show was a dark cabaret, a blur of lipstick, leather, flash and theatrics - whether it was his face looming over the crowd in a banner, a jaunty bowler hat, a huge alchemical heptagram, a butcher’s knife mic stand, black balloons tied around his neck for “The Nobodies”, or a sudden storm of snowflakes filling the air, improbable snow in impossible heat. He continued to phase in and out of moods, changing into a long sleek coat of nightwatch black feathers. He looked into the crowd and asked, “Who’s high? Liars. I’m not a f*cking cop, I’m disappointed in you. You’d have to be high to want to see this show” as he ground into “The Dope Show.”
He gave Ohio another nod, “I love you Ohio, so here’s a love song for you” and his sepulchral blend of Bowie and Peter Murphy (from Bauhaus) vocals turned into a scream as he merged “If I Was Your Vampire” with “SAY10.”
The stage was reset for his biggest set piece - inverted cross balconies, two large illuminated crosses and a large black podium with his red lightning bolt insignia. He climbed the podium, opened a book and it burst into flames as the entire complex went blood red. He’s appropriated Germany imagery in the past (rifles arranged to look like The Reichsadler [heraldic eagle of the Third Reich]), angular logos like the Schutzstaffel [SS]), but it’s a whole new experience to see it live. I was wrong, “Antichrist Superstar” still shocks.
That seemed like a fitting piece to end on and it looked like he was done. After a long pause, he came back out and started tapping out the drum beat to “Beautiful People.” Unfortunately, the break was so long nobody was sure he was coming back, and all the energy dissipated, so they had to work to regain it. Maybe it’s early tour mechanics getting worked out. The drummer responded to Manson, dueling banjo style, until Manson pointed to himself as the winner. The energy level ramped up as Marilyn moved to the front of the pit, leaning into the audience, their hands on him, phones recording him as he sang into their faces.
Marilyn blew a kiss, took a bow and exited.
It was cooler and darker when it came time for Rob Zombie’s set, and that suited the second feature just fine. The speakers hummed, and the crowd braced for whatever dark horror he was ready to unleash, only to hear:“Baby if you’ve ever wondered/wondered whatever became of me/I’m living on the air in Cincinnati/Cincinnati, WKRP…” People laughed as the WKRP theme song played out, followed by a rapidly cut montage of Rob’s music videos as his name was spelled out in rolling block letters. He entered and launched into “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown,” obliquely name-dropping Carson McCullers: “It’s right here now that we best serve the Beast of Transmission and the cool passing wave of ignorance/they say the heart is a lonely hunter/and the hard box comes with a crime inside.”
Rob has said he isn’t playing any new material on this tour because he wants it all ready before it gets released, so, we get a run through of greatest hits including “Superbeast,” “Living Dead Girl,” and “More Human than Human.” The video feed changed constantly within and between songs, a blur of pink bats, cartoons, Ultra Man, Lugosi, Chaney, every Universal Monster, his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, Michael Landon in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, zombies from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and swirly, psychedelic lights. The rush was incredible. I felt l like I huffed a drug made of every Saturday afternoon movie, Jaycee’s Haunted House, homemade Halloween costume, cheap plastic vampire teeth, the entire lower scuffed and stickered VHS shelf of the R-rated horror section of a 1984-era Blockbuster Video, a box of Frankenberry cereal, frayed copies of “Tomb of Dracula” comics, pillowcases full of Halloween candy and a case of Red Bull; it slammed through the blood/brain barrier straight to the pleasure centers.
It’s easy to just peg the meter and go all out and get numb. But as in his horror films, Zombie knows how to throttle the energy and it’s a constant joy ride. It never got exhausting. Rob was lean and muscular, vamping, dancing, doing faux kung-Fu, snake-slithery as he owned the stage. He has boundless energy; man, that’s a good advertisement for the vegan lifestyle he’s embraced.
The visual design was stunning; again, no surprise considering Rob’s other job is making movies. I smiled as green lights darted out over the crowd and a creepy black and white face grinned and repeated in a loop. To a casual observer, it looked like The Joker, but any monster kid worth his salt would recognize that’s Conrad Veidt (who inspired The Joker’s creators years later) in The Man Who Laughs (1928). Almost a century later, it’s still disturbing. Spotting two young kids (5 and 7), Rob asked, “Are you high…on life? Are you high…on kindergarten and homework? Are you high…on SpongeBob?” then kicked into“In the Age of the Consecrated Vampire We All Get High.” It was fun to watch him adopt a rapper’s swagger: “Well, I’ve got a jukebox stuck in my head/crackling on the grooves so bloody red/How can you make a move as bad as me?/I thunder and roar like a rip in the sea.”
Rob’s set was more seamless than Marilyn’s and that may be due to his work as a director and having to deal with shots, crews, special effects, timing, gear, etc. Everything flowed with precision. And the effects were crazy-cool: band members in Halloween masks, a ten-foot-tall ape robo monster, metallic skeletons and more. He revved up the energy even higher as he took a lap during a long guitar solo and roamed the crowd.
When he got back on stage, Rob exhorted us to take out our phones, take some pictures, then put our phones away and enjoy the next one. “Everyone complains that the old days of metal are gone. Maybe tonight is the old days.” It was worth leaving phones is pocket to enjoy a crushing version of “Thunder Kiss ’65” without distraction, but as a giant devil puppet came out, people forgot his admonition and took their phones out to grab a pic or record video.
Rob and Marilyn recorded a version of “Helter Skelter” together and they’ve performed it live together in the past. That would have been incredible, but Rob said Marilyn couldn’t join (for unexplained reasons), so he sung it solo. With the videos of (Charles) Manson and the Manson family behind it, it was scary and invested with every piece of the song’s bloody history.
The band exited, and we got a glimpse of the upcoming 3 from Hell trailer (sequel to House of a Thousand Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects). Coming soon to a drive-in near you if you’re lucky.
Rob encored with “Dragula” and, because we had some extra time, Grand Funk’s “We’re An American Band.” The contrast between the red, white and blue flag and Manson’s black and white version was striking and the show looped on itself.
Hell yeah. Second feature always delivers.
Show’s over folks.
Please disconnect your speakers before driving off.
Leave your empties by the pole.
Headlights off as you exit.
The drive-in, like Hell, will never die.