You either get The Misfits or you don’t. I fall into the former camp and have been known to argue that they are the best of bands for tens of minutes! They’re notorious for referencing horror and science fiction movies from the 1950s and ’60s and setting their lyrics to dark, vintage-sounding chords.
Here are four movies that The Misfits reference. For the sake of brevity, I limited my list to only four rather obscure pieces. I’m not gonna sit around and gush about “Skulls” with y’all all day. It’s a great song, sure. I’ll probably dance to it at my wedding. But if that’s the only Misfits song you know, you’re really selling yourself short. With this information, when you go on Jeopardy and the category is “Horror Punk Bands of the 1970s,” you’ll go home with buckets of cash.
I also only picked songs from from Danzig-era Misfits, which is really the only era that matters. If anyone wants to argue that Jerry Only’s current abomination of a touring act is just as good as Danzig-era gold, I will meet you by the flagpole and give you a knuckle sandwich after school.
The Misfits (1961)
I can’t fathom beginning this list without mentioning Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe’s last film, The Misfits (1961), from which the band took their name. Written by Arthur Miller of Death Of A Salesman fame, it was a posthumous release for Gable, while Monroe overdosed the following year. Monroe plays Roslyn, a recent divorcee who meets Gay and Guido, a pair of cowboys at a bar. Roslyn is arguably Monroe’s most serious role. She actually plays a well-rounded character, instead of a prop with boobs. Themes of captivity and freedom are embodied by the wild horses Gay and Guido try to capture and destroy. The Misfits is well-written and beautifully shot, making it all the more haunting.
The Misfits film reference is not the only time Glenn Danzig will ruminate over the life and death of Monroe in his musical catalog: his 1981 single “Who Killed Marilyn” suggests that her untimely death was possibly a murder. In fact, sex, death, and celluloid are common themes in their music, which is consistently inspired by the dark side of old Hollywood. “Hollywood Babylon” was penned after Kenneth Anger’s book of the same name that details the many sex scandals of the entertainment industry (“Do the citizens kneel for sex?/It’s heaven cumming on her chest/Hollywood Babylon”). Similarly, “Bullet” is a strange ballad chronicling the assassination of JFK, all while Danzig begs Jackie O to suck him off.
The Astro Zombies (1968)
Ted V. Mikels 1968 film The Astro Zombies is the namesake of The Misfits song of the same name. From the band’s 1982 debut full-length album, Walk Among Us, the song is written from the perspective of the mad scientist, Doctor DeMarco.
With just a touch of my burning hand
I send my astro zombies to rape the land
Prime directive, exterminate
The whole human race
The Astro Zombies is a Frankenstein tale capitalizing on Cold War anxieties. Doctor DeMarco was canned from NASA after he started getting a little too liberal on whom he performed his experiments. Disgruntled yet determined, DeMarco continues his experimentation with the help of his mute, squinty-eyed, hunchback assistant, Franchot. DeMarco has been working on creating “Astro Men,” who have superhuman strength and can receive “thought wave transmissions” through space. He had to use cadavers of the recently deceased, and ended up bringing along his hot assistant to watch a psychopathic murderer die. When resurrected as an “Astro Man,” the unnamed psychopath starts hunting down said hot assistant, who of course, happens to be dating the cop searching for Doctor DeMarco.
But wait, the plot thickens. Remember those Cold War anxieties I mentioned? A Russian goon, a Latino sharpshooter, and a large-breasted “Oriental” woman named Satana are hunting down Doctor DeMarco to get this technology into their government’s hands! There’s a big showdown featuring creative deaths, really bad special effects, and a plot that just sort of… ends (much like a Misfits song). The credits feature robot warfare that is completely unexplained, and there’s a gratuitous scene of a topless woman dancing in body paint. Anyone in a STEM field will find the experimentation scenes particularly amusing. All in all, The Astro Zombies is worth the $10 on Amazon.
Blood Feast (1963)
In 1983, The Misfits released Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood, their second full-length album and Danzig’s last album with the band. Danzig kept to his habit of naming songs after strange sci-fi movies and penned a song about Herschel Gordon Lewis’ 1963 film Blood Feast.
This film makes The Astro Zombies look high-budget. It follows Fuad Ramses, an Egyptian occultist, who murders and dismembers nubile young women in an attempt to reenact a 5,000 year-old ritual of cannibalism to resurrect the goddess, Ishtar (who was an Akkadian Goddess, not Egyptian, but whatever!). Fuad, who runs an Egyptian catering company, is approached by Dorothy Freemont to cater a party for her daughter, Suzette. Fuad proposes an “Egyptian feast,” leaving out the bit about cannibalizing her daughter, of course. While Fuad is embarking on his killing spree, Suzette’s boyfriend Pete Thornton is assigned as lead detective on the serial murder case. Pete is handed the clues numerous times, yet cannot put the case together. I doubt Pete could find his way out of a paper bag. The acting is so terrible that it becomes hilarious. The statue of the goddess Ishtar is particularly breathtaking, as it’s undoubtedly a mannequin painted gold with a mutilated sombrero on its head.
In one particularly gore-tastic scene, Fuad rips out a lady’s tongue and leaves her to die, inspiring these lyrics:
When they pull out her tongue
Pull off her face, pluck out her eyes
Well, the blood runs cold for
When it drips from the mouth
Be forewarned, be prepared
For a grizzly bloodfeast!
Bloodfeast has all the trimmings of a low-budget horror film. For those that felt cheated by Psycho only showing the result of the murders, but no homicidal action, Bloodfeast delivers the gore.
THX 1138 (1971)
Danzig’s cryptic song “We Are 138” off of the 1978 album Static Age has been rumored to have many meanings, although nothing has ever been confirmed by the songwriter. Glenn Danzig has only said that “it’s about violence,” although band mates Jerry Only and Bobby Steele have claimed that it’s about THX 1138. Only and Steele made a compelling case, as the band had merchandise with an android with “138” stamped on its head. Danzig claims that they didn’t write the song, so they don’t know what the fuck it’s about. Whatever, Danzig, you gloomy dreamboat. The lyrics tell a different story.
Do you think we’re robot clean
Does this face look almost mean
Is it time to be an android not a man
The pleasantries are gone
We’re stripped of all we were
In the eyes of tiger
Seriously, besides “in the eyes of tiger” everything else sounds like THX 1138. Check it:
Written by George Lucas and produced in 1971 by Francis Ford Coppola, THX 1138 takes place in a dystopian future where emotions and sexuality are outlawed and suppressed with heavy drugs. Conformity is highly valued amongst the people in the film, so everyone wears stark white outfits, shaved heads, and is named in a series of numbers and letters. The film centers around protagonist, THX-1138 (pronounced “Thex”). His roommate, LUH-3417, experiences a “chemical imbalance” and falls in love with THX, causing her to switch his medication. As he withdraws from the chemicals suppressing his libido, THX falls in love with LUH and they have weird android sex. The ever-watching authorities persecute THX and LUH as “erotics” and imprison them. It is there THX decides to escape from the sterile world he’s always known.
If you enjoy stark cinematography and also have a hard-on for Sinead O’Connor in the “Nothing Compares 2 U” video, this is the film for you. It’s classic science fiction, so it’s social commentary at it’s finest. What happens when people are mandatorily medicated? What happens when sex and sexuality are shunned? Take that to the extreme, and you have THX 1138.
So why write about these movies?
Perhaps Danzig is pointing to what a turbulent time the 1950s and ’60s were. Popular culture has a tendency to reference those years as if they’re empty aesthetic choices, full of doo wops, flower children, and funny fashions Those decades were really fucked up. The Misfits chronicles an idealistic end of “the wild west.” Monroe’s character ends up completely disillusioned. It’s also the only time she fully expressed her talents before her life was cut short. The band isn’t referencing her because she was hot, but because her life and death were so extraordinarily sad.
The Astro Zombies highlights Cold War paranoia. People in the ’50s and ’60s were scared shitless of spies and the emerging technologies of warfare. Similarly, Blood Feast features what many saw as “scary” Middle Eastern people and their creepy religious rites. THX-1138 is social commentary that reflects the rise of big pharma, the end of “free love,” and the decent into social conservatism. These films, as campy as some of them may be, tell us a lot of what people feared.
This is by no means an extensive list of the media The Misfits reference in their catalog. The tradition of creating simulacrums through their music is by far one of the coolest aspects of the band. I like to think of The Misfits as a catalog or recommendations. Discovering the movies behind their songs adds an interesting layer of meaning to their music: sometimes the references are campy, sometimes they’re beautiful, but they are always entertaining.