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Iron Maiden's 1982 album Number of the Beast is a heaping slab of heavy metal history, one that I was first introduced to at the tender age of say, six or so, by an aunt's boyfriend who had the thing on vinyl; and the vinyl featured a science fictional, horror-themed devil with Eddie the Head, a zombie-like revenant Maiden uses as a mascot, watching evilly over the listener as he tuned out holiness in favor of SELLING HIS MORTAL SOUL.
The aunt's boyfriend was a pimply scarecrow of a wet fart alcoholic, who swilled cheap hooch, walked around the neighborhood in a black coat, and died from eventually deciding to take a drunken nap on a train track. She sure could pick 'em.
The only other service this individual ever did me during his short, brutal, and punishing existence on this planet was to allow me the opportunity to steal his audio cassette copy of Face of Despair, by the Australian speed metal band Mortal Sin, who went MIA about 20 odd years go.
(Note to millennials: These "audiocassettes" were little plastic rectangles with two spindles on either end. A spool of magnetic tape would spin out from one of the spindles, and be wound around the other. Of course, occasionally and inevitably, the tape would get "chewed up" in the tape machine when the gears malfunctioned. Hardcore tape heads were forever using pencils and the like to rewind crinkled, chewed-up tapes, in hope of getting at least some additional use out of them.)
The title song of Maiden's album"The Number of the Beast," is a rousing paean to the all-too-human urge to sell your soul to Mephistopheles for fun, profit and a chance at hitting the Scarlet Whore. Singer and heavy metal Hercules Bruce Dickinson, (who, unlike my aunt's boyfriend, is probably NOT alcoholic, and wasn't run over by a train, but occasionally flies a plane), intones in a sort of screeching, guttural, yet still British and weirdly elegant, vocal style, that "I feel drawn toward the chanting hordes" vibe. Furthermore, he elaborates that they "seem to mesmerize," and that, brother, he "can't avoid their eyes."
The video for this features Dickinson first bathed in light and shadow, as is guitarist Dave Murray, while the opening riff is strummed, and Dickinson sets the stage of the action before going full-tilt boogie and leapfrogging around the stage. Adorned, as it were, in some sort of leather spandex and a studded jerkin, the jerkin looks as if it were ripped off the back of a marauding vandal sometime around the year 753 AD.
Right here, then, is both the strength and weakness of this sort of heavy metal.
You see, unlike the drug-addled and testosterone-challenged "rock stars" of the modern age, the heavy metal heroes of Maiden and similar bands actually DON'T look as if they spend all their time shooting smack in a back alley between shots of vodka. They look as if, as Bruce Dickinson (who is generally regarded as a polymath with an extraordinarily well-developed cauliflower hiding under his headbanging hairdo) actually does: As if they could fly planes and race cars, fence, hang-glide, play a game of chess, or discuss a wide range of topics from the Bible to classic science fiction and supernatural horror. Much like the stellar stars of the later metal demimonde, Maiden were cool in a sort of healthy, winner-take-all way that modern doped "rock star" losers can't compete with.
HOWEVER, society has degenerated exponentially in the decades since Beast was released. Today, being an inveterate fuckup is actually seen, post-Nirvana, as a kind of mantel of honor. It is a rare repudiation of the Chad-like "white privilege" said to infect every single aspect of American society, from the hallowed halls of bourgeois academe to the Salvation Army slop buckets of so many shuffling, errant souls marooned in early twenty-first century limbo.
In other words, their health, wealth, vitality, intelligence and good looks are seen, by today's hard rocking horde, as positive detriments to their appeal. But, I digress.
The video of "Beast" features masked ballroom dancers holding out little "666" signs, a man in a Devilish carnival costume complete with pitchfork, and a giant puppet "Eddie the Head" on stilts or something. All of these big top props and weird Alice Cooperesque touches are not what this particular essay is about, though. The video also features, between shots of the band playing on some monstrous arena rock stage, clips from various gutter movies from ages past—the sort of B-Movie trash local horror hosts hosted for their stoner audience, usually while said audience was either afflicted with drunkenness, insomnia, or an irredeemable craving for fattening foods full of carbohydrates. (Names such as Indiana's classic horror host Sammy Terry, Zacherly, or even Elvira come to mind.)
These fright theater thespians would intone in sepulchral tones in front of painted TV studio graveyards, with billowing dry ice smoke in the background, and "host" the movies, in between ads for used car lots and cheap, gimmicky junk products that always cost $19.95, and had to be ordered "NOW!" because supplies were limited and going fast. (Also, vinyl record collections of lounge and country singers nobody ever heard of.)
I was intrigued so by this particular list of films, and why the director of Iron Maiden's video would choose them (maybe only because they were easy to access the rights to use?), that I decided, through the modern magic of high speed internet and video streaming sites, to track them all down, and watch them all. (Some of them, in point of fact, I had seen before.)
How to Make a Monster (1958)
The song "Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon" by the rockabilly punk band The Cramps, begins with the line "You better ask my momma how to make a monster." In this 1958 companion piece to the classic AIP films I Was a Teenage Werewolf (starring Michael Landon), and Teenage Frankenstein (starring Whit Bissel, whoever the hell he was), we are treated to the story of an aging, insane makeup man who is about to get canned from his job at the studio because "horror pictures are on the way out." Apparently, the studio execs feel musicals are the rave of the future, dad, so out you go! You, you—MONSTER MAKER!
At any rate, the mad makeup man develops a special base makeup that turns his Wolfman and Frankenstein actors (neither one of which is, noticeably, being played by Landon or Bissell) into slave-like killers that do his bidding. At the end, the pigs close in on him in his house, which is chock full of his monster creations. The whole place burns down and everybody dies. The end.
The Angry Red Planet (1959)
The classic image of the monstrous, giant rat-bat-spider thing with huge, glowing red bulbous eyes, was first seen by myself on the cover of a Misfits album (most specifically, 1982s Walk Among Us). An actual clip of the film it is from, 1959s The Angry Red Planet, is also used in Maiden's video. And with good reason: It's the best thing—actually, pretty much the only GOOD thing—from the entire film.
It's a great image in a kind of drecky, third-rung, space-exploration sci-fi snoozer about a crew that explores Mars. The captain, played by Gerald Mohr, is appropriately sleazy, and seems as if he should be down at the local Men's Mission pulling from a brown paper bag. He has the hots for his female second-in-command (whom he annoyingly refers to as "Irish"), and interacts with her in a manner that, today, would get him sued for sexual harassment. To round out the crew, we have a beefy guy with a ray gun that he strokes and calls "Cleo" (Jack Krucshen), and a professor nabbed from the reject pile of a Lost in Space casting call (Les Tremayne). The story is by Ib Melchior.
The crew lands. Mars has a red atmosphere, makes everything red, but otherwise space suites are not required. (Also, in defiance of the laws of Newtonian physics, rockets can go in reverse.) They fight the Rat Spider Bat, then retreat to the ship. It is controlled in a forcefield. They see a Martian city, fight a one-eyed blob, two crew members die, they go back to earth, a weird, extraterrestrial intelligence warns them to not make these incursions to Mars again...Eh, it's okay, I guess. Moving right along.
War of the Colossal Beast (1958)
A giant bald guy in a diaper goes on a rampage. He's grown to enormous, Godzilla-like proportions because he was exposed to an atomic blast (which, regularly, just gives you radiation sickness; which will render you bald, but not gigantic. Instead, your teeth just fall out, and you sicken and die.)
Not much different here from the original Amazing Colossal Man (in which Glen, the Colossal Man, played by actor Duncan Parkin, is injected by miniature army scientists with a giant-sized syringe), except that they capture Glen with some drugged food or something, chain him down, bring in his old lady to try and talk some sense into him. He gets a sort of skull face going, with half his skin ripped off, destroys a small Mexican car, rampages in Hollywood, and throws a school bus full of toddlers off near the same place Peg Entwistle took her final swan dive. The Big Oh, I've heard.
Cheech Marin, in It Came from Hollywood, opined that the worst thing about Colossal Man Glen would be if he got a case of the farts. "Chemical gas attack!" Bad movie—except for the image of the giant, diapered, skull-faced dude destroying model buildings on some ancient special effects tabletop city. We do kind of like THAT.
One Million Years BC (1966)
The Return of the Vampire (1943)
Someone on a forum was uncertain as to whether or not it was this, the ORIGINAL Godzilla movie, or 1964s Godzilla vs. Mothra, where Maiden borrowed video clips from; but, if it is the latter, I'm glad the original poster made the mistake, because this is far and away one of the best movies on this list, outside of Murnau's Nosferatu (1922).
Unlike the badly-dubbed 3 AM shlock-fests of my childhood, presenting guys in giant monster suits smashing toy cars and model cities to dust (movies on a par with Kung Fu flicks and giant bug pictures), this Godzilla ("Gojira") is actually rather bleak and apocalyptic; Gojira is a frightening, dark creature who, though we know he is merely sweeping aside toy trains and planes, pulverizing model apartment houses, actually comes off as...well, if not exactly frightening, he seems somewhat awe-inspiring, in spite of ourselves.
Godzilla is a creature born of American nuclear testing. (If you lived in Japan, in the years immediately following World War II, this fact probably weighed on your mind more heavily than if you were from, say, Saskatchewan.) Thus, born of science, it is to science that the Japanese must turn to destroy the giant dinosaur-like terror from the sea. To that end, eyepatch-wearing actor Akihiko Hatara invents a device that exterminates sea life beneath the ocean waves. The kicker is, is that, submerging himself to deliver the device personally and destroy Gojira, he intentionally commits an act of seppuku, destroying himself as well. Perhaps this is in protest to nuclear testing?
What follows is a sort of preachy speech against the evils of atomic warfare. On the whole, this is a very, very classic and excellent foreign monster film.
The Devil Rides Out (1967)
This devil fest is just perfect to excerpt for the "Beast" vid; it opens with a psychedelic montage of occult symbols. It features the recently deceased Christopher Lee as a psychic investigator chasing down the phantoms that have been conjured up by a young friend, who is dabbling in the occult, as a cultist. Lee and company rescue a young devotee at a Black Mass ceremony, wherein a horned Baphomet materializes before being exorcised in a puff of smoke. (In the "Beast" video, this is the scene behind the part of the song where the lyric is: "Satan's work is DONE! Six, six, six...the NUMBER OF THE BEAST!")
What follows is a series of black magic attacks between the cult, in hot pursuit of Lee and company, and a night wherein spirits or illusions are conjured, including the Death Angel, who must take a victim, any victim, if so called. At the risk of warning the unwary, if you don't like spiders, this part of the film might best be avoided.
Another good scene is the calling forth of a spirit or revenant that looks like a grinning Voodoo priest; who remains silent, but whose human features somehow make him more horrible than if he had been a grotesque image of the Devil himself. Two and a half pentagrams.
The Screaming Skull (1958)
Little longer than the average horror and suspense anthology show of the same era (maybe Thriller with Boris Karloff, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which is what this reminds me of), The Screaming Skull, while ostensibly born from the same pit of grade-b cinematic refuse as The Beast of Yucca Flats and The Amazing Colossal Man, still has the same sort of weird, unsettling and haunting power that sets some low budget horrors, such as Carnival of Souls, apart.
A woman (Actress Peggy Webber) and her new husband (Actor John Hudson) return to a house wherein the husband's first wife died in an accident, drowning in a pond or something. We are introduced to nosy neighbors, one of whom is a priest, as well as a mentally-impaired handyman cum gardener (Actor Alex Nicol), who looks as if he is the precursor to the Willie Loomis character in the original Dark Shadows.
The woman begins to be haunted by the image of the late wife, who stares from a portrait; shades of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, which was adapted by Hitchcock. She hears a weird, high pitched screaming or wailing. Going to her closet one night, she opens it up to see the image of a skull—the late wife's ghostly manifestation. Or, so she believes.
The woman, you see, has been formerly in a mental asylum, and believes she may be going mad. Again.
The final plot device here is rather hackneyed, but the film still retains that unsettling, haunting ambience, leaving you with a dislocated feeling after ward, as if you've had a little bit of a senseless, banal, yet still somehow frightening, fever dream.
The Crimson Ghost (1946)
A Republic serial, the indelible cultural icon of the lead villain, the "Crimson Ghost" (sort of sounds like a professional wrestler), has sold a million t-shirts for horror punk legends The Misfits. The hooded skull- faced criminal is so closely associated with that particular band that they've even written a song about their own mascot. How they ever secured the rights to use and market the image to begin with, I'll never know.
The original serial, over two hours of knock-down, drag-out, choreographed brawls, breakaway tables and chairs, absurd props, gun battles, car chases, explosions, and vehicles careening off of cliffs and out of the sky to seemingly fatal results (which always turn out, by the next chapter, to have NOT been so fatal, as the hero or heroine manages to escape their tragic fate right in the nick of time. This brings to mind Kathy Bates' protestation to such gimmicky plot devices in the film of Stephen King's Misery: "They just cheated us! It isn't fair. He didn't get out of the cock-a-doodie car!" But, I digress.), joined together by the comic book storyline.
That paper-thin plot revolves around the "Cyclotrode," a scientific device that looks like an electrical meter with a huge, dildo-shaped Tesla coil on top. The Cyclotrode explodes engines; it explodes cars, it destroys planes, trains and automobiles. Invaluable if you're a skull-faced criminal gang leader being paid by a "foreign power" to sabotage America. Or, something.
The ghost and his nattily-dressed 1940s gangster gang all hang out in his super secret comic book lair, which looks like some remote Midwestern dump house with a sagging porch. They kidnap Kenne Duncan, one of Ed Wood's stock actors (who appeared in Night of the Ghouls), who invented the Cyclotrode to begin with. (The film also stars TV's original Lone Ranger himself: Clayton Moore.) They put a special mind-control collar on him. This is an important plot device that will be used later on actress Linda Stirling, who plays Diana Farnsworth.
To foil the foreign plot, Duncan Richards (Charles Quigley), who is like a G-Man, or detective or something, races through twelve solid chapters of fist-pounding, spy-smashing, gang-busting fury, shooting and plotting and chasing all the baddies back to their hidden lair (which, again, looks suspiciously like some dumpy rural California house from 1946, with a sagging porch. But this is the "World Headquarters of the Crimson Ghost" himself.)
The end of the movie is rather Scooby Doo, with the unmasking of the Ghost to reveal that he is, in point of fact, someone very close to the hero. Over two and a half HOURS long, the film flies by like a souped-up Ford V8 hurtling over the edge of a canyon, right before the announcement of the title of next week's chapter. A solid four skulls for this one.
One final word about Kenne Duncan. According to Rudolph Grey's legendary tell-all Ed Wood biography, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr., the B-movie veteran was legendary for the endowment of a particular part of his, ah, anatomy; said endowment earning for him a rather ribald and vulgar nickname, comparing his oversized appendage to that of a horse. Also, Night of the Ghouls actress Valda Hansen found Duncan disturbing, as he occasionally whispered such sweet nothings as "I want to chew on your tits" in her ear, often causing her to shrink from him in disgust.
Duncan, for his part, was apparently consternated by this reaction.
"Such pretty flowers. Why did you have to kill them?"
Such is the phrase Ellen Hutter asks her husband (Gustav van Wagenheim) before he is to commence his journey to meet Count Graff Orlock, who is relocating to Wisborg. A foretaste, almost a mediumistic uttering of the prophetic events to come, Gustave follows the Dracula legend to the door of an Inn, wherein an Inn keep warns him not to visit Orlock's castle; not, most especially, on Walpurgisnacht; i.e. a night when witches and VAMPIRES are thought to walk the earth.
Like Johnathan Harker, of whom he was drawn for this adaptation, Hutter famously disobeys and goes anyway, being dropped off at the Borgo Pass until he is picked up by the Count's "chauffeur."
Driven to the castle at breakneck speed, he disembarks for his first view of Orlock, an intensely unsettling walking cadaver who is instantly sinister and frightening, giving off every repellent manifestation of menace. Hutter follows him in. Together they go over Orlock's plans to purchase a new property in Hutter's hometown.
Hutter wakes the next morning with two small bites on his throat. After a stroll across the grounds, in the daylight, writing to Ellen, he retires for the night. It is then he has his image of Orlock in his full, vampiric form, as NOSFERATU. Then follows the famous, iconic image of Shreck entering a gothic doorway, framed against it; his long arms dangling, his head only slightly askew, but the look in his eyes utterly dead, utterly thirsty for eternal...blood.
Later, Hutter goes below, into the castle's crypt, and finds Orlok sleeping in a coffin; Nosferatu. Orlock's gypsy servants fill boxes with the dirt of his native homeland, the dirt he must sleep in. Journeying to Wisborg aboard ship, with the thousands of rats he draws, like the Pied Piper, the Count is a metaphor for plague, for spiritual ill-health, for the encroaching death that promises an end to all our happy hours.
Mourning, Ellen writes to the disappeared Hutter, while sitting amid dunes and gravestone markers; crosses, jutting from the earth; watching, like a lonely figure from a painting, waiting for the ship to come in.
One certainly does, the Empusa, carrying the rat-like Count and his literal army of rats, bringing plague and pestilence in his wake. We see him carrying his coffins, comically almost, by daylight, to various resting places. Johnathan returns to Ellen, who is drawn, during trance-like sleepwalks, to scale the railing of a balcony by moonlight. In the nearby asylum of Dr. Sievers, the demented solicitor Knock, the man who sent Hutter on his quest to begin with, has been imprisoned for eating spiders and demanding blood. His lunatic ravings inform his warders that, "The Master is coming! The Master is coming!"
He indeed has already arrived. Watching from the bars of a window, he broods over Ellen. While Johnathan and a Dr. Bulwer (seen explaining to his medical students the workings of the carnivorous plants, such as a Venus flytrap) seek to halt the influence of the pestilence-carrying Count, the town erupts in a fever of fear, of Black Death, which seems to be stalking in their midst with earthly feet.
The final scenes see Orlock feasting, with mad, incoherent, idiot lust, at the gentle throat of the prostrate Ellen, before sunrise renders him the sort of magic dust that is blown away, in movie fantasies of long ago, in a cloud of billowing smoke. Fin.
And that, my friends, is the greatest vampire film ever made. And one of the very first.
And that is a rundown of the ten films used in Iron Maiden's classic video. Heavy metal and horror movies, sci-fi thrillers, and monstrous maniacs in masks; this is all of what went into making childhood great. Or, at the very least, bearable.
Now, I'm off to sell my soul. (Souls, by and large, "come very cheap these days," observed Doctor Anton LaVey. And he would know.) C'est la vie!
And now, to bring this article full circle.