When I was a kid, there was nothing cooler in the world than the punk rock scene. As an adolescent girl in suburbia, it was a foreign culture that seemed so rich, vibrant, and passionate…ok, angry. And while most of my middle school was grooving to New Kids on the Block and Color Me Badd, I was enchanted with Dead Boys and The Germs. I knew nothing of what they were singing about. Hell, I doubt I even understand most of the lyrics, but there was something so dangerous about it all.
And my punk fascination all stems from one horror movie- 1985s THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. This movie was exactly what I wanted as an adolescent- peril, scares, gore, a group of characters who embody an exciting youth culture, and humor. Throughout the years, my obsession with punk music, film, and portrayals in horror has persisted. So here are 5 fucking terrific punk rock horror movies. Whether you find these horror depictions to be realistically accurate or not, to quote Richard Hell, “It’s fascinating to observe what the mirror does”.
LIQUID SKY (1982)
This title will likely require some digging to find a copy, but for esoteric genre lovers it is worth the hunt. A model navigates the early 80s NYC art scene while an alien species follows her, killing her lovers at the moment of orgasm to extract a heroin-like chemical from their brains (yes, also the back story to I COME IN PEACE). And the main model (Anne Carlisle), also plays her own rival modal in a feat of dual roles. This one is weird, beautiful, and stylish. Plus, the film features Paula Sheppard who was adorable in ALICE, SWEET, ALICE, but in LIQUID SKY is starkly coarse, yet alluring, as she sings about her “rhythm box”.
An anthropologist who studies nomadic cultures becomes captivated by a gang of street punks who travel around town in a black van. As he begins to follow and document them, he realizes that they are not just your average gutter punks.
THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)
Directed by gritty punk rock staple Abel Ferrara, THE DRILLER KILLER examines the life of a struggling artist named Reno (played by Ferrara). His art is going nowhere, his girlfriend has lost interest, and a pounding “no wave” band has moved in next door and is endlessly playing. Reno comes to the next logical conclusion and starts murdering random annoying New Yorkers with a cordless power drill.
The movie establishes itself as extreme from the start as it opens with a black title card stating “This film should be played LOUD”.
While our main protagonist in the film is not really a “punk” exactly, the style and tone of MANIAC places it firmly the punk rock category. In what has been called an act of guerilla filmmaking, director Bill Lustig tracks a disturbed serial killer through the desolate landscape of early 1980s New York City.
DR. CALIGARI (1989)
Uh, this one is not for everyone…. it’s not even for a small grouping. But for a miniscule percentage, DR. CALIGARI is a wonderful and fascinating punk film. Created by porn director, Rinse Dream, the movie (which is not porn but close) is a sequel to the 1920 horror classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. This one centers on Caligari’s granddaughter who treats sex addicts. It’s beyond outlandish. The language is disjointed, the sets are meticulously fabricated and overpowering, and the plot is a peculiar exercise in “stream of consciousness”. But it’s all absolutely hypnotic.