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Break Yo’ TV: Misfits – “American Psycho”

on September 16, 2010, 4:28pm

Back in the days of 80s hardcore, the Misfits were a band that was a force to be reckoned with. I understand the cliché of that overused and completely stupid phrase, but you really did not want to fuck with Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, and whatever drummer had signed up for a one-way ticket to hell. The band reflected the B-horror-movie genre with their makeup, hairstyle (the devilock), and large New Jersey physique. It personified who they were as a band, and the Misfits were a pretty low-budget band. They toured on no money (since it was punk law number one) to the extent that at one point in their career, front man Glenn Danzig kicked their drummer out because he wanted two McDonald’s cheeseburgers but finances  allowed him only one. They also made cheesy horror movie stage props and costumes that were reminiscent of the movies they idolized. They were, in our eyes, the most evil fucking band on the planet.

So, years later, when MTV viewers suddenly saw the Misfits emerge from coffins in a dark castle…people no longer viewed them as scary but more as some sort of funny comic book.

The original Misfits history ends darkly with basically all members, except for brothers Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein and Jerry Only (born Paul and Gerald Caiafa), hating each other. Danzig went crazy and started satanic metal projects Samhain and the legendary Danzig, and Only and Doyle kind of just did their thing until they reformed the Misfits in the mid-nineties with new drummer, Dr. Chud, and new singer, Michael Graves. This is where everything took a dramatic turn. In their heyday, the Misfits were a dark band; hence so many metal bands cite them as an influence. My friends and I often talked about Danzig being the most evil man ever, but his replacement, Michael Graves, did not fit the shoes of the Elvis-like demon. In terms of Halloween, the Misfits’ favorite holiday, Michael Graves was the friendly Dad dressed up and handing candy out at the door, while Danzig was the murderer hiding in the bushes and praying on lost teenagers. The music video for “American Psycho” explains that.

The Misfits always named their tracks after horror movies (“Night of the Living Dead”, “American Nightmare”, etc.), but American Psycho isn’t that kind of horror movie. It’s more psychological and plays with the perception of office jocks in modern-day society within the narrative, while the Misfits just wrote about blood and gore over some sweet-sounding chords. This video even sets Bret Easton Ellis’s book back a bit, and it hurts me to say that about a book containing the phrase “Die Yuppie Scum.”

The presentation begins by fading in on the cover of American Psycho coming to life. A cartoon-like skeleton, yet in raw, human form, makes his way through a castle plastered with bits of neon green paint and obscenely blue lighting while the creepy intro (entitled “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”) plays out. Skeletor sets down his candles and begins to play along on his massive and dusty pipe organ, which is not on the original track. Lightning keeps flashing, candles are burning, and suddenly the covers to four coffins (each with the name of a band member) FLY off. And just when things couldn’t get any spookier, all the members’ eyes open in a very Dr. Caligari-style shot. At this point, you know these undead punk rockers are going to shred, and shred they do.

After a dully slow and menacing walk towards the camera, the band busts into their “Whoooooaaaaaa” introduction, and the next two minutes of your life will never be returned to you. Obviously, there is a lot of (fake) live footage to show the crowd amped up on the fact that…THE MISFITS ARE BACK! But the Misfits are not back, just redone. Only and Doyle still look exactly like they did in 1983 when we last saw them. They’re still huge, they still have enormous devilocks and their big, black instruments look as deadly as ever. Dr. Chud looks like the captain of my high-school football team and not the drummer for a band who sings about aliens artificially inseminating girls, but his presence seems arbitrary.

It’s Michael Graves who really brings this video to a whole other level. He dances around with his greasy hair and top hat, completely done up to look like the skeleton. To draw a more accurate comparison, he looks like the singer of the house band in the Disney movie Hocus Pocus but on crack and not posing for small children. Later it would be discovered that Michael Graves actually looks just like Brendan Fraser and not anything as scary as Danzig, therefore ruining the gimmick. At the same time, however, there are clips infused with the live footage of Graves dressed in a broken straight-jacket, belting out the lyrics from within his asylum cell. There is not one moment in the video where he’s not present. Despite that, we don’t get much of a personal image of him. The clips within the video are so shaky, so quick, and so sloppily edited that it’s just a horror-punk roller coaster ride with no structure to it. By the end of the video, we have seen nothing more than cheesy horror clips, the new Misfits lip-syncing, and a singer in an asylum. I guess that’s all one can see when looking into the eyes of a psycho.

Now, I am not one to knock on the Graves-era Misfits. At one point, I had his solo album (his band was called Graves, like Danzig), and I still own all three records he sang on (including the rarities collection, Cuts from the Crypt, which sucks), and I even will go out on a limb and say some of the songs made during this period of time were not half bad (any Misfits fan would sing “Dig Up Her Bones” if it came on a stereo). But, this was not the same band anymore. The video for “American Psycho” was merely a vehicle to introduce the world to the new singer, who was all tricks and treats, as opposed to pure concentrated evil. This was capitalistic bullshit that I obviously bought into because of the Misfits name. Jerry Only might have been the backbone of the original lineup, but Danzig was the fucking head (or skull), and now he’d been replaced by some outlandish Beetlejuice offshoot. I may love the Misfits, but as far as I’m concerned, the band that I truly love never made this music video. Michael Graves did.

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