BUG Special - Video Nasties

Welcome to a very special edition of BUG, the BFI’s regular strand for all things music video-related, with a show designed to send a shiver down the spine, chill the blood, and even leave you screaming in sheer terror…

Well, perhaps we won’t be going that far. But this is certainly Video Nasties, a celebration of some of the best music videos that embrace the concept of Horror in various forms. This show has been curated as part of In Dreams Are Monsters – a season of horror masterpieces running this month at BFI Southbank, reflecting the broad-church interpretation of what can be included in the genre. Following that lead, our show delivers chills and shocks and a few laughs too, from a mix of the less-familiar with well-known classics – and many monsters, in a wide variety of forms. Above all, lots of sheer originality from some extraordinarily talented directors working in the music video medium – and Adam Buxton will be holding it all together with some classic gems of his own.

We begin with a video from the most appropriately named band of the night, by the only director with more than one video in our show. Chris Cunningham was at the height of his fame and powers in 2006 when he collaborated with The Horrors on the short sharp shock that is Sheena Is a Parasite, casting a young actor named Samantha Morton to play the eponymous Sheena, whose viscera-spattering transformations echo reality – the true horror of epileptic seizures.

Our next monster is rather more benign, being the creation of Californian-based painter, sculptor and animator Allison Schulnik, for her short film Forest – which became the video for Grizzly Bear’s Ready Able in 2009. Bringing to life the haunting creatures that populate her artworks, Schulnik employed a more sophisticated form of what is popularly known as ‘Claymation’, to create an amorphous creature of the forest, separated from its partner, amid strange manifestations of plant and animal life – all made possible by Schulnik’s bold and visceral use of plasticine and oil paint.

One of the most chilling works being shown tonight is the video for Cut the World for the artist then known as Antony & Johnsons (and now Anohni), directed by American director Nabil Elderkin, who developed the idea with the artist. This also has top acting talent in situ – Willem Dafoe and Carice van Houten as a corporate CEO and his PA respectively, plus a momentary appearance by artist Marina Abramovic – in a scenario that initially appears utterly serene, but then shattered by explosive violence (that might be regarded as a revolutionary act).

In 2015, the British directing duo of Alex Mavor and Ed Kaye – aka The Sacred Egg – were inspired by the stately and orchestral sound of ex-Air member Nicolas Godin’s Widerstehe Doch der Sünde (which translates as ‘Stay Away from Sin’) to bring a horror trope to the beach and create… zombie surfers. Filmed on the coast of Cape Town, Mavor and Kaye created some delicious imagery, with the help of DoP Ben Todd – surfing action with an ingenious visual twist, indulging us to enjoy the convincing evidence of our own eyes – that zombies really can surf.

Back in the late Noughties a series of videos by the Belgian commercials director Joe Vanhoutteghem were released for the Antwerp alt-rock band The Hickey Underworld that mined a very particular strain of the bizarre. None more so than the extraordinary video for Blonde Fire, in which Vanhoutteghem riffs upon the Frankenstein story and other tales of reanimation, but also takes the idea of recycling of rubbish and organic matter down a wormhole of Hell. Brilliantly shot by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, the video was filmed close to an abattoir – for reasons that will become obvious.

Having made a succession of classic music videos in the 1990s, for the likes of the Beastie Boys, Bjork, Weezer and Fatboy Slim, and then heading for Hollywood to direct Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Spike Jonze returned to music videos in 2004 with the strange and unsettling video for then-girlfriend Karen O’s band The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, in which the band perform their song Y Control in a dank basement among a gang of creepy, possibly undead children. Jonze creates a lurking sense of foreboding horror with the video’s distinctive murky look, but this is leavened by his quirky, anarchic humour. In fact, Jonze insisted after the video was released that he was aiming for comedy, but a level of spontaneity on the shoot ended up contributing to the shock value.

More recently the British director Matilda Finn has become renowned for a directing style that puts a contemporary twist on the classic Gothic sensibility – most recently for the visual campaign accompanying The Weeknd’s new album Dawn FM. Before that she turned the dancefloor into a crucible of terror for French DJ Brodinski’s Master Section, featuring the outlandish vocals of Zelooperz. In the video, inspired by the nightclub scenes in Hype Williams debut feature Belly, with a twist of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, a tweaked-out, earphone-wearing Mr Big descends from the VIP section to join the party, stop everyone in his tracks, and command his security to bring him a terrified partner to indulge his gruesome predilection.

It’s customary for a BUG show to have a contribution from Radiohead, or another musical project featuring Thom Yorke, and Video Nasties is no exception. In this case, the video for Radiohead’s There There, from 2003, the monster is Yorke himself, who enters a forest populated by animated woodland creatures, with evil intent. This was the first video by Bristol-based stop-motion animator Chris Hopewell, who was influenced by the work of Victorian photography of anthropomorphised furry animals, Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, and classic 70s children’s TV show Bagpuss, to create a memorably gripping version of a Grimm fairy tale. Hopewell has gone on to work with the band more recently, putting The Wicker Man through the lens of classic kids TV for Burn The Witch.

Arguably our most ludicrous monster of this evening’s presentation pops up in French director Emile Sornin’s video for The Shoes’ 1960s Horror, featuring Dominic Lord – a 100ft tall chicken, who flattens a major metropolis in the time-honoured fashion of a well-known Japanese radioactive dinosaur. The rampant Chicken-zilla is actually taking sweet revenge upon Mankind with good reason – the creature is the result of the ever-more industrialised and corrupted food processing of poultry. The real grisly horror here is what happens before we get to the fun stuff with Chicken-zilla.

Philadelphia rapper Tierra Whack has become renowned for her idiosyncratic take on the world – certainly in 2018’s Whack’s World, a collection of one-minute songs accompanied by an eccentric short film. She followed that with a distinctive comic horror for Unemployed, directed by Cat Solen, in which she plays a hard-pressed chef, striking terror into the potato community. But it turns out that the real monsters are Tierra’s employers…

Finally, our second Chris Cunningham video of the evening is a bona fide classic. In fact it is the video that brought Cunningham out of relative obscurity and began a period of extraordinarily prolific creativity, a canon of work including some of the best music videos ever made. It’s also where his collaboration started with Richard E James, aka Aphex Twin. We are talking about Come to Daddy of course – here being shown in the full Director’s Cut version. It is worth mentioning that before this, Cunningham had made several videos; but apart from his first for Autechre (made on spec) in 1995, none had really drawn heavily upon his background as both comic book artist and creature FX maker – he had worked on the original Judge Dredd movie, and for Stanley Kubrick, in the development of the movie A.I. But the impact of Come to Daddy – made in 1997 on a budget of around £20,000 – came from its incredibly powerful set-pieces, achieved primarily through a combination of excellent casting with brilliantly effective prosthetics. Cunningham has also asserted that Come to Daddy is essentially a comedy – with a happy ending, as a whole family of monsters gather together. Ultimately it is pretty
much perfect.

BUG title sequence
Director: Miland Suman

The Horrors – Sheena Is a Parasite
Dir: Chris Cunningham
Prod co: Black Dog Films
Rec co: Polydor
UK 2006

Grizzly Bear – Ready Able
Dir: Allison Schulnik
Prod co: n/a
Rec co: Warp
US 2009

Antony & The Johnsons – Cut the World
Dir: Nabil Elderkin
Prod co: Academy Films
Rec co: Secretly Canadian, Rebis Music
US/UK 2012

Nicolas Godin – Widerstehe Doch der Sünde
Dir: The Sacred Egg
Prod co: Riff Raff Films
Rec co: Because
UK/France 2015

The Hickey Underworld – Blonde Fire
Dir: Joe Vanhoutteghem
Prod co: Czar Film
Belgium 2009

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Y Control
Dir: Spike Jonze
Prod co: Satellite Films
Rec co: RCA Records
US 2004

Brodinski ft Zelooperz – Master Section
Dir: Matilda Finn
Prod co: Stink Films
Rec co: Parlophone, Owsla
UK/France 2020

Radiohead – There There
Dir: Chris Hopewell
Prod co: Collision Films
Rec co: Parlophone
UK 2003

The Shoes ft Dominic Lord – 1960s Horror
Dir: Emile Sornin
Prod co: Division
Rec co: Labelgum
France 2016

Tierra Whack – Unemployed
Dir: Cat Solen
Prod co: Artery Industries
Rec co: Interscope
US 2019

Aphex Twin – Come to Daddy
Dir: Chris Cunningham
Prod co: Black Dog Films
Rec co: Warp
UK 1997

Hosted by: Adam Buxton

With thanks to: BFI Southbank
Post-production by: LEAP
Design Creative by: Limited Edition Design
Website by: Fabrik
Event Management by: Ballistic Events

Chris Blakeston, Stuart Brown, David Knight, Louise Stevens, Miland Suman, Phil Tidy

For general information about BUG, contact Louise Stevens

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email