Punk Rock Holocaust in the Syllabus of the New York University “Punk Cinema” course

That’s right, Punk Rock Holocaust is recommended viewing in the Syllabus of the NYU “Punk Cinema” course.  Back in Fall 2008, Punk Rock Holocaust fan and friend Zac Amico (and director of the upcoming “Mickey Maniac”) did a Sequence Analysis as one of his projects for the course, check it out below!

Punk Rock Holocaust
“Meanwhile, in the moshpit”
Starting at 1:08:20

In the sequence, the masked killer comes up upon an unsuspecting group of dancing youth with violent intentions, and using a samurai sword from Satan begins a zombie infestation in the pit that takes over the entire crowd. That might be the best sentence that ever started a formal analysis of a film in an academic setting. The movie, which was filmed throughout the Warped Tour over a summer, frequently uses crowd footage, and in this case a crowd genocide, where a massive group of concert goers are laying on the ground covered in blood writhing, as if the killer annihilated an entire city’s scene. The sequence itself cuts between crowd footage and footage of a smaller crowd that is obviously in a parking lot for the zombie footage.

Director Doug Sakmann, prior to making this film, was the head of production for Troma Films, even directing segments for their UK television show, Troma’s Edge TV. And the Troma influence shows up throughout Punk Rock Holocaust, especially in scenes such as this one. What Troma and subsequently Doug do not have (money, experienced crew, etc) they make up for with the spirit of complete defiance to convention. This film looks like punk rock sounds, raw and over the top. Instead of having a zombie bite three people, this scene has numerous zombies eating a crowd of people, culminating in a pile of writhing bodies covered in makeshift blood and gore. In classic Troma style, this movie relies on quantity over quality. It could look a lot better, the sound is atrocious, and the acting is practically non existent, but who can argue with 110 on screen kills? Just like the original credo of punk rock, this movie is all about doing it yourself with what you have available to the most extreme point you can.

From the zombie apocalypse set up, the film uses a comic book style transition (note the use of comic books and comic imagery in movies like Smithereens and The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle, both of which are mainstays of punk cinema), to go to the heroine finding out about the killer on the internet, a simple shot of her on her laptop reading about what happened. As in most Punk Cinema, and especially in horror, the means of the plot are really 2nd priority, it’s what happens that matters, so this throw away kind of reveal doesn’t particularly harm the plot. If you’re still watching at this point, that’s certainly the least of your worries. She reads a fake Rolling Stone article that basically explains the entire plot of the movie and how the killer got his powers. The text on screen, when paused, actually reads “In this candid interview Belial(the Devil) the head of Mega Records (the record company that the Devil owns) talks candidly about his life, his career, a band called Brutal Enigma and mentions a Zombie Sword for no apparent reason.” Its this mocking of the movie’s own plot, in a self referential twist, that’s so “punk” about the scene, it knows its ridiculous and makes no apologies. Belial, as a side note, is played by Lloyd Kaufman, head of Troma Films, who are punk cinema legends.

As far as the aesthetics of the sequence is confirmed, it looks and sounds awful by Hollywood standards. There’s a loud hiss under all dialogue, some of which is barely audible when it’s not terrible ADR’d. The shots are simple, lots of two shots and close ups to prevent having to light big areas. Subjects are frequently smack dab in the middle of the shot, focusing on what’s actually occurring on screen. Content is definitely the focus of the camera’s lens. It’s not about why anything’s happening or how we view it occurring, it’s completely about what is going on.

At the next scene, the head of security uses a Walkie Talkie to say, “It’s a go, Asbury Park Convention Center.” We then cut to footage of the convention center, where the zombies supposedly were (the footage itself did not occur at this venue), being destroyed. Actually, the Center actually was being demolished and when it was captured on film that was written into the plot. So the government supposedly comes in and destroys the entire convention center rather than deal with the teenage zombies, leaving all the punks for dead. In a very obvious reference to Return of The Living Dead (arguably the most influential film on the Deathrock and Horrorpunk subcultures) the head of security reads the coordinates of the site of the bombing in a mimic of
the end of that film.

So other than it being in the title of the film, what makes this sequence “punk?” Well, for starters, the supposed crowd is all dressed to depress in their Saturday night best (that rhyme scheme was somewhat unintentional). It features a death by spiked bracelet, an accessory common in punk, especially the commercialized punk of the Warped Tour. The movie being at the Warped Tour, one of the most popular festivals in America, seems to make it less punk so to speak, as it features many pop bands who were well known at the time such as Simple Plan and The Used, however what’s more punk than killing the supposed sell outs? In fact, the entire notion of killing your idols to make room for the new is a theme in many punk movements and pieces, and the fact that its later revealed that the killer is a jilted front man from a synthpop band makes it even more self referential and humorous. This movie certainly doesn’t take itself seriously plot wise, but the movie itself is most definitively passionately made and produced, as the organization of so many deaths is incredible. Not only that, but like in punk, it promotes the use of everyone as opposed to a talented few, as many non-actors are featured speaking roles in the movie, and the entire Warped Tour Staff plays themselves. The “punk” nature of the film lies solely in the passion in which it was made, its love for horror as a genre bleeds through every scene into the viewers eyes. No one can argue that, as in any ideal punk situation, it took a community effort to put this scene together. Every single dead body is someone who is passionate about horror movies and about punk rock, or else they wouldn’t be covered in fake blood under the hot sun. It’s the sense of community in punk, and this film, that gives it life and embodies so much excitement and passion in its fans.

~ by dougsakmann on February 1, 2010.

One Response to “Punk Rock Holocaust in the Syllabus of the New York University “Punk Cinema” course”

  1. […] cult following and critical acclaim, the original Punk Rock Holocaust is a featured film in the Syllabus of the New York University “Punk Cinema” course and the horror series was even featured in a retrospective at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in […]

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