Welcome to My Nightmare – Special Edition
Eagle Rock Entertainment, 145 mins., $15.98
The career stakes were pretty high for Alice Cooper in 1975. He had just parted ways with the four musicians with whom he’d scored a perverse notoriety with a parent-baiting image and hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out,” “Under My Wheels” and the massively successful Billion Dollar Babies album and tour. There was also something of a minor identity crisis when “Alice Cooper” – originally the name of the entire band – slowly became the accepted moniker of its lead singer.
Always wanting to meld hard rock with a more theatrical presentation, Cooper and manager Shep “Supermensch” Gordon then plotted an ambitious trifecta for Cooper’s solo debut: the Welcome to My Nightmare concept album, network TV special and a concert tour unlike any seen to date.
The tour and concert film set list blended tracks from Nightmare with some of Cooper’s most recognizable material. He and his band – including crack guitarists Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter – blast through the set as Cooper cavorts with dancing skeletons, faceless apparitions, giant spiders and a hugely tall Cyclops.
A then-cutting-edge “green screen” also allowed Cooper to jump in and out of filmed segments. This ensuing concert film — first up on this DVD — featured 15 numbers, and has over the years become Cooper’s most recognizable video footage.
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But it’s the second piece here that is of real interest, making its DVD debut after only being available briefly on VHS in the early ’80s. Originally broadcast on ABC television in the scary-late hour of 11:30 p.m., The Nightmare is essentially a filmed “video album” of each of the record’s
Cooper – in his role as the child “Steven” from the album – is guided through a series of, well, nightmarish scenarios by none other than scene-chewing horror movie icon Vincent Price as “The Spirit of the Nightmare,” and he puts the singer through the horror wringer.
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That might be being lowered into a boiling vat by witches in “Devil’s Food,” avoiding being eaten by two comely spiders in “The Black Widow,” dancing around his necrophiliac love in “Cold Ethyl,” or trying to free himself from a straitjacket in “Ballad of Dwight Fry.” Many of the tour film’s creatures make repeat or amplified appearances here.
There’s even some winking humor for “Department of Youth,” as the black-clad and mascara-dripping Cooper is superimposed over his own press clippings, photos from real childhood and a teen magazine in which he shares the cover with…Donny Osmond (also name-checked in the song). Throughout the show, Cooper lip-synchs to a version of the album recorded just for the special.
Sure, some of the effects, costumes and sets look primitive today, but it must have been one of the freakiest things on television 42 years ago and cutting-edge for the time. My own teenage daughter was transfixed through a good chunk of it.
“Nightmares aren’t from indigestion or tension or discomfort. They come from the blackness of our mind,” Price tells Cooper with cackling glee. Cooper's fans will shout with similar approval that this long-lost part of the Not-So-Mr.-Nice-Guy’s