Alice Cooper was a band, and a man, that originated in Phoenix (via Detroit) featuring Vincent Furnier (vocals), Glen Buxton & Michael Bruce (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). The group’s performances are some of the first examples of overtly theatrical rock, meant to shock and excite young audiences of the 70’s. Because of their antics and stage sets that included guillotine, live snakes, baby dolls, fake blood, spiders and an electric chair, the group was banned more than once in multiple countries. In 1974 after 7 albums and countless concert dates, the group took a hiatus. Furnier legally adopted the name Alice Cooper, and embarked on a long and fruitful solo career.
His first solo record, Welcome To My Nightmare (1975), is a concept album that takes a journey through the childhood nightmares of Steven, the central character. The album, though less gritty than prior works with the full Alice Cooper band, is a classic in the rock genre, spawning a television special, international tour, and concert movie of the same name. These concerts, and the film that captures them represent a milestone in the presentation of a rock concert as a theatrical experience.
The Welcome To My Nightmare concert film, taken from a performance at Wembley Pool in September 1975 (with added footage from Shepperton Studios) was produced, directed, and choreographed by David Winters. The movie had a limited run in 1976, at which time I saw the film at a local theater outside Los Angeles and was struck by the brilliant performance, along with the rapturous audience that night. It captures the fantastic theatrical production, complete with dancers depicting skeletons, spiders, and other characters, and featuring narration by Vincent Price. In one segment Cooper decapitates and kills an 8-foot-tall Cyclops, in another he battles with giant spiders, and throughout he plays the lead showman, rocking the crowd, and even dancing in a chorus line, clad in a white tuxedo, recalling elements of Vaudeville. One of the most unique and striking set pieces of the show, designed for the song “Escape” features Cooper and four dancers appearing onto the stage by leaping out of a movie screen, and then dancing in and out of the ongoing film. The concert ends with a series of tracks that better feature his band, which includes Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter (Guitars) and Whitey Glan (Drums).
Of the many rock bands in the 70’s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. Sets and costume designs, some created by Disney studios combined to create a stunning evening of macabre entertainment.
Of their place in history, Cooper sums it up best in the documentary interview: “From the very inception of Alice Cooper [the idea] was, there are so many rock heroes, we need a rock villain. I want to be the rock villain. I want to be the personified Captain Hook of rock. I don’t want to be Peter Pan. But I wanted Alice to also … have a sense of humor. I enjoyed playing the heavy… a bizarre vaudevillian character.” Later, he adds, “We couldn’t go on stage and do a straight rock n roll show – we had to do it theatrically.” With many number one hits, awards, and a place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Alice Cooper hit those marks and sustained a long and successful career in music.
Though the film is a bit dark, it is of high enough quality to be enjoyable, and does capture this show for posterity. The 1999 Rhino Entertainment DVD release, clocking in at 109 minutes, includes an interview and commentary track with Cooper, and a few other extras. Also of note, there is a television special called Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975) that preceded this film, and is itself heralded as an early example of long form video, featuring the entire album plus an additional track, and appearances by Vincent Price. The show won a Grammy award for Best Music Video, Long Form in 1984. While it was released on home video, it has not been issued on DVD. Instead, the best way to see what the commotion and controversy was all about back in 1975 is the Welcome To My Nightmare film.
For those interested in more on Alice Cooper, the band, and the man, consider picking up the brilliant documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014) which is every bit as artfully presented as his unique stage shows. It provides deep insight into the madness that created the Alice Cooper character, a persona that almost killed the man.
Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
Executive Producer Willam Silberkleit
Producer, Director & Choreographer David Winters
Set Designer Jim Newton, Costume Designer Casey Spencer, Special Costumes Jack Shaften, Make-up Delores Wells.
© Copyright 1976 by Tommy-J Productions
Photos@Michael Ochs Archives/Venice, CA
Program @Rhino Entertainment Inc. (1999)
The players (cast) included:
Dick Wagner (guitar)
Steve Hunter (Guitar)
Whitey Glan (Drums)
Vincent Price (Spider Voice)
Sheryl G. Goddaard (Ethyl)
Robyn Blythe (Bat Woman)
Eugene Montoya (Voodoo Man)
Uchi Sugiyama (Frog Man)