When it comes to the post-60s, pre-punk rock era, the band Alice Cooper changed the music industry forever. And not surprisingly, Alice Cooper’s TV special is an interesting relic of that time.
Releasing their first 3 albums on Frank Zappa’s record label, they were known for their wild theatrics on stage. Guillotines, electric chairs, and legend has it they took their name from an Ouija Board séance. And this supposedly conjured up a centuries old witch that the lead singer, Vincent Furnier, happened to be the reincarnation of.
Embracing this outlandish alter ego, Furnier became Alice Cooper and continued to push the boundaries of censorship with live horror shows. After great success and extensive touring, the original line-up went their separate ways with Cooper continuing on as the father of shock rock. Backed by most of Lou Reed’s band, he released his first solo project in 1975.
Welcome To My Nightmare was a concept album traveling through the nightmares of a boy named Steven. The album’s success spawned a worldwide tour, concert film, and the Alice Cooper TV special, The Nightmare.
A Nocturnal Vacation
After splitting with his band, Cooper began having strange and vivid dreams. He started sleeping with a tape-recorder next to his bed in an attempt to capture details. Planning to incorporate these nocturnal visions into a screenplay about a killer who hunts his victims while they are dreaming. What manifested was a tribute to Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout. The genesis of a character that Cooper would revisit several times through his career. A warped inner child named Steven, terrorized by his own demons in a nightmare.
Taking heavy inspiration from vaudeville and the loopy visions of hell in the 1941 musical, Hellzapoppin’, the singer wanted to bring his stage shows to television. The Alice Cooper TV special “The Nightmare” was created for ABC as an accompaniment to his solo album. More than an innovative marketing scheme, it was a combination of early music videos and variety showcases.
Here you can see the first 20+ minutes.
Appearing in The Nightmare as his stage persona’s alter ego, Cooper is Steven. Writhing in the cold sweat of a gothic chamber that could belong to Edgar Allen Poe. Becoming an astral body bathed in blue light, Cooper steps out of himself. Serenading the shadows of dancing bats in the corners of his bedroom.
Overseeing the display is our narrator, appearing in flowing silk robes like a late-night horror host. “The Spirit of the Nightmare” as portrayed by the iconic Vincent Price. The pair had been introduced on the set of Journey Into Fear in 1974. Developing a collaborative friendship, Price had performed a monologue on Welcome To my Nightmare. A classic narration bridging “Devil’s Food” and “The Black Widow”, it remained a hidden track. Though originally titled, “Jolly MacAbre, Tour Guide at the Pasadena Palace of Insects”. With extensive theatrics, the two had a natural dynamic of campy horror.
In the Alice Cooper TV special, Vincent Price was pulling the strings. Encouraging the dreamer to get carried away with their imagination. The Steven character initially tries to conjure women into his fantasy, imagining his body laid out as a banquet for the ladies. Instead finding himself hanging from a dungeon wall as 2 witches prepare him for dinner. A cannibal anthem of intimacy and vulnerability, Cooper sings “I am devil’s food!” as he is lowered into a cauldron.
The Spirit of the Nightmare appears as a confronting interlude to songs. Reminding Steven that he is at his mercy, his soul technically being leased out. Enthusiastic to participate, he rises to The Spirit’s challenge as a troupe of blacklight skeletons appear in spats and top hats. Steven himself now dons white coattails in a cabaret number about vice and perversion. A Bob Fosse danse macabre that Danny Elfman could only dream of. The set will suddenly shift to blood-soaked shadows as Cooper delivers a ballad of sour love. Ripping jewelry from mannequins as a visage of female death undulates in a fog. The hall of red figures cools when Steven opens a freezer coffin to the corpse of a showgirl. She rises from her tomb as Steven professes his love of her post-mortem embrace.
The Spirit will continue to lead the audience through the Alice Cooper tv special on a leash. The show would go beyond absurd with Cooper rolling on the floor with dancers as sequined spiders. Swinging from giant rope webs that will transition into a thread bare carousel. Our dreamer becomes the demented little boy surrounded by broken toys. Staggering around faded streamers and halls of mirrors in a straight jacket. Faceless figures reaching out like a roadside haunt attraction.
Cooper had welcomed the audience into his nightmare and for network television in the mid70s, it really did feel like a mental breakdown. Unable to distinguish between waking life and the dream world, Steven is chased through a smoky realm of candelabras by a cyclops in the finale, “Escape”. A hysterical man fit on stage finally wakes the character from his nightmare. In a wash of relief, Steven drifts back to sleep as the signature cackle of Vincent Price echoes in the background.
Sweat & Laugh & Scream Here
The Nightmare would win an Emmy in 1976 for Outstanding Achievement in Videotape Editing for a Special. The concert tour following the album and TV special would be essentially the same. In 1975 the London performance was recorded and released theatrically as the concert film, Welcome to My Nightmare.
A sequel, Welcome 2 My Nightmare was released in 2011. Continuing the story of Cooper’s character Steven, it reunited the original line up of the Alice Cooper band.
In several interviews, Alice Cooper has reiterated his love of monsters and horror movies, striving for over four decades to contribute to the genre with his own twisted sense of humor.
From cameos in slashers, to directing shorts, and choreographing mock executions, the shock rocker has rightfully earned his place in horror.
Last Updated on March 11, 2022.