Pour one out for Halloween 2020. COVID and bad weather left the spookiest night of the year on the bench last October. Lonesome jack-o’-lanterns sat unadmired by trick-or-treaters, costumes stayed on hangers, and parties were canceled at the last minute under the strain of unseasonable precipitation and the threat of a damn plague.
But good news for 2021! On 10/31, we don’t have to turn to candy and scary movies for consolation: Halloween’s on. Light up those pumpkins. Leave the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups out in a bowl. (Save a few for yourself.) Throw on your Sexy Squid Game outfit. Put on a good old-fashioned horror film, and if you’re hosting a party, get your playlist in order, or even better, ditch the playlist entirely; let the Misfits handle the tunes.
Back in 1982, in Lodi, New Jersey, Glenn Danzig, Doyle, Jerry Only, and Arthur Googy came together as the Misfits under the roofs of a handful of different studios and recorded their first record, Walk Among Us. 24:38 of punk rock tinged by chills, thrills, creeps, and other various elements that at the time weren’t associated with the punk aesthetic. In the years before Walk Among Us (BWAU), punk’s sound was best described as abandoned and anarchic. In the years after, punk bands that followed Misfits’ example produced music with gothic influences and with either an obvious fascination with, or fixation on, all things macabre. Forget politics. Let’s write songs about werewolves, vampires, and zombies instead.
To the ear, horror punk is all shock and no substance. But if that’s what your ears tell you, then you’re probably not a big horror fan, either. Even trashy films with no surface-level value have messages to send us as long as you’re willing to listen. In the case of Walk Among Us, the Misfits made a punkish catch basin for all America’s fears, performing the same service horror does by reflecting the cultural anxieties of its day instead of editorializing about them.
At Halloween, though, you’re looking for music to set the mood and not to foster communal bonds between you and your fellow man. Walk Among Us sets the mood. You won’t learn a single blessed thing about the brotherhood of man, but you will burn mental energy picturing Vampira’s waistline or thinking about George A. Romero. That’s what you want from a Halloween playlist.
Could you put together a mix on Spotify or iTunes? Sure. You could do that. You could play “Thriller,” or Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” or “A Nightmare on My Street.” You could spin “Psycho Killer,” or “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” or “Werewolves of London.” These are all classic songs for a Halloween playlist. But 2021 is a special year. For one, we didn’t have a Halloween last year. For another, Walk Among Us was recorded over the course of 1981, which technically makes the album 40 years old, depending on whether you determine age by commercial release or production timeline. 39 years old is a milestone anyway, even if it isn’t a nice round number.
Walk Among Us is a smorgasbord of horror references, neither starting nor ending with “Vampira,” though anyone old enough to have crushed on Gloucester-born Maila Nurmi around the time of the record’s release will likely hold the song dear. Vampira herself isn’t even the sole subject of the song; Danzig brings up Plan 9 From Outer Space, one of the worst movies ever made, where Nurmi starred with Bela “Dracula himself” Lugosi, and gets personal singing about how her brief time hosting The Vampira Show introduced him to vintage horror movies. It’s about Danzig’s love of horror movies, a love he’s carried with him into his latter-day shooting movies like Verotika and the gestating Death Rider in the House of Vampires.
If you’re anything like Danzig, it’s probably through a common love for the genre and less for, say, literally anything else. That love flows through Walk Among Us in the track listing alone: “Night of the Living Dead,” “Hatebreeders,” “Astro Zombies,” “Violent World,” “20 Eyes.” A few make their focuses immediately clear: Night of the Living Dead, of course, and The Astro-Zombies. “Braineaters” doesn’t point to any specific zombie movies, but rather reads like a sympathetic love letter to zombies who, having spent their undead years chowing on brains, are sick of brains and would rather eat other bits of human viscera. Solidarity with zombies now!
Even “20 Eyes” makes a likely nod to horror cinema, being The Angry Red Planet. And even if that’s not the intention, Walk Among Us borrows a still from that movie for its cover. On the rare occasion when the Misfits aren’t singing about horror, they’re singing about nonetheless horrifying subjects, a’la “Nike-A-Go-Go,” which isn’t about shoes: It’s about the missiles the United States manufactured during the Cold War. Compared to monsters, blood, guts, and gore, that’s considerably scarier.
Walk Among Us puts all the gruesome details into the lyrics and keeps the music itself up-tempo and fun. Yes: Fun. Decades after the band made the record, it remains fresh, urgent, and a blast to listen to thanks to their songwriting, which is irrepressibly high-spirited. “I Turned into a Martian” runs on an anthemic sensibility, the kind of song you throw a fist in the air to as Paul Doyle Caiafa, AKA Doyle, also AKA Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, thrashes away on his Ibanez Iceman and Googy cracks and snaps the snare. All the while Danzig howls over the chaos, telling tales of butchered body parts and supernatural evils beyond imagination. If the experience sounds unpleasant on paper, it makes for exciting listening even today – especially this Halloween.