So, after reviewing the North Carolina-shot rock flicks Rockin’ Road Trip (that featured Marietta, Georgia’s Guadalcanal Diary) and Bandwagon (shot by and featuring members of Raleigh, North Carolina’s the Connells) for our latest “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week,” I recalled this SOV vampire obscurity also shot in North Carolina — and it stars another of that state’s alt-rock ’90s musicians: Greg Humphreys of Mammoth Records’ Dillon Fence, who hailed from the city of Chapel Hill.
Yeah, I know. “Who?” you ask. “Where?”
Oh, Chapel Hill and Raleigh-Durham North Carolina. What might have been. Damn, you Pacific Northwest, with your Seattle to Portland flannel and Doc Martins tomfoolery.
The scene fermenting in that southern local college town dates back to the early ’80s, when all ears learned towards Athens, Georgia — the city that unleashed ubiquitous college rockers R.E.M on our pre-MTV radios. Then, with MTV in full swing, we came to discover Jason & the Scorchers (“Absolutely, Sweet Marie”), and then, with grunge mania in full swing — as record companies searched for instant “Nirvana” — a band that named their album after a toilet manufacture and their band name inspired by TV’s CHiPs, Seven Mary Three, continues to rock our classic rock radios with their one-hit wonder, “Cumbersome.” And, in keeping with the grunge era: one of alt-rocks most respected bands — connected to the history of Nirvana, the “Dirty Nirvana,” if you will — the Melvins, signed with the label that gave us these sounds . . . and those heard in this movie.
That label was Mammoth Records based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a label noted as the first independent label (before Epitaph hit it big with the Offspring and that annoying “Come Out and Play” drek that leaves me wanting the loathsome Spin Doctors . . . and I loath them, as well) to produce not one, but two platinum records. The first, of course, was American Standard by Seven Mary Three. The second was by Chapel Hill’s Squirrel Nut Zippers, which released six albums with Mammoth from 1994 to 2000; their second album, Hot, released in 1996 — as the alt-rock craze inspired by Nirvana began to cool (and Mammoth ended their distribution deal with Atlantic Records; they were briefly under the RCA umbrella) — became Mammoth’s second platinum record. If you picked up copies of the soundtrack to The Crow (1994) and The Crow: City of Angels (1996), you heard the sounds of Mammoth’s Machines of Loving Grace and Seven Mary Three alongside the bigger hit sounds of Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Hole, and White Zombie. The mid-90s U.S. TV series My So Called Life spun the likes of the label’s Frente!, the Chainsaw Kittens, and Juliana Hatfield.
Other Mammoth artists you may know came courtesy of the oft-played MTV’s 120 Minutes spins of the Chainsaw Kittens, while the channel’s Headbanger’s Ball spun Fu Manchu. And, back in the days of the mainstream press needing grungy fodder for their pages, you may have come to know Juliana Hatfield (who recorded for the label with the Blake Babies; the band turned into the very cool Antenna when she went solo) as result of her relationship with the Lemonheads’ Evan Dando; they were, sort of, a safer Kurt and Courtney-light, if you will. (In addition to those bands, my personal favorites from the Mammoth roster, which I had the pleasure of spinning my alt-radio days, were Dash Rip Rock, Machines of Loving Grace, Vanilla Trainwreck, and . . . Dillon Fence.) Unable to reach the heights of most the label’s other artists — or fellow scenesters the Connells (who made it to late night network television, to no avail), Dillon Fence, as lead by Greg Humphreys, released three (really fine) albums: Rosemary (1992), Outside In (1993), and the one that should have broke then nationally, Living Room Scene (1994), which fell under Atlantic’s East/West alt-imprint through Mammoth.
Okay. Okay. I know. Get to the movie, already, R.D.
If you haven’t figured it out, writer/director Walter Michael Bost (with an assist from the one-and-gone Steven D. White) was raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, (another scenester hotspot) and went to college at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Radio, Television and Motion Pictures and Business Administration.
From his humble beginnings with Immortal, Bost developed a still-going-strong career working in various capacities — mostly in the sound departments — for over 70 films and TV series, most notably U.S. TV’s Felicity, The District, Veronica Mars, and iZombie. He returned to writing and directing with the recent streaming series, The New 30.
So, as with the Connells’ John Schultz logically working within his (then) means, writing what he knew, and around locations he knew he could secure — and with his friends-on-the-cheap cast and crew (including Greg Humphreys of Dillon Fence; Mammoth label head Jay Faires provided the soundtrack) — Bost decided, we’re guessing, to combine two of his loves: the North Carolina music scene he haunted and the vampire movies that haunted his youth. (Did you sleep with towels around your neck, Walt? I sure as hell did.)
Of course, as with A Matter of Degrees and Bandwagon before it, when news of this North Carolina-indie rockin’ with all of the alt-rock bands we loved (Archers of Loaf! Reverb-o-Ray! Dillon Fence! Squirrel Nut Zippers! — each who appear on stage in the film) hit the alt-rock presses (Alternative Press, B-Side, Option), myself and my fellow radio, roadie, and club rats went looking for it.
Were we disappointed with this tale of indie rock vampires?
But not as much as we were with Rockin’ Road Trip (the music is better, here), but we still didn’t dig this rock ‘n vamp romp as much as A Matter of Degrees (the quintessential college-rock film and soundtrack) and Bandwagon. Courtesy of its SOV production values (a genre we jam on at B&S; we have a full, packed week of SOVs coming in September) — and the fact that it’s about vampires — I pair this rock ‘n’ horror piece with writer-director Blair Murphy’s pretty fine Jugular Wine (1994), which, again, because of the alt-press coverage afforded the film due to Henry Rollins appearing in the film (acting, not musically), we grunge-kiddies searched it out.
Jugular Wine — even with its admitted, but charming, weaknesses — is clearly the better film. Depending on one’s Daltonness down at the Road House, opinions vary: Immortal is either an insightful, slow burn — or a too-long lesson in boredom that could have benefited from a tighter, 80-minute home video cut. However, one has to consider the music-basis of the film, so the music segments are greatly extended vs. most rock films of its ilk. And, while the B&S crew is more understanding when it comes to the realms of against-the-budget shot-on-video films, it’s a production style that doesn’t appeal to everyone. So, are music heavy segments awash in hazy-to-muddy video tape-lighting your jam?
Dex Dregs (Andrew Taylor, who also crewed and wrote music for the film) is a Kurt Cobainesque guitarist trying to make his bones (pardon the pun) on North Carolina’s college music scene. As with George A. Romero’s Martin (1978), this film’s — in my opinion — raison d’être, Dex runs with that film’s Martin Mathias: a trouble young man who believes himself to be a Bram Stoker-like vampire. Or is it a figment of his mind?
As Dax tries to make his mark on the music scene amid the mortals, he comes to discover music is no longer his addiction or his key to immorality — his quest for fresh human blood is his reason for being. As he makes his music (in what I see as an AIDS or cocaine addiction allegory; again, think Cobain), Dax struggles to keep his lusts in check and hidden from his bandmates and his girlfriend Linda (Edith Snow, aka Meredith Leigh Sause, currently in production on the indie horror, Prom Queen) . . . until he succumbs and feeds off a groupie and one of his guitar students — and a movie star who returns to his home town (Greg Humphreys). Will Dax find a “cure” courtesy of Wiley Wrestling? The mysterious albino (Frank J. Aard, later of the abysmal 2008 remake of 1986’s April Fools Day), who was the lone survivor of a horrific train wreck (the “113 Die” you see in the theatrical one-sheet), also wants his gold pocket (with a W.W inscription) in Dax’s possession, returned.
Upon succumbing to his lust and feeding off Linda, his addiction destroying his love, Dax takes to the streets playing for pocket change. Then a strange woman walks by and tosses an engraved pocket watch into his guitar case — inscribed with the initials “D.D.”
This is an SOV’er that is impossible to find on VHS (well, it used to be, before http reared its ugly bytes), and you can forget about the streams, free or pay, but the fine folks at Brain Damage Films resurrected this lost rock ‘n’ horror flick to DVD in 2007 — in a directors cut. Now, the VHS original runs at — what I feel — a too long one hour and forty minutes. As of press time, we’ve been unable to determine if the DVD reissue is longer or shorter than the original 1995 VHS issue.
You can find DVD copies at online retailers, such as Amazon and Best Buy. VHS copies are available on eBay/eBay. Brain Damage no longer lists the DVD in their catalog, so you’re at the mercy of used online copies.
And, sorry, Chum. There’s no trailers, clips, or music from the film in the online realms to share. But Googling any of the bands, as well as Mammoth Records, will expose you to the music behind the Chapel Hill and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina scene that inspired the film.
You say you’re interest in more film shot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina? Well, you can dig into them courtesy of this IMDB filming locations list for the city. And here’s an IMDB list for Raleigh. And, in the mother of all lists, Wikipedia has a list of everything shot in the state. Be sure to swing by Greg Humpheys’s blogspot/social media portal and say “hi,” and let him know we remember him over at B&S About Movies. His new 2021 solo album, Spanish Steps, is out now.