Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Welcome to Your Funeral: The Story of Rigor Mortis, Part 1 (beginning to 1987)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

Welcome to Your Funeral: The Story of Rigor Mortis, Part 1 (beginning to 1987)
Written and directed by Bruce Corbitt
Narrated by Philip H. Anselmo
12 Pound Productions / MVD Visual
110 minutes, 2015 / 2016

 Rigor Mortis is well-known in the heavier band circles, even outside their own Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) scene where they exploded into the stratosphere of metal cultdom. Oh, they were different when they formed in the mid-1980s, in that they were one of the first to incorporate guitar rock sounds (not hair band) with those of the hardcore scene thanks to a fortunate timing of walking into a punk club and joining the pit full of skinheads. With this nascent formula, Rigor Mortis (RM) became one of the first eminent speed- and thrash metal groups, especially in the Central part of the country, away from any oceans.

 This is a documentary of the RM story…well, the opening chapters its history, anyway. On some level, I am always pleased to see an oral history of a band or a scene, rather than hear about it in a retrospective by some music historian or chronicler who depends on second-hand information. That being said, this was written and directed by RM’s lead singer, Bruce Corbitt, so it does come across as kind of one sided. The indication is that they were not just the first but the only non-hair metal band originating out of DTW that mattered (and perhaps that’s true, I don’t know).

This is not, however, necessarily a fluff piece. It seems that most of the interviews take place around 2008, and the band comes across as being somewhat nice guys, even though they fully admit that they started fights, did more than a bit of imbibing, and raised some (sometimes literally) bloody hell during their tenure according to this Part I.

It’s great that we not only hear from the core of the band, including Corbitt, once wild orange haired bassist Casey Orr (who would also play with Gwar as Beefcake the Mighty), drummer Harden Harrison, and guitarist Mike Scaccia, but from various other bands around at the time and some that were influenced later.

Scaccia created his own style of playing that is recognizable to metal fans, claiming he did it the first time he ever picked up the instrument as a teen, to impress a girl (he states when she heard him, she gave him the guitar). He is also the only one in the band who didn’t originate from Texas, but rather is a Long Island goombah from Babylon; I say that completely complimentary); he would also go on to become a core member of the noise band, Ministry.

In its nascent stage, RM would constantly make fun of other softer rock bands who pile on the make-up, have hair that’s stripped of color and flounced out, and ridiculous and colorful leather outfits (and the occasional feathered boas), especially the local Pantera. Ironically, the band became close enough friends with Pantera replacement vocalist Phil Anselmo (he led Pantera’s to fame), who became a fan of RM after seeing them just before joining the band, that he is the gravelly and surprisingly monotone narrator of this documentary (and is also being interviewed).

Thing is, as relatively exciting as RM are, it’s kind of hard to tell just why they were so popular from this documentary. They sure do come across as a bit charming, surprisingly considering their reputation for wild boys (then again, they are aging, as well). And it really is a boys club here, as with the exception of Rachel Matthews, who signed them to Capitol Records and was Executive Producer of their first, Eponymous LP (still have my vinyl copy with press release), there’s no women in sight (she is interviewed toward the end, at the right moment in the story), including girlfriends, groupies or wives. Rock and roll is not exclusively penis-oriented, even if the majority of those on stage possess that equipment. Were there no females in the scene back then, even fans, who could have added some comments?

The biggest issue I have with this documentary, though, is not only that it’s a standard talking-heads about a bunch of guys reliving their glory days, but rather that there just weren’t that many good examples of their trade. Yes, Scaccia shows off some nice licks in the interview parts, but the clips of their live music is short clips that are both furry visuals (surely VHS transfers) and even worse, fuzzy sounds. The vocals are impossible to appreciate, and the sound is melded together like a stack of records at a garage sale that were sitting in the sun too long and melted into one.

Make sure you watch the credits, because it is filled with lots of still pix of the band throughout the ‘80s, and helps express the band from that standpoint quite well. As for extras, there’s a few. First off there is a 2:28 fun interview with John Perez (Solitude Aeturnus), and 7:16 of drunken stupidity with Wayne Abney (singer/bassist of Hammerwitch), both discussing seeing early versions of the band. The rest are live clips in concerts or practice sessions, comprising about a half dozen of their highlight songs. The quality varies, but it gives a better understanding of the band’s sound and appeal to their audience.

Now, I have a theory about this film. If I am right, and much of it was recorded towards the end of the 2000s, it might be the death of Scaccia in December 2012 that may have been the impetus to get the film finished. While he is arguably probably better known for his work with Ministry (which broke up after his death), it was during a RM gig in Texas for director Corbitt’s 50th birthday celebration that he had a massive heart attack onstage. This could be why in part Corbitt has fought to bring the documentary to fruition. The release is dedicated to him at the end, and rightfully so.

Despite my complaints that this is a bit of a generic recording of a band history film, it’s gained quite a lot of attention, and even won the 2014 Best Documentary at the Housecore Horror Film Festival in San Antonio, Texas. Like every other group bio, if you like the band, you know you’re going to get tons out of it, so if you know who they are and you’re into that kind of sound, or remember them from way back when, whatcha waitin’ fer?


Bruce Corbitt addresses some of my issues, and I am printing his response (with his permission) as I feel he has many valid points in reference to what I said, and I am very thankful to him:

In all honestly, we didn't have a huge female fan base back in that period or up until Part 1 ended (in 1987). Plus, none of our ex-girlfriends, Mike's ex-wife, old female fans or friends from that era could have made any significant contribution to our story. I did interview a lot of folks... and only used what we thought was best.

You are also right about the old VHS footage not being the greatest, but that's all we had to work with and it was better showing it than not showing it. I don't think we made the claim that we were the only non-hair metal band that mattered...we just don't have time to go into everyone's story in the documentary. But we did mention some of them and some were in the film. We plan on making The Birth of the DFW Metal Underground after we finish Part 2 of the Rigor doc.

Another thing you were right about is I did decide to blow off The Birth of the DFW Metal Underground film to make just a Rigor story in honor of my brother Mike Scaccia. He was born in Babylon, but was raised and lived in Texas pretty much all of his life.

Anyway, we are working on Part 2 now and it will be way crazier, and in my opinion, better than Part 1.


No comments:

Post a Comment