Rubber Johnny (2005) dir. Chris Cunningham
The work of Chris Cunningham in general and “Rubber Johnny” in specific hits an unusual nerve in horror. To one way of thinking there isn’t much horrifying content in this experimental short/quasi Aphex Twin music video other than some intimations of ongoing abuse or neglect of Johnny by an unseen guardian, but given how the narrative is buried by Johnny’s sweet rave moves, it’s a little hard to take seriously.
But visually it’s pure nightmare fuel as TV Tropes describes it. Cunningham plays with our reaction to seeing dilated eyes with clarity impossible without nightvision photography. He’s also playing on deep-seated discomforts around infirmity. It’s weird that snopes had to take the time to debunk it as a documentation of a real teenage mutant, but the experimental nature combined with the can’t-look-away appeal explains how the film quickly burrows past our disbelief early on: we ask ourselves why would this exist if it weren’t real.
Thriller (1983) dir. John Landis
Truth be told, the video I was geared up to showcase another weird music video, “Thriller,” but the fun weird stuff about that one (Did you know it was released in December? For an album that came out the previous year?) has been eclipsed by the not-fun weird stuff about its director John Landis and star Michael Jackson. Still, the song – one of the legendary collaborations between Jackson and producer Quincy Jones – holds up and the video – featuring the iconic choreography by Michael Peters – was a watershed moment in the arts of music video and haunting the dreams of a generation.
A Nightmare on My Street (1988) dir. Scott Kalvert
Speaking of haunted dreams and videos beginning with curious disclaimers, last year the Internet unearthed this long-lost gem from DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (the latter most recently seen opposite Will Smith in Gemini Man). In 1988 New Line, owners of another property involving horrors associated with suburban trafficways that shares some ideas with this video, successfully obtained a court order to have all tapes of “A Nightmare on My Street” destroyed. When Jazzy Jeff’s girlfriend recorded soap operas over his personal copy the video was presumed lost. It looked like New Line had its way.
But the court didn’t forsee the coming digital age where nothing ever dies and every artifact of the past returns zombie-like to roam the Earth once more. Let the catchy tunes of yesteryear feast on the brains of the living once more.