Considered an important punk group, the Misfits “monster-mashed” B-movie aesthetics with their love for the grim and gory at nothing less than whippet speed. The band’s uniquely penned tales of horror and fun through foreboding image, enabled them to carve out their own niche, often referred to as “horror rock.” The influence of the Misfits can be seen in such popular nineties recording artists as White Zombie and Marilyn Manson. While the group did not achieve the visibility they may have deserved during the initial portion of their career (1977-83), they did manage to conjure up an almost obsessive fan base, parlaying their sometimes difficult-to-locate recordings into much sought-after gold nuggets.
The Misfits, who stole their name from the title of screen siren Marilyn Monroe’s last film, were formed in April of 1977, in Lodi, New Jersey. Drummer Manny introduced vocalist Glenn Danzig to bassist Jerry Ca-iafa, and within a month the trio performed their first show at legendary punk palace CBGB. “Cough/Cool,” the band’s first single, was recorded several months later. The unique track was intentionally missing a guitar. It instead forced Danzig’s vocals and a jazzy rhythm section to ride over an electric piano fed through a feedbox. The B-side, “She,” told the tale of troubled heiress Patty Hearst.
At this point, the band had yet to develop their true sound and notoriously spooky image. And while they were birthed near the end of the punk movement, they certainly didn’t fit in with their more artsy contemporaries, such as Television and Patti Smith. “It really wasn’t taking off,” explained bassist Jerry Only in Maximum Rock and Roll, “We were hanging out at CBGB and Max’s [Kansas City] and places like that. We were watching bands like the Ramones and Blondie and other bands beginning to ignite. Me and Glenn kinda looked at each other and said ‘I think we need a guitar in the band.’” The group quickly initiated guitarist Franche Coma who got the job precisely because while he had been playing guitars for years, he didn’t actually know any songs. Caiafa, concerned about the threat of someone throwing in a “Freebird” (Lynyrd Skynyrd) style riff in the middle of a Misfits’ tune, felt it would be better for the band to have a guitarist who didn’t know any other music.
In November of 1977, Mercury Records offered the Misfits a set amount of studio time for their label name Blank Records. If the recordings were to Mercury’s liking, they had the option to release them on their new label. At this point, fellow New Jersey native Mr. Jim replaced Manny, who was deemed too jazzy and not dedicated enough, on drums. The band took advantage of the label’s offer, and in January of 1978, proceeded to record their first record, Static Age. Unfortunately, the outcome was not only rejected by Mercury, but by every other label as well. Too expensive to put out themselves, many of the tracks showed up on various EPs and singles throughout the Misfits’ career until it was finally released by Caroline Records in its entirety in 1995—17 years after its recording.
The band subsequently released a four-song seven inch called “Bullet,” which better cemented their aggressive sound. The record, also put out by the band’s own label, now called Plan 9 (as in the movie Plan 9 From Outer Space), came inside a controversial jacket. The cover displayed a gruesome picture of President Kennedy shot in the head.
By late 1978, both Franche Coma and Mr. Jim had left the band. They were replaced by guitarist Bobby Steele and drummer Joey Image. Notably, at this point the Misfits had significantly carved out a unique niche for themselves both musically and visually. The group was now consistently represented by their adopted symbol, The Crimson Ghost, a forgotten movie serial character that Danzig and Only found in the 70s horror magazine, Famous Monsters. The Misfits also began to sport a unique look, one which inherently represented their sound and love of the macabre. Vocalist Glenn Danzig could often be found donning a spooky bone shirt and gloves. Caiafa, now using Only as his last name, took to wearing ghoulish looking grease paint under his eyes. Only also came up with the band’s menacing trademark coif—The Devillock. “It’s like a DA (duck’s a**),” Only explained to Chiller Theatre, ”with this huge wave that goes down to a point. It wound up being a cool look because it had the elements of a slick ’50s look that separated us from
Members include Dr. Chud (born David Calbrese on April 4, 1964, in Lodi, NJ; joined group, 1995; left group, 2000), drums; Franche Coma (born Frank LaCotta in Lodi, NJ; joined group, 1977; left ¿roup, 1978), guitar; Glenn Danzig (born on June 23, 1955, in Lodi, NJ; left group, 1983), vocals; Arthur Googy (born Arthur McGuckin; joined group, 1980; left group, 1982), drums; Michale Graves (born Michael Emanuel on March 21, 1975; joined group, 1995; left group, 2000), vocals; Joey Image (born Joey Poole; joined group, 1978; left group, 1979), drums; Mr. Jim (born Jim Catania in Lodi, NJ; joined group, 1977; left group, 1978), drums; Manny (born Manuel Martinez in 1957 in Lodi, NJ; joined and left band, 1977), drums; Jerry Only (born Gerard Caiafa on April 21, 1959, in Lodi, NJ), bass; Robo (born Julio Valverde; joined group, 1982; left group, 1983), drums; Bobby Steele (born Robert Kaufold on March 18, 1956, in Teaneck, NJ; joined group, 1978; left group, 1980), guitar; Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein (born Paul Caiafa on September 15, 1964 in Lodi, NJ; joined group, 1980), guitar.
Group formed in Lodi, NJ, 1977; recorded “Cough/Cool” on Blank Records, traded label name to Mercury Records for studio time, 1977; recorded first album (unreleased until 1995), Static Age, and released “Bullet” under own label, now called Plan 9, 1978; released “Horror Business,” 1979; released “Night of the Living Dead” EP, 1979; traveled to London to tour with Damned, 1979; released Beware EP, 1981; released “Three Hits from Hell,” 1981; released “Halloween,” 1981; signed with Ruby Records, released Walk Among Us, 1982; released Earth AD/Wolfs Blood, and performed last show and officially disbanded, 1983; Only and Danzig embarked on lengthy court battle, 1986-95; only legally able to use the Misfits name, reformed group with Doyle, Graves, and Dr. Chud, 1995; released American Psycho, Geffen, 1997; released Famous Monsters, Roadrunner, 1999.
Addresses: Management —Alex Guerrero, 8833 Sunset Blvd., Penthouse West, West Hollywood, CA, 90069. Website —Misfits Official Website: http://www.misfits.com.
whole British punk scene. We didn’t want to be tied to them in any way.”
Most importantly, the group’s sound had developed. Lyrically, their songs were a cryptic mash of horror mythology, generally performed all in a row without a break for air. However, there was a surprising sense of melody that pointed to other influences. As writer Joshua Sindell noted in Metal Edge, “Along with the Ramones, the Misfits were one of the first American groups to understand the glory of the two-minute blitz…. Yet, perversely there was also a 1950s-like innocence to the melodies in their song, and Elvis-obsessed singer Glenn Danzig had a flair for investing his tragic wail with timeless tales of teenage trauma. Clearly, here was a band with a respect for rock-n-roll’s earliest roots that bordered on reverential.”
In 1979 the band released a new EP, Night of the Living Dead, and shortly thereafter was off to London to open for the Damned. After they crossed the ocean, the group was quite surprised to find the Damned were not expecting them, and, in fact, already had an opening act for their tour. The British punks kindly added the Misfits to the bill. However, after their second joint show, when the Damned’s management refused to pay them, they left the tour. Joey Image then quit the band and flew home to the United States. He was later replaced by drummer Arthur Googy. To add to the chaos, Glenn Danzig and Booby Steele were arrested for fighting skinhead punks outside a Jam concert. In jail, Danzig penned one of the Misfits’ classic songs, “London Dungeon.”
Less than a year later, a significant change in the band lineup took place. Bobby Steele was replaced on guitar by Jerry Only’s younger brother, Doyle. Doyle, Only’s junior by five years, had been around the Misfits since the band’s beginning, learning the guitar, and, as explained by musician Eerie Von in the band’s box set liner notes, “being groomed to be a Misfit.” On Halloween of 1980, Doyle, who was still in high school at the time, finally made his debut.
Additionally in 1980, the Cherry Red label in London, released the Misfits’ EP Beware, which was a combination of their first two EPs adjoined with “Last Caress,” a track from the Static Age sessions. Three Hits from Hell was released over a year later and featured “London Dungeon,” “Horror Hotel,” and “Ghouls Night Out.” Eventually these two releases were followed in 1981 by the eerie-though-festive fright-night anthem Halloween, a 7-inch single that came with a bright orange lyric sheet.
The band then signed to Ruby Records and finally recorded their first full-length album, Walk among Us, in 1982, which clocked in at under 30 minutes. The fast-moving record, which later became a punk classic, resulted in some of the most recognizable songs of the Misfits’ career, including “20 Eyes,” “Hate Breeders,” and “Astro Zombies.”
From their inception, the band had maintained an especially close relationship with their fans. The Fiend Club, their official fan club, was started toward the very beginning of the group’s career when their records came with an enclosed application to join the club. If a fan filled out the application and sent it back to the band, the new “fiend” would receive such promotional merchandise as buttons and stickers. As a special gift to their fiends, the band took several live tracks and issued them only to the fan club on the 7-inch EP “Evilive.”
After the release of Walk among Us, the Misfits again switched drummers. Arthur Googy left the group in 1982 and was replaced by former Black Flag drummer Robo. Black Flag’s engineer Spot also stepped in to help the band record their second full-length LP, Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood. The record, fusing speed demon velocity and a heavy, high-volume sound, has been referred to by many bands as “the speed metal bible.” It is, in fact, deemed by some to be a tangible precursor to the thrash metal scene that subsequently followed.
As was consistent with the band’s history, personal conflicts saw the departure of their drummer. Personal conflicts and artistic differences could also be attributed to the Misfits’ original disbanding in 1983. The band broke up shortly after their October 29, 1983 show opening for the Necros in Detroit.
The Misfits’ cult following grew substantially after their initial demise. The group’s scattered releases and bootlegs, many on different colored vinyl and in limited pressings, became much sought-after items among record collectors. Some pieces of the Misfits’ catalog had reportedly collected upward of $300, an extraordinary sum of money, even for a rare record by a popularartist. Noted by writer Keith Huening in a 1992 issue of Goldmine, “Punk records are becoming more collectible all the time, but what is surprising is that the most sought-after band by collectors today is not a big-name punk band such as the Sex Pistols or the Clash…. The band is the Misfits, a group that wallowed in modern American horror mixed with punk music to create an eerie sound which even today attracts one of the most devoted cult followings around.” The band’s popularity was also accelerated in the eighties and nineties by Metal superstars Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, who introduced the Misfits to a new, more mainstream audience. Metallica put three Misfits’ tracks, including “Last Caress,” on their album Garage, Inc. Guns N’ Roses performed “Attitude” on their album The Spaghetti Incident.
Renewed interest in the band also brought to the forefront a hefty legal battle between Danzig and Only over rights to the name the Misfits and the group’s publishing rights and royalties. After nine years of litigation, the Caiafa brothers, Jerry Only and Doyle, were granted the legal right to perform as the Misfits. In turn, Danzig was to be granted the group’s publishing rights and the two parties would both be able to profit from the Misfits’ merchandising efforts.
Only and Doyle launched a new version of the Misfits in 1995, replacing Danzig with Michale Graves on vocals and adding fellow Lodi, New Jersey, native Dr. Chud on drums. The new Misfits and their first two recordings, American Psycho (Geffen) and Famous Monsters (Roadrunner), while still upholding their traditional horror core, were received to mixed reviews. Many critics, while acknowledging a more sophisticated and polished outfit, also noted a very different sound compared to the original group. This was generally attributed to the absence of Danzig, who was the group’s main songwriter through 1983.
Graves and Dr. Chud left the group in 2000, and Jerry Only and his brother Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein continued to carry the Misfits’ torch in 2001.
“Cough/Cool” and “She,” Blank Records, 1977.
“Bullet,” “We are 138,” “Attitude,” and “Hollywood Babylon,” Plan 9, 1978.
“Horror Business,” “Teenagers from Mars,” and “Children in Heat,” Plan 9, 1979.
“Night of The Living Dead,” “Where Eagles Dare,” and “RatFink,” Plan 9, 1979.
“Three Hits from Hell,” Plan 9, 1981.
“Halloween” and “Halloween II,” Plan 9, 1981.
Beware, Cherry Red (U.K.), 1980.
Evilive (EP), Plan 9, 1982; reissued, 1987.
Die, Die My Darling, Plan 9, 1984; reissued, Caroline, 1991.
Walk among Us, Ruby/Slash, 1982; reissued, Ruby, 1988; reissued, Warner Brothers, 1988; reissued, Slash/London, 1996; reissued, Slash/Rhino, 2000.
Earth A.D.AA/olfs Blood, Plan 9, 1983; reissued, Caroline, 1986.
Wolf’s Blood, Aggressive Rock Production, 1983.
Legacy of Brutality Caroline/Plan 9, 1986.
Collection I, Caroline/Plan 9, 1988.
Static Age, Caroline, 1995.
Collection II, Caroline, 1995.
The Misfits (Coffin Boxset), Caroline, 1996.
American Psycho, Geffen, 1997.
Famous Monsters, Roadrunner, 1999.
Buckley, Jonathan and Mark Ellingham, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 1996.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Who’s Who of Indie and New Wave Music, Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1992.
Chiller Theatre, October 1995.
Goldmine, April 17, 1992.
Ink Spots 19, September 1999.
Maximum Rock and Roll, December 1995.
Melody Maker, May 22, 1982.
Metal Edge, October 1999; March 2000.
Rockpile, October 1999.
Rolling Stone, May 15, 1997.
Spin, November 1988.
Variety, May 31, 1978.
“Biography: The Misfits,” http://ubl.artistdirect.com (January 15, 2001).
“Misfits,” CDNOW, http://www.cdnow.com (January 15, 2001).
“Misfits,” CMJ, http://www.cmj.com (January 16, 2001).
“The Misfits,” http://www.blistering.com (January 17, 2001).
“The Misfits Biography,” http://musicfinder.yahoo.com (March 24, 2001).
Additional information was provided by liner notes from The Misfits box set written by Eerie Von.
Director: John Huston
Production: Seven Arts Productions; black and white, 35mm and 16mm; running time: 125 minutes.
Producer: Frank E. Taylor; screenplay: Arthur Miller; photography: Russell Metty; editor: George Tomasini; assistant director: Carl Beringer; art directors: Stephen Grimes, Bill Newberry; music: Alex North; sound recording: Phil Mitchell.
Garret, G.P., and others, Film Scripts 3, New York, 1972.
Kaminsky, Stuart, John Huston: Maker of Magic, London, 1978.
Madsen, Axel, John Huston, New York, 1978.
Goode, James, The Making of The Misfits, Indianapolis, 1986.
McCarthy, John, The Films of John Huston, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1987.
Studlar, Gaylyn, editor, and David Desser, Reflections in a Male Eye:John Huston & the American Experience, Washington, D.C., 1993.
Cooper, Stephen, editor, Perspectives on John Huston, New York, 1994.
Brill, Lesley, John Huston's Filmmaking, New York, 1997.
Cohen, Allen, John Huston: A Guide to References and Resources, London, 1997.
Variety (New York), 1 February 1961.
Cieutat, M., Positif (Paris), October 1961.
Oms, Marcel, Positif (Paris), September 1961.
Hart, Henry, Films in Review (New York), February 1961.
Lejeune, C.A, Films and Filming (London), June 1961.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1961.
Cieutat, Michel, "Les Misfits," in Positif (Paris), no. 260, October 1982.
Listener, vol. 116, no. 2967, 3 July 1986.
"Miller + Huston = Les Misfits," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 422, 30 December 1987.
Lippe, R., "Montgomery Clift: A Critical Disturbance," in CineAction (Toronto), no. 17, Summer 1989.
Miller, A., "Snips About Movies," in Michigan Quarterly Review, vol. 34, no. 4, 1995.
Shoilevska, Sanya, "Alex North's Score for The Misfits," in CueSheet (Hollywood), vol. 7, no. 2, April 1996.
Jacobowitz, F., and R. Lippe, "Performance and the Still Photograph: Marilyn Monroe," in CineAction (Toronto), no. 44, 1997.
* * *
Some thirty years after its release, The Misfits remains an impressive and affecting film but nonetheless a failure. The film, which is based on a screenplay written by Arthur Miller expressly as a homage to his wife, Marilyn Monroe, shies away from probing too deeply into its material and never manages to integrate its various thematics into an organic whole. Monroe's character, Roslyn, is the centre of the film and the character's impact on the men she meets gives the film its structure and narrative movement. In regard to Monroe/Roslyn, the film is highly reflexive and cannot but be read in part as a meditation on Monroe's star image, persona and presence.
The first time Monroe appears on-screen, she is attempting unsuccessfully to memorize the lines she needs to say in a divorce court hearing; as she rehearses, her face is seen reflected in a mirror as she puts finishing touches on her made-up face. To anyone even slightly familiar with Monroe's star image, the introductory sequence signals that the film is to be read as being about Marilyn Monroe. As the film progresses, there are other references to Monroe's public persona—like the actress, Roslyn was abandoned early on by her parents and grew up searching for love and security. Of the various references to Monroe, the strongest and most significant is the character's femininity and her almost exquisite sensitivity to human experience. Monroe/Roslyn is presented as an essence of the "feminine." The image is in keeping with the direction Monroe's screen persona and presence was taking in the late 1950s—she was no longer the dumb blonde but the innocent; whereas earlier in her career, she embodied physicality, she now is presented as representing the spirit of a life-force. The film underscores this conception of Monroe/Roslyn by having each of the principal male characters comment on her ability to feel, to intuitively respond to and empathize with human life and nature. The Misfits was Monroe's first dramatic film as a major star and was intended to consolidate her image as a serious person (New York and the Actor's Studio, a film with Olivier, the marriage to Arthur Miller) and actor.
With so much emphasis placed on Monroe and her femininity, it is highly fitting that her co-star in The Misfits is Clark Gable. Gable's star persona had been built on his masculine appeal. If Monroe was the 1950s archetypal female, Gable was the traditional archetypal male. As iconic figures the pairing of the two has a certain logic although their respective screen personas do not particularly mesh. While The Misfits is about Monroe, it is equally a meditation on both heterosexual relations and the conflict between the feminine and the masculine. As conceived by Miller and the film's director, John Huston, the feminine and the masculine are taken on face value. There is no consideration that an individual person may embody feminine and masculine traits or that the concepts themselves are cultural constructions. Montgomery Clift's presence and his characterization are the closest the film comes to acknowledging the possibility of a person having both a feminine and masculine identity but the character he plays is intended to be contrasted to Gable and Eli Wallach, a friend of Gable's who is gradually revealed to be irredeemably embittered, cynical and a misogynist; Gable and Wallach are "men" and not the man-child Clift is presented as being.
In The Misfits a masculine presence is interchangeable with a male's heterosexual orientation and Gable's "manly" image is further enhanced in that he is a cowboy. It is Gable's mature (that is, aging) cowboy which is used by the film to both place the Monroe character and provide a lament for the passing of a "genuine" masculine ethos which has been eroded by urbanization, women, and the death of the West and the male world of freedom, action, and mastery. In regard to Monroe and Gable's relationship, the film has two primary concerns: although Monroe is extremely attuned to other people's feelings and needs, she doesn't fully comprehend until late in the narrative that Gable is in emotional pain; and, secondly, as the mustang hunt dramatizes, while Gable is willing to acknowledge that he and the West belong to a bygone era, he needs to maintain his self-respect and not be "broken" ie emasculated. The Misfits moves to a climactic confrontation between Monroe and Gable over his sensitivity and hurt and it is Monroe who must give way if their relationship is to have a future.
The Misfits somewhat uneasily places its struggle between the female and male within the context of the crisis of the nuclear family; Roslyn had experienced an unhappy childhood, Gable's Gay has had an unsuccessful marriage and he and his children have a strained relationship, and Clift's Perce feels alienated from his mother who has chosen a second husband/lover over his affections. In the film's "happy ending" resolution, Monroe and Gable drive off together with her letting him know that she is now ready to have a child.
If the film's "troubled-family" thematic points back to the 1950s, The Misfits also looks forward to the 1960s and beyond. In addition to its self-conscious presentation of Monroe and, for that matter, Gable and Clift, the film is an early 1960s attempt to critically address the Western, the genre's values and its contemporary status. It is also a (post)modern film in the privileging of digression and ambience over narrative. And, in embryonic form, Monroe's identity raises issues directly relevant to feminism; she also aligns herself to what are essentially environmental and animal rights issues.
Although the film lacks a strong narrative drive, Huston's direction is taut and Russell Metty's elegantly sombre and sparse black and white images provide the feel of a spontaneous and almost documentary-like approach to the material. The Misfits lends itself to readings from numerous critical perspectives but it is perhaps most meaningfully a film concerned with stardom and in particular its complex relation to both the star and her or his audience. As the film illustrates, Monroe hadn't really resolved the split between her being perceived as a sex symbol (the paddle-ball sequence) and as a serious performer. And, the fact that The Misfits is Monroe's and Gable's final film and one of Clift's last efforts, makes it an inescapably sad film.
The Misfits ★★★ 1961
A cynical floozy befriends grim cowboys in this downbeat drama. Compelling performances from leads Clift, Monroe (screenwriter Miller's wife), and Gable. Last film for the latter two performers, and nearly the end for Clift. 124m/B VHS, DVD . Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach, James Barton, Estelle Winwood; D: John Huston; W: Arthur Miller; C: Russell Metty; M: Alex North.