Ever seen the film River’s Edge? I caught it once by accident when I was about 19 and it really shocked me how good and how plain weird it was, although that could have been due to the fact that it was on TV at about 3am and I’d just stumbled in from a serious night out. I’ve only seen it one other time about four years later when one drunken night I mentioned it during a conversation about Dennis Hopper to a friend of mine, who told me he had this cool video of a film that hardly anyone had seen called … it was about 3am again and I may have fallen asleep just before the end. In fact come to think of it I seriously doubt whether this film exists in any other proper time continuum, I rather suspect it just phases in and out of existence between 2.30 and 4.30am to those who have reached a suitable state of enlightenment.
The film deals with a group of small town high schoolers, one of whom strangles his girlfriend for no adequately explained reason, possibly even out of boredom (‘Did you love her?’, ‘She was alright’, he says later) and shows her naked body to his friends. The film really deals with issues of group morality and humanity as one or two characters want to go to the police, going against the pack mentality. Add in layers of dope use, lots of driving around listening to Slayer, a gun or two and in a brave bid to avoid all typecasting, Dennis Hopper playing a drugged-out psychopath called Feck who lives with a blow-up sex doll and sells dope out of a boarded-up house and you have the whole shebang. It’s a long time since I watched it but I remember Keanu Reeves being very good as the teen who breaks ranks and hey, if you’re looking for a man to play a psychotic oddball then Hopper’s his name, although it’s the amorality of the murderer and Crispin Glover’s* character, Layne, that really stood out for me. It’s not a brilliant film but it is good, the claustrophobic atmosphere of a grim small town being captured particularly well.
But I’m not here to review films I saw a long time ago whilst drunk and tired to the point of hallucinating, I stumbled across a US import copy of River’s Edge: The Soundtrack Album To The Most Controversial Film Of The Year**18 years ago today, coincidentally and snapped it up for next to nothing. It’s a funny one, not in a Ha-Ha sense of the word either.
Released on Metal Blade Records it is 6/9 thrash metal, 2/9 punk and 1/9 reggae. It kicks off with ‘Lethal Tendencies’ by Hallows Eve, which is my favourite metal track here – lots of great bass and bottom end to this one, played at an unhurried pace with great vocals, every word hits out like a slap in the face. I don’t even remember Hallows Eve and I didn’t even recognize the LP covers when I looked them up earlier which is unusual for me, so are they unfairly forgotten? I have no idea, over to you. The Fates Warning track ‘Kyrie Eleison’ (NOT a Mr Mister cover!), goes a bit too operatic for my personal tastes and ends up in Iron Maiden tribute act country, which is not somewhere I’d choose to go for my holidays.
There are four early Slayer tracks here (4/9 of the LP, or 80% of the metal quotient on River’s Edge) from Show No Mercy and Haunting The Chapel. They’re okay, but to my mind Slayer only got to be something else when they got to Reign In Blood. These tracks are full of the usual teenager lyrics about death, murder, demons, death and murder (‘Satan’s child now stalks the earth / Born from my demon seed’ – Captor of Sin, Ewwww!), which fits in perfectly. The best Slayer track here is the galloping ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’, which is the only one where they turn the treble down enough and the bass up enough to give it some real substance. It is interesting that you can really hear where Slayer came from in these tracks, a sped up version of earlier metal in general and Judas Priest in particular – ‘Tormentor’ could effectively be a Pries track, Rob Halford scream at the end and all.
The non-metal stuff here is a strangely mixed bag. Agent Orange, who I always thought of as a hardcore punk band, give us ‘Fire in the Rain’ which given an FX pedal or two could be a U2 offcut and not a very good one either. Burning Spear ‘Happy Day’ which closes the album, which I don’t remember in the film at all, is okay but suffers from that 1980’s overproduction that reggae bands went in for back then, giving what could have been a very good tune indeed an annoyingly superficial feel; not great, go for anything off the titanic Marcus Garvey album instead. Best of all though is The Wipers ‘Let Me Know’ which I really enjoyed, tuneful with a brilliant raw guitar sound it was a bit of a revelation to me and doesn’t really sound like anyone else I know – The Wipers are definitely on my ‘to-do’ list, I only knew them from Nirvana’s cover of ‘D7’ before this.
So there you go, dark, non-commercial, oppressive and amoral the soundtrack fits the film perfectly, can’t say I reach for it too often though. Which is as it should be, would you really want to hang with someone who listened to this day in, day out? that’d be a fast-track to living in a boarded-up bungalow, selling dope to kids, on the run from a murder rap and dancing alone at night with a blow-up doll. I’m not quite ready for that yet.
*Did you know his middle name really is Hellion? I was vastly impressed by that fact.
**Henceforth to be known as River’s Edge in order to save on my BOLD Budget.