Monday, March 31, 2014

Hell's Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll: A Movie That Takes on the Devil's Music

Eric Holmberg
Sometime in 1989, I sat with a friend of mine watching late night Christian T.V., a pastime I still indulge in albeit rarely. I remember being bored mindless until being prodded to almost sit up at the sight of the cover of Channel 3's Fear of Life. This was about seven years that I'd owned that album, though by that time I never listened to it anymore. But it was a relatively obscure enough punk reference that I thought maybe we should watch whatever this is. But we didn't.

Well, I now can finish watching that very program, I think. By chance, I've discovered its title to be Hell's Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll. Seemingly stitched together in a public access studio in 1989 by Reel to Real Ministries and its mulleted and mustachioed screen spokesman, Eric Holmberg, Hell's Bells does not disappoint with many more somewhat esoteric punk reference points, mixed in, of course, with AC/DC (from whose Back in Black album the title derives) and a host of other acts I'll tackle in the next few paragraphs. If you want a quick tour through 80s musical culture from the dissident scenes to the mainstream, this movie delivers.

It is very long, however, and I confess I have not finished watching it. In fact, I've so far watched only four out of 18 segments, running about ten and a half minutes each on YouTube. Does that mean this flick is three hours long? Yes, it does. It's quite a slog, though often I found the narration by Holmberg to be somewhat mesmerizing in its relentless warnings that everything from Mercyful Fate to INXS will invite demons into your heart.

In fact, the film equates Mick Fleetwood dancing around on stage with his tambourine and gawking eyes with Judas Priest, Christian Death, Ozzy Osbourne, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (they got the wrong decade here and there), Crass, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and MDC (in their Millions of Damn Christians phase). There's a featured reference to Diamanda Galas's (you know it!) The Litanies of Satan. One on-screen text roll just lists songs with the word "hell" in them, all from metal acts except "Aloha From Hell" by The Cramps.

Lux Interior from Urgh! A Music War as used in Hell's Bells.

The film has a short segment on the 1978 onstage arrest of The Huns' lead singer Phil Tolstead in Austin on obscenity charges. He had a mock life-size crucifix onstage with him, and he apparently was not very reverent. But do not fear, the film assures us 11 years after the incident. Phil is saved:


To his credit, Holmberg repeats that his goal is not censorship or even labels on records (i.e., he's more liberal than Tipper Gore), but just to get the truth of Christ out there. You have to hand it to him for "resisting the temptation" to call for banning devilish music.

Here's Part 1 of Hell's Bells. (Please forgive the YouTube uploader for his or her damn misplaced apostrophe. That drives me nuts, I tell you.) Good luck!

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