Report: GWAR Bring the House Down at BBQ Films’ Empire Records 20th Anniversary Screening

  • Axl Rosenberg
Photo: Christopher Gregory/BBQ Films
Photo: Christopher Gregory/BBQ Films

There’s something about GWAR that’s magic. Their snotty, catchy brand of heavy metal; their gloriously juvenile costumes and stage show; their highly-creative vulgarity and oddly-endearing misanthrophy; all of these things combine into something undeniably, well, special. Over the course of thirty-plus-years, they’ve become one of the rare metal bands known even by people who don’t like metal, and unlike fellow practitioners of the hyper-theatrical such as Kiss and Slipknot, they’re even adored by people who don’t like metal. The look on a child’s face when he or she encounters someone in a Mickey Mouse costume at Disneyworld can be recreated in adults of a certain age just by putting them within bodily-fluid-proximity of GWAR.

There has been no less-arguable evidence of this fact than GWAR’s appearance last night at a special twentieth anniversary screening of the movie Empire Records — the second of three such sold-out events being produced by BBQ Films at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade this week. Working in tandem with one of the film’s stars, Ethan Embry (credited in the flick as Ethan Randall), GWAR were undeniably the highlight of the evening’s festivities.

Which is really saying something, because BBQ Films know how to throw a party. Full disclosure: I do not love Empire Records, a movie that barely made a blip when it was released in 1995 but has gone on to become a cult classic. I have fond-enough memories of watching it (or, rather, not watching it) on VHS tape at adolescent make-out parties, but that’s about as far as it goes for me. But even if you’re not an Empire Records fan, you’d have to be dead not to have a good time at this thing.

Rough Trade was transformed into the movie’s titular shop, complete with in-costume staffers who sometimes recreated scenes from the movie (“NOTHING’S EVER FINE!” screeched the Liv Tyler stand-in before storming out of the room, re-enacting Tyler’s histrionics perfectly), songs from the movie’s soundtrack playing over the PA, and the occasional alarm noise signaling someone’s decision to veto whatever tune was currently playing. A head-shaving station allowed partygoers to pay homage to Robin Tunney’s suicidal goth character (the first five people to have their heads shaved even got free drinks). Meanwhile, at a button-making area, viewers made their own version of the (apparently) famous “Mark Sucks” button Tunney’s character bestows upon Embry’s character.

Once you entered the main bar/show room, things somehow got even crazier. Some decidedly non-metal bands, Charly Bliss and Locksley, played sets prior to the start of the screening (dressed, again, as character from the movie) before the lights dimmed and everyone went ape shit. As you can imagine, this was not like any regular trip to the movies, but, rather, more akin to the long-running midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: characters were treated to entrance applause, lines from the movie were shouted out in perfect synchronicity with the actors saying them, and the aforementioned cast doppelgängers “shadowed” scenes from a stage in front of the screen.

And then came the GWAR section of the movie. As is often the case with headliners, the bar area emptied and the viewing space filled just before a scene where Mark eats a pot brownie and gets lost in the “Saddam a Go-Go” video:

As the scene played, staffers walked amongst the audience distributing free brownies (alas, they had no pot in them), before the movie slowly came to a halt, like a record player turned-off with the needle still down. And then, they were: three members of GWAR, led by drummer Jizmak Da Gusha, and accompanied by the large, man-eating “friend” to which they feed Mark in the movie. Folks, you would think Jesus Christ had just taken the stage, such was their reception. Strippers at bachelor parties don’t get this much love.

Photo via The Village Voice
Photo via The Village Voice

One lucky fan was fed to lamprey-esque creature, but then the night’s biggest surprise came: Mark himself, Ethan Embry, emerged from the maggot’s mouth, desperately clinging to GWAR’s members like the survivor of a plane clash would cling to EMT workers. “I’ve been stuck in that fucking thing for twenty fucking years!” he screamed to rapturous applause. Finally breaking character and giving into the fun of the moment, he then motioned to the members of Gwar and giggled, “I had my first shot of Jägermeister with these guys when I was fifteen!”

Embry then assisted GWAR is choosing some lottery winners (the money went to the charity Opening Act, which creates classes in the arts at under-served New York City public schools) and handing out prizes before waving farewell. Once again, GWAR received an ovation of such magnitude, you’d think they were The Rolling Stones after completing “Satisfaction” at Giants Stadium.

Like I said: there’s something about GWAR that’s magic. GWAR, like Empire Records itself, will live on forever, despite the wishes of uptight, snobbish naysayers. Mark would be so proud.

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