Alice Cooper's Night of Fear: Judging the Freaks
What does legendary shock rocker Alice Cooper do when he needs performers for his Halloween show? He hosts a 'Freak Idol' and asks Time Out London's Tim Arthur to help him judge.
There are some offers that are just too good to pass up. ‘Hello, Tim. How do you fancy judging a talent competition with Alice Cooper?’ It’s my friend Steve who works for promotions company Live Nation. ‘He’s coming over in October to play some Halloween gigs at the Roundhouse and wants to hold auditions for freaks to be on stage with him. Think of it as “Britain’s Got Freaks” or “Freak Idol”. It’ll be at the London Dungeon. You in?’
By the time I arrive, the madness has already begun. The aforementioned ‘freaks’ or ‘performance artists’ as I’ve been told to call them, have already started gathering and are drawing a crowd. A large, semi-naked bald man, covered from head to toe in tattoos is riding up and down the pavement on a customised Chopper bicycle, hooting various horns and intermittently barking like a dog. This must be the place. A beautiful young woman wearing only a leather bikini and a snake slinks her way up to me. ‘Is Alice here yet?’ ‘I’m not sure, sorry,’ I reply, distracted by the serpent’s flicking tongue.
The sense of enthralled expectancy mounts. The legion of oddball performers gathered outside the twisted tourist trap begin posing and preening for the assembled ranks of press and the ever-growing crowds. I'm introduced to the delightfully affable Planet Rock DJ Nicky Horne, another judge, and the evening’s host, Ross Lee, a skinny, ghoulish-looking comedian and TV presenter who looks like he’s just stepped straight out of a Tim Burton movie.
Whispered rumours start to fly through the crowd and a hush descends. It’s almost as if, for a few seconds, everyone holds their breath in anticipation. Then the doors open and there stands the Prince of Darkness himself. He’s a little wrinklier and more portly than I imagined but nevertheless Vincent Damon Furnier – aka Alice Cooper – is most definitely in da house… Well, standing outside da Dungeon, but you get the idea. ‘Let’s have some fun tonight, guys!’ he says in a low growl, which is met by screams and howls of delight.
I’m led down dark cobwebbed corridors, past the stocks and the man with the giant axe, through a torture chamber and down some stairs to a door bearing the decidedly uncreepy legend ‘Staff Only’. As it opens, I’m greeted by Cooper’s manager, Shep Gordon, a giant man with a broad smile and huge handshake. I’m ushered into a tiny, unassuming, brightly lit back-office. Alice sits on a swivel chair and looks happy with the way the evening is progressing. ‘This is great, isn’t it? It’s like one of the old stunts we used to do, do you remember, Shep?’ For the next half an hour I sit dumbstruck, listening to a master storyteller regale his small audience with tales of a life spent at the epicentre of the shock-rock industry over the past 50 years. With every anecdote he tells I find myself wishing more and more that we didn’t have to leave this room and watch the acts upstairs.
‘We did a stunt here in London where we had a huge poster of me naked, covered only by a well-positioned python. It was driven through town on the back of a big truck. We paid the driver to pretend the van had broken down on Piccadilly Circus for half an hour. London came to a standstill – it was awesome.’ He talks about his passions. ‘I collect rare watches. I’ve just bought this doctors’ watch that you wear on the side of your wrist and an electric watch that only one guy in the world can fix.’ He talks about his friends. ‘Brian May has an amazing collection of “Star Wars” memorabilia. What a movie that was! I saw it with George Lucas before it was released. I came straight out of the screening and said to Shep, “How much have we got in the bank? Whatever it is, put it all into Twentieth Century Fox stock, this movie is going to be a monster hit.” We made a lot of money on that.’ Anyway, enough chit-chat. I – the Simon Cowell of Time Out – have a very important job to do. Here goes…
We take up our places in the gothic hall. Alice sits on a throne that Satan himself would have been proud of and I sit next to Nicky behind a small table that provides little protection from the horrors to come. I’m given a sheet of paper which outlines the wonders in store – it could be a long and traumatic night. First up is Silkenone. In his short spot, this dreadlocked loon sticks a giant needle through his arm and then proceeds to slice through it with a huge knife. Fake blood drips from him and I begin to feel queasy. Apparently, I’m informed, he’s a journalist from The Sun – well, that explains everything. Next up is crazy clown Chrisalys. I have had nightmares which have disturbed me less. A large man with a doll-like painted face takes a piece of surgical tubing and shoves one end up his nose and down the back of his throat before putting the other end in a glass of milk and then snorts the whole thing. He finishes off the act with some mild, but real, piercing. At this point I start using the diminutive Mr Horne as a human shield to prevent any possible infection from flying fluids.
My favourite act of the night, and at the same time one of the most terrifying, is Syban V Manticore (I presume not her real name), an exquisitely beautiful lady dressed in a white Victorian corset and tutu. In my programme it simply states she’ll be doing a version of “Swan Lake”. Perfect, I intially think, this should give me a couple of minutes for my nerves to recover. As she pirouettes around the stage she plays an elegant game of hide-and-seek behind two exquisite white feather fans. Then, rather more ominously, she starts to remove the feathers one by one to reveal a fine medical needle on the end of each. She then pushes these through the fleshier parts of her arms, and after several minutes has completed her transformation into the swan itself – complete with bloody wings. For an extra touch she pierces both of her breasts, around which time I feel like passing out.
The rest of the evening is a blur of severed heads, beds of glass, skull flossing (whatever you imagine this is, it’s worse), stripping, stabbing and gore. The lowest point comes when Sexto, a hooded man in a maternity dress, complete with fake breasts and baby bump, uses a knife to abort his crimson, glistening doll child before eating it and piercing his blood-bag breasts which explode in a fountain of faux-haemoglobin. I shut my eyes just as a spray hits my face. I open them again to find my notes are now unreadable beneath the viscous claret.
Back in the sanctuary of the office, the three of us deliberate and laugh about the sheer craziness of what we’ve all just been subjected to. We choose the six winners, who’ve all won the chance to appear with the great man, and head back to tell the bruised and the bleeding the good news.
Before I leave I have one last chance to speak to Alice. Did he enjoy it? Was it everything he’d hoped for? ‘What can I say?’ he laughs. ‘These people are my people and I love them all.’
'Alice Cooper's Halloween Night of Fear' is at the Roundhouse, Sun Oct 31 and Mon Nov 1.
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