FILM REVIEW: LORDS OF CHAOS (TELLURIDE HORROR SHOW)
That’s a wrap on the 9th annual Telluride Horror Show. Hard to believe it’s been 9 years already, but this little mountain town is home to one of the best genre fests in the world. In fact, if you know of a more picturesque place to host a film festival…please invite me!!! As is usually the case, Telluride showcased some of the greatest genre offerings with plenty of surprises along the way. This is just the first review in our coverage of this year’s festivities.
The last film on the first night of the fest was one of my most anticipated of the year, LORDS OF CHAOS. Being that I am a huge black metal fan, and an even bigger Mayhem/Burzum fan, this was a must see. Even having read the book (of the same name), and being extremely familiar with the story of the bands origins, I can tell you that I was still unprepared for the visceral realism of seeing the deeds acted out on screen. It was a very unsettling film, but also hugely entertaining and pretty funny at times.
You don’t need to be familiar with any of the band’s back-story, as the film does a masterful job of bringing you up to speed. But for the sake of this review, I will give you a quick debriefing. In the early 90’s in Oslo, a group of misfit teenagers band together with their love of mischief and heavy music. Living in Norway, the teens don’t have much in terms of creative outlets and it drives them to seek out more and more trouble, as well as a rebellious sensibility against the overwhelming Christian ideologies their country holds dear. It’s all fun and games until someone burns down a church…but we’ll work up to that.
This film tells the story from the perspective of Mayhem’s founder, guitarist, and self described “creator” of Norwegian black metal Øystein Aarseth, known to the rest of the world as Euronymous. A nearly unrecognizable Rory Culkin plays Euronymous and quite frankly I can’t imagine anyone else in the role after seeing the film. The story is focused mostly on the relationship between Euronymous, the bands suicidal first singer Per Ohlin (AKA Dead), and later the sinister presence of Kristian Vikernes (AKA Varg). Dead and Varg are portrayed on screen by Jack Kilmer and Emory Cohen respectively. What starts off as seemingly harmless rebellion and mischief quickly escalates into real life murder, literal mayhem, and the burning of numerous churches across Norway.
The book, and the legend, goes that after seeking out a lead singer for their black metal band, Dead sends Euronymous and the group a letter from Sweden with a vocal demo and a dead mouse nailed to a cross…immediately they knew this was the guy. The band was always into evil imagery and blackness, but until the arrival of Dead, the rest of the band had no idea how far he was willing to take it. Euronymous watches Dead with an almost childlike fascination. He looks up to him and is inspired by him, but could never admit it. Dead suffers from deep DEEP depression, and always talks about wanting to die. The band brushes it off because they’re used to his theatrics, both on stage and off. Dead buries his clothes to feel closer to death, he collects and huffs the smell of dead animals to literally “inhale death”, and he starts painting his face in what is now standard issue black metal “corpse paint”
Euronymous sees Dead as an almost otherworldly being, and strives to be as dark and evil as his band mate. This is all fun and mostly innocent, until Dead actually does commit suicide. This is the part of the review where I warn you that the onscreen violence and gore is pretty intense. The film shows the violence happening in an almost documentary fashion with no music and heightened sound effects. It’s shown in a way that is absolutely going for realism, and being familiar with the story, this is exactly how it is said to have happened. No frills here folks. I saw even hardened metal fans turn away in the packed auditorium…and that wouldn’t be the only time during the film.
Dead first cuts his wrists, then his throat. As he’s bleeding out all over the bedroom he scrawls “excuse the blood” on his suicide letter before blowing his head off with a shotgun. Euronymous comes home to find his roommate dead, but rather then call the police, he runs out to the store to grab a disposable camera so he can take pictures of the body. This act/photo will be one of Mayhem’s most controversial album covers, and a source of great misinformation for years to come. Euronymous then takes bits of skull to make necklaces for himself and the rest of the band…this is when things take a turn for the worse, as two of the remaining members quit the band upon receiving this “gift”.
Euronymous is seen as a somewhat sympathetic character, which I never really pictured from my insights into the true events. He seemed like a young man that was never really able to deal with the passing of his friend, and things just escalated. Things continue to escalate when Varg enters the picture. Varg is OBSESSED with Euronymous and wants to prove himself as being evil enough to join the band. At first he is shunned and ridiculed by Mayhem, but after he proves to be one hell of a musician and a notorious arsonist on historic Norwegian churches, he is officially inducted into Mayhem and “The Black Circle“, an almost cult-like club where the members constantly try to one-up each other. This is the rise of the bands infamy, but also the recipe for the bands (and members) ultimate demise.
The film was directed and handled masterfully by Jonas Åkerlund, who is no stranger to making films or making black metal. I was nervous about how the film would be handled until I found out Åkerlund was directing. In addition to being a filmmaker who hails from one of the birthplaces of black metal (Sweden), he was also the former drummer for the legendary black metal band Bathory. Obviously the story was in good hands.
LORDS OF CHAOS is an amazing film about the birth of a musical movement, as well as the death of innocence. It’s a descent into madness that will make your skin crawl, when you’re not head banging to the soundtrack. I’ve been a long time fan of Mayhem’s music, and a fan of the book, so I was as nervous as anyone about how the film would be perceived. Let me lays those trepidations to rest by saying that it was everything my mind had always pictured and so much more…Even down to the detail of recreating some of the bands most iconic and infamous photos. It’ll make you giddy if you’re a fan of the band. I even learned a few things that I didn’t know. The film does an excellent job of trying to inter-splice facts with myth, and also gives the audience plenty of levity along the way. At the end of the day, these guys started as nerdy teens looking to cause trouble, until trouble came looking for them. Once things escalate, no one wants to back down for fear of looking weak. When things do escalate though…buckle up!
This film was a highlight of the fest, even if its “horror” is questionable. It’s violent enough, and dark enough for this writer to share the spotlight with any genre fest. The film is definitely one to keep an eye out for, especially if you’re a metalhead. It’s an extreme story, and deserves to be seen. Even if you know the story backwards and forwards…you’ve never seen it brought to life with such grim accuracy.
“A descent into madness that will make your skin crawl, when you’re not head banging to the soundtrack.”
4 1/2 Tombstones out of 5…