Retrospective: 35 Years of ‘Killer Klowns From Outer Space’ By Jesse Striewski

It was simply one of those movies you just had to see to believe; over-sized aliens appearing as grotesque clowns invade anywhere town America and cause havoc with popcorn guns and cotton candy cocoons over the course of one chaotic night (which in theaters originally landed on May 27, 1988).

Spawned from the minds of Charles, Edward, and Stephen Chiodo (collectively known as the Chiodo Brothers) in their directorial debut, the trio applied their skills they had previously honed on such other creature-effects driven films as the Critters franchise. The three were at their creative prime, unleashing one of the wackiest movies to ever hit the screens up until that time.

In the film, young lovers Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) are interrupted at the local lovers’ lane hot spot when they see what they believe to be a comet crashing to the earth. But upon further investigation, they discover a glowing circus tent where the comet by all accounts should have landed, and it’s then that the mayhem truly ensues.

From there the film becomes a classic case of a group of small town kids trying to save the world from evil, but this time that evil just happens to be murderous clowns. Cramer – joined by two dimwitted brothers in an ice cream truck (played by Michael S. Sigel and Peter Licassi) does an admirable enough job as the leader of the group, protecting Snyder (the de facto ’80s damsel in distress, also known for 1986’s Night of the Creeps and 1988’s Return of the Living Dead Part II) from the threat of both the aliens and one very hard-assed local sheriff (played brilliantly by John Vernon of Animal House fame).

The film is also notable for being one of the final appearances by late old-school actor Royal Dano (who had carved out a niche for playing the “old man” role in many a late ’80s horror film, including 1987’s House II: The Second Story and 1988’s Ghoulies II), appropriately appearing as simply “The Farmer.” Pop punks The Dickies also provided the theme song to Killer Klowns…, complete with an accompanying music video. Years after the film’s release, I was able to actually catch the band perform and even meet their guitarist Stan Lee in 2003 (but alas, I can’t recall them performing the track that night).

The author with Dickies guitarist Stan Lee (left) and The Damned drummer Pinch (right) after Fiend Fest in Tampa, FL on 8/12/03.

Today, the film remains a staple in pop culture, with endless midnight screenings and/or cable showings (the film will once again be featured on the upcoming schedule of Svengoolie soon), and countless masks, decorations, and various other appearances across multiple spectrums (including full displays currently seen on a national level at most Spirit Halloween stores. Not bad for a little comedy-horror flick that brought in $43 million in its original theatrical run (that’s a LOT of cotton and popcorn!).

Author Jesse Striewski (right) with wife Brooke and Killer Klown “Slim” on display at a Spirit Halloween store on 8/26/23.

Retro Review: Kiss – Lick It Up (Mercury Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Call me crazy, but I’ve always felt the material Kiss released during their non-makeup period of the ’80s and early ’90s is just as good – if not better in many cases – than the material from their ’70s hey day (it is after all closer to my own generation, having not been around yet myself until the early ’80s). While the band’s first two efforts in the earlier part of said decade – 1980’s Unmasked and 1981’s Music from “The Elder,” are to this day still at the bottom of the list for most Kiss fans – the guys slowly but surely started getting it right again.

When Kiss dropped Lick It Up on September 18, 1983, it was more than just your everyday album at the time, but rather a statement to the rock world that their talent was not based solely around their looks alone. And with new lead guitarist Vinnie Vincent in tow in replace of Ace Frehley, the band were as revitalized as ever. Vincent was one of several guitarists to perform on the group’s previous outing, 1982’s Creatures of the Night, but Lick it Up would be his first (and ultimately only) attempt as an actual full time member of the band. Late drummer Eric Carr’s (who first joined the band in time for The Elder) talent is also on full display this time around.

Fans are instantly greeted here with thrashy riffs in the form of the Paul Stanley-driven “Exciter,” a sound they had already built on with Creatures…Gene Simmons takes over with the menacing “Not For the Innocent,” easily one of the best tracks on the entire album. The infamous title track follows, and remains a staple in the band’s setlists to this very day (it was the only non-makeup-era track they performed when I finally saw them live in 2012). The dystopian music video that accompanies it also remains a classic, with the band lip-syncing the track while walking desolate streets overran by scantly-clad women in true ’80s fashion.

“Young and Wasted” is a pretty fun party track, while “Gimmie More” is not much more than filler. “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” was released as the second single, and features Stanley “rapping” the verses before a catchy, sing-a-long chorus. Like the title track, it too had a very similar (and fun) music video to go along with it. “A Million to One” is Stanley at his finest, declaring to an ex lover they will never find a similar love.

The rest of the album is closed out with Simmons-fueled numbers in the form of “Fits Like a Glove,” “Dance All Over Your Face,” and “And on the 8th Day,” each with varying results. While many of these tracks have long since been forgotten by time, the legacy of Lick it Up is still strong to this day, and it’s rare to find a rock station or cover band not jamming the title track somewhere at any given time. As the album hits its fortieth anniversary, don’t hesitate to give it a spin on your record player; in the immortal words of Stanley, “It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself!”

Book Review: Into the Void – From Birth to Black Sabbath and Beyond By Geezer Butler (Harper Collins)

By: Jesse Striewski

When Ozzy Osbourne released his autobiography back in 2010, I of course was all over it at the time. But I’m honestly more prone to the “just the facts” type of memoir rather than those set up mainly for shock factors, and that’s exactly what fans are given here by Osbourne’s once band mate and original Black Sabbath bassist, Geezer Butler.

After a brief rundown of his early life and how he got from point A to point B, Butler goes through each period of his time in the band from album to album, describing each process in great detail (my personal favorite was his breakdown of what he described as the band’s “Sabbath Tap” period during the lesser-remembered Born Again era of the early ’80s).

There’s no overt need to be crude or crass found here, though Butler still maintains a sense of open honesty that still shines through. As a bass player myself who once honed their skills based around many of Butler’s riffs, and as just a metal and rock fan in general, this is truly the type of memoir I always have, and always will seek out for myself.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Album Review: Courtney Gains -Safe Haven (Fake Fangs Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Until semi-recently, I honestly had no idea that actor Courtney Gains, who is perhaps best remembered for appearing in such classic ’80s flicks as Children of the Corn and The ‘Burbs, was also a talented singer/songwriter/musician. But such is the case indeed, and thankfully it’s a welcomed surprise.

Admittedly, it took a minute for a few the songs from this new six-track EP, Safe Haven, to grow on me. But after a few spins, I finally began to appreciate what Gains has created here, a sort of hybrid rock that’s somewhere between the ’60s anthems of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the ’90s’ answer to hippie rock, Blind Melon.

From the opening title track, to closer “Good Times,” and all of the interesting moments that are found in between, there’s no shortage of bright spots (“Look Out” has quickly risen as my favorite tune on the record) that I hope to be able to hear live in the near future. I was also lucky enough to even catch up with Gains recently over the phone for a brief interview; be sure to “look out” for that piece to post soon on Rewind It Magazine!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Interview with Musician/Former Actor Nicholas “Nicko” Caruso By Jesse Striewski

Nicholas Caruso is a busy man to say the least; not only is he co-owner of one of the best local places around to find band shirts, Rock Stop (which has multiple locations in the central, FL area), he’s also a part of not one, but three separate tribute bands, including his most recent one, the Pearl Jam-inspired act, Black Ledbetter, which he leads.

Over the years, I’ve caught up with Nicholas (or “Nicko,” as he often goes by) a time or two, but had still yet to do an “official” interview with him (though the subject had been brought up on more than one occasion). Thankfully, we were able to finally put an end to that with a recent chat, just ahead of Caruso pulling double-duty with both Black Ledbetter and Nirvanna at Daytona’s Hard Rock Hotel this Friday, September 1.

I started our conversation off by inquiring about all three of Caruso’s acts and asking him to tell me a little more about each of them. He stated; “I’ve been a featured performer with Nirvanna as the Meat Puppets guitarist Curt Kirkwood. I’ve been doing that for eight years since this past February (wow time FLIES). I approached my band leader Ryan Salamone about starting a Linkin park tribute cause our singer for Nirvanna sounds EXACTLY like Chester Bennington, so honestly it was a no-brainer. His name is Eli Mitchell, and he’s so talented it’s disgusting! Ryan agreed wholeheartedly with the idea, and quickly put it into motion. We are called The Linkin Park Tribute Band (kept the name simple for marketing reasons I believe). I’m the guitarist and fill Brad Delson’s role.”

He continued; “It came to fruition rather quickly, and we’ve been touring all over the southeast U.S. Mainly Florida thus far, with respects to House of Blues New Orleans, but we are going to be all over the place in the upcoming year. I am also the merch manager for both bands. During the same conversation I had when I approached Ryan with the Linkin Park idea, I also informed him that last December I started a Pearl Jam tribute called Black Ledbetter, which I’m the singer and band leader for (Ryan owns the other two projects, while Black Ledbetter is mine).”

I wanted to know which one of said three acts was his personal favorite, and he informed me; “Black Ledbetter is my favorite – I get to be more animated as Eddie Vedder. I enjoy moving around a lot on stage, and the other two bands don’t leave much room for that by their design. Linkin park is also a lot of fun and the music is very rewarding when executed right. We are really tight, so it’s always an awesome experience. Nirvanna I also enjoy, however, I usually only play two, and on rare occasions three songs with them since the Meat Puppets only played three songs on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York. But nonetheless, it’s really cool and adds a great intimate moment to the Nirvanna set.”

As far as how long he’s been playing for, he told me; “I started learning guitar at age nine, but like most nine-year-old’s, I wasn’t mature enough to keep a practice schedule, and didn’t really start gaining any real skill until I was around twelve. Ironically the first song I ever learned on guitar was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Laughs). Never played that particular song in Nirvanna, but it’s still kinda neat that it was my first. My first passions though are power metal and prog metal, particularly Iron Maiden and Helloween, so my first bands for the first 15 years of my career focused on ’80s covers and older songs that were very responsible for the ’80s metal style (The Who, Arthur Lee and Love, The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, many others from the ’60s and ’70s. All the finest that influenced all of my ’80s metal heroes).”

Of course I had to ask him about his childhood acting as well, which he stated; “I’ve done a lot of acting jobs as a child actor. My favorites would have to be Welcome Freshmen, a Pepsi commercial in 1992 with Lou Pinella when he managed the Cincinnati Reds, and the 1993 movie Cop and a Half. Henry Winkler directed that and he absolutely loved me, so it was an unparalleled experience and a great honor for me to work with such a legend.”

He elaborated; “I was a lead character in Welcome Freshmen, and at thirteen years old, that was a trip. I was “corrupted” during that time, and damn near grew up overnight. I was tutored during the film schedule for about five months, and when I came back to school all my friends had become my bullies and all my bullies had become my friends. It was WEIRD. But soon after that I started taking guitar really seriously and was learning Iron Maiden songs at sixteen, so I was about to enter the rabbit hole that has brought me where I am today.”

I also wanted to know who he would share the stage with if he had the choice between anyone (living or dead). He responded; “Oof, that’s a tough one! A small list would be Tina Turner, Arthur Lee, the Obscured by Clouds era of Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, The Who, the Guess Who, the 1964 Brian Wilson Beach Boys lineup, the 1952 Four Freshmen lineup, Helloween, Filter, Cannibal Corpse, Midnight Oil, Living Colour, Katie Melua, Taylor Swift, and Mike Patton. I would include Candlebox among that list but I’ve played “Cover Me” with Kevin Martin and the Hi Watts at a sold out show in Tampa in 2003. So I’ve done that. And at this stage of the hand with Black Ledbetter, I would LOVE to play with stone Gossard and Mike McCready. I would also include Dying Fetus and Cattle Decapitation, but honestly I would only be able to bring merch sales ability and waterboy responsibilities to those two tables! (Laughs)”

As far as the Daytona Hard Rock show on the September 1 goes, Caruso assured me; “At Hard Rock Daytona Black Ledbetter opens up for Nirvanna. I will be performing with both bands. The fans can expect to have their faces melted off…”

Caruso also filled me in on some additional upcoming shows; “Black Ledbetter plays the Alley in Sanford on Sunday, November 5 with the Smashing Pixies. Nirvanna and the Linkin Park tribute has a multitude of gigs all over the state and I think a couple across the US soon too. Honestly we are all working SO much the easiest thing to do is go to our social media pages. Black Ledbetter has a Facebook page where we list EVERYTHING. Nirvanna and The Linkin Park Tribute Band have both Facebook and Instagrams and I believe our Linkin park tour schedule for the rest of the year is up, though it’s always subject to change since hurricanes and illness can strike sometimes, but also many more gigs are being booked daily so the schedule gets heavier often. Again any one interested should go to our Facebook pages and follow us!”

He ended with; “Thanks for talking with me today! I’m always down to answer any questions you may have and look forward to seeing you and everyone else in the future! Up The Irons, brother Jesse! And all the fans past, present and future! Viva Black Ledbetter!”

Interview with Monster Magnet Guitarist Phil Caivano By Jesse Striewski

Monster Magnet have always been one of those bands (from my home state of New Jersey, nonetheless) that I’ve always admired. While seeing the band live may still be one thing that alludes me, I couldn’t help but jump at picking the brain of longtime guitarist Phil Caivano once the chance to interview him presented itself to me, just after his debut solo album – simply titled Caivano – reached my desk.

One of the first things I wanted to ask Caivano was what made him decide to release solo music at this junction in time. He responded; “I finally had the time to explore the option of doing it. With Wendigo Productions involved it all started moving. I had some riffs and a few songs together. It was a matter of just committing to the process.”

I asked Phil who else performed on the record with him, and if it were fully recorded in New Jersey. He informed me; “[Monster Magnet drummer] Bob Pantella played drums and mixed. He’s the only other person involved with it. So fun working with Bob. Yes everything was recorded in NJ and Bob’s Freakshop Studio, and my Studio 13.”

I asked Caivano in his opinion which would be the go-to song for someone who had not yet heard the album, and he replied; “I’d say “Now Is Forever;” it’s the first song we released, and the first one I recorded with Bob.”

As far as taking the songs out live he informed me; “I’m thinking about doing it live if it makes sense. Some people have reached out to me to play if that’s the road I’m gonna go down. I have some people in mind as well.”

I was also curious as to how he felt the music on the album compared to his work in Monster Magnet, to which he stated; “Nothing really compares to Monster Magnet because Dave is so special. Such a great artist. The comparison is my guitar work. I play the way I play. I tried a few different things but my playing is how I do it.”

And as far as future touring with Monster Magnet goes? “Dave (Wyndorf) and I are talking about that now. Hopefully we can tour the USA and get back to Europe by 2024.”

I was always curious how Caivano originally came about the job as Monster Magnet guitarist back in 1998, and how familiar he was with their music at the time. He explained; “I was very familiar. Dave and I were friends long before Monster Magnet. I was at a lot of the early shows and around some of the records. Dave asked me to join after Powertrip was finished. I was living in LA when he made the record. I was back in NJ visiting when he asked.”

Lastly, I wondered if there were any obscure Monster Magnet songs that he’d want to pull from out of the vault, which ones they might be. He told me; “I love “Black Balloon” and “I Control, I Fly.” We’ve played them in the past. Always loved those songs.”

And with that, Caivano left with these parting words; “Thank You as well! Hope ya enjoy the record!! Rock ON!!!”

Album Review: Dethklok – Deathalbum IV (WaterTower Music)

By: Jesse Striewski

There was a certain excitement when I first learned that Dethklok – the fictional metal band from Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse series – were returning for a new album, and full length feature, simultaneously.

The second “Gardener of Vengeance” started to kick in, I immediately started getting late-2000’s vibes all over again (a.k.a. my single dad days). Other tracks like “Aortic Desecration,” Mutilation on a Saturday Night,” and “Murmaider III” are all destined to be eaten up by fans of the show, and said new film, Army of the Doomstar.

Mastermind Brendon Small is still pulling the strings behind the scenes on the project (with drummer extraordinaire Gene Hoglan still adding the backbeat), and what they’ve achieved is nothing short of epic. Raise the horns, my rock brethren, and behold the mighty Dethklok are back with a vengeance!

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Retrospective: 25 Years of ‘That ’70s Show’ By Jesse Striewski

I can remember exactly what was happening in my life at the time; I was seventeen years old, had just moved to a new town that very same month, and about the only “friend” I had to my name was my loyal dog Sam. So it was a no brainer for me to invite the gang – who were all close in age to me – of Point Place, WI into my life when That ’70s Show premiered on Fox on August 23, 1998.

The sitcom had a simple enough concept; a group of high school kids navigate their lives during the drug-filled ’70s that many still yearn for. The young cast was beyond easy to relate to; Eric (Topher Grace) was the awkward leader, next door neighbor Donna (Laura Prepon – who I had a raging crush on from the get-go) was the love interest, while Hyde (Danny Masterson), Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Jackie (Mila Kunis), and Fez (Willmer Valderrama) rounded out their group of misfit friends.

The ensemble cast also included Kurtwood Smith as Red and Debra Jo Rupp as Kittie, Eric’s very-much involved parents. Neighbors Bob (Don Stark) and Midge (Tanya Roberts) portrayed Donna’s airhead parents, while Lisa Robin Kelly sometimes played Eric’s promiscuous sister. Even Tommy Chong eventually got in on the action as a love-able stoner type (big stretch) for several seasons.

But alas, all good things must come to an end; by the end of the seventh season, Grace had left the show, initially replaced by by Bret Harrison before Josh Meyers ultimately filled the gap. Things finally concluded on May 18, 2006, and I watched the “That ’70s Finale” episode from home as a new father (at the time of this writing, my son Jacob is now the same age I was when it originally premiered, effectively aligning him to Eric, while I’ve since gained more in common with Red).

I have also been able to personally catch many of the bands featured/mentioned on the show live throughout the years. From Aerosmith to Kiss, to Blue Oyster Cult, to the band that actually provided the show’s theme song “In the Street” throughout the majority of its existence, Cheap Trick (the very same year the show went off the air in 2006 nonetheless – see flyer below), which the band of course performed live that night.

Unfortunately, time has also done a number on several cast members since the show; Roberts and Kelly both succumbed to early deaths, while Masterson is now facing up to thirty years in prison after being convicted on multiple sexual assault/rape charges, putting a dark cloud above the head of his character Hyde to say the least.

Still, the show’s popularity eventually spawned two spin-offs; the brief but underrated That ’80s Show in 2002, and more recently, the Netflix vehicle That ’90s Show that premiered earlier this year. But no matter what has come or gone since then, nothing can take away the lightning once caught in a bottle by a group of six deviant, albeit well-natured, kids back in 1998.

Flyer from an Orlando, FL Cheap Trick concert post-show party on 11/12/06 from the author’s personal collection.

Album Review: Caivano – Self-Titled (Self Released)

By: Jesse Striewski

Longtime Monster Magnet guitarist Phil Caivano recently released his first solo album, and it’s a mini masterpiece in its own right of gritty, spaced-out hard rock that’s impossible for fans of Caivano’s long-standing band not to fall in love with.

The opening track “Come and Get Me” says it all, and invites listeners to take this wild trip with him. From then on, numbers like “Now is Forever,” “Talk to the Dead,” “Fun & Games,” and “Face the Music” highlight the rest of the ensuing madness.

There’s definitely no shortage of musical influences that can be spotted throughout here either. From the likes of Black Sabbath to the Ramones, to even Pentagram and of course the obvious, Monster Magnet, there’s plenty of fast, doom-y riffs to keep fans of almost any of the above-mentioned bands pacified. So if you’re clamouring for some new rock music, consider giving Caivano a try over say, the latest Godsmack album.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Retrospective: 20 Years since ‘Freddy vs. Jason’ By Jesse Striewski

After years of endless rumors and speculation, the concept of pitting horror titans Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund) and Jason Voorhees (this time portrayed by Ken Kirzinger) finally came together for fans on the big screen in 2003. For many a fan of the genre, the waiting finally paid off.

Released on August 15, 2003, fans lined up (yours truly with my girlfriend at the time included of course) to see the latest additions to the A Nightmare on Elm Street (eighth entry) and Friday the 13th (eleventh) franchises, which the crossover idea was initially teased at the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday ten years prior in 1993.

The movie starts off promising enough; first audiences are given a brief rundown of the plot (complete with clips from previous entries) before a perky, young skinny dipper (Odessa Munroe) bares all before becoming the film’s first victim via Jason. From then on, it’s one long continuous bloodbath that accumulates in an epic Kong vs. Godzilla type-war.

Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland, and Katharine Isabelle help round out the cast, while metal acts like Slipknot, Hatebreed, Ill Nino, and Killswitch Engage add to the film’s youthful appeal via the its soundtrack album (the track “Beginning of the End” from the slightly obscure Spinshank is one of the most underrated tracks found on it).

Looking at it now, the film might be a tad on the cliche and even corny side, but at the time, it was the perfect movie for a 22-year-old to get a buzz on and go see on the big screen with a group of friends. It almost feels as though it was the last of its kind now, as each franchise has since gone on to be rebooted with all new cast and crews (to this day Freddy vs. Jason marks the last time Englund has portrayed Kruger on screen). As the old saying goes, “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.” I’m glad I was around for at least some of when they actually did, though.

Original Freddy vs. Jason ticket stub from opening night from the author’s personal collection.