Although horror films and TV shows are experiencing a major surge of popularity right now, there’s yet another avenue available for artists to evoke fear and dread in people: music videos.
Granted, music videos might seem less significant now than they were in the 1980s and ‘90s, two decades which are usually considered their heyday, but they are still being produced, as anyone who as a Good Life gym membership can attest. Both the US and Canada still hold awards ceremonies with the words “music” and “video” in the title (MTV Video Music Awards and MuchMusic Video Awards, respectively), and although music videos might not make or break a band the way they used to, their existence is still part and parcel of the mainstream music industry.
But what about bands who aren’t part of the mainstream? Take for example, Portal, an Australian band fusing death metal and black metal (yes, they are distinct subgenres). Like their more sonically conventional brethren Ghost, the members of Portal keep their identities hidden; “band members don suits and executioners’ masks save for vocalist The Curator, who wears a huge, tattered wizard’s hat that obscures his face.” Portal is a band who is not content to have their image overshadow their sonic qualities; PopMatters writer Adrian Begrand astutely observes that their music is “truly friggin’ terrifying.”
This is the kind of build up that leaves horror aficionados begging for more. Enter director Zev Deans, who created a bona fide horror show for “Curtain,” a track from Portal’s 2013 album Vexovoid.
Some decidedly retro-looking opening titles announce that the video is adapted from the Edgar Allen Poe poem, "The Conqueror Worm." While the word “conquering” implies a larger than life hero, the actual size of a worm is quite small when compared to that of a human being. This is, of course, the cruel twist of mortality: even the mightiest will eventually die and be consumed by the lowly worm.
Deans has captured the essence of Poe’s words in a remarkable way in his video for “Curtain,” making the titular worm into a sort of Gothic Kaiju by the end. One wonders what Poe himself would have thought of this video or if anything resembling its unforgettable visuals was terrorizing the inside of his skull while he wrote his poem. This is easily one of the more unsettling, if not outright frightening, music videos you’ll ever see.
Don’t try to figure out what The Curator is saying; just watch and listen.
No doubt that Portal’s intensely grim, demonic sound makes the perfect accompaniment to these images, but even watching the video without sound is a disquieting experience (to say nothing of hearing “Curtain” without any visual aids).
It’s worth noting that the imagery within, despite being disturbing, does seem inspired by other things from the horror canon like Ringu, Hellraiser, The Exorcist, Curtains, and Coppola’s Dracula (itself inspired by silent horror films), not to mention the videos Adam Jones directed for the band Tool. Yet somehow, Deans combines these elements in a fresh way, one that evokes rather than imitates.
Although the video for “Curtain” is just under six minutes in length, those looking for new ways to scare audiences without crappy CGI should look to Zev Deans for inspiration.