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'Dark Shadows': Alice in Movieland

Shock rocker Alice Cooper walks us through his surprisingly diverse onscreen career

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Alice Cooper has been in some terrible movies — and he knows it. ”I went into Blockbuster and they had a rack of the ’10 Greatest Turkeys of All Time,”’ says the singer, 64. ”I was in three of them.”

Cooper, who became famous 40 years ago with the hit ”School’s Out” and followed it up with ”Elected” and ”No More Mr. Nice Guy,” is known for being one of hard rock’s most theatrical performers. His stage shows have featured a guillotine, an electric chair, and a boa constrictor. Now the self-confessed horror-film nut will appear as himself in Dark Shadows, performing at a party thrown by Johnny Depp’s vampire hero Barnabas Collins (who in the film describes the rock star as the ”ugliest woman I’ve ever seen”). Cooper says he found director Tim Burton to be a kindred spirit. ”We had dinner one night in London and we both knew every point of reference,” he recalls. ”If he would say, ‘Suspiria,’ I would say, ‘Dario Argento.’ I see the humor in horror as much as Tim or Johnny does, so we really do fit together.” Last summer Depp grabbed a guitar and joined the rocker on stage at London’s 100 Club. ”I said, ‘If this whole acting thing doesn’t pan out for you, you can always be one of our guitar players,”’ remembers Cooper. ”He said, ‘You have no idea how many times I would rather do that.”’

Off stage, the man born Vincent Damon Furnier is a golf nut and droll anecdotalist who says he’d love to be cast as a priest or ”nerdy accountant.” In the meantime, he’s happy to reminisce about playing a brainwasher, a murderer, and…the man who raised Freddy Krueger.

Sextette (1978)
The provocative Cooper was (mis)cast as a singing waiter in this misbegotten comedy, which also stars Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Timothy Dalton, and the famously lewd Hollywood legend Mae West as a much-married sex symbol. Although West was in her mid-80s at the time, Cooper says she lived up to her image. ”After this scene I did with her she says, ‘Why don’t you come back to my trailer?’ The next day Ringo says, ‘Yeah, she came on to me.’ And Keith says, ‘Yeah, she came on to me.’ And Timothy Dalton says, ‘Oh, yeah, she tried to get me in her trailer.’ So we all had this shared experience of Mae West being Mae West, which was great.”

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
Cooper, who was struggling with alcohol abuse, temporarily checked himself out of a ”psycho ward” to play a brainwashing media mogul in this infamous adaptation of the classic Beatles album. Produced by talent agent–turned–movie mogul Robert Stigwood, the film’s bizarre cast also included the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Steve Martin, and George Burns. ”Because the Bee Gees were so big in disco at that point [Stigwood] figured, ‘The Bee Gees are bigger than the Beatles, let’s have the Bee Gees do the Beatles’ best album.’ Well, that’s either going to be genius or idiotic.” Critical opinion trended strongly toward the latter: Newsweek critic David Ansen described the film as possessing a ”dangerous resemblance” to wallpaper.

The Muppet Show (1978)
Cooper may have appeared in two of 1978’s stinkiest movies, but he struck gold that year with his starring role in an episode of The Muppet Show, in which he performed ”Welcome to My Nightmare” and tried to persuade Kermit to sell his soul in exchange for rock stardom. ”It was when Jim Henson was running it, and Frank Oz — the real guys,” he says. ”The dialogue was hysterical.”

Monster Dog (1984)
By the early ’80s he was looking for a low-risk project on which to test his newfound sobriety. Then the horror-film junkie was offered a lead in Monster Dog, a werewolf movie directed by Italian schlockmeister Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2). ”My manager said, ‘They’re going to release it only in the Philippines,”’ says Cooper. ”They released it everywhere, of course. And they overdubbed all our voices in English, which made it more bizarre.” Again, Cooper has no regrets: ”It’s exactly the kind of movie I rent. I try to find the worst C-horror movies there are.”

Prince of Darkness (1987)
Cooper plays a demonically possessed ”street schizo” who kills a college student with half a bicycle in John Carpenter’s much-better-than-it-sounds horror movie. ”I’m a friend of John’s, and I went down to watch him film a scene,” Cooper says. ”I used to do a thing [on stage] where I put a mike stand through a guy’s chest and it comes out the other end and spurts blood. It’s a great effect. John says, ‘Could you put a bicycle through this guy’s chest?’ The next thing I know I’m in the movie.”

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Cooper cameos as Freddy Krueger’s guardian, who, in a shot cut from the finished film, gets a razor in the eyeball by young Fred for his efforts. ”I wish that role was bigger,” he says. ”But those movies are: ‘Get to the chase! Put the straight razor through Alice’s eyeball and let’s get to the next scene!”’

Wayne’s World (1992)
Playing himself, the singer performs ”Feed My Frankenstein” and then proceeds to educate Wayne and Garth on the history of Milwaukee. ”I was supposed to just do the song,” he says. ”Then Michael [Myers] comes in and gives me about eight pages of dialogue. I went, ‘When are we gonna shoot this?’ and he goes, ‘In about half an hour.”’