Why Did MTV Ban A Star-Studded Twisted Sister Zombie Video?

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Zombies and mascara and metal, oh my!

Headbangers like to romanticize the 1980s. With the support of grassroots scenes, intrepid radio DJs, and the uncharted creative waters of MTV, heavy metal developed from backyard concerts and bars to a commercial powerhouse. For a while, it seemed like the proverbial sky was the limit for the fledgling genre.

People fear what they don’t understand. After hearing the unambiguously sexual lyrics of the Prince song “Darling Nikki”, then-Senator Al Gore’s wife Tipper set about forming the Parents Music Resource Center to shield children from material deemed morally objectionable. Central to the PMRC’s foundational argument were what they called the “Filthy Fifteen” – fifteen popular contemporary songs with blanket notes on their potentially injurious lyrical content. Unsurprisingly, nine of the fifteen songs came from metal and hard rock bands.

Under pressure from the PMRC, nineteen record labels agreed to place the soon-to-be ubiquitous “Parental Advisory” stickers on the covers of potentially offensive albums. Before the policy could go into effect, the senate agreed to a hearing on what was being referred to as “porn rock.” A deluge of politicians spoke on behalf of the sticker policy, while the unlikely trio of John Denver, Frank Zappa, and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider testified in opposition.

Noble as Snider’s advocacy was, his appearance at the hearing only served to paint a bigger target for the PMRC on Twisted Sister’s back. The fingerprints of the pressure group were found all over MTV’s banning of the band’s “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” video in 1985.

A collaboration with Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, E-Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, and Stray Cats bopper Brian Setzer, “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” is Twisted Sister’s best shot at radio pop. Impressive as its guest list might be, the song itself kinda sucks but finds redemption in its star-studded video. Starring comedian Bobcat Goldthwait as a teacher who can’t get through to his students (one of which happens to be a pre-Beverly Hills: 90210 Luke Perry), he goes into the teacher’s lounge after class to blow off some steam by listening to a little Twisted Sister on his trusty walkman. Another teacher (played by legendary special effects wizard Tom Savini) asks Goldthwait if he can listen in. The next thing you know, the two hapless educators morph into Dee Snyder and Alice Cooper, the other teachers become Twisted Sisters, and the students all transform into zombies.

With special effects courtesy of Savini, “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” is a cross between the film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Altogether harmless, the video was nonetheless banned by MTV. In his memoir Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, Snider says of the situation: “They told us that the zombie content was ‘too gross’ for MTV and absolutely no amount of editing would fix it. What? It was no worse than Michael Jackson 14-minute, MTV Award-winning zombie opus for ‘Thriller,’ but ours was unairable? Like the fans, MTV discovered they could throw concerned parents a bone with Twisted Sister that would have little effect on their viewership. Scumbags.”

Director Marty Callner told Billboard in 1986 that it was “the most ridiculous, inane decision I’ve ever heard. … Frankly, I can’t believe the people I know there would do this. It’s got to be coming from someone above. … I haven’t really challenged MTV about [the ban]. The song’s not coming out for 30 or 40 days, so I thought they might change their minds. The video’s no gorier than ‘Thriller,’ and it’s funny besides.”

Fortunately for us, the long-disbanded PMRC holds no sway over YouTube. Check out the undead schoolhouse massacre below!

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