DVD Review: Alice Cooper's 'Theatre of Death'

When it comes to Halloween rock 'n' roll, Alice Cooper's pretty much right at the top of nearly everyone's party playlist... and this year the shock-rock overlord has really been spreading the seasonal spirit around with lots of cool projects, including a "Halloween Hootenanny" tour with Rob Zombie and Murderdolls. But if you missed out on that, there's also a groovy new DVD/CD release (as well as a Blu-ray package with the same features) from the Coop's 2009 Theatre Of Death tour that's not only pretty affordable, but is also a sure bet to join Welcome To My Nightmare in your pile of go-to discs to get you and your friends in the Halloween mood – no matter what time of year.

Recorded during his December 6, 2009 performance at London's Hammersmith Apollo, Alice Cooper: Theatre Of Death is jam-packed with most of Alice's biggest hits, all presented with his usual Grand Guignol-style excess. Turn the page and find out what Alice has served up for your autumn pleasure...

“They keep killing him,” the DVD promo art states in blood-spattered script, “and he keeps coming back!” That's the overall theme to the Theatre Of Death tour, which manages to pack in several of Alice's now-legendary onstage “deaths” – a long-time trademark of his shows since the early days. I won't give away all of the (literally) gory details, but my personal favorites include the classic guillotine set-piece and of course the six-foot hypodermic needle (during the finale of “Poison,” naturally).

Packing 26 songs into a lean 91 minutes, the DVD is a obviously a pretty quick, breathless sprint through the entire Cooper catalog, and a few of the tunes performed are either truncated or merged into others for dramatic effect, but all the good stuff is pretty much here, and it's a great overview of a diverse but always interesting career in flashy theatrical shock-rock. We get everything from vintage hits like “School's Out” (performed as both an intro and encore), “I'm Eighteen” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” to '80s chart-topper “Poison” and latter-day tunes like “Wicked Young Man,” “Dirty Diamonds” and “Vengeance is Mine” (from his most recent album Along Came a Spider). I was a bit surprised that “Elected” and “Feed My Frankenstein” didn't make the cut, but I guess you can't have everything...

Alice's backing band is top-notch, and is more than up to the task of interpreting all the styles offered, from the older glam numbers (which dominate the show) to bits of punk experimentation and plenty of strutting '80s hair-metal – complete with self-indulgent jams (the instrumental version of “Black Widow” done here is basically five minutes of non-stop showboating). Alice's vocals and lyrics – gritty and sneering at all the right moments, but always commanding and authentic – are still the great equalizer, making each song distinctly his. But when you get right down to it, it's the theatrics that make the Coop's shows so damn memorable, and most of the real crowd-pleasers are here – either replicated exactly from past tours, or updated with some new imagery.

Fans like myself who grew up with the Welcome to My Nightmare concert images burned into their brains may be a bit disappointed with the simpler, less flamboyant re-enactments of that show's most memorable moments... sorry, no Vincent Price voice-overs, spiders doing interpretive dance, or 12-foot-high robot cyclops here. Not to worry, though; plenty of classic over-the-top moments remain, including the creative use of a dummy during the necrophilia ode “Cold Ethyl,” the gallows death that ends “I Never Cry” (this time merged with “Only Women Bleed”), the iconic strait-jacket Alice dons to sing “The Ballad of Dwight Fry,” and the climactic doll-decapitation from “Billion Dollar Babies.”

In addition to Tiffany Love's portrayal of several female characters from Alice's various morality plays (most memorably the very naughty “Nurse Rozetta”) the stage is constantly crawling with burlap-hooded zombies, masked executioners... even the occasional ninja. The crowd interplay is always intense, with Alice hurling beads at the crowd like a breast-obsessed frat boy at Mardi Gras and exploding confetti balloons with a sword-cane... and the band even gets in on the act, at one point prompting the audience to bring the singer back to life (after one of his many onstage executions) by chanting the chorus of “I Love the Dead” in what feels like a bizarre riff on Peter Pan.

While this show may come off as a potent Alice Cooper concentrate – more of a “greatest moments” than a “greatest hits” overview – it's still a great reminder of the man's wicked stage craft, incredibly catchy melodies, shout-out-loud choruses, and crowd-pleasing showmanship. It's also a great way to introduce newcomers to the massive appeal of Alice's collection of work, which seems to have universal appeal to anyone who likes to party on the dark side and come back feeling good. Case in point: watching this DVD, notice how many very young faces, all painted up with Alice's trademark evil-clown visage, can be seen in the London crowd – living proof that his memorable songs and unforgettable stage persona continue to draw new fans, even two generations after the original Alice Cooper band first took the stage to shock and awe unwary crowds in the late '60s.

Expertly shot in widescreen and sounding dead-on perfect in either Dolby 2.0 or 5.1 surround mode, this one's a no-brainer for your Halloween Night festivities. The CD is a slightly trimmed-down version of the same concert, in case you want a more portable version. But if you still need convincing, just heed the wisdom of Alice himself, whose single “Keepin' Halloween Alive” (featuring Rob Zombie bassist Piggy D and guitarist Dave Pino of Powerman 5000) is basically his unofficial theme song: “It's our holiday,” he explains. “At home my family all gathers around an old spooky tree decorated with skulls and bones in the living room, and we exchange gifts... we even all have matching black-and-orange Halloween sweaters!” Seriously, we all want to party with this guy.

Speaking of which: If you're a serious Alice fan, there's still a chance to pounce on one of the limited-edition 7” singles of “Keepin' Halloween Alive” (along with live b-side “I Love the Dead”) pressed on glow-in-the-dark vinyl. It's currently available for US sales through Alice's official site, where they also have a video showing the pressing process, which you can see right here: