For about a year, I was an interviewer for Dee Snider's HouseOfHairOnline.com. It was a dream slot that, for me, opened doors in music journalism, and allowed me to speak with such guests as Ace Frehley, KK Downing, Doro Pesch, Matt Sorum, Bobby Blotzer and late KISS manager, Bill Aucoin, among others. Thank you for such a glorious opportunity, Dee. Prior to landing this valued gig, I'd interviewed Dee over a span of two hour-long sessions. On the first day, I had an emergency outside the house and bolted back inside, missing our scheduled interview time by seconds. Dee was prompt in calling, and he'd left me a hilarious message that I still have recorded in my archives, one that ended with him chanting “Are ya there? Are ya, huh? Are ya, huh?” I considered myself lucky; had this been inside a Long Island bar in 1981, Dee likely would've cornholed me on the spot and had the rest of the club hound my ass for my transgression.
It's the latter point I'm making that you need to grasp while coming to Andrew Horn's docufilm "We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!" It all depends on your wherewithal, music dweebdom and band devotion to hang through this 135 minute, exhaustive though stirringly frank overview of TWISTED SISTER's formative years, prior to their brief pop culture takeover during the 1980s.
It's been refreshing watching Dee move from project to project, enjoying a fruitful second life in entertainment. Equally cool is seeing Dee, Jay Jay French, Mark "The Animal" Mendoza and Eddie "Fingers" Ojeda keep the TWISTED enterprise going, even if the likelihood of us seeing a brand new album (aside from metalled-up yule tunes) is equal to Homer Simpson registering a triple digit IQ. For all of the juice squeezing, reissuing the band's back catalog and live videos from past and present, we've yet to dig deep into the band's history.
"We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!" does just that, and if you were a part of the Tri-State area during TWISTED SISTER's glitter-bombed, tone-bombed, F-bombed club days, you'll likely be lighting a candle while watching this film. Andrew Horn traces the band's founding and rise with Jay Jay French and Dee Snider recounting most of the tale. We dive all the way back to French's first attempts to put the band together (at the time going around as TWISTED SISTERS) with past members such as Kenny Neill, Mel Anderson, Billy Stiger, Keith Angelino, Michael O'Neill and Tony Petri. The film retraces the struggles and successes of French and TWISTED SISTER on their way through the clubs of Jersey and Long Island, to the distant shores across the pond, with frontman Dee Snider, when the UK-based Secret Records gave them their first break. This break included recording their hard-fought debut LP, "Under the Blade", in an English countryside barn doubling as a recording studio, and then the label's sudden, crippling folding prior to what could have-would have, should have-been their first triumphant international tour. Horn's film makes the band's disappointment palpable.
Morphing from a glam rock act focusing largely on DAVID BOWIE, MOTT THE HOOPLE and VELVET UNDERGROUND covers, to their debuting original material mostly written by then frontman Dee Snider, TWISTED SISTER slung their music locally year-after-year to the point of exhaustion. As a high-demand bar act that managed to sell out Manhattan's revered Palladium without the benefit of a record deal or radio airplay, TWISTED SISTER's will to rule the world is the leitmotif to "We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!"
"We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!" includes early TWISTED SISTER classics such as "Bad Boys (of Rock 'n' Roll)", "I'll Never Grow Up Now", "Come Back" and "Rock 'n Roll Saviors", plus a handful of their metal benchmarks: "Shoot 'em Down", "Tear it Loose", "Destroyer" and "Under the Blade". If you come to this film expecting "I Wanna Rock", go to VH1 Classic instead. "We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!" is for the band's original fans, and includes interviews with some of those very same S.M.F.s. But, that doesn't mean it's not compelling for anyone who cares about a snaggletooth rock 'n' roll chronicle.
Brevity being thrown out the door, this film invites the viewer to laugh at stories about TWISTED SISTER being booked to play at club closings, where club owners encouraged destruction and pandemonium, as well as the nefarious flotsam-tossing (including human excrement) incident during the 1982 Reading Festival. TWISTED SISTER's literal torching inside the 2001 Odyssey Club, site of John Travolta's polyester-clad shimmying in "Saturday Night Fever", rings like a strange voyage—the club trampled, burned and slaughtered, a sacrifice in the name of rock 'n' roll. Horn interviews Dee's wife, Suzette, who designed much of TWISTED SISTER's wardrobe, and she tells a comical tale about when she and Dee showed up to a gig wearing the same lady wear. Hell, it was bound to happen.
The film also traces the lesser moments of TWISTED SISTER's gradual rise to fame, such as a racist club owner congratulating them on a Barry White bashing stunt, which was immediately stricken from the set. One feels Jay Jay French and Dee Snider's frustration as the band faced humiliation, fist fights and numerous dashed hopes by American record labels—most notoriously from their future home, Atlantic Records. While Atlantic executive Jason Flom championed TWISTED SISTER, his fight to sign them was the same as the band's, and Dee's honesty in retelling it all cuts deep. Hearing Jay Jay French recount how he felt robbed of his “rock star” moment due to having to act as the primary manager of the band on their way up, is a profound look into the machineries of a working rock band. Cooling fights between the band and club owners, booking lighting and equipment shipping, working promoters for gigs, when you see the unending, mega-stuffed touring itineraries flash upon the screen, you get what French is saying. The echoing sentiment throughout "We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!" is that anything that can happen to a band did happen to TWISTED SISTER, most notably Lemmy Kilmister's onstage endorsement, which helped them to win over off-put British audiences.
On a personal level, I smiled throughout the entire film. Many of these stories were ones Dee had shared with me years ago. I wasn't there to see them directly; he'd already made them real to me as the jewel interviewee he is. It's nice to see balance to those tales through not only his and Jay Jay's eyes, but the rest of the band (including A.J. Pero, rest in peace, brother), their management and fans. Andrew Horn makes his point clear: this film is a love letter to the thousands who supported TWISTED SISTER on their rise to a momentary perch upon the rock totem. As much as anyone, it's told through the fans who defied miles of snow for the chance to scream “Disco sucks!” with a crazed blood thirst, solidifying their ranks as S.M.F. Friends of Twisted Sister.
Dee, Jay Jay, Mark, Eddie and even A.J. , in the great rock hall beyond, will never grow up. Thankfully, neither will I.