David McGhee started watching horror movies in earnest as a young child. His older brother would laugh at the more gruesome parts, because, well, that’s what boys do.
That somewhat inappropriate laughter imparted in the younger McGhee an offbeat way to enjoy the genre, because he remembers following the social cues of the older people in the room and cracking up at what were probably inopportune moments.
“To me, everything going on was not that big of a deal,” recalls McGhee, who has Asperger's. “Like, it was so calming to me that when my case managers or psychiatrists or social workers came to the house, they’d see me watching a horror movie. A guy’s head would be being torn off. They’d say, ‘Do you feel homicidal or suicidal today?’ I’m like ‘No. Do you like this movie, too?’”
McGhee, frontman for The Vanilla Milkshakes — a band that sits somewhere between punk and indie rock — says his earliest horror movies were Killer Klowns From Outer Space and Return of the Living Dead, both of which had the added effect of planting the punk-rock seed in his formative brain. The latter movie, in particular, has a punk-laden soundtrack that kicks ass with bands like the Cramps, T.S.O.L. and 45 Grave making appearances. Both remain his favorite horror flicks of all time.
“Those two movies introduced me to both horror and music,” he says. “I didn’t know it was punk music at the time, and I didn’t fully get into punk rock until I heard the Offspring’s 'The Kids Aren’t Alright.'”
He sold off what eventually became a 1,200-strong horror-movie collection in order to buy his first guitar and amp combo.
Fast-forward two decades, and the Vanilla Milkshakes have recently released “Troma’s Song,” an homage to Troma Entertainment. Troma movies are objectively terrible; they cover topics like fried-chicken joints built over Indian burial grounds, hard-boiled cops who dress in Kabuki makeup, and a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet with white-trash meth-addict body-piercing freaks. It’s all very wholesome.
The Mikshakes' punk ode to Troma trash clocks in at about three and a half minutes and is reminiscent of comedy-punk outfit Sloppy Seconds, which gave us such classics as “Janie Is a Nazi” and “Why Don’t Lesbians Love Me?” — though McGhee’s somewhat off-key, thoroughly charming vocal style probably constitutes a genre unto itself. The video, mostly clips from Troma movies, opens with the unassailably cool Tromaville skyline image that appears at the beginning of most of the company's releases.
The song came about after he befriended Lloyd Kaufman, founder of Troma Entertainment, on Twitter, says McGhee. He wrote one song at Kaufman’s request that went nowhere, but another, about censorship, eventually became “Troma’s Song.” He adds that the tracks, like most of the songs he writes, came in one quick burst, and that Kaufman also contributed some lyrics.
“They liked it so much that they bought the license and made a video of it,” he says. “They are going to put it in a movie.”
McGhee used to write horror books, but he says he gave them up because they always clocked in at 800 pages — and, anyway, he preferred movies. These days, he churns out movie scripts when he’s not making punk-rock music. He’s hush-hush about most of his ideas, but pressed for an example, he says he’s written a remake of 1990’s Frankenhooker, which is exactly what you think it is. If you had insomnia and cable in the early 1990s, you’ve probably seen it.
“It needs to be rebooted,” McGhee says. “It’s a classic because it’s so campy. It’s funnier than it looks.”
McGhee lives with his caretaker and Vanilla Milkshakes drummer Frank Registrato in Arvada. The two are trying to branch out into licensing music for movies, and have had some early success. They attended the South by Southwest music festival virtually this year, taking in livestreamed performances and looking for opportunities in the movie industry. McGhee has been pitching his ideas ever since.
“It was really cool this year,” he says. “The previous years, you had to just randomly bump into someone, but this year you could contact everyone by just messaging them. I got lots of movie contacts and music contacts.”
The bandmates have decided that they will license any of their songs for the low price of one American dollar.
“Troma said they would buy the song for a dollar,” McGhee says. “We decided to make this a tradition — like any song for any movie, [whether] it’s a $100 student film or a multimillion-dollar major motion picture.”
It’s a way that McGhee wants to be remembered. And while he's good with whatever type of movie his music ends up in, his first choice would always be horror.
“I love horror movies,” he says. “When I die, I want people to [watch] a horror movie and say, ‘Wow, that song sounds cool.' … What’s cool is that we are now a part of Troma lore, and Lloyd lets us pitch D-grade movies every day.”
The Vanilla Milkshakes play the Oriental Theater on June 11. Find more information about the band on its Facebook page.