By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
The images in the band's songs are taken from Pfahler and Samoa's horror movies, with each track unfolding like a mini movie. The use of on-stage props, Pfahler notes, helps bridge the songs and the film concepts: "Our specific kind of theatricality A the use of props and costumes to illustrate each song A is very simple, very ABC, very PG-13. I think it comes from my Austrian heritage. I read recently that Austrians have a great sense of the phantasmagoric. I'm just lucky I can see the value and redemption in ugliness. I think the things we do are gorgeous. They don't do choreography in rock any more. I love that Fifties-style performance, with sets and big hair and glamour."
Pfahler grew up in Malibu Beach, where her next-door neighbors included Barbra Streisand and Shelley Winters (an exemplar of voluptuous horror, Pfahler points out). Her father was a nationally recognized surfer featured in surf-film auteur Bruce Brown's Slippery When Wet. Early on she followed her dad's athletic example by becoming a gymnast, and was being groomed for the Olympics until she broke her arm in her early teens. She later dropped out of high school and ran away from home, heading for the East Coast, where she wound up in New York and became a junkie. She jokes about the irony of getting her heroin addiction out of the way before becoming a rock star.
As a kid Pfahler was obsessed with horror films and was always impressed by the "lady devil" image of B-movie starlets Barbara Steel, Yvonne DeCarlo, and, of course, Black, the star of two Pfahler favorites, 1975's Day of the Locust and the made-for-TV Trilogy of Terror. The band's real-life namesake actually appears in its 1994 concert film Teather Penumbra, introducing the band and explaining that she wasn't sure whether to take the group's name as a compliment or an insult.
"I've always loved these cheesecake horror films," Pfahler says. "Movies are my nature. I see movies and I have to pay homage to what I'm inspired by. I've always been very visually oriented, and after having lived around ugliness for so many years, my imagination has stretched it out to the phantasmagoric."
Rebelling against the stifling stereotype of what she terms "perfect bikini models," Pfahler and her cohorts go out of their way to look as unnatural as possible, like E.T. cadavers come to life. It's an extreme celebration and glamorization of the filth and degradation of everyday life in a city like New York, declares Pfahler, who has runway-modeled for designers such as Betsey Johnson, likening the experience to streetwalking.
"I feel that out in the general public there is still a real Madonna/whore complex," she rails. "It's considered okay to spread your cunt if you are doing pornography, but society as a whole is annoyed by what I'm doing. If you do something with your body in a celebratory way, it makes people really uncomfortable. We are reclaiming and doing other things with our bodies, which is getting us problems with censors A we're not allowed on television and on some stages. It's surprising how conservative things still are. It's becoming more dangerous to be who we are. We're in this primarily to have fun. Music is terribly fun, and this is the nature of who we are, to continue showing up in all circumstances. I'm like a vaudevillian performer. It's my job.