‘We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!’ – Film Review
We Are Twisted F***ing Sister! tells the story only fans (or should we say, SMFs) in the Northeast tend to be privy to. The documentary sets the stage in 1982 where Twisted Sister are opening a televised British performance with the classic “Under the Blade” complete with Dee Snider‘s famous “Good evening! Welcome to our show” intro lyric. Everything seems to be in place with another glam act on the rise, but then the footage is cut short and the impactful “3,267 shows earlier” text graces the screen before the next two hours trace a full decade of steps that all built up to that performance.
Band leader Jay Jay French describes his attraction to glitter rock in 1972 and his early days of trying to form a hard-hitting rock band that could work their way up to a full time job playing locally. As Mark Hitt, member of then local act Rat Race Choir, describes, the two options for nightlife entertainment consisted of going to the movies or seeing a live band at a bar. Twisted Sister cycled through different members, but had established a precedent that a replacement be found before letting someone go as to not miss any gigs. Twisted Sister finally found their iconic frontman, former Harlequin and Peacock singer, Dee Snider, giving a true face to the group. The eccentric singer and master s–t talker was encouraged to up the glitter ante by his girlfriend, Suzette, who slowly began applying more and more makeup to the hulking singer as well as custom feminine outfits.
French and Snider did not drink alcohol and kept their minds clean with a focus on pulling off a devastating performance every night that left them, and the crowd, bereft of any energy. Night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year, Twisted Sister packed up their van, went to the bar to play for three to four hours, came back home and did it again the next night. They were the house band at several bars and were easily able to fill up their weekly schedule, routinely playing the tri-state circuit. As French says in the film, the band’s advertising was crucial because it gave the impression that Twisted Sister were everywhere. And they were.
Playing so many sets was physically draining, especially for the consummate frontman Snider, who was going ballistic onstage each night, somehow managing to keep his voice in tact. To kill time, Twisted Sister ran through a myriad of gags, including getting the crowd to participate in a competition where they drink until they puke, penning the “Disco Sucks” song that involved heavy crowd participation, burning the original Saturday Night Fever poster and more. Disco was the mortal enemy of rock ‘n’ roll, which fans in the documentary attest to, even saying that they believed Twisted Sister were the saviors of rock (the band later wrote an original called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Saviors”) and were there to “stamp out” disco music.
While they were making a living, simply destroying crowds for years on end was not enough to satiate their ceaseless hunger for a label home. Twisted Sister shopped around for opportunities, but were denied every step of the way as record executives wrote them off as just another bar band, cautioning fellow executives they would lose their job if Twisted Sister’s name was mentioning again. Even when the band performed to over 20,000 people in a single headlining slot as a local act, labels refused to budge.
Finally, Twisted Sister scored a deal in England after an original song slowly worked its way up the charts. Demand for the enigmatic group from Long Island, N.Y., increased, ultimately leading to an appearance at the Wrexham festival and a deal on Secret Records. The band wound up playing direct support from Motorhead without the release of an album. At the time, crowds did not take kindly to bands wearing makeup and women’s clothes, so the iconic Lemmy Kilmister introduced them before hitting the stage to ease the tension for the band.
Following the release of Under the Blade, Secret Records folded and Twisted Sister were resigned to bar band status once again, having briefly tasted the success they so desperately craved, only to be left with a bitter taste in their mouths. Of course, they found fame and went on to record the multiplatinum Stay Hungry.
The story of Twisted Sister is among the most unique and remarkable tales in rock ‘n’ roll. The group, lead by guitarist Jay Jay French and partially usurped by the bombastic Snider, is a testament to iron will and unwavering perseverance as they set out to annihilate any and all competition that stood in their way.Throughout the documentary, the dueling egos of French and Snider play out, giving vital credibility to their brash arrogance and unyielding attitude. While their meteoric rise to fame seemed like an overnight sensation (though the lyrics to “What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You) say otherwise), finding success like other contemporaries came after years of fervent performances, outlasting the gap between glitter rock and glam metal.
We Are Twisted F***ing Sister! is as fun as it is informative, stocked with archive footage that shows the band’s progression sonically, visually and conceptually. Watching the band perform in bars provides a foundation for understanding Twisted Sister’s music. Needing to win over the attention of patrons where music was secondary and in the background, the New York natives crafted anthemic songs based on highly anthemic, thunderous and accented drumming with sing-along vocal hooks, unforgettable riffs and a feel-good vibe. that coalesced into a feature attraction rather than background noise. Now, next time you listen to “I Wanna Rock,” think of those 3,267 shows before the band was signed.
‘We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!’ is available on DVD/Blu-Ray, VOD and digital download now.
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