Dolly Parton recently signed a deal with Netflix to turn a number of her biggest hits into movies. Her songs are often stories, so it’s a natural progression. The same should have happened for these songs turned movies…which all tuned out a little odd.
Monster Mash (1995)
The monster-centric novelty song “Monster Mash” was a (graveyard) smash upon its release, topping the charts just before Halloween 1962. It still gets tons of airplay each fall, and in 1995, the song’s writer and performer Bobby Pickett (who sang the song in a Boris Karloff impression) adapted it into a movie musical. Oddly, the movie Monster Mash doesn’t have remotely the same plot as “Monster Mash.” While the song tells the story of a mad scientist who stumbles upon a bunch of classic monsters in his laboratory having a groovy monster party, Monster Mash is a standard horror movie tale (but with songs!) about an innocent couple that gets stranded in a spooky mansion inhabited by Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, Igor, and the Wolfman.
Big Bad John (1990)
Today Jimmy Dean is probably best known as “the sausage guy,” but in the early 1960s, he was a pop and country music superstar who also hosted a top-rated variety show where the Muppets made their national TV debut. In 1961, Dean scored a #1 hit with “Big Bad John,” a musical tall tale about Big John, a miner who “stood six foot six and weighed 245.” He becomes a hero when he pulled a giant tree out of a mine opening, saving the lives of 20 men, but dies in the process. That’s a heck of a story, and a cinematic one at that at, but it’s not the plot of the 1990 movie Big Bad John, which is based on the song and co-stars Jimmy Dean. Ned Beatty plays a guy traveling through the dusty West, only to stumble upon a murderous crime family, and he has to try and kill most of those bad guys, including Big Bad John. There’s no mine escape or anything!
Bad Romance (2011)
Like many Lady Gaga songs, “Bad Romance” is about a complicated, toxic relationship fraught with psychological games. It’s almost as complicated as Bad Romance, a 2011 romantic drama produced and released in China. The plot follows seven twentysomething men and women and their various relationship predicaments in and around Beijing. There’s also a lot of Chinese opera interjected, along with a score based on the songs of Lady Gaga (including “Bad Romance”).
Ode to Billie Joe (1976)
Bobbie Gentry came out of nowhere in 1967 to score a number one hit with the mysterious and upsetting country-folk song “Ode to Billie Joe.” The song doesn’t follow normal pop song structures as it tells a first-person story about a small-town tragedy. The narrator is a teenage girl who tells her family that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” Gentry never actually says why Billie Joe did what he did—the song is more about the indifference surrounding the death and the tricky nature of grief. Listeners aren’t supposed to know why, because it doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, not knowing why Billie Joe jumped drove people nuts, and a 1976 movie sought to answer that lingering question. After Gentry told screenwriters she didn’t actually have a secret impetus for Billie Joe’s suicide, they decided he did because he’d shared a kiss with another man.