How Gwar Ended Up With A Cameo In Empire Records

In the nineties, director Allan Moyle accomplished the rare feat of making two movies that wound up being considered cult classics. At the start of the decade, "Pump Up the Volume" starring Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis used pirate radio and a killer soundtrack to take down a corrupt high school. In 1995, "Empire Records" took down big business by saving the local record store with a last-minute fundraiser put on by a motley crew of Gen X outcasts. 20 years after "Empire Records" was released to little fanfare, it has become something of a social phenomenon with legions of fans who celebrate Rex Manning day every year on April 8 (the film is set on the same day). 

Richard Linklater's "Slacker" and Moyle's "Pump Up the Volume" captured the malaise of the slacker generation on film, an era that culminated with Stephen Frears' "High Fidelity" starring John Cusack in 2000. Nestled perfectly in between these films smack dab in the middle of the decade, "Empire Records" was a reflection of the cheerier, post-Grunge side of the mid-'90s, even if most of the characters were dealing with darker issues like suicidal ideations, drug addiction, and teen promiscuity. 

For a bubble gum movie presumably made for mainstream youth culture, "Empire Records" is still pretty heavy at times. At first glance, the inclusion of Gwar — the notorious heavy metal band from the planet Scumdoggia — seems out of place when Marc (Ethan Embry) eats a weed brownie and winds up on stage at one of their infamous, blood-soaked concerts (prepare to be stained pink for a week if you go). But Gwar is really just a different flavor of bubble gum and their juvenile antics don't seem out of place during their quick but memorable cameo.

How did Gwar even end up in Empire Records?

Turns out, fans have Ethan Embry to thank for the wild idea to include Gwar in the film. Embry's character, Marc trips out and hallucinates going to one of their shows only to find himself on stage getting swallowed up by a giant worm, an effects-heavy gimmick reserved for the band's biggest fans. Embry told Complex around the 20th anniversary of "Empire Records" that director Allan Moyle was always open to new ideas:

"We came to him with the idea that Gwar was in town and how rad it would be if we worked them into the movie in some way. He came up with this: Mark eats some brownies that throw him into a psychedelic fantasy. We filmed at the Gwar show. He was game. He gave me a camera operator and a camera and said, 'Yeah, go do it!' And it ended up in the movie."

Embry actually hadn't seen Gwar in the 20 years since that day, but during an anniversary screening and event put on by BBQ Films at Brooklyn's Rough Trade record store in 2015, they reunited. In his own surprise cameo, Embry emerged out of Gwar's worm monster on stage just after the film was paused during Marc's hallucination. He wiggled his way out and shouted, "I've been stuck in that f****** worm for 20 f****** years!"

In another surprise appearance as a talking head discussing the band's undying legacy, Embry appeared in last year's documentary "This is Gwar." Playing film festivals around the world, "This is Gwar" chronicles the early days of the band in Richmond, Virginia, and the many trials and tribulations they've faced over a career that has somehow lasted almost 40 years.