There are quite a few elements of the 1994 comedy Ace Ventura: Pet Detective that haven’t really stood the test of time. The villain-reveal at the end leads to a really nasty homophobic/transphobic sequence that just keeps going and going, and even given how much the world has changed in the last 27 years, is spiteful and unnecessary.
One thing that has dated pretty well is the cameo by Cannibal Corpse. They were only three records into their career at this point and weren’t the giants of death metal they would become. A lot of 1990s band cameos feel a bit cringey now, but death metal still sounds like death metal.
Shortly after Cannibal Corpse’s Tomb Of The Mutilated came out, they got a call about being in a film with Jim Carrey. They knew who he was from his appearances on the sketch show In Living Color but were dubious about both how real the offer was and whether they would end up looking silly.
“We were very skeptical,” drummer and founding member Paul Mazurkiewicz Jr. told Noisey. “It was very bizarre, but we figured if our label is calling us about it, it had to be legit. But at that point, we got worried about how we would be portrayed. They didn’t initially say what they wanted us to do, so we wanted to make sure that we weren’t gonna be portrayed in a comedic way. We’re a brutal death metal band, and we’re serious about what we do.”
The band were eventually convinced that they would be treated seriously, and that Carrey would be the one providing the silliness while they would just have to be Cannibal Corpse. The thing that convinced them was an offer to shift the movie’s production schedule to accommodate their European tour.
With the schedule arranged, the band flew to Miami for two days to shoot. According to bassist Adam Webster, they were presented with a wardrobe department full of deliberately ripped jeans when they got there, which raised a few eyebrows among the band as to how much the filmmakers really understood them.
How into metal Jim Carrey is seems permanently up for debate. He’s definitely at least interested in it, though – check out this appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992, in which he does a pretty impressive impersonation of Napalm Death. He calls them ‘thrash metal’, but so be it.
In fact, according to Napalm Death’s Barney Greenaway, before approaching Cannibal Corpse for Ace Ventura, Carrey wanted them to be in the film.
(If anyone was wondering, Italian speedcore band Komprex have a track called Brutal Jim that is built around Carrey’s growls here, and Illinois comedy thrash band Smash Potaters use it to lead into their cover of Sum 41’s Fat Lip.)
Carrey’s son in law, Alex Santana, is the lead singer of LA death metal band Blood Money, has claimed his purported love of metal is wildly exaggerated. In 1999, Santana wrote, "For the record, Jim hates death metal... He'd never heard of Cannibal until doin' that movie. Trust me, it's the first thing I asked him when we met."
However, the band remember it differently. Webster describes Carrey as being “at least interested in our music – I’m not sure if he was a big fan or not”. Whether or not he was a legitimate Cannibal Corpse fan, Carrey had done his research and reportedly greeted the band members by name, as well as reciting lyrics to them.
(Bizarrely, the band are credited as ‘Thrasher Band “Cannibal Corpses”’, and nobody seems certain whether that is a joke or a mistake. The lineup featured in the film is frontman Chris Barnes, bassist Alex Webster, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz Jr. and guitarists Jack Owen and Robert Barrett. Barrett had only just joined the band, replacing Bob Rusay, and Barnes wouldn’t be in it for much longer – he left in 1995 and was replaced by George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher.)
“Jim comes over to us wearing his Ace Ventura garb, going, ‘Oh my god! Cannibal Corpse! It’s so great to have you guys here!’” recalls Mazurkiewicz. “Then he starts rattling off lyrics and tells us he wants us to play Hammer Smashed Face. It was insane. He specifically asked for that one. [...] He also rattled off the lyrics to Rancid Amputation, which was on our previous album. So he knew what was going on.”
The band weren’t used to the multiple takes and long waiting times required of a Hollywood production and spent two days miming to Hammer Smashed Face with a room full of extras moshing silently. When they eventually saw the movie, they were a bit underwhelmed as a bunch of what they’d shot didn’t make it into the theatrical cut. A deleted scene, reinstated for some TV broadcasts, sees Carrey crowdsurf onto stage and do some not-too-shabby growling and particularly impressive gyrating.
After the film wrapped, Cannibal Corpse nearly became movie regulars – between the filming and release of Ace Ventura, they were offered another movie, but the offer was rescinded once the producers knew about the Ace Ventura appearance.
“That movie was Airheads, which White Zombie ended up getting,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Airheads is cool, but it’s not Ace Ventura. It didn’t do what Ace Ventura did.”
In 1994, Carrey was in three movies – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb & Dumber. They propelled him from ‘funny guy off that sketch show’ to global megastar. By 1996, when he made The Cable Guy, he was the first actor to earn $20m for one movie. In 2000 he briefly revisited heavy music in the movie Me, Myself & Irene, headbanging to Motherfucker by The Dwarves.
Cannibal Corpse, meanwhile, were the top-selling death metal band of the 1990s. They have now released 15 albums, and despite a reasonable amount of their output being forbidden in quite a lot of countries – their records were banned in Australia until 2006, and they were kicked out of Russia in 2014 – are bigger than ever. Their 2021 album Violence Imagined made it to number six on the Billboard chart.
It would be disingenuous to credit all of their success with a brief appearance in a very silly film, but Cannibal Corpse claim at least one fan they talk to every show says they were introduced to death metal by Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. When you think of all the bands that were inspired by Cannibal Corpse, it’s hard not to conclude that Jim Carrey’s enthusiasm – whether genuine or not – had a big impact on the world of death metal.
“To this day, it’s still the biggest mainstream opportunity that we’ve ever had,” says Webster. “People still talk about it because it’s weird for a band like us to be in a movie with Jim Carrey.”
“It was so surreal,” says Mazurkiewicz. “We were freaking out because we’re on a movie set meeting Jim Carrey, and he’s freaking out because he’s meeting Cannibal Corpse.”