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Friday, October 31, 2014

Black Roses

Black Roses
Not to be confused with Guns n Roses, Black Veil Brides, or The Rosie Black Chronicles

Heavy metal is the Devil’s music, right? I mean, that’s why the world has been plunged into a thousand years of darkness ever since the release of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”. Oh, wait. That didn’t happen did it?

Every few years, groups of people with too much time on their hands get their dander up about the “evils of rock music”. The majority of people know this is ridiculous, but it certainly doesn’t help when a few goobers throw out a few lyrics from a metal band before committing heinous acts. No, a song isn’t going to flip a switch inside your brain commanding you to give your soul to the Dark One. But it’s not a bad idea for a movie.

Black Roses is a 1988 horror movie starring John Martin (General Hospital, One Life To Live) as high school English teacher Matthew Moorhouse. Black Roses, an up-and-coming heavy metal band, has decided to come to a small town to play 4 shows as a warm-up act before heading out on the road. Parents and school officials are both concerned with the lyrical content and the imagery put forth by the band’s music. While most of the adults want to shut down the shows, Mr. Moorhouse urges for the group to have an open mind. Students excitedly pack the auditorium to watch Black Roses and they adults sit in the back. One inoffensive power ballad later and the adults leave the show, safe in the knowledge that the band, while a bit too loud, is nothing to be afraid of. As soon as they leave, the concert kicks off in earnest with loads of sexual imagery and devilish music. The next day, Mr. Moorhouse reaches out to Black Roses lead singer Damian (Sal Vivano, The Jitters, Law & Order) who assures him that the band has no ill intentions towards the kids or the town. Even Mr. Moorhouse’s prize student Julie (Karen Planden in her only acting role of note) shows a marked change. Soon, the behavior (and clothing choices) of the high-schoolers begins to change. It is revealed that Black Roses are, in fact, demons corrupting young people with their music in an effort to turn them into fellow demons. Students start killing their parents and other adults in gruesome fashion. When Mr. Moorhouse confronts Julie about her change in behavior, she transforms into a hideous demon and tries to kill him. How will Mr. Moorhouse be able to stop Black Roses before it’s too late?

And what secrets does his mustache contain?

With an idea like this, there’s only two ways the movie could have gone: extremely serious or extremely goofy. The general concept isn’t bad and if done seriously, it at least had the potential to be a good horror movie. Of course, this was made in 1988, the same year that gave us tons of horror sequels like Friday the 13th part VII, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, Halloween 4, Hellraiser II, and Howling IV or lots of not-serious horror like Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Hobgoblins, Scarecrows, and Waxwork. For the most part, Black Roses is goofy. I say that because there are some scenes of violence in the movie that take an extremely dark turn compared to the tone of the rest of the film. A student shooting his father repeatedly in the head, another beating her perverted step-father to death, and Julie slitting someone’s throat are a stark departure from the lighthearted beginning of the movie. It kind of took the fun out of the movie’s initial camp. It’s hard to laugh when you’re cringing.

I said "No crusts"!

 So what makes Black Roses silly? Beyond the general tone of the movie, one has to look towards the flow and pacing of the movie as well as the continuity. The movie tends to slow down at various points just when you think it should be ramping up. Every time we get some action, the story veers off into different places, such as Mr. Moorhouse’s love life. Not enough time is really given to his personal life for us to care, so it’s just wasted minutes. I would have liked more attention spent on the band themselves. It would have been nice to have had a clearer motive for their actions or even some of a back-story. The movie just presents them as some sort of magical demons and that’s about it.

Danzig still looks pretty good for his age.

 When we are first introduced to Black Roses at the beginning of the movie, their demonic look is completely different from their look at the end of the movie. Why? I actually thought their original costumes, why obviously cheap masks, still looked good. Compare that to the embodiment of rubber bodysuit embarrassment we see at the end. That costume looks like it should be handing out overpriced rubbery pizzas at Chuck E. Cheese, not corrupting the innocent and turning them into monsters. In fact, I think he’s a little shorter than Mr. Moorhouse. Mr. Moorhouse should have just put his hand up, keeping the monster at bay while flinging it’s arms wildly.

Bring it on, short stack!

 When the movie first began, I thought the main character was a male student. About 20 minutes in, he is pretty much forgotten about as the focus shifts towards Mr. Moorhouse. I thought it was a bit odd that the hero of the movie was a teacher instead of one of the students. Wouldn’t it have been better and more cohesive to have a student save the day, resisting the pull of the evil metal music? It probably doesn’t help that some of the students are clearly in their late 20’s. But hey, we get famous metal drummer Carmine Appice (Ozzy Osbourne, Vanilla Fudge) in all his 80’s sleaziness as the band’s drummer. They get points for that at least. The acting throughout the movie is passable with no one being particularly bad or good. We do get a small scene with Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy from The Sopranos) as the father of one of the students. I’ll bet he doesn’t put Black Roses on too many resumes. In a bit of a funny coincidence, director John Fasano also directed Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.

Whoops. Sorry, fellas. I’ll come back later.

 In a movie about heavy metal, how does the music hold up? It’s not bad actually, with real musicians such as Appice and Mark Free (King Kobra, Unruly) recording the songs. It’s your typical late 80’s mixture of rock and hair metal. Kind of catchy in that typical glittery cheesey 80’s way. The movie also features music from Lizzy Borden, Bang Tango, and Tempest. The sound track was released by Metal Blade, proud home of bands such as the Goo Goo Dolls, Viking, and Austrian Death Machine. Oh, and some other well-known metal bands too.

I’ll bet this demon was shoved into a lot of lockers as a teenager.

 Black Roses manages to have some fun moments, but doesn’t seem capable of pulling it together. The main message of the film does in fact seem to be that heavy metal is evil, though it’s not entirely clear given that the main character encourages people to have an open mind. The dark, intense nature of the movie’s violence takes away from the fun, leaving the movie in a weird sort of limbo between serious and silly. It also doesn’t help that the demons look like the leftovers from a Halloweentown store on November 1st. The music is probably the best part thanks to the filmmakers wisely relying on established bands to provide it. While it’s not a particularly good movie, it can still be fun to laugh at with a group of friends.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare
This may or may not be the new Manowar album art
There is nothing inherently wrong with making a low-budget horror movie. There is something wrong with making a low-budget horror movie when the same person writes, produces, provides the music, and acts in the lead role.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (originally titled The Edge of Hell) is a 1987 horror movie starring Jon Mikl Thor (Zombie Nightmare, 80’s metal band Thor) as John Triton, lead singer of the band Triton. Triton, along with their girlfriends and manager, have driven out to an isolated barn house to record new music. Unbeknownst to them, a family was mysteriously murdered several years before by an evil force. After a mediocre recording session, various monsters begin appearing in the house. One by one, the band becomes possessed by the evil presence and their personalities start to change. On the bright side, the band sounds better than ever. Unfortunately, the good times end as everyone in the house disappears, leaving John as the sole member still alive. The evil spirit finally reveals it’s true form, that of the Devil himself! How will John be able to defeat the Prince of Darkness?

And who knew the Devil was so adorable?

Calling Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare a vanity project for Jon Mikl Thor doesn’t do the term justice. He’s the writer, producer, and lead acting role. To the surprise of no one, Thor is not good at all three of these things. The movie cost a little over $50,000 to make, a paltry sum for a horror movie that includes multiple monsters. You may be surprised to find out that the movie took a week to film. If I had to guess, I would’ve said it took a solid afternoon.

In terms of acting, you have your standard c-level horror movie crappiness. The director purportedly hired some of his friends to act and I completely believe that. Lines are delivered poorly, usually with a lack of proper emotion or projection. I think Thor knew he wasn’t much of an actor, because despite being the hero of the movie, he actually isn’t in it all that much. There are times throughout the movie where the dialogue is drowned out by music.

This next one is called “Cocaine Titty Explosion”!

Speaking of music, Thor manages to cram in as much of his as possible. If we’re being honest, it’s not that bad. It straddles the line between hair metal and late 70’s cock rock. I’m not a fan of either genre, but the music manages to be tolerable, bordering on enjoyable at times. Probably because it distracts from the poor acting and lack of story. Beyond the metal music, Rock N Roll Nightmare also injects cheap Casio keyboard hits that would make Varg Vikernes nether regions tingle like the first time he read Mein Kampf. The cheap keyboard music pops up at random times throughout the movie and consistently made me laugh. Probably not what they were going for.

On top of all that, Thor is the main image on the poster. He beats out the Devil for top billing! He’s practically saying “Out of the way, Beezlebro, I gotta flex these pecs! You may bring the lightning, but I’ve got the thunder! Drink it in! UGGGHHHHH!” To be fair, when you’re a former bodybuilder that writes like Helen Keller after a night of heavy drinking, you might as well pose as much as possible. And pose he does. The final battle between John and the Devil is a chance for Thor to take off his shirt, put on some sort of chain-mail loincloth and do his best Mr. USA poses. Think I’m kidding? Look at this picture:

I call this look "Brown Steel"

With all of these things out of the way, what about the story? Well, there isn’t much story. There really isn’t much build or anticipation. Things just kind of happen and then we move on. The demons/monsters are Halloween store surplus. The Devil is downright adorable. And this guy? Subtlely was thrown out of the window into a dump truck filled with rat tracks. It’s literally a one-eyed penis-shaped monster. What else can you say? I mean, besides “What in the throbbing purple fuck?!”

Funny caption not necessary

 I won’t spoil the big twist, but it comes out of nowhere and makes very, very little sense. It actually causes more plotholes than fills them in. It does lead to one of the best fight scenes since Roddy Piper vs. Keith Davis in “They Live”. It’s less a find and more of a “John makes funny faces while holding the arms of the paper mache Devil. And it goes on for 10 minutes!

Oh sure, you love Slim Jims, but you don’t want to see what they’re made from.

Rock N Roll Nightmare is a funhouse mirror in Jon Mikl Thor’s world where he is the best at everything. Really, though, can you be annoyed by a movie this goofy and inept? Yeah, you can. With a group of friends Rock N Roll Nightmare can be a good time. It’s poorly acted, poorly written, and downright silly. It’s absolutely fun to laugh at and can be enjoyable if treated as such. But as a genuine horror movie? It’s woefully and hysterically bad. And may you be in Heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you’re flexing.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hard Rock Zombies

Hard Rock Zombies

Rock and Roll will never die

Horror may be the only film genre where bad movies are just as beloved as the good ones. Oh sure, there’s a few terrible Sci-Fi movies out there that are loved (thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000), but not on the same level as horror. Genres like romance, western, war, thriller and the like don’t have the same affinity for terrible movies. Why horror? I suppose if you like the genre, you already have a bit of a warped sense of humor as compared to the mainstream. Of course, it’s important to know the difference between “it’s so bad, it’s good” and “it’s so bad I want to pull my eyeballs out with an ice cream scoop”.

Hard Rock Zombies is a 1985 zombie movie E.J. Curse (Bones, Rules of Engagement) as Jessie, the lead singer of an up-and-coming hair metal band. The band travels to the small coastal town of Grand Guignol to play a concert for a record producer. Along the way, they pick up a beautiful hitchhiker named Elsa (Eyes of the Serpent, Molested) who invites them to stay at her family’s mansion. The family consists of Elsa, her elderly grandparents, her brother (it’s not clear), a groundskeeper, and two “little people”, one with an eye patch and one suffering some sort of unexplained deformity. Unbeknownst to the band, Elsa recently drowned two men while her family members watched with glee. While in town, the band’s antics, which includes skateboarding and miming (seriously), raises the ire of the locals. Enraged by these events, the town bans the band from playing. Meanwhile, Jessie starts to fall for a young girl of indeterminate age from town named Cassie (Jennifer Coe) who had originally warned him not to come to Grand Guignol. Instead of playing in town, the band performs at the mansion for the sadistic family. The band is electrocuted mid-set, but survives. Later that night, the family murders each member of the band, leaving only their manager alive who was in town trying to secure a venue for the band. When he returns, the grandfather reveals himself to actually be Hitler (yes, really) who is still bent on world destruction. Cassie resurrects the band, turning them into the living dead, who quickly gain revenge on the murderous Nazi family. Unfortunately, the family is also turned into zombies who begin to wreak havoc on the townspeople. How will the hard rock zombies be able to stop the zombie Nazis and what will happen when the record producer comes to see their show?


Does that sound like a good movie to you? No. Of course not. Does it sound like a movie “so bad, it’s good”. Don’t say “yes” because it wasn’t. The entire film is a comedy of errors. From a technical standpoint, many scenes are too dark, the music is occasionally so loud that it drowns out dialogue, mics creep into shots, the inexplicable scenes of the band cavorting around town like extras from a Dexys Midnight Runners video and the even more inexplicable scenes of Elsa dancing. The exclamation point comes when writer/director Krishna Shah’s (American Drive-In, Shalimar) name is spelled incorrectly in the credits.

Yep. That’s a mic at the top of the frame.

Of course, the technical errors can’t even compare to this viral outbreak of story. I wasn’t trying to be lazy or vague in my rundown of the movie above. I genuinely couldn’t remember characters names or even the name of the band. It doesn’t really matter. It’s not like it had much of an impact on the story.

Not pictured: Story

Speaking of story, I have eight words: who, where, when, why, and what the fuck? With bad horror movies, you can usually see a kernel of a good idea hidden beneath the layers of garbage. I couldn’t find that kernel in Hard Rock Zombies. It’s as if someone had an idea board and threw three darts that happened to land on “zombies” “music” and “Hitler”. And to make things worse, all three of those things are executed poorly.
When the band becomes zombies, the do this herky-jerky walk-dance that looks like a cross between The Robot and rigor mortis setting in. And they can still do normal everyday things like drive and play their instruments. Sure. Why not? In terms of music, “hard rock” is a huge misnomer. The band’s songs are the musical equivalent of marshmallows. Yeah, it’s catchy, but so is the flu. And Hitler? This came from out of nowhere and managed to make a story about musician zombies even stupider. And why did he reveal himself? And what’s the deal with the deformed little person? And is Eva Braun a werewolf or does she just wear a werewolf mask? Nothing is particularly clear and just when you think things get weirder, things get weirder. All of this makes me want to curl up in a ball under the kitchen table, eating nothing but sugar packets until my arteries caramelize.

Sadly, the Hair Metal Helmet never took off.

One would think that the basis of the movie would be the band gaining revenge on the family. That makes sense, right? Well, making sense took a vacation with this movie. The family is killed in less than ten minutes of the bands’ demise. Why not have that be the rest of the film? Maybe you think I’m being too hard on this movie, but you didn’t have to sit through it. I’m definitely stupider for having done so. If it was supposed to be a straight horror film, it failed. If it was supposed to be a comedy film, it failed.

People that like this movie dress up their kids as Ash from Army of Darkness. People that like this movie then tweet those pictures to Bruce Campbell for his approval. People that like this movie see nothing wrong with the insanity of the “ghost rape” storyline in American Horror Story. People that like this movie invite dates over to watch Human Centipede. People that like this movie get hot dogs at the movie theater. People that like this movie use the bathroom stall next to you even though there’s a bunch open. People that like this movie own a “Keep Calm” shirt. People that like this movie take a full shopping cart to the self-checkout line. People that like this movie use Uber just because it’s raining. People that like this movie really want you to read Ron Paul’s books. People that like this movie get lunch from Dunkin Donuts every day.

(If any of that offended you, please leave lots of rage comments and post a link to this review everywhere. I get more views that way.)

The story is bad, the acting is bad, the humor is bad, and the music is bad. What I’m really trying to say is that Hard Rock Zombies is bad and now I feel bad for having watched it. It’s not bad in a good way. It’s just plain bad.

Hard Rock Zombies is available in it’s entirety on Youtube (but you shouldn’t watch it).


Friday, October 10, 2014

Trick Or Treat

Trick Or Treat
Judging by the poster, I'll choose neither

High school is a hellish time for just about everyone. We’ve all had to deal with bad grades, homework, unrequited love, bullies, and the killer ghosts of satanic heavy metal icons. What, you didn’t have to deal with that last one?

I always cringe when I hear someone say that high school was the best time of their life. Really? Was it the delicious school lunches of cardboard and ketchup pizza? Was it being forced to sit through useless class after useless class being taught by someone who stopped caring 5 years before you were born? Those people peaked early. They’re the same goofs that wear their Varsity jackets and add current high schools on Facebook. More often than not, those people were also bullies. The point is, high school is no fun which is why it’s the basis for many horror movies. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Horror High, Carrie, The Craft, and Prom Night all revolving around high school. All three also involve revenge on bullies. Sounds like a theme, huh?

Trick or Treat is a 1986 supernatural horror movie starring Marc Price (Family Ties, The Rescue) as high-schooler Eddie Weinbauer. Eddie is an outcast in school and is consistently being tortured by bully Tim Hainey (Doug Savant, Melrose Place, 24). His one escape is through his love of heavy metal. Eddie consistently writes to his hero, Sammi Curr (Tony Fields, Across the Moon, Santa Barbara) his favorite musician who also went to the same high school as Eddie. Sammi is killed in a mysterious fire leaving Eddie completely devastated. He visits his friend Nuke (Gene Simmons from KISS), a DJ at the local radio station. To help Eddie deal with his grief, Nuke gives him the demo record of Curr’s unreleased last album “Songs In The Key Of Death”. Nuke also informs Eddie that he plans to play the album at midnight on Halloween. While listening to the album, Eddie has a strange vision of a building on fire and Sammi sitting in what appears to be some sort of satanic ritual. He then hears that the record is skipping and that hidden lyrics seem to be directly addressing him. Eddie begins to follow the instructions from the record, taking revenge on Tim. Standing up to his bully, Eddie is filled with a new confidence and begins a friendship with popular girl Leslie (Lisa Orgolini, Born To Ride, Satlin). As time goes on, Eddie realizes that Sammi Curr is actually speaking to him from beyond the grave via the record. Sammi’s evil plans are soon revealed and before Eddie can stop him, an electrical surge reincarnates Sammi, complete with electric powers. Will Eddie and Leslie be able to stop Sammi before his music is broadcast for the entire world to hear?

And what does his hand taste like?

On the surface, Trick Or Treat is a fun, if somewhat goofy horror movie. It initially hits on the misfit teenager being bullied and wanting revenge trope pretty well. Almost a little too well, in fact. Eddie’s humiliation and torture is so great that if you take out the movie’s camp and put in some ambient music, the first 20 minutes of the movie could be very depressing. Combine this with his airhead and mostly-absent mother, and this could easily be a movie about a school shooting in the right (or wrong) context. Of course, we can’t take out the camp because it really defines the rest of the movie. The special effects, though, are very cartoony. And when I say cartoony, I’m not being abstract. I mean they literally look like they are from a cartoon. The movie manages sprinkle in some legitimately funny humor, such as a student in a mascot costume being carried out of the school dance on a stretcher.

Whoa! Too close!

The acting and directing are both fine. Tony Fields was a Solid Gold dancer prior to acting and he sure gets plenty of chances to show off his moves. All that was missing was the bucket of water from Flashdance. There are some fun and creative kills to keep the audience entertained. The story starts to wear thin, though, towards the end. We get the natural progression of a bullied Eddie wanting revenge only to have remorse at his actions. But at the end, Tim is still a bully, trying to force himself on Leslie and even hitting her. So does that mean Eddie was right all along with his quest for revenge? Seems like a bad lesson. Eddie isn’t written as the best hero. Towards the end of the movie, he’s constantly telling Leslie to “stay here” or “wait here”. In fact, it’s Leslie and Eddie’s friend Roger that show more bravery than Eddie does.

The movie does have a fair amount of plot holes that tends to take away from the viewing experience. Why is Sammi chasing after Eddie now that he’s reincarnated? Ultimately, what difference does it make? It’s not like he needs him anymore. And how are they going to explain all of these supernatural deaths? There’s a scene where a band is about to play at the high school dance and Sammi reaches through an amp, kills the singer, and takes his place to perform the concert. This is all done in front of a room full of people and no one cares! I can suspend disbelief, but come on. It also doesn’t help when a microphone is clearly in the shot. Oops.

The mic is the least-awkward thing about this shot

Another bit of weirdness/creepiness revolves around a scene involving Tim’s girlfriend Gennie listening to a cassette copy of “Song In The Key Of Death”. Through the power of satanic magic (I guess) Sammi molests Gennie with a ghost-like animated hand. After disrobing, Gennie opens her eyes to see a giant green monster on top of her. What was the point of this scene? It was incredibly uncomfortable and wholly unnecessary. It didn’t add to the story and made the movie far darker than intended. On top of that, where did this monster version of Sammi come from and why didn’t we ever see it again? It was just so very strange and didn’t make much sense.
It’s nice to see Gene Simmons pull double duty.

When most movies try to address heavy metal, we get some sort of ham-fisted reference to a band or album, and nothing more. See the “No way! I love Pantera too!” conversation from Mighty Ducks 3 for an example. I’ll give Trick or Treat a lot of credit though because there is enough in this movie to make any metal fan happy. We have references to Judas Priest, Megadeth, Exciter, Lizzy Borden, Dee Snider, Anthrax, and Impaler. There is also a reference to the PMRC Senate hearings made famous by the spat between Dee Snider and Tipper Gore. Clearly, someone knew what they were doing when putting this together. Of course, the movie’s underlying message does seem to say that heavy metal is evil, so it’s really a toss-up if Trick or Treat is pro or anti-metal. Music for the movie is provided by Fastway, featuring “Fast” Eddie Clark, formerly of Motorhead and Pete Way, formerly of UFO.

The movie also has cameos by KISS’s Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne as an anti-heavy metal evangelist Reverend Aaron Gilstrom. Despite what some posters and DVD covers might suggest, both rockers do not star in this movie. They just make brief, but fun cameos. Ozzy’s natural stammering makes his character seem more natural and believable. Just think of how many times you say “um” and “uh” in your daily life and then watch a movie. Doesn’t happen too often. Excluding Jeff Goldblum, of course.
Ultimately, Trick or Treat is a fun, if flawed, horror movie. It’s entertaining enough with some good action and subtle humor. It’s cheesy, but fun cheesy.I appreciated that the movie actually put effort into establishing that Eddie loved heavy metal. I also liked that Sammi once referred to Eddie as “false metal”. Apparently, Eddie was reincarnated as a Youtube commenter.