Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Movies You Can't Netflix: Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare

Just say no(In which I share my thoughts on an obscure piece of Eighties cinema: Today's film comes from 1987 via the Great White North.)

We open with one of the least scary horror sequences you're ever likely to see. Despite the director's obvious intention to create some suspense (see note below about the score) and perhaps frighten us the scene comes off rather flat. While cooking breakfast, disaster befalls a housewife: a puppety demon pops out of the fridge and eats her. The demon then kills the father and the couple's son.

That's our prelude. Ten years later, a hair-metal band heads to the very same house on a working vacation. Their plan is to relax, rehearse and/or record new material, up in Canada, because there are no distractions in Canada. Nonetheless, the band brings along their girlfriends too, but maybe they expect them to be very Canadian (i.e. not distracting). They aren't your typical groupies, what with the wearing of the pearls and such.

There's only about 20 minutes of movie in this movie, the other hour or so is mostly padding. First off, the film proper begins with an extended sequence of John Triton (the mantastically sculpted Jon Mikl Thor) driving his van through the countryside, a scene which lasts a good four minutes. Four minutes... of a van... driving through the countryside. Okay, so I can't document every instance of filler in this film, but viewers can expect to see lots of static shots of the exterior of the farmhouse where the film takes place, more shots of tree branches rustling in the wind, puppet's-eye views of furniture, a bunch of very un-sexy sex scenes, two musical numbers, time-lapse photography of clouds, and more scenes of people washing dishes than any movie with the words "rock n roll" in the title has any right to. Throw in some really cheap effects, consistently shitty dialog, and sizable helping of komedy, and you've a recipe for greatness. And by greatness I mean this movie sucks.

After about 20 minutes of filler, bad acting, the worst fake English accent ever, and shots and shots of branches, the truly horrible happens: The first musical number. It's a not-very-good hair-metal tune titled "We Live To Rock." To be fair, it's way better than the second tune they later play, but that ain't saying much. The band's rehearsal sounds, I'm guessing, nearly identical to their studio recording, but on the final note, tragedy strikes. The drummer breaks one of his drumsticks. Now, apparently this has never happened to anyone, anywhere ever before, and it is such a shock to the band that the rehearsal is thrown into chaos. And let me tell you, folks, it's all downhill from here. First off, people soon start dropping like so many fumbled plectrums, and secondly, there's another musical number still on the way.

The manager slinks off to the basement to find a spare stick, and once down there, bumps into the drummer's girlfriend. She's hot and raring to go, so she put the moves on him. Those moves involve turning into a monster and biting him. When the others rush downstairs to find out what the rumpus is, the basement is empty. The manager is gone, and no one is sure what to make of things. Though, it does lead to this primo dialogue exchange: "Let's go check upstairs," suggests one of the girls. Triton replies "Well, it sounded like the scream came from down here. [Thoughtful pause] You're right, let's go upstairs."

Unable to find the errant manager, it's concluded he must've gone to town to buy some new drumsticks. That certainly explains why he and the van have suddenly disappeared. Of course, you'd have to be daft to believe it. Needless to say, everyone believes it. Practice is cancelled and everyone is sent off to get laid. For a band that is supposed to be up in Canada rehearsing, they sure will use any excuse to slack off. Maybe this is why The Tritonz never became a household name, unlike Winger or Faster Pussycat.

And while none of the above makes any sense, it does allow this film to progress. Sort of. Eventually, after some footage of tree branches and whatnot, another member of the party is attacked. This time it's the drummer with the fake English accent, and he is again done in by one of the girls. Suddenly, it occurred to me that maybe this is some sort of anti-feminist parable, where women are really monsters who suck the life-force and creative energy from virile males, as typified by the cock-rockin'est of all archetypes: the heavy metal guitar god. But then I realized this is a movie starring Jon Mikl Thor and bunch of puppets, and quickly put that thought from my mind.

Here's the thing about the attacks: No one seems to end up dead. No, the victims all return sooner or later, oftentimes sooner. I think maybe they're possessed. Or they've transformed. Or something. After the drummer is attacked he's able to play without breaking his drumstick! He also seems to lose his awful, fake accent. I'm not sure that was because he's now a demon, or just a shitty actor. Of course, his newfound ability behind the drum kit leads to the inevitable: Yup, the second musical number.

And as bad at that song is, it cannot compare to the horror that's yet to unfold. I'm talking about Jon Mikl Thor's sex scene. I'm pretty much inured to the heterosexual mating rituals that are par for the course in your typical exploitation film, but this just goes beyond the pale. From his darting, reptilian tongue to his sweaty, misshapen ass, he's a horrific ghoul of a man. Watching him hump some woman, up in Canada, was just about all I could take. I shuddered as he pressed his naked flesh against the woman in the shower, his damp, stringy hair reminiscent of a dog caught in the rain.

The above notwithstanding, the film is not scary. But you can tell it wants to be. Whenever something "strange" or "ominous" happens, not-very-good synth music plays on the soundtrack. That's our only cue to be scared. If the score sounds familiar it may be because you perhaps, at one time, lived in the adjoining duplex where I grew up. When I was about eleven my mother bought me a Casio keyboard. I'd pound at the keys randomly, in an attempt to approximate music, in much the way an Einst├╝rzende Neubauten album approximates music. But alas, I was never going to be Giorgio Moroder, and the producers of this soundtrack will never win an academy award. What I am saying is, the score here sounds a lot like an eleven-year-old boy with no talent banging away randomly at a synthesizer.

Somewhere in all this are more puppets, though they don't really do much except give the director an excuse to strap his camera to a skateboard and run it around the floor of the house so we can see what all the furniture looks like from down there. There is also a scene where an arm pops out of someone's chest and strangles a groupie. And for some reason the kid from the prologue returns, and turns into a ghoul, and attacks more members of the entourage.

All of this leads to the grand finale, where Thor's girlfriend reveals herself to be Beelzebub. This is a nice effect achieved by fading from an image of her to an image of a giant, green puppet. But don't worry, John reveals himself to be Triton the Archangel, AKA the Intercessor. (Note to non-Milton scholars, Triton does not appear in Paradise Lost, that chapter having been cut for being too fuckin' rockin' for pre-Restoration literature.) Triton the Archangel has quite the get up. He's wearing eyeliner and lipstick, his hair teased to the heavens (of course), a cape, and metal-studded forearm bracers.

Oh yeah, and he's sporting a very nice studded loincloth, the likes of which St. Michael would be envious of.

"You've overstepped your line again, Bub. There's a creator's highest law that keeps you in your dark place and yet you and your brethren still insist on coming into this world and trying to steal a place in the world of the living. When will you ever learn?"

Triton delivers the above pronouncement just before all hell breaks loose. All hell includes flying rubber starfish. Triton fights them off, tearing them asunder, as another hair-metal anthem blares from the soundtrack. Triton goes toe to toe with puppet Beelzebub, a fight that lasts exactly as long as the recording of "We Accept the Challenge."

It's no surprise that Triton defeats Beelzebub, but what is unsettling is how Bub (as Triton likes to call him) goes down in a shower of sparks. It's almost as if someone set a Black Cat firework in front of the puppet and lit the fuse. It's a not-very-good finale to an otherwise not-very-good horror film.

This movie sucks. I mentioned that earlier in my review. But still, I love the fact a film like this exists. There is something pleasing in the fact that a C-list rock star can write, produce and star in his own monster movie. Sure, the film could have been better if they'd used good actors, a competent director, and a decent script, but that is all beside the point. Jon Mikl Thor managed, somehow, to put together a film that is by no means good but still wholly his own.

[Cross-posted.]

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