With Halloween just a week away, I thought now would be a good time to make a few lists highlighting horror movies in a particular category. Rather than go the typical route of listing the best slasher or best vampire, I figured we’d try to do something a little different. Please feel free to comment below on any that you may feel have been left off my list (my one criteria for including it is that I HAVE to have seen it – if I haven’t, then I shall leave it to you, the reader, to mention it below). Also, please keep in mind that these are not TOP ten lists, but rather lists OF ten movies that fit the particular category.
Today’s list: Rock ‘n’ Roll Homicide
Today, we’re going to take a look at 10 horror movies in the Rock and Roll subgenre or Metalsploitation. These aren’t horror flicks with killer rock soundtracks (too many to name), but rather horror movies that actually revolve around the world of hard rock or heavily feature a rock band as either protagonist or antagonist.
1. Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987)
Hair metal band The Tritons decide that rocking out in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere is JUST the thing to reignite the creative spark within the band. Soon, little demons begin appearing and band members (and their girlfriends) begin DISappearing. Little do these demons know that lead singer John Triton has a secret of his own and the battle between Heaven and Hell is about to go into full swing.
We start with, perhaps, the greatest of all rock/metal-based horror movies. If you can get past an eight minute opening drive sequence where absolutely nothing happens (and believe me, you’ll want to get through it), then we are treated to some great hair metal, nudity (and dudity) in spades, demon puppets that must be held by the victims when they are attacking, and an amazing(ly bad) final battle! Plus, the leader of the band is played by none other than Jon-Mikl Thor (who also wrote the flick). If you don’t know who he is, then I’m afraid you are just not the hair metal horror fan that you did not claim to be in the first place!
HOW HARD DOES IT ROCK?: So hard. When the only thing standing between the devil and complete world domination is the lead singer of a heavy metal band, the importance of rock and roll simply cannot be denied. Long live the Intercessor!
2. Black Roses (1988)
Metal band Black Roses plays a concert in the small town of Mill Basin and inspires the local kids to start rocking out themselves. The town will soon discover, however, that the band has much more sinister plans in mind and those same kids are all being turned into demonic monster/bad puppet hybrids. It turns out that your parents were right – rock and roll IS evil!
Following his debut feature (the afore-listed Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare) director John Fasano immediately followed it up with this second rockin’ horror flick in a row. Not quite on the same level as his first one (and featuring and almost unforgivable ZERO amount of Thor), this one is still pretty fun on its own. Unlike R’n'RN, the rock band in this one is actually the source of evil rather than the ones fighting it. When you see the demons in this movie, you’ll have no problem believing that the two movies share a visionary behind the camera. Plus, how many movies allow you the opportunity to see The Sopranos‘ own “Big Pussy” get eaten by a giant speaker? Probably only three or four max, so don’t miss this one.
HOW HARD DOES IT ROCK?: This one is rather up and down in its ability to keep the rock flowing. At times, (about an hour of the running time, in fact), it does not rock at all. But, once it turns itself up to 11, it has some of the more credible (I said credible, not INcredible) hair metal music your likely to find on this list.
3. Rocktober Blood (1984)
Immediately after recording his next big hit, hard rock singer Billy Eye snaps and kills just about everybody in the recording studio. Two years later, one of the few survivors of his massacre – his backup singer and former love interest (that also happened to be the lead witness in the trial that led to Billy’s execution), Lynn Starling, is the new lead singer of Billy’s band and is gearing up for a new tour. But, it seems that bodies have begun piling up again and Lynn is being stalked by someone who looks an awful lot like Billy. Is he back from the grave, or has Lynn gone completely crazy? Maybe some of both?
Getting away from the puppet-demony goodness of the first two, this one falls squarely into slasher territory. Released about a year and a half too late to land squarely in the boom of the early 80′s, the makers of Rocktober Blood, still take great pains to be sure that everything you expect from a slasher is here – gory kills, nudity, cheesy dialogue, bad acting that does the cheesy dialogue no favors, and a fun killer. If you can soldier through (and, I’ll admit it does get tough at times) you will be handily treated to an AMAZING scene towards the end during a concert scene where 1.) none of the band members notice their lead singer has been replaced by the killer, 2.) our heroine is handcuffed to said killer and just kind of follows him around on stage while he sings, 3.) the killer racks up quite the body count while never missing a single note, 4.) audience footage was clearly lifted from another source, and 5.) the onlookers from sidestage (including the love interest of the girl in the most danger) stand by watching the carnage, all the while wondering why no one does something about it.
HOW HARD DOES IT ROCK?: Actually, rock-wise, this one ranks pretty high. Despite the fact that the actors playing the lead singers are quite obviously not the actual singers and couldn’t be less ROCK if they were air (sorry, I’m not normally one to element-drop), the songs themselves (courtesy of metal band Sorcery) will quickly drain all the fluid out of your lighters. It’s a bit of a shame that they repeat the same few songs multiple times, including the COMPLETE performance each time (I won’t mention the fact that each time the song is played, the sound never varies, regardless of who is singing it), but it doesn’t make them any less worthy of your hand-horns.
4. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)
Courtney, one of the survivors of the first Slumber Party Massacre, is now a bit more grown up (and looking a lot more like the chick from Wings) and is a member of an all-girl rock band. The band decides to book it up to a condo for the weekend to rock out (with their instruments) and make out (with their boyfriends’ instruments). Courtney begins having crazy dreams and wacky visions which eventually lead to all involved being picked off, one by one, by a rockabilly-playing, sorta-Elvis-impersonating, greaser with a leather jacket and half-guitar/half-drill for a weapon of choice.
This barely-sequel to the far less bonkers (but still quite humorous) original Slumber Party Massacre shares very little in common with its predecessor except for a mutual character (played by a different actress) and having a drill as the instrument of death (but, in a MUCH different form). Truth be told, this is one silly, but fun movie. The killer indulges in complete song & dance numbers before killing, we get a feathers-flying, girls-only pillow fight, a dead flying chicken, and exploding acne. There are no scares to be had here and not much gore, but that is MORE than made up for in sheer weirdness. Sheerdness.
HOW HARD DOES IT ROCK?: Not particularly hard at all, unfortunately. The songs by the all-girl rock group (provided by real-life band Wednesday Week) were meant to be legitimate, but are typically 80′s-bad. The rockabilly numbers sung by our driller killer fare a bit better, but perhaps only because of the on-screen ridiculousness surrounding them. They are fun, but you probably won’t be seeking out the soundtrack anytime soon, unless you’re a sicko. You sicko.
5. Terror on Tour (1980)
Someone is murdering female fans of rock band The Clowns (who just so happen to look like KISS with afros). Is it really one of the band members partaking in all that slashing after doing all that rocking? Or, is it merely someone dressed as a Clown member in an effort to frame the band for the murders? Are you going to care? Probably not.
Disclaimer alert: please remember that I said these lists would not be TOP ten, but rather ten examples fitting within the various categories. Sure, I passed on several MUCH MUCH better movies in order to make a place for this one, but, despite how bad it is (and, it is), it still fits the category better than most movies on the list. All this to say that this movie is rough to get through (but, I have done so a couple of times, and I KNOW that you’re better than me). Acting is atrocious, dialogue and plot threads make absolutely no sense, the resolution is unsatisfying and obvious, and the majority of the movie is just boring. The whole thing just lacks focus. But, again, the band DOES look like KISS with afros. And, those afros have orange streaks in them. So, see? It’s not all bad. Oh, and it does have an early appearance by Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi (the actor, not the character).
HOW HARD DOES IT ROCK?: I don’t know your grandmother and I don’t presume to know at what level she rocks, but I will go on record as saying that she rocks harder than The Clowns. You can see that the basis for good songs were here, but they are just not particularly memorable. And, more to the point – they don’t rock. When does your grandmother’s tour start, by the way?
6. Trick or Treat (1986)
Heavy metal icon Sammi Curr dies mysteriously in a hotel fire to the dismay of his many fans. No one is more upset though than his constantly bullied #1 fan, high-schooler Eddie. Eddie is finally roused from his slump when a DJ friend gives him the exclusive, never before heard, only copy of the song that Sammi recorded just before his death. Soon, after playing the record backwards, everyone that Eddie had ever vowed revenge upon starts dying. Is it Eddie himself? A resurrected Sammi? Enraged viewers of Terror on Tour? Eventually, Eddie must decide between devotion to his rock god, or the salvation of his entire town.
I figured after that last one, I owed you what many (myself included) consider to be one of the finest entries in all of Metalsploitation. Don’t be fooled by the dvd cover – while the movie DOES feature both Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne, it is in VERY small doses (although, Ozzy is pretty fun as a priest on tv condemning rock music). But, we do get a great lead performance by none other than Skippy from Family Ties. Can you get any more metal than that? (well, yes – about six different actors from Family Ties and two from Growing Pains). Plus, a screwball plot trajectory, plenty of 80′s fashion (both metal and otherwise) and even a fair amount of death by electricity! This one is an absolute blast and a classic of the subgenre…
HOW HARD DOES IT ROCK?: What rock we DO get rocks pretty darn hard. Unfortunately, there’s not as much of it in this one as in some of the others. Bonus points, however, to having a lot of fun with the old myth (or is it?) about the effects of playing metal records backwards!
7. Hard Rock Zombies (1985)
In the tiny town of Grand Guinol, a rock band prepares to put on a show, despite the warnings of a local girl, Cassie, that the lead singer has fallen instantly in love with. As it turns out, Cassie was right as the entire band is picked off, one by one, by Hitler and his perverted midget sidekicks (I know – VERY similar plotline to Sleepless in Seattle). Cassie performs a little black magic to bring her true love and the rest of the band back from the dead to save her and the entire town.
For those of you who have never seen this movie, you’re probably thinking that if there was ever an entry on this list that I was making up, then this would be it. But, alas, this movie is all too real and is all too fun. On top of the previously mentioned nazis, dwarves, perverts, black magic, heavy metal, and zombies who move more like robots (really? you need more than all that? fine.), we also get werewolves, electrocutions, rednecks, bad Psycho homages, and evil grandmothers in wheelchairs. Do you STILL need more than that to convince you? Well, at this point you are talking about ice cream pizza and I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.
HOW HARD DOES IT ROCK?: Well, okay – this is where the film falls down. Hard. The music in this film, despite what they want us to think, is much more in line with typical 80′s cheese (which, is also great, but doesn’t rock) than the hair metal/hard rock that you’ll expect going. It’s still a lot of fun, though, if you like that sort of thing.
9. Monster Dog (1984)
Vince Raven is headed back to his old hometown to shoot his band’s latest video. Once he gets there, however, he is warned by both an old friend, who is now the sheriff, and a crazy old blood-stained coot that there have been quite a few rather gruesome murders recently, leaving bodies torn to shreds. The town is convinced that a pack of wild dogs is the culprit. But, Vince discovers that it’s not just any old dog doing the killing. This is the work of… a Monster Dog! (otherwise known as a werewolf)
A werewolf movie starring Alice Cooper from the director of Troll 2?!?!? This movie should have pre-release lines with a length to rival The Phantom Menace. Unfortunately, the letdown factor is probably pretty comparable as well. Firstly, this movie is not good enough to be scary, but not bad enough to be a whole lot of fun either. Secondly, those of you coming for your love of Alice Cooper should know that, while you DO get several songs sung by the man, the entirety of his dialogue is inexplicably (or, as inexplicable as anything can be when involving Claudio Fragasso) dubbed over by another actor. Sure, it provides some decent unintentional laughs, but you can’t help but be left wondering how much better it could have been – AC certainly seems up to the task.
HOW MUCH DOES IT ROCK?: Another mixed rating here. If you’re an Alice Cooper fan, you get several original songs that rank pretty high on the rock-o-meter (but, not necessarily among his best work, skewing just a bit more pop than usual). But, we also get quite a few non-Cooper ditties that don’t register at all. Yep, squarely in the middle…
10. Blood Tracks (1985)
Big haired glam-rock band Easy Action (as portrayed by big haired glam-rock band Easy Action) holes up in the snowy mountains to film their latest video in attempts to add a little artistic integrity. When an avalanche leaves them trapped in an abandoned (or, so they think) factory, the band and their video crew fall victim to a family of snowy mutants who don’t too much care for intruders…
Ok, confession time – when choosing “Hard Rock Horror” as a topic, my first decision was to end the list with Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (seriously – go see it, it’s bizarrely fantastic). While compiling the rest of the list, however, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to include one more 80′s (this whole list is 80′s actually) slasher that you may not have already seen, so I chose this one. It’s a Euro-slasher, and certainly reminds a bit of The Hills Have Eyes, but a lot more nonsensical. There is actually an overabundance of characters here, making it hard to keep up with who’s who, but, you’re not here for plot development. All that matters is that they are all potential victims and this is falls just enough on the right side of the weirdness line that it makes the whole thing a lot of fun.
HOW HARD DOES IT ROCK?: Well, it’s about a rock band, so there’s that. There’s not as much music featured in this one as some of the others, and what we do get is not particularly rock-worthy. It’s no surprise that real life band Easy Action broke up shortly after making this movie (well, maybe a little surprise since you’ve probably never heard of them anyway).
Well, there you have it – more so than probably any of the others we’ll do this Halloween, the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Horror lends itself to pure 80′s cheese. Sure, there’s a ton of others from all decades that could have been included: the aforementioned Phantom of the Paradise, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Rockula, Rock N Roll Frankenstein, New Years Evil, Dreamaniac, Earth vs. the Spider, Slaughterhouse Rock, Shock ‘em Dead, and Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park. If you’ve got some others that I failed to mention, or you want to discuss some of the ones I DID include, be sure to leave a comment below.
Reviews by Jason Howard, Film Critic