Thursday, July 15

Battle of the Fasano Horror Headbangers

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987) - A group of metal honchos shack up in the sticks for some needed record time to meet a pressing deadline. The homestead has a nearby barn house converted into a professional studio, but little do the hairy gents and their "dates" know that the place was the scene of a horrid, unexplained accident involving an oven and barbecued boy. Satan and his one-eyed goblins are afoot and murderously working their way through each of the band's members. The band's lead, John Triton (Jon Mikl Thor), has a mighty ace in the hole upon finally facing the evil in his true form...

Black Roses (1988) - A controversial metal band, Black Roses, is kicking off their latest tour in the quiet town of Mill Basin much to the ire of the area's elders. Despite protest, the band begins a series of five concerts at the local high school (sound ridiculous much?). At first, the music appears fairly innocuous as the concerned parents let their guard down, but once the auditorium doors close, the group gets raunchy and their message quickly twists. With each successive show, the returning teens turn nastier and are eventually driven to demonically mutated cold-blooded murder. The only one wise to Black Roses's adverse affect on the children of tomorrow is their English teacher with gasoline and flares being the only hope at the band's fiery finale...

Before getting into these two, it's somewhat important to talk about a 'lil history. Given the popularity of the peaking heavy metal movement in the '80s, it's sad that the few mixtures between hairspray and horror never really came into their own. Not classics like the "rock" Rocky Horror Picture Show or "punk" Return of the Living Dead, but God's honest Fuck you, Tipper Gore can get hit by a bus metal.

The "mainstream" peak came with Charles Martin Smith's Trick or Treat in 1986. A lukewarm programmer detailing the exploits of an angst-ridden teen (Family Ties's Marc Price) channeling his rage through hidden messages from a beloved dead headbanger on an unreleased master acetate. Smith's film can see seen as the knee jerk reaction to the Parents Music Resource Center's bullshit senate "grilling" of Dee Snider, Frank Zappa, and John Denver in late '85. The media event quickly dissolved into farce as the three men tore into those presiding articulately defending freedom of speech and art...with Snider defiantly biting the American flag for the press afterward.

Trick or Treat touches upon this before giving way to formalism, with the Blackie Lawless-like artist threatening figureheads at a hearing, but this is where the potential of "hair horror" died. Every example, including John Fasano's double platinum '87/'88 duo, never "got" the potential of the commentary in the whole moralistic PMRC-driven battle against the deceptively smart music held. There's one excellent, insane, epic horror film in there somewhere, but real-life offerings gave way to their own cheapness or ease of marrying scary sounds with scary pictures. So we're left with more '80s goofy crap. I'm not complaining, it's just good to understand that point if it wasn't obvious already. Expecting any good even by traditional norms of the period is tough. Pop a few cans of Stella Artois and enjoy the feeling...

Fansano's Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (The Edge of Hell) and Black Roses typify these six string-infused cheese puffs well. Nightmare is written by and starring the buffed out Jon Mikl Thor, founder and lead of THOR, who surprisingly isn't that bad as the movie's band lead. The rest of the runtime, save the rollicking climax, is a chore without those trusty beers. You can immediately tell it'll be padding du jour by the protracted opening credits followed by a needlessly long drive to reach the farm in the band's gaudy van. There's a few nervous giggles throughout since one has a tough time gauging whether Fasano and Thor were actually serious or knowingly campy. A feeling shared with Black Roses since both feature cartoony looking puppets supposedly from Hell.

The narrative is conveniently broken up into noticeably "fractured" segments--the intro, some rockin', some killings, sex scenes...and then we come to the completely fucking nuts climax. In the final battle against good and evil, Triton reveals himself to be the "Intercessor", and struggles hand-to-hand with a towering, clunky A1 Sauce-slathered Devil puppet. Since I just spoiled it, the full effect is lost, but it's nearly impossible to avoid having some idea of Triton's oiled-up antics beforehand. Although short, this battle is hilarious with Thor mugging his face off, and would possibly be hernia-inducing if one walked in totally virginal. When you realize the shooting schedule was only seven days, all of Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare's many faults become endearing. Fasano, cast, and crew "hammered" something out in no time with no money that's harmless fun.

The following year, Fasano visited metal-plated "terror" again with Black Roses. The production values and schedule is obviously improved, but the film ends up being less charming. Starting off with a scene of the band performing fully "demonized", one can't help but be reminded of George Romero's lingering Diamond Dead project. That's one of the highlights as the flick settles in and fails to be particularly memorable aside from good tuneage from the likes of Lizzie Borden and Tempest. The one almost daring aspect is how none of the teen protagonists come away clean. All of the youngsters affected by Black Roses's negative waves commit horrible acts which ultimately damn them even when the band's spell is broken with the lead singer turning in a reptilian-man-puppet (another highlight).

I hate to nitpick what seems like one of the smallest aspects, but the synth score that plays over most of the non-concert sequences is terrible. I mean, it's so distracting that it's like a nude supermodel bending over two feet away from your face while watching--just not nearly as pleasant. The super "bubbly" track honestly sounds ripped from one of those idiotic toddler-oriented shows on public television. Every emotion or surprise is overbearingly punctuated to the point you reach for the mute button in disgust. When I stay up all damn night watching horror flicks that's the last thing I wanna hear. Some of the later, "creepy" music fares better, but the other crap is tantamount to tearing off your thumb and cramming it in your ear--not merely a sore thumb.

Both of John Fansano's hybrids aren't a complete waste, but one wishes that history was different and they melded into one. Both have juicy premises that might have been better served by a single decibel blowout. Still, the two or all three talked about here can make a decent all-nighter...just don't forget the Stella Artois...


Anonymous said...

Great post. While not particularly inventive, these films are still goofy fun and being the metalhead I am, they touch my heart.

Have you seen Shock 'em Dead?

Also also, have you check out our most metal moments feature on the blog?

Franco Macabro said...

Aha! I recently reviewed Black Roses on my blog, and I pretty much agree with every you say about it. You mentioned something I failed to mention, the terrible score! Man was it bad! It didnt fit with the music at all! It felt like something out of an 80s family film or something.

I need to see Trick or Treat and Shock Em Dead!

Cool right up man.

DrunkethWizerd said...

I once watched Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare back to back five times. Black Roses has absolutely nothing on it... other films, I haven't really compared it to, but Thor seriously kicked the laid back ass in this. Toadally badass.

Toxaemia said...

I really liked Trick R Treat. And the shower scene in Rock N' Roll Nightmare is forever singed in my brain. (Thor's tits were bigger then his love interest.)

I wonder why the vocalist from Piledriver hasn't made an appearance in a horror film, that would be awesome!

Daniel XIII said...

No marathon would be complete without Hard Rock Zombies as well.. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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