Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rock N' Roll Nightmare

Rock N’ Roll Nightmare (1987) aka The Edge of Hell
Dir. John Fasano
Produced by Jon Mikl Thor
Written by Jon Mikl Thor
Starring Jon Mikl Thor
Music by Jon Mikl Thor

I stumbled across this one because I was searching for a copy of the ridiculously-obscure-but-slightly-less-obscure-than-this ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE, which at least has the decency to star Tia Carrere. Or actually, that’s not even quite true; my original intent was to search for the infamous --to the extent that any variation of the word “famous” might apply-- Canadian Nazisploitation/rock n’ roll opus HARD ROCK ZOMBIES, in which an aged Hitler and a lycanthropic Eva Braun murder a band of mullets in a town called Grand Guignol and end up menaced by the title characters and sexually assaulted by a little person with an eyepatch.* But through the miracle of Chainsawnukah, I misremembered the name, searched for “Rock N’ Roll Zombies” instead, and was led to ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE, the horror debut of bodybuilder/musician/80’s-parody-come-to-life Jon Mikl Thor. He’d previously played a character named “Thunderhead” in a Canadian POLICE ACADEMY ripoff called RECRUITS, which is a sentence so antithetical to reason and taste that I can barely type it and, having done so, it barely even makes sense. Other than that, not a ton of movie experience, but at least enough of a draw to make me pause and consider. ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE proved too elusive a quarry, but ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, having apparently lapsed into the public domain --or at least proved so laughably unprofitable that it’s not even worth a copyright-infringement email to defend-- was streaming on youtube, so I quickly browsed through its runtime looking for tells that it might be worthy of its auspicious title.

This sort of perusal is intrinsically necessary when considering this caliber of film, as you well know. Yes, in a perfect world a movie called ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE would inspire its creators to greatness. But that’s not necessarily the world we live in. Despite my many furiously scrawled missives to the Better Business Bureau, there seems to be no legal recourse for a hypothetical person who sat for 83 agonizing minutes only to discover that despite the promise of the title, the movie mostly consisted of shitty Canadian actors sitting around awkwardly stumbling over lines in someone’s living room, with precious little ROCK N' ROLL and virtually no NIGHTMARE to speak of. I have been burned before by exactly this kind of bait-and-switch. I have had my heart broken too many times to naively go in for something that sounds this great.

Talk about your broken hearts!

A quick browse through the runtime on youtube did not inspire much confidence. Based on a random sampling of every 10 minutes or so, the film looked to be primarily polite Canadian softcore intermittently sprinkled with poorly-recorded scenes of people sitting around staring blankly at each other, presumably shot on days when the stippers were busy. The kind of thing which was powerfully necessary for society to function exactly up til the point where they invented internet pornography, after which it seemed a bit superfluous to go through the trouble of making a whole movie and pretending there was a plot and everything merely as a vehicle to deliver boobs to needy teenagers in a format so punishingly unwatchable there was no possible way their parents were going to stick around and figure out what they were so into about it.

But three things prevented me from immediately disregarding ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE. The first was that I’m getting tired of writing vaguely positive reviews for insanely obscure movies which have some decent things about them but aren’t exactly classics either, and so I decided maybe it was time to watch something richly and unambiguously shitty. The second came in the form of the enthusiastic support this one had from fellow Chainsawnukah-goer Dan P, who was already familiar with Mr. Thor’s work from his musical career playing with “Thor & the Imps”, “Thor” (just Thor), and (you can’t make this stuff up, I swear to you this is seriously real) “Thor & the Ass Boys,” and as such emotionally ready to journey with the man into the dark realm of z-grade horror video quickies.

We live! We live to Rock!!

Those are both good reasons, but it was the third that truly made me pause. While nine of ten random clicks through the runtime led to awkward dialogue scenes and even more awkward sex scenes that looked like they’d been cut out of BOOGIE NIGHTS for being simultaneously too absurd and too tragic, one click struck gold: a bloody monster puppet hand bursting out of someone and grabbing a boob. That’s a good sign. If someone cared enough about this movie to make a rubber prosthetic bloody chest and a monster puppet to burst out of it, that already puts it way ahead of the dull, vacantly professional modern trash we have today where if they don’t have the money for it they just don’t do it. The best shitty movies are the ones that don’t have the budget but go for it anyway, out of sheer love and a misplaced desire to entertain an audience, something godawful modern corporate shlock like FRANKENSTEIN THEORY or HELLRAISER 9: REVELATIONS will never understand.

So I decided to take the plunge and give director John Fasano and Orson Wellsian- writer/composer/producer/star/driver/key grip/best boy/lunches catered by/animal wrangler** Jon Mikl Thor a chance to rock n’ roll my particular nightmare.***

And it’s a good thing that I did, because this is actually a pretty entertainingly terrible movie. It concerns “rock” and/ or “roll” outfit Triton (fronted by the imaginatively named “John Mikl Triton,” presumably because Thor could not conceive of a metal band which does not share his name) arriving at a dilapidated old Canadian farmhouse to record their newest, greatest album in the privacy of a rural area where presumably their inclination to encounter topless women at random will be more tolerated and less frowned upon by puritanical Canadian society. Of course, the isolated setting also makes them sitting ducks for the demonic forces which infest the house and had, prior to the credits, made short work of the dumpy family who were the previous occupants. (Apparently the father is named “Roger Eburt” according to the credits. Sick burn, ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE.). Their nightmare was not sufficiently ROCK N' ROLL, so fuck them, that’s the last we’ll hear of ‘em. Also it’s questionable just exactly how isolated this deserted farmhouse (which also boasts a professional recording studio in the barn, why not?) really is, inasmuch as you can clearly see headlights on a fairly busy road less than a mile away in most of the outside shots, but I dunno, maybe that’s across the border with Russia or something. Anyway it never seems to occur to anyone to try and go there.

This red polka dot dress with the open back may cross that thin line between glam and straight up cross-dressing.

The Tritons quickly set up shop (after a nearly five-minute wordless intro where they drive up to the place and rock out to the car radio), argue about who gets what room (this is entirely decided based upon an earnest discussion of who everyone intends to have sex with and what they will need to accomplish this goal) and discuss their mission. Some members of the band seem confused about what they’re actually doing here. “But why Canada?” the drummer wants to know. “Because Toronto’s where it’s happening, man!” gushes Thor. “The music! The film industry! The arts!” This would make sense, except that he immediately follows it up by saying “the only way to get you guys to rehearse is to lock you in a place you have no distractions.” This fits with the abandoned farmhouse plan but kinda undermines the part about going to the most happening city on Earth, at least as far as I can see.

Anyway, Triton have only a month to come up with 10 minutes of killer material, or else pay the ultimate price: losing their advance. The band is skeptical that this will be possible (maybe they should have discussed where they were going and what they were planning to do there at some point on the long trip, instead of silently rocking out to their own music in the car. But I guess it’s not for me to tell these guys what their business is) and they immediately begin groaning at the prospect of, as one of the girlfriends soberly ponders, “no hot tubs. No Dynasty.” But the bassist quickly realizes “it’s kind of like a vacation! I like it!” and so they begin their journey of sitting around the house occasionally having sex with each other or standing in a barn playing rock songs about how much they enjoy playing rock songs (sample lyrics: “We live, we live to rock/ rockin, rockin around the clock/ this kind of music won’t ever stop/ rock! Talkin ‘bout rock!”)

One thing about the Tritons: they take their practices pretty seriously, even going so far as to have John Triton wear some kind of unbelievable sequin tuxedo suit with no shirt underneath, almost certainly purchased second-hand from a Cher backup dancer in need of coke money. So they got that goin’ for them, which is nice (and also makes it even funnier in later scenes as he slowly walks around in the dark while tense music plays... still garbed in sparkling opulence). But despite their laudable commitment to celebrating the medium of rock songs through the medium of rock songs, they spend a lot of the movie going to separate rooms and getting attacked and possessed by the various rubbery demons of the house. This is enjoyable enough, but starts to get a little repetitive since it seems to really be the demons’ only MO. Plus, from about minute 25 to minute 40, and then again from minute 50 - 61, pretty much everyone stops what they’re doing to have polite under-the-covers lots-of-kissing-and-hugging sex with each other, arguably a little more one-track than even the demons are able to manage. I guess John Triton didn’t really think through the whole “lock you in a place you have no distractions” plan before the girlfriends already made their travel arrangements.

For god's sake, please stop singing about Rock.

Much of this is pretty funny, the script is full of hilariously boneheaded dialogue and the cast is rich with actors who are more than up for making it sound even more ridiculous than it is on the page. And, it has all the usual eccentricities of no-budget films from first-time directors working on rockstar vanity projects, i.e. plot threads that go nowhere, weird pacing, uncomfortable pauses after people have finished talking, inexplicable rambling dialogue about nothing. I like an early scene where a groundskeeper is trying to tell the manager about all the big stars who have recorded here in the past (we learn that Alice Cooper and Rod Stewart have made the pilgrimage here, and I’m gonna guess that Anvil took a pass too). “You know the barn here?” he asks, and the manager looks confused and points at the only building anywhere in sight. “This one?” Yup, that'd probably be it. They go on to have a detailed discussion of something called a “piano bed” which is supposedly on the premise. Unfortunately we never see it, or at least if we do it turns out to look pretty much like a regular bed so I didn’t notice anything special about it.

If you’re in the mood to chuckle at a bunch of terrible Canadian musicians struggling to make it all the way through two lines of dialogue in a row, this one’s got your number. And the intermittent demonic interruptions have an earnest desire to entertain, in fact I think every single one introduces a new monster, that takes elbow grease on a film which was clearly made for less than your average late-night informercial for tampons more technologically advanced than those they would dare sell at retail. But the real reason this film is worth watching is the last twenty minutes. After a brief break to do some dishes and remark to no one in particular how much he enjoys drinking Coca Cola, Thor (now the only surviving band member) basically finds himself in a menagerie of hostile muppets. There’s a cycloptic roasted chicken in the fridge, some kind of slimy lizard crawling around comically failing to destroy its victim, and what may or may not be the resurrected severed penises of the three former male band members, now sporting troll hair and tiny arms. And it ends with nothing short of a final battle between a shirtless Jon Mikl Thor and Beelzebub himself, “Or,” Thor quips, “as the Hindus called you, Shaitan. Or as you are known to answer in Aramic [sic], Belial, Apollyon, Asmodeus!” And suddenly out of the blue there’s a twist which retrospectively makes you wonder if the movie is actually more clever and self-aware than you thought it was. I must admit, at the 45 minute mark I would have guessed there was an extremely low probability that at the 70 minute mark I would ask myself, “Is it possible that ROCK N' ROLL NIGHTMARE is smarter than me?” So hey, this one definitely has the power to surprise you.

I think this one speaks for itself.

I am so enamoured by this sequence of events that I’m going to assume the last five minutes of the film -- which find Thor visiting a mystery graveyard at night and then subsequently going on to a full minute of daytime footage of an unexplained never-before seen Canadian suburb with scary music playing over it-- actually make sense, and I just don’t get it.

Obviously I cannot recommend this film to you enough, but I know one question still lingers in your mind. Obviously, any movie which features a former Canadian bodybuilder-turned-metal-musician wearing metal-studded underpants and wrestling the devil taps into something deep and psychologically rich enough to qualify as a nightmare. But what about the Rock N’ Roll? Just how Rock n’ Roll is this particular nightmare? Well, I’d like to report that it is at least respectably Rock N’ Roll, especially for the era. Despite the dubious presence of a keyboard player, you’ll get your fill of macho guitar noodling in at least two extended concert sequences. Thor plays one of those 80’s basses without a headstock in one of them, so the previous bassist (later explicitly described by the dark lord as “nerdy”) can get in on the double-guitar solo action. And while I questioned Mr. Thor’s musical taste during the opening sequences where he turns off a respectable Scorpions-style hard cock rocker in favor of some bullshit Depeche mode keyboard wankery, I must admit in all fairness that he makes up for it in fashion. The one scene in the movie where he’s dressed like a normal person, we later find out that he’s been wearing a cape and studded leather he-man codpiece underneath. So yes, this movie is Rock N’ Roll enough for ya. It’s Rock N’ Roll enough that sometimes even during tense scenes it just turns down the rock music instead of turning it off completely, so you can still hear it thumping away under the Suspiria-ripoff scary keyboard music. Rock N’ Roll enough that when four groupies show up at the house in skimpy outfits late at night, they act shocked and offended when the manager suggests that sex with the band might be in order (they’re groupies for the music, man, not for your gouche sexual appetites). Rock N’ Roll enough to just intuitively accept that the possessed bandmembers are not only going to keep showing up to practice, but that demonic possession actually improves their musical prowess. Rock N’ Roll enough that in a late-film shower sex scene it's easy to get caught up in tangle of hairless bulging pecs and blonde perms and seriously get confused about if this is a lesbian sex scene or not.

Yes sir, if you see only one Canadian Z-grade DTV horror movie starring a bodybuilding metal singer named after a Norse god, let it be this one. My kinda nightmare.

* Attention Frank Miller: the story you’ve been struggling to write for your entire career already exists.

** OK I can only confirm the first four from the credits, but I think we can safely assume the rest

*** My particular nightmare, of course, being a guy still writing horror movie reviews left over from October well into the next century.


The Hunt For Dread October

  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: I believe this is a loose adaptation of Jame Joyce's dense autobiographical masterpiece Ulysses, but the credits don't mention it. I think they just changed the names and the location so they wouldn't have to pay for the rights.
  • SEQUEL: Unbelievably, yes. A 2005 sequel also featuring Thor called INTERCESSOR: ANOTHER ROCK N' ROLL NIGHTMARE
  • REMAKE: None.... yet.
  • FOREIGNER: Canadian. Man, this has really been the year of Canada.
  • FOUND-FOOTAGE CLUSTERFUCK: No, although you know that's what they'd do with it if it were made today, you know in your heart.
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: Not even a slumming C-lister.
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: Beelezebub?
  • BOOBIES: Oh yeah, I believe every significant actress in the movie gets naked at some point.
  • SEXUAL ASSAULT: The manager starts to get a little rapey-sounding with the reluctant groupies, but he stays pretty polite about it.
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Thor mutilates a starfish-shaped green muppet at the end in a fit of righteous anger.
  • HAUNTED HOUSE: Yeah, I mean, not by ghosts or whatever, but it's definitely the house that's the problem.
  • MONSTER: Demons galore!
  • POSSESSION: Yeah, lots of it.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: Yeah, at least one of the possessed band members turns into some kind of weird demon bear or something, I dunno, maybe that makes more sense in Canada.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Has to be pretty high, but I guess it was on MST3K or something because somehow enough people remembered it to warrant a sequel 20 years later.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: We live, we live to rock/ rockin', rockin' around the clock/ this kind of music won’t ever stop/ Rock! Talkin ‘bout rock!
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Rock N' Roll confirmed, Nightmare confirmed. Should say something about the sex probably since it's at least as big and maybe a bigger plot point. Also not sure what the on-screen title THE EDGE OF HELL could possibly be referring to.
This is a hard one to review, because it's distinctly and unmistakably laugh-out-loud terrible, but the only people who would ever willingly watch this are in it to see a hilariously awful movie anyway, and on that front it delivers in spades. Barely makes it to two thumbs (and really only by the grace of its many muppets and Canadian niceness) on technical merit, but for those of you in the market for something entertainingly bad, this is a goldmine, a four-thumb effort.

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