Black Roses (1988)
Dir John Fasano
Written by Cindy Sorrell
Starring John Martin, Karen Planden, Sal Viviano, Julie Adams, Jesse D'Angelo, Carmine Appice
Ever since I saw and enjoyed the ridiculous, moronic, (and maybe both a little smarter and a little crazier than it lets on) ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE last year, I’ve been itchin’ for a little more of that ol’ Metalsploitation horror subgenre. I’m kicking myself for having watched Metallica’s THROUGH THE NEVER 3D during one of those tedious non-October months they have now, since it’s obviously the pinnacle of the cinematic movement. But fortunately we have some other possibilities available, the first of them being ROCK N ROLL NIGHTMARE director John Fasano’s 1988’s followup BLACK ROSES. While that would be a phenomenal name for an all-African-American Guns N Roses cover band (feel free to use that, guys, no need to even credit me), in this case it refers to a mysterious lilly white hair metal outfit who are performing live for only the second time ever… in a small isolated everytown somewhere in America or possibly southern Canada.
The local kids are overjoyed that something is finally happening in this podunk nowhere. “Here comes the biggest thing to hit Mill Basin ever!” on kid gushes. “[Our square parents] don’t understand what a great honor this is!” another says condescendingly. But the parents aren’t too sure this a good idea. One concerned mother who I’m pretty sure but not 100% sure is Julie Adams from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, calls a big meeting to stand in front of a podium and say in a sober tone “The disciples of the devil are invading our town, and threatening to steal our children away.” It’s a generational divide, you know, like in BYE BYE BIRDIE. Cool guy high school lit teacher Mr. Moorehouse (John Martin, various soap operas including both The Young and the Restless AND Days of Our Lives) is caught in the middle. He wants to make sure the kids are safe from these hedonistic rock n’ rollers who ball into town in a caravan of Lamborghinis, but he also reminds the hysterical parents how their own parents were shocked by Elvis and the Beatles. He goes to talk to lead singer Damian (Sal Viviano, THE JITTERS, of whom youtube commenter The Jayfro notes: “The lead singer actor is my uncle. Whenever my dad wants to make fun of him he shows this video,”) who seems like a nice guy and says all their scary theatrics are all in good fun (he’s not wearing his Divine-in-PINK-FLAMINGOS wig at the time, so he’s able to sound very reasonable). A compromise is struck: the band can perform in town, if the parents can watch the show and make sure things don’t get too Satanic. And sure enough, it seem pretty tame; they’re all dressed in flowing white gowns and sing an innocuous ballad about love. The parents quickly agree that this seems harmless enough, and also quickly (and correctly) discern that this is unlistenable ear sandpaper, so after the first song they bail for the door. But the kids are confused. “I’ve never heard this song on their album before,” one girl says.
But ol’ Black Roses are tricky. You gotta get up pretty early in the morning to fool them. Which I imagine their critics do, since they’re really old people, but what they didn’t count on is that Black Roses party in a pink champagne jacuzzi powered by cocaine in its plasma state of matter all night and into the morning, and consequently ace them out and by technically getting up earlier, making them impossible to fool. It seems they’ve staged an elaborate ruse: counting on their horrible music to drive the parents away after a single song, they wait til Mom and Dad are gone and then reveal their deception. They rip off their gowns to reveal sexy black metal leather getups, and turn up the distortion (slightly. This isn’t exactly Pig Destroyer here.) and quickly start vaguely singing about evil. Frankly we are not terribly surprised by this turn of events, because we were privy to the opening (and best) scene, where Black Rose play to a huge crowded venue in full demonic glory. Let’s look:
So the kids rock out to some fairly low-rent demonic metal, and are now Satan-worshiping hellions. But so what, the band played their show, they’re gonna hit the road tomorrow, it's nothing a little Ritalin and Jesus Camp can’t fix, right? Wrong. Although this is supposedly the first stop on their world tour, the band has a rather, shall we say, unorthodox business strategy wherein instead of touring other cities, they stay in town and play the same set in the same dinky barn with about 6 rows of folding chairs set up, for the same 30 high school students, night after night. Before long, the kids are staying up all night rocking out and not doing their homework, and murdering their parents, and even cool guy Mr. Moorehouse starts to get worried that something stinks about these rockin’ rockers. For example, when he tries to teach a class about Thoreau, one student shouts “Why do we have to learn about all these dead writers? I mean, there’s a poet today who writes rings around them! Damian! I’m tired of living in the past! I’m living now!” And then they all start chanting “Damian! Damian!” and he gets scared and runs out of the room, apparently just leaving them to their own devices. For some reason he seems to be the only adult who is concerned about the wave of brutal murders sweeping the town, and consequently it’s up to him to confront the band live on stage and challenge them to an epic guitar battle between the forces of good vs evil, with the fate of the universe hanging on who can shred harder.
Just kidding, that would be a better ending but instead he just walks up to the stage somehow without anyone noticing and pours a bunch of gasoline on them and sets them on fire, which seems to do the trick. They do turn into cool monster puppets first though.
|Mr. Moorehouse reacts to the kids not caring about Thoreau.|
BLACK ROSES, filmed a year after ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, looks a lot more like a real movie than its predecessor ever did, and it shares its penchant for a myriad of slimy muppets. But for a movie about demonic rockers taking over smalltown America, it should probably be a little more fun than it is. Fasano seems to be trying for a legitimately creepy, paranoid Pod People vibe, but, uh… that’s not very rock and roll. This scenario is way too ridiculous for how grim the tone is, and even in 88, at the height of the Satanic Panic, I still don’t believe anyone who could conceivably watch this movie would be genuinely frightened by these cornball Ratt wannabes. So the scenes where the underaged acolytes do things like ickily seduce their parents and then somewhat graphically bludgeon them to death probably should be played with a lighter touch -- this isn’t some fucking 2005 torturecore miseryporn squirmfest for christ’s sake, this is 1988. Have a little fun, people. It’s much better parading out a litany of silly looking muppets to menace people (including a young Vincent Pastore [The Sopranoes, every DTV gangster film 2001-present]) but the ratio of those scenes to long classroom scenes where the kids sort-of-but-not-really analyze quotes from transcendentalist poets seems a little out of whack, though to be fair it improves as the plot chugs along.
The weirdest thing about this movie about demonic hair metal lyrics turning kids into an army of murderous zombies actually has to do with that last detail. BLACK ROSES spends an unexpected amount of time in Lit class with Mr. Moorehouse, and the class’s discussion of different quotes from Whitman and Emerson (as we learned, they have no interest in discussing this sort of thing by the time the lesson on Thoreau comes up) are so in-depth (well, in terms of length anyway, it’s not like anyone has anything insightful to add) that it seems like it’s gotta mean something. There’s a unmissable subtext about interpreting poetry, of all fool things, and the class even explicitly compares Black Roses’ lyrics with the transcendentalist staples. But Black Roses have hilariously dumb metal lyrics --as you’d want them to-- that aren’t even really much about murder or anything. How lines like, “Turn up the power / turn up the lights / we’re on a mission / and we rock all night” turn kids into Satanic maniacs, I do not know, but I’m not sure they require a lot of interpretation. Don’t know what they were going for, there.
The movie premiered in 1988; by 1990 Judas Priest would be the subject of a lawsuit alleging their 1978 cover of Better By You, Better Than Me contained hidden messages urging listeners to kill themselves. So I guess the idea that metal lyrics really were dangerous was taken at least somewhat seriously by the court system at the time (the case was dismissed not because the basic idea that Metal lyrics would drive anyone to violence is indefensibly asinine, but because the judge decided the supposed “subliminal message” were an unintentional recording glitch, not a command from Satan). But come on, BLACK ROSES, who the fuck do you think is the audience for this movie? It’s called metalsploitation, not Tipper-Gore-Sploitation.* The only people on Earth who would conceivably enjoy this dumb movie are metalheads, so why would you make a movie where it turns out the parents are right, metal is dangerous and should be censored and condemned? My only guess is that director Fasano and writer Cindy Sorrell (story writer for Brandon Lee’s pretty good RAPID FIRE and Fasano regular second unit director/actor) were banking on something I’ve long suspected to be the case: every true metalhead secretly wishes metal really was evil. Oh sure, they have to publicly say it’s harmless, but deep down they want to believe that the squares are right, this truly is the Devil’s music. Which, I admit, would be pretty fuckin’ metal. As the trailer narrator says… “Everything your parents told you about Rock and Roll… just might be true.”
Anyway, BLACK ROSES isn’t going to change anyone’s life (except, perhaps, through the power of poetry) and is a little slack overall. But it does bring plenty of good stuff, both the genuinely fun (a hand-puppet alligator/spider crawls out of the sound system and eats Vincent Pastore) and the hilariously terrible (a whole five minute sequence where a girl with creepy old lady hands and great tits fondles herself in front of candles with her head out of frame). It’s no ROCK N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE, but what is? If ridiculous shitty metal and guys turning into giant cobra puppets sounds like something you’d enjoy, this one’s got your number. Apparently the soundtrack --featuring the likes of Lizzy Borden and an all-star Black Roses band**-- has become an “underground cult classic” among metal enthusiasts. Not saying your parents are right about rock and roll or anything, but if you hear someone listening to this album… keep an eye on them, that’s all I’m saying. The next victim of heavy metal mania… could be you.
*Hear that Tipper Gore? I’m calling you out. THIS IS MY REALITY TIPPER GORE.
**Including King Kobra singer Mark Free (née Marcie Free) and guitarist Mick Sweda, Quiet Riot bassist Chuck Wright, and Vanilla Fudge/King Kobra/Rod Stewart drummer Carmine Appice, who plays Black Roses drummer “Vinny Apache,” which is weird because Carmine’s brother, also named Vinny, was a drummer for Black Sabbath and Dio during the 80’s. While we’re down here, I should note that director Fasano would go on to direct one more movie (THE JITTERS, coming soon) and then some TV movies and stuff. He also wrote ANOTHER 48 HOURS and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN, where he is also credited as “Special costume design”. And, uh, THE OMEGA CODE 2. Unfortunately he tragically died last year at only 52. Pour one out for a guy who was truly more metal than metal.