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Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987)



Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is an atrocious but fun schlocker that contains a few surprises, not the least of which is that director John Fasano is still in the business, but as a writer. He actually co-penned Another 48 Hours, Universal Soldier: The Return, and Judge Dredd.

Of course, 90% of the cast never appeared in another film after this one, and instead of blaming Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare on Fasano, we should probably point our fingers at "Jon-Mikl Thor," who produced, wrote, and stars in the film. Thor is a Canadian self-styled "heavy-metal body-builder horror/comic-hero male-dancer" who has worked on the fringes of the entertainment business, writing music derivative of much better bands since the 70's. For all I know, he's still at it and he's thinking that hair metal is going to come back in a couple years. Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare was produced while Thor was still high on success from his 1986 role in schlock-horror maven Roger Corman's film Zombie Nightmare.

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is really a thinly disguised attempt to get some extra publicity for Thor and his 1987-era band, who also appear in the film. It is wrapped in a sub-par slasher plot, but by the end, it turns into one of the most delightfully hideous and ridiculous sequences ever committed to celluloid.

The opening features your run-of-the-mill, horror film farmer family. Suddenly, mom is accosted by something in the kitchen, and when father and son run downstairs, they find mom in the oven, now rough skeletal remains that look nothing like a body in an oven would look. We segue to Thor driving down a two-lane Canadian highway in his van.

Now, at this point, I noticed something surprising that gave me temporary hope that Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare might actually turn out to be a good film, ridiculous effects in the opening aside: the cinematography for most of the first 10 - 15 minutes of the film is outstanding. Lenser Mark Mackay has a knack for varied, interesting shots. There are lots of unusual angles, his camera is almost constantly in motion, everything is crisp and clear, he excellently conveys the atmosphere of the highway and the weather, etc. I had hopes that at least the film would be interesting to look at, even if the other elements ended up not working.

But bizarrely, the cinematography during almost all of the dialogue scenes seems like someone else shot it. It isn't bad, exactly, but all of the panache that the other lens-work possessed is absent. And on top of that, the dialogue is fairly ludicrous and the acting pretty bad. My hopes were dashed. The interesting camera work does return now and again throughout the rest of the film, but not often enough.

From that cinematographic turning point, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare sinks into a by-the-book slasher niche until the last 10 minutes or so. Thor's band, the Tritonz, is renting out the farmhouse from the opening, 10 years after, in order to work on new material, since the adjacent barn contains a 24-track recording studio. The band is staying there with their wives and girlfriends. This set-up enables (a) gratuitous Thor music scenes, (b) gratuitous sex scenes, and (c) gratuitous scene of members of the entourage picked off one by one by some unknown killer. The hair metal music is pretty bad, the girls look like Thor probably found them all dancing in topless bars, and the effects, when we get glimpses of the killer, are pretty cheesy. Worse, Fasano must have thought the effects were really nifty, so the camera always lingers on them for far too long, creating extremely ill-timed death sequences that sap the film of what little suspense it might have hoped for.

At this point, the film wasn't nearly as funny as it was bad. But mixed in with the killer, whatever it is, we get little peeks at a Henenlotter-type creature. It makes no sense in context, but it's a sign of the bizarre things to come (spoilers, if such a film can have them, follow).

Abandoning all logic of everything that precedes it, the climax features Thor, the last surviving member of the party, battling an army of little creatures that look like Aylmer from Henenlotter's Brain Damage, one very misshapen foot-high Harryhausen creature, and a really crappily costumed Satan. Thor recites a speech that shows he knows how to use a thesaurus, then breaks into what looks like a professional wrestling get-up and fights off little clay crosses with eyes. After he peels the Play-Doh off his skin with over-the-top grimaces, he moves to the bad Satan costume and tries to make it look like it can move without the head falling off at the wrong time. All this takes an agonizingly long time-because it has to last long enough for a Thor song to play in the background. It's almost impossible to convey how hilarious the ending is. Think of Bela Lugosi fighting with Ed Wood's inanimate octopus, imagine that it's as good as Taxi Driver, then think of this as a bad version of a similar scene.

Fans of bad cinema must watch this flick. Feel free to enjoy the first 10 - 15 minutes, use your fast forward buttons to get to the nudity and bad creature/make-up effects, then fast forward to the ending.