30 July 2013

SUMMER OF BLOOD: I LOVE ROCK AND ROLL

The byword of the Canadian Summer of Blood has been that there's Just Something Special about Canadian horror filmmakers: even when their films are no "better" than the analogous United States productions, there's some kind of increased sense of maturity and intelligence. That is, they are frequently shitty-ass slashers and all, but they are shitty-ass slashers involving somewhat more grown-up characters and vaguely real-world situations.

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare - the Region 1 DVD released by Synapse Films bears the onscreen title The Edge of Hell, but we'll have no more to do with that - does its little bit to prove that Canadian movies are more ambitious and expansive than their southerly cousins, but in a spectacularly different direction. It demonstrates how the Canadians can even improve upon jaw-droppingly awful "so bad it's good" movies, relative to us Yanks. Simply put, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is the absolutely funniest bad movie I've watched in months,* exuberantly hopeless and unabashedly cheesy, made with an infinitely quantity of optimism and not even a dram of cinematic talent. Nothing in it failed to make me exquisitely happy, and that was before we ever arrived at the OH MY GOD twist, which had been spoiled for me; and yet knowing what happens is not the remotest preparation for actually seeing it. Which is why, as I write these paragraphs, I haven't yet decided if I will be sharing that twist or not.

Structurally, the film is a slasher at heart, so it's no surprise that it opens up with a Prologue Of That Terrible Event, when a family in a farmhouse is happily puttering about, preparing for their day - Dad (Chris Finkel) is washing up, Mom (Clara Pater, an alias of producer and first AD Cindy Sorrell or Cirile, if the IMDb is to be trusted - and in this particular case I am dubious that it is, on her right name anyway) is putting together breakfast, and Little Billy (Jesse D'Angelo), who is never given a name, but he ought to be a Little Billy, dammit, is reading in his bedroom. A malevolent force enters the kitchen, and soon all the family is dead at the hands of the emphatically unconvincing skeleton monster living in the oven. Whatever has invaded the house, it runs around at floor-level, skittering like a playful little kitten as the credits parade forth, giving us our first sense of what Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare plans to imply is, despite all the evidence, rock & roll.

Ten years later - we know that it's ten years later because of dialogue that says something like "HEY YOU GUYS THIS IS THE PLACE WHERE A FAMILY DISAPPEARED TEN YEARS AGO. IT HAS BEEN TEN YEARS. SINCE THE FAMILY DISAPPEARED", to find a metal group packing up to drive to that same little farm, which we now learn is outside Toronto, because frontman John Triton (Jon-Mikl Thor, about whom we'll have much to say presently) feels that they need to get far away from the hustle and bustle of life, and fine someplace quiet and isolated to crank out ten minutes of music before their contract comes due in five weeks. Also, as Triton passionately and emphatically proclaims, almost like he was getting paid by the National Film Board of Canada, that Toronto is a hip and happening locus for all the arts. Which doesn't precisely square with the idea that they've gone to the ass-end of Bumfuck to be away from anything hip and happening, but John Triton is vast, and contains multitudes. Besides, if he had any idea what he was suggesting, he probably wouldn't have encouraged his band, the Tritonz, to bring their girlfriends, or newlywed wife, in the case of the bass player with the overreaching name Roger Eburt (Frank Dietz), the second AD).

At the farmhouse, the Tritonz and their audaciously square manager Phil (Adam Fried), introduced wearing a jacket proudly proclaiming him a member of the Archie Club, get to the hard work of recording their amazingly, awesomely metal songs, where "metal" should be understood to mean "closer to metal than it is to, say, folk rock", leading off with a Jon-Mikl Thor composition called "We Live to Rock", and dammit, but John Triton patently does live to rock, though none of his bandmates are much in agreement; they, mostly, live to fuck, albeit a particularly cuddly and monogamous fucking it is for such hardcore metalheads. Triton's girlfriend Randy (Teresa Simpson) particularly is annoyed by her boyfriend's rock-centered lifestyle, as to judge from the sheer number of scenes where she essentially announces that he can use whatever orifice, she just wants his damn cock. And she is consistently rebuffed.

Inevitably, the Evil Whatsit that was hanging around before is peeved at these chaste, clean-living rockers, and starts to pick them off: first by impersonating Lou Anne (Jillian Peri), the uncompromisingly bitchy girlfriend of incompetent drummer Stig (Jim Cirile), and in this guise devouring Phil (first, it adopts the shape of what I can only rightly call a Cyclopean penis hand puppet, and it then does what I can only rightly call ejaculating into Phil's coffee). Others follow: Stig, who loses his mind-blowingly atrocious Australian accent when he becomes possessed by evil, and also suddenly learns how to drum; Roger and wife Amy (Liane Abel); keyboardist Dee Dee (Denise Decandia), who has just started sleeping with guitarist Max (David Lane), who gets one of the all-time most awesome death scenes in slasher film history, yoinked right out of the frame like a Looney Tune.

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is like one of those birthdays where you open all of your presents, and then there's a bonus present hiding in the other room, and then there's another bonus present that ties into it: no matter how certain you are that it simply must be winding down, there's always something new and deliriously wonderful waiting for you. Unforgivably bad, one-note performances that exacerbate how flat and boring the characters are; satanic beasts played by puppets so cheerfully dumb looking that you could imagine them on a kids' show; absolutely hilarious terrible metal songs, and underscore that sounds more like the New Age shit they play in a hair salon than anything that anybody has ever called "metal"; a scene involving slutty groupies who show up, do nothing, fail to remove their tops (which, is clearly what the scene is structurally designed for); the crazily awful sex scenes; the unending zeal of Thor's performance, with his giant hair and eyeliner and total commitment to every word he says and movement he makes. Not much surprise there: Thor also produced and wrote the thing, and while it was director John Fasano's project from the onset, the animating force is clearly the massive slab of pectoral muscles and absolutely no ability to modulate his emotions onscreen.

Culturally and thematically... shit, did I really just start a sentence about Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare that way? Well, culturally and thematically, the film is pretty overtly a counternarrative to the anti-metal censuring sweeping North America in the '80s, and largely complete by the time the film came out in 1987. The Tritonz are a silly, affectionate parody of the stereotype of a metal band, with enough of a deliberate subversion in things like the professionalism and the lack of indiscriminate sex that you can tell it's totally on purpose, and the way that the rockers turn out to be a force for good, in the end...

I really don't think I can get away without at least gesturing in the direction of the film's stupefyingly terrible final twist, the one that pushes Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare from "this is charmingly hokey, badly made, but so silly in its badness as to be worth watching" to "OH MY HOLY SHIT, GO WATCH THIS MOVIE NOW". Which is, incidentally, my official recommendation, so if you want to be totally free of spoilers, this is your last chance to bail.

So, John Triton turns out to be an archangel, and all the band members were fake, based on bad horror movies (the "oh, I wrote this deliberately to be bad, so you can't accuse me of being a bad writer" card is among my least favorite, but there's something so daft about the fact that Thor is calmly speaking to the world's shittiest rubber Satan doll at the time that I cannot being to blame the movie for it), and now Archangel Triton, wearing just a tiny studded leather bikini bottom - if you tend to assume that metal is cryptically homoerotic, you must see this movie - punches the Devil back to hell. Setting aside the insurmountable number of plot holes this creates (why did Triton have terrifying shower sex with his girlfriend if she never existed?), the mere fact that Thor was able to conceive of this logic-raping chain of events already puts him in the Bad Movie Pantheon; not merely a "fuck you" to the stereotype of The Devil's Music, but a psychotically self-promoting bit of absurdism - who writes a part for themselves where they strut around in a teeny weeny speedo and flair their gigantic hair while standing in front of Klieg lights? - and theologically inexplicable.

The movie has absolutely everything you could possibly want from high-spirited trash: a menagerie of uniformly dodgy foam monsters, an especially dodgy foam Beelzebub in the climax, clumsy dialogue, bizarrely flat performances, an ending that straight-up makes no sense, fantastically misplaced ambition, and a scene where a blond with too much mascara and huge tits parades around in a shower. And Jon-Mikl Thor even has a girl with him at the time! Truly, this is a movie for all people, and its giddy, infectious stupidity makes it one of the easiest recommendations in this history of the Summer of Blood. It's ludicrous, and it has a giant, soppy heart, and if you can't be delighted both at the cosmic ineptitude and at the phenomenally innocent enthusiasm with which it is executed, I cannot help you.

Body Count: 11. Depending on how you define "body".

11 comments:

cloudsoda said...

I've been reading your blog (and trying not to wake my folks from laughing so much) now, and after this post, well... I'm waiting for you to review Rock and Rule now. You've mentioned various Canadian films, animated films (and their horrible spawned sequels, etc.), and now this!

Tim said...

Until about 45 seconds ago, I'd never heard of it. Went to the Wikipedia page, and now I can't imagine wanting to watch anything more desperately than I want to see that right now.

Thrash Til' Death said...

Desperately need to see this one.

An interesting point that I'm not sure whether you might have picked up on Tim: the main character's name and that of his band are a reference to the "Tritone," a fairly arcane bit of music theory that refers to the diminished fifth note of the Locrian scale. It has a long standing association with sensuality, and by extension, Satan, and its use was actually forbidden in early religious music. Of course, it's been a part of heavy metal going all the way back to Black Sabbath, and some of the more zealous anti-metal evangelists in the 80s (I think Bob Larson was among them) used it as "evidence" for the music's depravity.

Just a curious little nugget of subtext, if the word "subtext" can be applied here!

Zev Valancy said...

Just seeing if I have this right--am I reading it correctly that the male keyboardist and the male guitarist are sleeping together? In a slasher movie about metalheads?

javi75 said...

What, no links to awesome songs here? (after the previous entry, and this is a musical!)

Tim said...

Thrash- That's really cool! I dearly do hope that it's deliberate, and it seems like Jon-Mikl Thor is enough of an enthusiast that I bet it is.

Zev- The keyboardist is, in fact, a woman, prone to wearing tight shirts and being very cold. Though given that I misspelled Denise Decandia's name as "Denis", I see where that wasn't clear.

Javi- Ask and it is given. And given. And given.

KingKubrick said...

Just finished this movie. I told my wife about it and she insisted that we watch it because she actually met Thor at a fundraiser he was MC'ing here in Vancouver back in the early 2000s. Needless to say during the shower scene she was quite disturbed. The ending approaches The Room level of hilarious camp. Great recommendation Tim.

javi75 said...

Thanks Tim.
I'm disappointed that his hair-do in the videos doesn't match the one in the poster art here. He looks sort of like and old woman (in the videos). I guess the bigger hair is saved for the big finale (and now that I clicked on the poster I realize I had taken it to be even bigger than it is there).
These almost look just like standard, formless music videos, but when the song ends (in video 2) and dialogue scenes begin, the awfulness is inmediately noticeable.
And the one-eyed bug in video 1... now I can say you described the moment very accurately in the review. One second before it I was wondering, is this a POV shot, in the middle of the song? the sudden synthesizer sounds gave it away but still I was in doubt... Yes, it is! And what's with the weird sounds and slo-mo around 2:10? I guess it's related to the bug but I couldn't tell what it was supposed to mean, frankly.
Also, the way it's edited, you can't tell who the groupies are making bedroom-eyes to, it just as well could be the keyboardist girl.
And I guess it's always useful to have a groupie who can saw.

cloudsoda said...

www.youtube.com/watch?v=bik7aNqOleM

Go watch it.

Not Fenimore said...

...and yet knowing what happens is not the remotest preparation for actually seeing it.

I just watched this with the gf, and your review spoils the ending and most of the plot points, and yet indeed I was surprised, amazed, and amused on a scene by scene and mostly moment by moment basis. Holy crap does this movie deserve its recommendation.

Tim said...

It's so indescribable, right? You could hand somebody the shooting script, and they'd still be unprepared...

Cloudsoda- somehow I missed your comment when it was new, but I am HUGELY excited to spend some time with that movie when things have quieted down over here.