As a horror fan, I’ve seen some just plain awful movies. I watch because even the shittiest horror films typically have something to offer fans. A good kill. A funny line. A tense moment. A surprising twist. Whatever. For this reason, horror is the pizza of genres – even the worst horror/pizza is still worth seeing/eating. (unless it’s Papa John’s. fuck that shit) Moreover, horror seems to have a rich history of “bad” movies that transcend the movie grade alphabet (A, B, etc.) and come back around to the top of the heap. John Fasano‘s Black Roses and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare are two very good examples of this phenomenon. On paper, these are objectively terrible 80s rocksploitation (is that a thing?) movies capitalizing on that era’s resurgence of Satanism-in-music fears. Hair metal. Lamborghinis. Demons. Angels. Cheap creature effects. The struggle for teen souls. All the ingredients are there for a shit sandwich. The sum, however, is much greater than its parts.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare – ultra-popular hair metal band, Triton, moves in to a country farmhouse that has a dark history to record their new album. (the barn’s been converted into a recording studio, natch) The band members cavort with groupies and fuck around a lot while a mysterious presence kills them off one-by-one. When only the lead singer, John Triton (played like a B-movie god by Jon Mikl Thor, who also wrote and produced), remains, he must face off with the evil entity in an epic metal-fueled good-v-evil battle (in a barn). The twist revealed during this showdown is mind-blowing.
Black Roses – ultra-popular hair metal band (copy/paste), Black Roses (that’s the title!), moves in to a tiny town to play their first few live shows in a high school auditorium. Until now they’ve strictly been a studio band (like a feathered, long-hair and spandex-clad metal version of XTC in the 80s). This tiny town (called Clay Lick or something), is full of nice, studious teens who all have the same favorite literature teacher. Teach gets right down on their level and talks straight with them (even dropping a PG swear word now and then!). The kids love him (one girl, all too literally) and he stimulates their minds like nobody else. But once the Black Roses roll into town (in twin Lambos!), the kids start acting strange. They don’t contribute to the class discussions anymore and they even question the teacher’s curriculum, asking why they have to read poems from dead guys when there’s a master poet right there in their little town. They’re referring to Damien (of course he’s named Damien), the lead singer of Black Roses. His influence is pushing them over to the darkside of teenagerness (neologism!) and it’s up to the star teacher to fight for their very souls!
Fasano certainly found his niche in the heady days of the late eighties. If you were a teen in 1987 and you didn’t love a hair metal icon, his Italian supercar, and/or the music he humped out of his neon guitar, then I’m going to assume that you live a life of stifling regret. Fasano (and Thor in the case of RnRN) have created a world in which this music and it’s creators are the most important things. (now that I think about it, maybe these films are the progenitors of Metalocalypse) It’s fucking brilliant. It takes the viewer back to his/her teen years, when music and friends and appearance were so damned important! (apologies to friendless, unfashionable music haters) Sure, the teens in Black Roses had seen quite a few birthdays pass since they were legit teenagers (a grand tradition for teen roles). And maybe the acting is a little amateurish. And the dialogue melodramatic. But, DAMMIT! this is good shit! The sockpuppet demons and awkward animatronic masks ADD to the fun somehow. The stilted romances make us cringe in a cringing-WITH-you-not-AT-you sort of way. (that’s also a thing now. i just made it up) These films are so fun to watch that the cheese and the camp become precious to the viewer. They become OUR bad, hairspray-soaked, hot-lix-scored 80s gems. Those that get it share a fellowship. And nobody dare make fun of these films if they aren’t part of that tribe.
The Final Cut: If you like fun at all, you’ll love Black Roses and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare. If you’re looking for high art in your films, you’re looking in the wrong place.