Review Date: August 27, 2006
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 6/27/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
As sad as it is to say this, I never really got to see the classic modern horror films who had their heyday on home video during the late 80's and early 90's. My parents were staunch cultural conservatives who hated any trace of bloood, gore and excessive violence in their entertainment. They were not against horror films themselves, but rather, they were against the type of gory shockers that were always prevalent at the video store. So instead of watching A Nightmare on Elm Street
, I found myself viewing Creature from the Black Lagoon
. Instead of Friday the 13th
, I was watching White Zombie
. Because of this, I was almost to adulthood before I was ever given the chance to view some of the most beloved horror films of our generation. I missed out not just on the classics, but also on other lesser modern films that became home video hits. One of these hits is Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare
, a Canadian production that became a popular cult item after its VHS release. As I popped the review screener for this release into my DVD player, I could not help but wonder if I was about to find a new favorite, or if I was ever missing anything at all...
Meet The Tritons, an American heavy metal group led by the musclebound John Triton (Jon-Mikl Thor
). The group also consists of drummer Stig (John Cirile
), bass players Max (David Lane
) and Roger (Frank Dietz
), keyboard player Dee Dee (Denise Dicandia
) and manager Phil. The film opens with the group, along with their assorted wives/girlfriends, arriving at an isolated farmhouse in the Canadian countryside. Phil has rented the house for them so they can have some time to work on their new album, free of any unncessary distractions (other than sex and alcohol, of course). John and the group settle into the house for what promises to be a memorable stay.
Almost immediately, things begin happening. During the first rehearsal session, Stig breaks one of his drum sticks, and Phil goes down into the basement to get him another one. There he is approached by what appears to be Stig's girlfriend Lou Anne (Jillian Perri
), who begins taking her clothes off and trying to seduce him. He succumbs to her charms, but then she suddenly transforms into a horrifiic creature that kills him. The other band members hear his screams, but find no trace of him anywhere. Realizing that the group's van is no longer in the driveway, everyone uses typical horror movie logic to assume that he simply took off into town without telling anybody. But their assumption proves to be both false and deadly, and one by one the band members meet their dooms, until it is just John Triton left to battle the forces of evil!
Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare
is rarely original in its plot or style, and is usually derivative of other horror films from the time period. The frequent low angle POV shots are overly reminiscent of the Evil Dead
films (as is the storyline itself), while the musical score itself seems unusually familiar as well. The acting is uniformly amateurish, and despite valiant attempts by the performers to bring them to life, most of the characters remain bland and uninteresting. Surprisingly, for all his on-stage charisma and showmanship, Jon Mikl-Thor has only a moderate screen presence here, and only stands out because the other performers are so undistinguished. The only time when Thor gets to shine is during the musical numbers and during the film's climax, where he gets to perform his most outrageous showmanship of the picture, as well as show off his impressive physique.
The film throws in countless special effects, with varying degrees of success. Surprisingly, a lot of the make-up effects are decent for a low budget production (if still obviously fake), and there are few which are outright, jaw droppingly bad. Most of the worst special effects work comes during the climax, when Triton battles a horde of hand puppets, some rubber demon starfish and a full-sized mock-up of Satan, the latter of which is so immobile that Jon Mikl-Thor spends much of the scene holding its arms and pretending to struggle with it.
But as hopeless as the entire ordeal may seem, the cheesiness of it all does not hamper one's enjoyment of the film. In fact, it's the exact opposite. It's easy to see how Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare
was able to become a home video favorite in the days before DVD. As is usually the case in situations like this, the quality of the film itself isn't really an indicator of success. From a technical and artistic standpoint it is mostly mediocre. But it features everything that horror fans like to look for in this type of film. There's a bad 1980's musical soundtrack, plenty of blood, plenty of nudity and plenty of monsters. In other words, the movie has everything that it needs to be fun, but very little of what it needs to be good.
The film is presented in a letterboxed 1.78:1 transfer (considering how many transfers Synapse has now released at this ratio, it seems they have now decided to completely forego full 1.85:1 transfers) that is enhanced for 16x9 displays. The movie looks fantastic. The transfer is sharp, colorful and free of all but the most minor specks, scratches and blemishes. Apparently this release was mastered from the original negatives, and in fact, the movie still bears onscreen its original production title of The Edge of Hell
The two audio options presented on this release are the film's original 2.0 Mono track, and a brand new 5.1 Surround remix. The undignified original sound recording cannot be disguised by the remix, though, and dialogue frequently seems muffled and flat (and often overwhelmed by the loud volume of the music). On the other hand, the remix does do a very good job of bringing to life the original musical numbers, and is worth listening to for that reason. The Mono soundtrack sounds more muffled and dialogue can be hard to hear without turning the volume way up.
The special features kick off with a commentary track with Jon Mikl-Thor and director John Fasano. The two men are never at a loss for words, covering all the expected aspects of shooting on location in Ontario with a limited budget. Their comments address numerous mysteries that seem to have always puzzled fans of the film, such as why the beginning features almost ten minutes of footage showing Jon Mikl-Thor doing nothing but driving through the Canadian countryside (their cinematographer bailed on them before production was finished, resulting in a film that was too short for release). The track is lively and interesting, but also a little mean spirited, particularly in the way that both men make disparaging remarks about a Canadian actor who, according to them, had horrible body odor.
The next extra is a fifteen minute short documentary about Jon Mikl-Thor entitled Revelations of a Rock 'n' Roll Warrior
. The aging and graying star (looking quite a bit different than he once appeared) is the only interview subject, and he spends much time talking about his early career and and how he first broke into the music business. The short also features clips from several of his other films, and archival footage from his star making debut on the Merv Griffin Show
in 1976, as well as from other performances.
The next two featurettes are both pleasingly informative. Both consist entirely of behind the scenes camcorder footage from the production. Creating a Wolf Child
runs thirteen minutes, and shows how werewolf-like make-up was applied to John Fastano's stepson Jessie, who plays one of the monsters in the film. The other featurette, labeled Rock 'n' Shock Memories
, features more behind-the-scenes footage from other parts of the production, including the shooting of the climax. The feature runs twenty-one minutes.
The special features on this release are rounded out by music videos for the songs "Energy" and "We Live to Rock". The former is nothing more than footage from the film edited together, while the latter mixes film footage with more recent footage of Jon Mikl-Thor and his band performing the song. There are also liner notes written by Ian Jane.
Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare
is a pure 80's horror time capsule, and Synapse Films generates another winner with this release and it's wonderful transfer and great supplements. The movie's already existing fan base will no doubt be quite pleased with this release, just as I was.
Movie – C
Image Quality – A-
Sound – B
Supplements – B+
- Running Time - 1 hour 23 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- English 5.1 Surround
- Commentary track with John Fasano and Jon Mikl-Thor
- Revelations of a Rock 'n' Roll Warrior featurette
- Creating a Wolf Child featurette
- Rock 'n' Shock Memories featurette
- Music videos
- Liner notes