APRIL 13 2016 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : HARDROCK ZOMBIES
Overview: Murdered rock-n-rollers rise from the grave to battle an elderly Hitler, his werewolf wife, Eva Braun, and their army of zombies. No need for a joke here, folks!
Directed By: Krishna Shah, 1985
The Case For: It's a movie that revolves around hair metal Nazi zombies. If we stepped back in time to 1998 (or the present-day Fark forums) this would be a really funny premise!
The Case Against: It's a movie that revolves around hair metal Nazi zombies. It is not 1998 and we are not on the Fark forums. The only way this movie could be shittier is if it was a slideshow of Photoshop images featuring Ackbar battling Chuck Norris over a volcano full of robot dinosaurs. Also, it takes itself very seriously.
What do you get when you combine statutory rape, a Third Reich fetish, and an undying love of hair metal? I’m sure most of you readers gave the obvious answer: Kentucky. While this is certainly true, SA reader “Spanky McGee”, who just finished compiling a list of names gayer than his (it’s a short list), sent me an email that made me wonder if there was another answer to my question:
Alright bro, I shit you not, there is this shitty old 80's zombie movie I picked up in the bargain bin at Best Buy that involves not only an undead Hitler, but motherfucking Eva Braun as a werewolf. With knives. That lets midgets watch while having sex with a geriatric fuhrer. This movie is some sort of reich-gasm of ridiculousness.
I would like to make it clear that I have no idea what a “reich-gasm” is. In the future, when I am old and gray and my penis doesn’t work anymore, such a phrase will likely make its way into the American vernacular. Kids at the mall will call the newest robo-Vin Diesel movie “a total reich-gasm.” Pretty young teenagers in Sunny Delight commercials will jump over volcanoes on their hoverboards and land safely in their kitchens, where they will take a drink of the syrupy beverage and declare it “holocaustacular.” McDonald’s will mistakenly label their holo-ads with “I’d Hitler it” and New York cabbies will shout “fuck you right in your Himmler” from the windows of their flying taxis. I can only hope that, when that day comes, I am too busy drooling and shitting my pants to notice the change.
But past that all I pulled up my Netflix queue and a few days later “Hard Rock Zombies” was sitting in my mailbox. I called up some friends, and after convincing them that no, it wasn’t a joke, and that yes, I did have a zombie movie featuring undead Nazi “celebrities”, we had a few drinks and started watching the film.
Well, reader, I’m proud to report that getting hit in the face with a DVD player doesn’t hurt all that bad when you’re so drunk you breathe fire every time you light a cigarette. The glass from a broken TV screen isn’t all that hard to sweep up, and it’s really quite amazing how far up one’s ass a DVD will go when applied with the right force. I just hope my friends can reimburse me for part of the medical bills, since I didn’t make “Hard Rock Zombies” and I sure as hell didn’t ask them to use my head as a tethered soccer ball after I made them watch it.
“Hard Rock Zombies” opens normally enough. A a horribly ugly woman with a huge nose lures two men into a lake while some creepy midgets look on gleefully. She drowns them, which for some reason causes gallons of blood to come flying out of the water. Then she cuts their hands off with her cohorts while singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. This is as close to comedy as “Hard Rock Zombies” gets.
In the next scene we are introduced to the band that is presumably supposed to put the “hard rock” in “Hard Rock Zombies”. This scene, which was clearly shot in the world’s darkest broom closet, features some mustachioed sissy named Jessy singing “shake it up baby TONIIIIIIGHT” over and over. After this amazing one-song concert, the band leaves the excited crowd and heads towards the dressing room, where they pass time relaxing in their underwear. A little girl who looks likes something my dog vomited up warns them not to go to their next show. Although the girl can’t be any older than 12, Jessie is clearly smitten.
The band, throwing all caution (and any semblance of male dignity) to the wind, dons more eyeliner and gets in their tour van. Nobody’s going to stop their show, even a horribly ugly little girl with caterpillars for eyebrows and a lisp even the haughtiest of SoCal fags would envy.
Most people know there is an art to screenwriting. To create lines that are both believable and efficient is hard, and I understand that. Writer/Director Krishna Shah has attempted to break the stranglehold Hollywood has on creating decent, believable dialogue by having his characters repeat themselves constantly, sometimes midsentence: when Jessie is playing a strange bass line in the back of the van and one of the other bandmates asks where he learned it, Jessie responds with this:
“A book. You know, those things you read? Sometimes you learn from them? A book? A buuuuuuuuuuuuuuk?
He goes on to explain that the buuuuuuuuk in question contained a song from the olden days which people used to raise the dead. This adds an air of historical credibility to the piece, since minstrels often employed the use of an electric bass in an attempt to impress dumpy, acne-scarred maidens in Ye Olde Falloute Boy tunics.
As luck would have it the band picks up the same girl who drowned the guys at the beginning of the movie. Again, repetitive, not to mention contradictory, dialogue happens when Jessie talks with the beautiful young lass (I use “beautiful” assuming most of you are aroused by women who vaguely resemble meerkats):
Jessie: Last night a little girl told us to stay out of town. Anything strange going on here?
Mongoose Girl: Strange town, strange people.
Jessie: Anything weird going on here?
Meerkat Girl: Nothing weird here.
Please note that I did not make a typo. Jessie asks the exact same question (down to the wording) twice in under five seconds. It’s hard to miss because Meerkat Girl, who does all of her speaking directly through her gargantuan nose, follows the exact same rhythm every fucking line. It goes something like this: Duh duh. Duh duh DUH DUH duh. Duh duh duh.. It’s so predictable and manufactured you could add a couple clapping hands in the background and turn it into a John Mellencamp single.
I don't think I mentioned this in the review proper, but check this: In this scene Hitler and Eva Braun decide to let their two midget grandchildren watch them have sex. God damn you, Krishna Shah. God damn you.
Meerkat Girl offers to let the band stay at her house outside of town. They unpack their things and get to doing what they do best: Annoying the piss out of people.
To be completely fair with you guys I’m still not sure what the fuck happens in the next couple minutes of the film. From what I can figure, the band is too poor to buy flyers and thus announce their entrance by running around town bothering people until they get arrested. Here are the facts about the following scene:
It’s yet another musical montage, the third in about twenty minutes. To top that off this time the song doesn’t even have lyrics – it’s just someone (presumably Jessie) shouting “nuh nuh nuh na nuh nuh” while another guy wails on a drum that sounds like someone peed in it.
Jessie and another guy from the band roll down the street on skateboards. In the eighties, if something was considered even remotely “cool”, you put a skateboard near it. Rock and roll plus skateboards, to movie producers, created a supernova of cool unmatched by even the tightest of neon-green shorts and largest of sunglasses. This way of thinking also created a new niche for skateboarders, namely complaining about how skateboarding isn’t a crime while finding new ways to take their shirts off in front of girls.
Jessie does a gay little fairy dance while walking across a bridge. In the meantime, we’re shown exact same shot of a cop chewing on a toothpick ten times in two minutes.
The band poses in front of a number of exciting things, including a busted car and a giant wooden standup that apparently just kind of shows up in town when they do.
One of the bandmates terrorizes a group of bystanders, including a dog when he simulates urinating on all them by holding a foaming beer can to his crotch.
The police bother the band about their troublesome ways. Another member of the band I have taken to calling The Tank puts his brain to the test stringing these words together: “Hey supreme commandant! You comin’ to the show? The loud show? The loud music show? Rock and roll?”
APRIL 13 2016 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : HARDROCK ZOMBIES
Truly ahead of its time, Hard Rock Zombies deftly bounces between genres and fosters comparisons to few of its contemporaries. Its title only describes a small portion of the plot, a bit of a misdirection play that belies the madness within. Though at times it fits within the hard rock horror cycle, to find an analogue for Hard Rock Zombies requires you to look one or more decades past its 1985 release, when its aesthetic pastiche and non-sequitur humor would fully come into vogue.
Hard Rock Zombies is only truly realized in its production, and a simple retelling of its scant plot is inadequate in fully encompassing the variety contained within. Nonetheless, here’s how the mayhem is set in motion: an unnamed rock band ignores the warning of a young girl, named Cassie, to avoid the town of Grand Guignol, and travels there to perform a showcase for a record executive. They accept an offer to stay with the beautiful Elsa and her eccentric family but the town council quickly bans rock and roll music and throws the rockers in jail. Once the band is freed from prison, Cassie again begs them to leave town but lead singer Jessie refuses, telling Cassie of his burgeoning love her and how important the showcase is for the band.
The band returns home with Elsa and is promptly killed by her deranged family. The next morning the family patriarch reveals himself to be Adolf Hitler, announces the beginning of the Fourth Reich on national television and readies a massive gas chamber in the California desert. A mournful Cassie uses a tape of the band’s music to reanimate them, allowing them to enact their revenge on the Hitler clan. Unfortunately killing the Nazis only reincarnates them into flesh-hungry ghouls, and the narrow-minded citizens of Grand Guignol must rely on the once hated rock band to save them from the undead Fourth Reich.
The dividing line between horror and comedy grew thinner as the 1980s progressed, and with its arrival mid-decade Hard Rock Zombies foreshadows much of what the genre would become by the 1990s. The _ Nightmare on Elm Street_ franchise and films like Return of the Living Dead rely on humor as much as they do on horror, anticipating the outright parody of the genre in Wes Craven’s Scream. Hard Rock Zombies is more akin to Scream than its contemporaries in this regard, through its use of meta-references and allusions to other films.
By Hard Rock Zombies’ mid-point, director Shah dispenses with typical horror plotting and begins skewering several horror film tropes as well as his own film. “This sounds like a cheap movie,” one townsperson muses to another, who responds, “This whole day sounds like a cheap movie.” The townspeople, trapped in a basement after the ghouls begin their rampage, use a variety of movie clichés in their attempts to escape, including looking for a “wurgin” √† la Blood for Dracula. The intellectual of the bunch serves as a precursor to Randy from the Scream series, informing them that the ghouls have a definite set of rules that they must follow and can therefore be outwitted. His plan, involving creating oversized papier m√¢ché heads of celebrities, fails, but does so in a spectacularly comic fashion.
2004’s Shaun of the Dead would usher in a wave of zombie films intended to be more funny than frightening, and we have one of the first such attempts at gentrifying the undead here in Hard Rock Zombies. The film’s depiction of zombies/ghouls as a dim-witted source of physical comedy has since become de rigueur in modern horror cinema, which prefers to use the creatures as punch lines rather than antagonists. Hard Rock Zombies has a few clever riffs on the zombie trope that haven’t been duplicated yet. First, the band’s manager evades being eaten by pretending to be a zombie himself, grunting and groaning as he stiff-leggedly walks past. The film also has a running gag where a zombie tries to eat himself culminating with his severed head gnawing on the remaining pieces of his body.
The bizarre plot has echoes in the trend of neo-grindhouse films that would begin to surface in the mid-2000s, particularly Robert Rodriquez’s Planet Terror. Hard Rock Zombies takes a similar approach by including as many fantastical and transgressive elements as possible, and presenting them rather matter-of-factly. Though presented as comedy, the concept of Hitler revealing himself in modern America and announcing the “extermination of undesirables” is decidedly transgressive even for the horror genre—this type of bizarre plot would not have seemed out of place as a fake trailer in Rodriquez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse. In reality, Hard Rock Zombies was conceived in a similar fashion as those trailers. The original intent was for Hard Rock Zombies to be shown only in brief vignettes as the film-within-a-film in director Shah’s teen comedy American Drive-In. Hard Rock Zombies also ventures into some transgressive territory with the love story between Jessie and Cassie, the latter of which is depicted as and portrayed by a girl no older than fourteen.
Our unnamed band is also a hodgepodge of influences, visually and sonically. Each member seems to be influenced by a different genre of music, with the Adam Ant-esque keyboardist seeming out of place next to mustachioed and impressively mulleted lead singer Jessie. Penned by Paul Sabu, the Hard Rock Zombies’ music ranges from two catchy up-tempo numbers (“Shake it Out” and “Street Angel”) to the impossibly sappy power ballad “Cassie’s Song,” which is unfortunately performed three times. The credits do not specify who is actually performing the songs but I would not be surprised if the actors themselves are, seeing as how they appear to be accurately playing their instruments rather than simply mimicking the motions.
Hard Rock Zombies is but an obscure footnote in the hard rock horror canon. One can’t help but feel that the film would be considerably more popular if released today, however. The modern audiences that turned tongue-in-cheek films like Snakes on a Plane and Zombieland into successes would likely do the same for the story of a reanimated metal band fighting Hitler. Like many of the films featured during the 31 Days of Horror, Hard Rock Zombies lies waiting to be rediscovered by curious cinephiles longing for something more exotic than the typical Halloween fare.