Synapse // 1987 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 22nd, 2006
When the band starts to rock, heads start to roll.
An '80s metal hair band? A rocking power ballad soundtrack? Rubber ghoul puppets? Bra-less, spandex-clad female keyboardists? What's not to like?!?
Jon Mikl (pronounced "Michael") Thor stars as Triton, the lead singer of the bitchin' metal band The Tritonz. He has his band mates retreat to a shabby house in Canada to work on their forthcoming album, and maybe get a little frisky with their significant others. When they arrive, all signs point to a festival and thrashin' music and a rampant venereal disease outbreak, but something sinister soon crashes the party.
A malevolent demon force has been unleashed and it's taking over the bodies of its victims and spewing snot all over everything. Each member of the band meets a random, grisly death, and odd, rubber creatures are springing up all through the house. Then there's the creepy kid who turns into a mini-demon with an acne problem. The sum total is a whole lot of disjointed weirdness and rudimentary special effects work, and it will fall to Triton himself to rise up to the evil challenge, don his eye makeup, strip down to crotch-hugging underpants, and kick the hell out of a giant puppet.
The good news: Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (a.k.a. The Edge of Hell) is every bit as cheesy and insane as the spectacular titles implies. The bad news: there's like 40 minutes of actual material padded to fit a feature-length runtime. Regardless, I still wholeheartedly recommend this hair-metal creature feature to any fans of B-movies.
This flick starts things off like any other horror film: it packs a van-full of middling attractive people into a creepy abandoned house, where, following several bouts of vigorous lovemaking, victims are picked off one at a time, leading to a final confrontation between the main good guy and an overblown heavy. But where most genre movies utilize hapless teens and a sharp-object-wielding killer, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare gives you a metal band menaced by Muppets.
Straightforward enough, right? Hah. Wait until you get to the conclusion. I can't recall a film that set the table as a straight-arrow horror flick (relatively, of course; again, puppets) then suddenly switched tracks at the end with a denouement I'm still grappling to decipher. Forget switching tracks: the reveal in this movie is a dimensional-portal-hopper. It doesn't make any sense, and renders everything that preceded it moot, yet I don't know if I'd prefer any other ending. The final 10 minutes are devoted to a fight between Jon Mikl Thor and a herky-jerky puppet devil as they grapple back and forth, stage lights (?!?) bathing them in a neon glow, perspiration and glitter shining off of Thor's breasts, and pounding hair metal music in the background. It takes forever, and, like lots of other sequences in the film, could have been trimmed to 1/8 its length. But how often do you see a Canadian '80s rocker in a cape punching a demon in the face? If you answered "Every day, why?" then I wish I could be you.
Before we reach this glorious conclusion, there's some killin' and lovin' that needs to be done. And rockin'. Can't forget about the rockin'. That's about it, too for the bulk of the film. A dude has a bloody arm rip its way through his gut, another gets suffocated by a drooling, scaly demon-girl, a couple gets jumped by the aforementioned kid-monster. The deaths are far from graphic and mentionable only because of the cheap, playful make-up effects work involved. The sex scenes, while copious, are pretty reserved, with only the shower tryst between Triton and his girlfriend marginally revealing (in the commentary track, Thor talks of his willingness to go fully nude in the scene and how he apologized in advance to his scene partner if he "poked her"). Finally, there are the extensive rock scenes, full-on music videos panning over Thor rocking out, lights flashing, and the nipply keyboardist pounding away.
The rest of the film? Padding. Director John Fasano confesses that scenes were artificially expanded to bring the movie's runtime to feature length. Case in point, the interminable opening van sequence. It's like eight minutes of Thor driving his van, and that's it. A few dialogue set pieces are just as bloated, with static shots of Thor talking to his girlfriend on the couch or band-mates talking to their girlfriends or a pointless groupie scene that is never resolved. Prune these bits, shave off the fat from the overly long bedroom romps, tighten the music videos, and re-cut the final monster fight, and, maybe, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare could run in a CSI time-slot. The kicker is that this extending maneuver actually adds to the camp value of the film, and didn't really piss me off as much as it should.
There you go, incessant rock balladry, a ridiculous story, broke-ass gore work, an outdoor topless scene during Canadian winter, one-eyed hand puppets smoking, and about 500 kiloliters of Aquanet. Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is a film that will have a permanent spot on my movie rack. In my basement, sure, but it still counts as part of the collection.
Synapse delivers a great DVD. The video has been remastered from the original materials, and the quality is excellent. Only a few scenes looked grainy, but that's a far cry from what could have been a half-assed approach. Good job, gentlemen. The soundtrack has been mixed into 5.1 surround, but I was underwhelmed by the sound. The center channel was too muted and I never sensed much discrete channel activity. The extras: a really fun audio commentary with Fasano and Jon Mikl Thor, packed with anecdotes and recollections; "Revelations of a Rock 'n' Roll Warrior," an interview features with Jon Mikl Thor; "Creating a Child-Wolf" documents the behind-the-scenes, make-up work; and "Rock 'n' Shock Memories" features a load of vintage, candid footage from the set. Music videos and trailers finish things off.
Hugely drawn-out in places and value-budgeted to the extreme, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare nonetheless provides exquisitely cheesy B-grade entertainment. Thor's outfit at the end is worth at least one-fourth of the disc price.
Not guiltyyyyyy!!! (To be screamed in your best hair metal rocker voice; when you're done kick your garbage can or something.)
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary with John Fasano and Jon-Mikl Thor
* "Revelations of a Rock 'n' Roll Warrior"
* "Creating a Child-Wolf"
* "Rock 'n' Shock Memories"
* Music Videos
* Liner Notes