The guts, guitars, ghosts, and even gays in this trio of indie films deliver a variety of subgenres, yet all three films offer a touch of nostalgia for the days of high hair and mosh pits.
HEAVY MENTAL (2009)
Since this movie from the director of Chubbies is so 80s, it’s a perfect time for me to sound like a broken record. Therefore, I’ll begin by saying it should have been edited from a 100-minute movie to a 75-minute movie. For me, that would make it a perfect throwback to 80s no budget direct-to-video VHS horror trash.
Heavy Mental is probably one of the most watchable Troma releases I’ve seen in a while (yes, Lloyd Kaufman makes an appearance, but only briefly at the end of the film). It really looks and feels like it came straight from the 80s, beginning with the heavy metal horror music video that opens the film.
Kudos to director Mike C. Hartman for giving the old school plot a modern touch. For his birthday, a cute rocker named Ace gets a guitar that once belonged to a heavy metal legend from his two dads, who own a heavy metal record store.
I was surprised that while one dad looked like a middle-aged guy who grew up on heavy metal music, the other dad was prim and proper in appearance. Would have made more sense if they both had the metal head look.
The gay couple owes money to the local mob boss, an evil bitch with a bunch of skanky lesbian minions that go around town slaughtering anyone who doesn’t pay up. But the dead heavy metal star plans to put a stop to that.
He communicates with Ace through the guitar, and then transforms Ace into a heavy metal demon so he can take down the mob boss and her minions before they put into action their plan to kill his dads and end heavy metal forever at a big “battle of the bands” contest.
If you grew up on 1980s Troma films and cheesy 80s heavy metal horror like Black Roses and Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare, this is the best/worst of both worlds. There are 80s music references, 80s-style low budget gore effects, a campy demon killer that spouts bad one-liners and makes the “bionic” sound effect during fights, some heavy metal jam sessions, and completely unnecessary, always unfunny fart humor and fart sound effects. Seriously, Troma. I barely found fart humor funny when I was like FIVE. You could’ve started the editing process on this film by cutting that cheese.
What’s surprisingly missing is sexual sleaze. There’s some lesbian stuff and a brief scene at a porn store, but sexually, this is generally quite tame by Troma standards.
DEATH ROT (2014)
Going right for the retro 80s VHS feel, the Death Rot opening kill has a couple getting it while in their car at a drive-in theater. I was feeling it immediately.
And considering I was watching a heavy metal horror film, as a thrash metal track blared throughout the very long opening credits, I just sopped up the blood pouring from my ears without complaining. But seriously, this is where I have to give major credit to director Dominic Wieneke. Sure, this is a horror film about a heavy metal band. However, heavy metal music is not used as the soundtrack for the horror scenes. There’s an actual effective horror score.
In fact, Death Rot initially has some major potential to be an okay Texas Chainsaw/Blood Diner hybrid knockoff. When the tour bus breaks down and the band splits up to go explore the area—a barn, a house, the old drive-in—it temporarily looks and feels very much like classic Texas Chainsaw. The cute lead singer of the band even finds some film footage of a woman being sliced up in the woods. I was really getting into it now.
But then everyone is captured and horror atmosphere is snuffed in exchange for a dialogue-heavy middle segment.
A “family” of average men has some sort of religious TV show, runs a human meat market, and interrogates the band members about their unholy song lyrics and stage antics for a majority of the film, which runs way too long at an hour and fifty minutes. What I’m saying is, nothing happens. Little gore, no scares, few kills, no deformed family members. Hell, not even torture. I’d take anything.
For a brief moment in the final act, some of the band members escape their captors for chase scenes that bring back more hints of gritty horror like those promised in the earlier part of the film, but it’s just too little too late.
Death Rot feels like an idea that deserved more work before it was committed to celluloid.
TEENAGE GHOST PUNK (2014)
Teenage Ghost Punk is a family movie for GenXers with kids—and gay GenXers who won’t grow up. It’s a really cute concept with a charming cast. It just doesn’t exactly challenge the emotions at all.
A Toni Collette looking single mother moves into a new house with her Jena Malone looking teenager daughter and her son. Mom constantly makes the kids listen to the music she listened to growing up—punk rock. Awesome. When her punk rock albums begin disappearing, she initially thinks the kids are playing games. But when other strange occurrences take place, they start to suspect they have a ghost.
The gay couple next door invites a psychic medium over to help. At the same time, the daughter welcomes the medium’s competition…a team of ghost-hunting hacks she found on the Internet.
But the ghost—a teen punk rocker who has a total 1980s Jon Cryer vibe—shows himself to her directly and they start a secret romance.
And that’s really all that happens. There’s just nothing in the way of conflict here. Not even the various ghost experts are around enough to threaten to spirit the ghost away from his new mortal girlfriend.
For a movie about a punk rock ghost, the energy is way too chill. The ghost/girl couple spends most of the time talking about albums and punk rock, with a majority of the conversation focusing on The Clash.
What I expected to be a big denouement at the end, with the entire cast showing up at a Halloween party, is surprisingly anti-climactic.
Even the twist involving the ghost’s past is revealed at the last minute, and its impact on the girl is resolved within minutes. It’s such a major issue that had it been introduced earlier, it easily could have played a crucial role in the plot and caused much more conflict between the main characters. It definitely would have provided the touch of teen angst Teenage Punk Ghost lacks.