Alice Cooper welcomed us to his nightmare. Gene Simmons spit blood…Ozzy spit a bat’s blood. Every Iron Maiden album and t-shirt featured a skeletal demon that was the stuff of nightmares. You’d think that with all the emphasis on heavy metal being the devil’s music, a heavy metal horror movie would have come well before Dee Snider gave a censorship speech to a bunch of God-fearing political activist mom’s in 1985. But instead, those very censorship hearings were the catalyst for the heavy metal horror genre of the late 80s, which was, ironically, officially launched by a very commercial theatrical venture. But it wasn’t the first slasher film to feature a resurrected rocker!
TERROR ON TOUR (1980)
Terror On Tour opens with the Kiss-like band The Clowns putting on a show. Soon after, someone dressed as a member of the band stabs a chick…who turns out to be a prostitute.
Honestly, the band spends the majority of this movie hanging out, shooting the shit, whining about their careers, and strumming their guitars. Detectives start poking around, then there’s a big party in the auditorium. This is the first thrilling part of the movie because three naked chicks get slashed one after the other.
Then it’s back to the guys moping around. Finally, it’s performance night. As the guys rock out on stage, another chick is killed and another gets into a chase scene that is wickedly similar in look and feel to Wendy’s chase scene in Prom Night! Awesome. After that, The Clowns unintentionally put on quite a bloody stage show.
Boobs galore, a killer with a knife, and tons of red-drenched lighting clashing with ridiculously dark scenes make Terror On Tour a perfect contender for the introduction to 80s slashers. But between the makeup the guys wear, the dark lighting, and the old school grain of the film, you can’t really tell any of the characters apart. Just know that one of them eventually went on to be the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld.
Rocktober Blood (1984)
The year 1984 totally ruled and Rocktober Blood is the perfect visual time capsule. The rocker looks mimic the lead singers of everyone from Loverboy to Cheap Trick to Quiet Riot. And you can expect hard rock video heaven right from the start!
After this rocker named Billy serenades us during the opening credits, he hacks up everyone at the studio except our main girl. Two years later, Billy has been executed, the main girl is now in a horror performance rock band…and she starts seeing Billy everywhere! He pursues her, harasses her, and obscene phone calls her—the words “hot steamy pussy blood” are used. EEK!
Other treats in this cheesy direct-to-VHS 80s metal horror flick include:
- a Flashdance “Maniac” scene done metal style.
- an arcade room kill.
- plenty of naked girls in water.
- some bloody kills.
- a scene with a phone that seems like it’s never going to stop ringing.
- Killer POV and shoe cam approaches.
- A cemetery visit to dig up Billy’s grave.
Billy doesn’t wear a mask, but he does eventually sport what looks like clown makeup that I assume is supposed to represent Kiss-esque theatrics. And the guy playing him pulls off a pretty good psycho act. Very entertaining. There’s a good chase scene, a long-winded reveal that hits us with the plot twist, some onstage slaughters, and then Billy handcuffs the main girl to his wrist and closes the movie with another video performance. Seriously.
Looks like Nena refusing to do a duet of “99 Luft Balloons” with Loverboy.
Trick or Treat (1986)
By the halfway point of the 80s, everything bright was going dark and vice versa. The neon colors and rainbow spiked hair of bouncy new wave synthpop was exchanged for black eyeliner, combat boots, and industrial clanking. Meanwhile, skeevy metal heads like bat-biting Ozzy and the Scorpions were being outshone by glamorous pretty boys like Bon Jovi and Poison. And, while all-American Alex P. Keaton was rocking out with Joan Jett during the filming of Light of Day, his nerdy best friend Skippy was getting even harder, starring in a heavy metal horror film called Trick Or Treat.
Trick Or Treat was Skippy’s attempt to tarnish his squeaky clean image. It was also metal’s last gasp of gory grit before it went glam. The premise couldn’t be more obvious. Skippy is the high school metal head dirt bag who gets tormented by all the pretty boy popular kids in school, led by none other than adorable Doug Savant, who turned into quiet the desperate house daddy….
Skippy is obsessed with a metal star named Sammi Curr, who dies tragically right before Halloween. A DJ, played by Gene Simmons, happens to have the last record Sammi recorded and gives it to Skippy, who then plays it backwards and discovers satanic messages that could turn the White Album black. It also happens to grant Skippy the power to get back at all his tormentors at school. (I should have tried the same thing with my Culture Club records).
I saw this film in the theaters in 1986 while I was still in high school, and I remember thinking—what metal head gets picked on by the popular kids? Everyone’s fricking terrified of the metal heads! The metal heads in our school were bad ass with their frosted long permed locks and their wedgy-inducing, skin tight, two-tone jeans: solid on one side, pinstripes on the other…with that large worn out area just off to the right of the crotch. Skippy does NOT fit that bill (or those jeans).
Rewatching this film for the first time in decades, I felt like I was watching a camera moving through the halls of my old high school during my Junior year. Wow. The 80s were truly a time to be reckoned with. Even Skippy’s dirt bag jacket, scraggly long hair, and satanic skeleton T-shirt made me misty-eyed.
Forget horror, this is a typical 80s teen flick. Skippy is tormented and humiliated, and even shows his bare ass when he is stripped of his towel by all the hot muscular guys in the locker room (is it any wonder they are popular?) before being thrust out into a gym full of girls. Skippy gains the attention of one of the cuter girls in the school, who doesn’t want to be aligned with her mean spirited peers despite the social status it offers (SO realistic). Instead of a new wave saturated John Hughes soundtrack, we are treated to screaming heavy metal, most of it supplied by the band Fastway…who went nowhere fast. A shame, because there’s one really strong mainstream metal song of theirs performed at the high school Halloween dance that could easily have been a huge radio hit.
Which brings us to the delicious horror cheese. The best has to be when Doug Savant’s girlfriend is in the backseat of his car listening to a Sammi Curr tape on her walkman (80s technology rules!) and in doing so, incurs the wrath of…well, some sort of alligator/snake reptilian demon thing! Hilarious. But the demon doesn’t get much screen time, because before long, Sammi Curr is resurrected through Skippy’s stereo. When this dolled up dude appears on screen, you’ll expect him to break out into a rendition of “Sweet Transvestite.” He is definitely the queen of metal. And just like the other flip flopping trends from the early 80s to the late 80s, Tony Fields, who portrays Sammi Curr, went from light to dark—he was a dancer on Solid Gold, in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and “Thriller” videos, and also in Lionel Richie’s “Running with the Night” video in the first half of the 80s before going ‘death’ metal in Trick Or Treat in 1986 (he passed of AIDS related causes in the 90s).
Once Sammi Curr is brought into the real world (it’s SO Freddy Krueger), he racks up a couple of kills right through the television (he literally kills in the ratings). First, he offs Ozzy Osbourne, who portrays an evangelic reverend speaking out against heavy metal music on the news (awesome, and Ozzy actually cleans up pretty good…well, he did back then). Then Sammi grabs a metal hating granny right through the TV and chokes her until she’s just a skeletal corpse. Cool. After that, he’s off to the high school Halloween dance, where he lip syncs to that awesome shoulda-been-a-hit Fastway song before whipping out his “electric” guitar and taking the term “head banger” too literally. So many unfortunate teen heads….
While the first hour of the film makes mention of Halloween and the dance, the holiday itself doesn’t make its appearance until the last 40 minutes when everyone is getting dressed up and heading to the festivities. The real treat is the use of the Whodini rap song Haunted House of Rock at the dance, which really adds to the spirit of the movie’s holiday theme. After rewatching the movie, I immediately whipped out my Whodini’s greatest hits CD and put that song into my iPod Halloween playlist! How could I have overlooked such a gem?
Of course, it’s up to Skippy to realize that he can use his metal powers for good! So despite all its attempts to celebrate the raw black magic, devil worshipping, oral blood spurting world of heavy metal as Ozzy and Gene Simmons knew it, Trick Or Treat instead glorified a Solid Gold dancer and the nerdy virginal neighbor who followed Malory Keaton around like a puppy dog. As a result, within a year’s time, a new generation of so-called metal heads were Livin’ On a Prayer while doing the Unskinny Bop.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987)
Thank Devil for the onslaught of cheesy direct-to-video horror by the second half of the 80s, or we might never have the classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare featuring heavy metal hero Jon Mikl Thor, a dead ringer for LeAnn Rimes on steroids. In actuality, this film is obviously a platform for marketing Thor’s music, considering he wrote the screenplay and stars in the film. This one holds a dear place in my heart, since we watched it on family movie night back in the late 80s (what can I say? Two of my brothers were metal heads, we loved horror, and my mother supported all her sons’ interests).
You pretty much know what you’re in for when this film opens. At a quiet farmhouse that is supposed to be in an isolated location (unfortunately, there is clearly a busy major road right behind the house), a mom is in the kitchen, the dad is shaving, and the son is upstairs playing. Mom opens the fridge, there’s a classic 80s neon glow, and mom is gone! Dad comes down to see why she screamed—and something terrifying pops out of the oven to get him! I saw scarier stuff in the costume aisles at Target this past October.
The opening credits role and—well, on the DVD, the title that comes up is The Edge of Hell. What the Rock n Roll Nightmare? I guess it’s one of those ‘aka’ situations. Heavy metal music begins as we get our first glimpse of Thor’s sexy van (an 80s staple), but then Thor changes the station to a hard synth rock track…that lasts for five minutes as we just watch the truck driving…and driving…and driving. You know, so we get a sense of just how isolated that farmhouse with a major interstate as its backyard is….
The motley crew that gets out of this van once they arrive at the farmhouse, which is now vacant and the perfect place for a heavy metal band to rehearse, looks nothing like Motley Crue. Other than Thor himself, the rest of the guys in the band look more like members of Glass Tiger—I swear, I expected each of them to break into a chorus of “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” right before falling victim to the Rock n Roll demons! However, any one of the metal skanks who exits the van could have been the chick who lifted her shirt to show her tits in the Motley Crue “Home Sweet Home” video. The hot metal chick looks are dead-on.
As in all horror films of the day, there’s a caretaker dude who would have warned the band’s manager of the bad things brewing at the farm house if he wasn’t some sort of inbreed who can’t speak straight. Instead, he mumbles a warning after the manager has already walked away, and then we never see him again.
There is really no explanation as to why there are demons running loose in this movie. A little one-eyed Cyclops troll Sesame Street puppet thing goobs into the manager’s cup during a rehearsal, and before you know it, the manager thinks he’s going to score with one of the heavy metal hottie chicks, who shows her boobs and then turns into a caricature right out of the Genesis “Land of Confusion” video. This sparks the absolute best line in the ENTIRE film. Everyone hears the manager scream, they all come running down to the first floor to find him no longer there, one of the chicks insists he’s probably upstairs somewhere, and then Thor replies: “But it sounded like the scream came from down here. You’re right, let’s go upstairs.” One of the best comedy lines EVER written.
All heavy metal hell breaks loose after that. The cute Glass Tiger dudes get shirtless and so do the metal chicks—and they better, because they have competition when a handful of female Thor fans arrive…and then disappear with no explanation after being welcomed by the already dead manager! So much for a higher body count! But back to the naked body count. It feels like the actors were directed to just “start having sex,” because there’s no kind of editing or anything to give it even a hint of cinematic artistry. Awkward! Especially when we have to watch musclebound Thor, who has bigger tits than the girl he’s showering with, get a soap job for five minutes.
There are some awesome rubber masks as members of the gang turn into demons, a couple is snatched by a demon from the kitchen, a demon hand bursts from one dude’s belly to grab a metal chick’s boob, and a little kid shows up on the scene and turns into possibly the freakiest looking demon in the movie. There’s serious product placement of a Classic Coke, so we know that “New Coke” had already come and failed by 1987, and that even demons preferred the classic taste over the new formula.
Thor, busy writing a song, drops his pen, and when he leans over to pick it up, someone off screen throws a Cyclops puppet over his head…I mean, a Cyclops demon tries to attack him but misses. Classic. Thor’s girlfriend appears and morphs” into the Master demon by literally dropping down out of view of the camera as the Master demon is superimposed over the screen. The Master demon, who bares an uncanny resemblance to how I’ve imagined the Mothman must look, summons his minions—dozens of Cyclops trolls, one that even smokes a cigarette and then begins to hack up a lung. The Master demon confronts Thor, who doesn’t seem to buy that the demon is not just one of his friends playing a trick on him, to which the Master demon gripes in his best monster voice, “This is incredible! Almost no fun since you’re so stupid!”
But then Thor morphs into a powerhouse heavy metal hero, with shocked out Phyllis Diller hair, a metal studded G-string and wrist bracelets, silky sheer cape, and a mind-blowing revelation that is better than the great twist in The Sixth Sense! The final battle between Thor and the Master demon is nothing more than a flashy heavy metal 80s video on par with Ozzy’s “Bark at the Moon” video. First, someone lobs one-eyed Cyclops starfish (?) at Thor from off screen, then we get pretty much five minutes of Thor and the demon doing an arm-locked swirling dance stolen right from the infamous Prom Night disco dance scene (although Thor is much prettier than Jamie Lee Curtis). Finally, all ends well as the demon bursts into fiery…Roman candles??? There were better special effects at the Def Leppard Pyromania concert in 83!!!
This being a heavy metal movie and all, of course it’s important to touch upon the soundtrack. There’s an effective occult score with choral stabs, along with a Thor showcase as we sit through plenty of rehearsals from start to finish to hear each of his songs. A couple stand out. The “Energy Takes Me Where I Wanna Be” song has a super catchy “shot through the heart, and you’re to blame” a capella intro, but unfortunately, that opening melody hook isn’t even the chorus of the song, which becomes totally forgettable as a result. And then there’s a recurring track that is probably titled “Live It Up” and, well, let’s just say if you sing the chorus of Kiss’s “Lick It Up” and merely change the words to “Live It Up,” you pretty much have the same exact song. Sadly, Thor never became a heavy metal hitmaker here in the U.S.
Black Roses (1988)
From John Fasano, the director who brought you Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (or is it The Edge of Hell?), in 1987, comes my favorite of the heavy metal movies in my collection. This may be a heavy metal movie, but there’s no mistaking the sound of a true classic 80s synth goth score, which makes its presence know right after the awesome introduction to the members of the demonic heavy metal band, all of whom look like something out of Genesis’s “Land of Confusion” video. An homage to Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare!
Black Roses has a simple and awesome plot. A demonic heavy metal band named Black Roses, led by the gorgeously charismatic singer named Damien (um…red flag anyone???), comes to town for a series of concerts—where they will transform innocent teen fans into blood thirsty monsters that kill the parents and adults trying to deny those who wanna rock. We’re not gonna take it indeed!
Daddy, I’ve been listening to that metal music again and need to be spanked.
Only a few adults catch on to what is really happening, including the very attractive high school English teacher with salt n pepa hair, a mustache, and blue eyes, as well as the principal from the Fame series, who plays the town’s mayor this time around. At first, both men are proponents of free speech and rock ‘n’ roll, but they have to reassess their liberal views when kids start offing adults in some of the lamest ways possible: running over mom, shooting dad with a gun, pushing the principal (the movie’s principal, not the Fame principal) out a window. Nothing scary here.
The real fun begins when this pretty young thing that is hot for teacher turns into a demon and attacks him, chasing him around his house! Our English teacher hero beats the freaky looking demon monster with a tennis racquet and then realizes the Black Roses are responsible for turning kids into murdering monsters, so he heads to their concert to stop the insanity. He finds the kids in the school auditorium staring like zombies in a trance as the band performs. Lead singer Damien strips off his shirt, loses his high hair, and morphs into a bald demon with a banging body! All I can say is, I was momentarily hot for demon! But then his body morphs as well until he eventually looks sort of like Godzilla’s son. Damien the demon goes fist-to-claws with the teacher on stage, cartoon melee sound effects abound, the teacher jumps (aka: is thrown) into a drum set, the teacher literally throws a female student off the stage to protect her from harm, the teacher kicks the demon in its rubber costume balls.
And that’s not all this movie has going for it. One of the members of the “Black Roses” is actually a real member of the band Vanilla Fudge, a big bug demon puppet crawls out of a stereo speaker and wrestles with some dude from The Sopranos, the Black Roses audience members turn into cheesy zombie masks, and a Slumber Party Massacre poster can be seen on the bedroom wall of one of the teens. And finally, our heavy metal poser Damien is actually lip synching his way through the music of never-scored-a-major-hit band Lizzy Borden, which gives the film it’s only real heavy metal cred.
Honestly, if one of these three heavy metal films was to be remade today with any kind of bigger budget, my vote would be for the Black Roses. Of course, if it was remade today, the band would be an artsy EMO band, like the band in the final film I’m going to discuss, which is being included here simply because of its nod to classic hard rock in the form of cameos by staples of the genre.
Vampire horror comedy flick Suck could easily become a cult classic. While not an 80s hair band horror flick, it definitely pays tribute to the metal music tradition. The film is loaded with rocking roles, including Alice Cooper, who hasn’t changed in 30 years (that’s not a compliment), Iggy Pop (ditto), Henry Rollins (his hotness obscured by a ridiculous wig), Moby (who surprises with an excellent performance), and Carole Pope, who is probably unknown to most but was actually in an early 80s new wave/post-punk band called Rough Trade. On top of that, you get Malcolm McDowell, whose horror movie performances in recent years are all pretty much exactly the same, making him the Donald Pleasence of this generation, which makes sense because, well, you know, he played the Donald Pleasence of the remake of Halloween. Here he is a vampire slayer, but what’s most notable about his appearance in the film is the use of vintage footage of him as a young man in flashbacks!
Aside from some laugh-out-loud slapstick and dark comedy moments, Suck supports a charismatic cast of young people in a simple plot. A rock band is going nowhere—until the only female member of the band (who looks a lot like Liv Tyler) becomes a vampire. Her mysterious new persona attracts a legion of new fans, and soon, all the guys in the band want to turn to the dark side and suck just as good as her. This “sell your soul for fame” plot is reminiscent of the back story in the movie Jennifer’s Body, which is ironic, considering that the name of the female character in this film is also Jennifer! At least in this film Jennifer gets to be part of the band and not just sacrificed for it…
Suck has added appeal for music lovers. Aside from the cameos, there is a rockin’ looking male lead vampire with glowing Salem’s Lot eyes who belts out some atmospheric rock opera numbers, including one track that is presented in an entire cool gothic video segment in the film, bringing to mind classic imagery from The Lost Boys. There are also occasional reenactments of classic album covers, including nods to the Beatles, Springsteen, and The Who. And finally, one of the dude’s in the band even gets gay fan mail, proving that we’re not all into Madonna, Britney, and Lady GaGa.
Who knows. Maybe Suck will start a trend of really awesome terrible rock horror movies for a new generation. Eh, who am I kidding. You can’t top the terrible that was the 80s.