October 16th: Black Roses (1988)
The micro-genre of “metal horror” is made even smaller considering that its two best examples are directed by the same guy. John Fasano struck b-movie gold with Rock and Roll Nightmare, a perfect example of the “so bad its good” genus. The fact that Black Roses is of a considerably higher budget actually creates a new challenge for Fasano; Rock and Roll Nightmare is a blast partly because its so unbelievably cheap (that and the fact that it stars metal-warrior Jon Mikl-Thor). Black Roses does not immediately signify “B” the same way RNRN does from its first frames. Its harder to like, in other words.
The plot of RaRN is strategically confined to one central shooting location and a half-dozen characters. In contrast, Black Roses’ narrative arc involves an entire town, lending what is practically an ensemble cast. The story in Black Roses is something Stephen King could have dreamt up: an upcoming metal band (the Black Roses) book several shows in a small town (somewhere in Canada, from the look of things) to test out new material before launching a national tour, much to the dismay of the town’s adults. Their kids, of course, are thrilled, and Black Roses-mania sweeps through the high school. John Martin plays Mr. Moorhouse, a progressive English teacher who notes a change in his students as soon as the Black Roses flyers start showing up all over town. The Roses’ glam-metal stylings turn out to be so bitchingly bad-ass that they cause average kids to turn into gothed-out murderers. It’s up to Mr. Moorhouse to put an end to the Roses, who may or may not feature Satan himself as lead singer.
Concerns over the PMRC by guys with goatees is a pretty widespread (and rather uncontroversial) cause in art from the 80s and 90s. From Twisted Sister to G’n’R, the impression is that butt-rock and hair-metal are the final warriors in an epic battle in the name of free speech. Figures like Tipper Gore and Joe Lieberman hardly make dynamic villains, so in films like Black Roses demons and killer stereo speakers stand in. This makes for some silly self-mythologizing on the part of metallers and their sympathizers; the idea that drug-fiend womanizers are really standing up for anything is a strange one indeed. However, I do dig the tunes, and like RaRN, the score here offers some stoopid thrills at every turn.
Besides a presentation of the Fear of a Metal Planet, this film offers plenty of cheap-thrill effects scenes, a monumental improvement upon the sock-puppet monsters of Fasano’s previous metal masterwork. The performances are pretty bad, but this only adds to the charm. The personalities are stock, and that’s fine by me. The film visually is interesting, with a large amount of camera variation, from shaky hand-held to neighborhood-surveilling crane shots. Fasano has gone on to direct high-profile television since, but some scenes here point to music-video potential. The concert scenes in both this film and RaRN stand alone as dynamic sequences. I imagine the coveted VHS copies floating around out there look grainy and faded, the recent Synapse DVD looks fantastic.
Aside from its obvious flaws, Black Roses is a fun, fast-moving film. The politics aren’t heavy-handed, and underpin the story in a natural way that allows for Black Roses to exist first and foremost as an old-fashioned gothic horror film. A cheesy gothic horror-film, yes, but a highly enjoyable one at that. While my fellows at Samurai Dreams are divided on this film (Andy digs is considerably more than I; Kevin, Max and James loathe it), I can recommend it with clear conscience. Just don’t get your hopes up for a Thor cameo.