A blog exploring the sexy, shocking, surreal, and silly side of horror films.

April 29, 2011

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (Review)

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987) 

(aka. The Edge of Hell)

Director: John Fasano

You can't call really consider yourself a red-blooded Canadian fan of exploitation and trash cinema until you've put down your hockey stick, set aside that Tim Horton's, and popped in a copy of the ridiculously bizarre Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare starring Canadian god of glam metal: Jon Mikl Thor. Through The Zed Word: Zombie Blog, I am covering this weekend's SHOCK STOCK weekend in London, Ontario where Thor will be a guest and screening his new project: Thor -- The Rock Opera. What a perfect time, I thought, to finally review this 'classic' Canuxploitation film where Thor battles evil with the power of ROCK!

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is inept to the point of self-satire but is nevertheless fun as hell. It's like the film version of every nerdy metal fan's adolescent wet dreams inspired by comic books and images of rock warriors airbrushed on the sides of vans -- but shot with a less-than-epic budget. It's an amazing gem of trash and cult cinema, and it's all set in Toronto.


Metal band Triton rents out a farm house in rural Ontario so that they can practice their sets and get their fuck on! Lead singer John Triton (Jon Mikl Thor), a beefy blond metal machine who loves Canada for the arts, has a hell of a time getting his band to focus on their music. Between sneaking off to fuck their boyfriends and girlfriends, the band is being tormented by evil demons in the shape of silly latex puppets and Halloween props. The band is picked off, one-by-one, until only Triton remains. Then, the film takes a spectacularly out-of-nowhere twist that concludes in one of the most mind-boggling and cheer-worthy final battles ever filmed between good and evil.

Rating: 2.5 / 5 Smoking Puppets


Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare might give new meaning to the word. Obviously, the film is not meant to be truly scary, otherwise it wouldn't be populated by one-eyed puppets that smoke, ill-fitting leotards and metal rock costumes, and unforgivably bad monster masks. Yet, it's precisely this haunted house of cheap tricks and completely random host of demons and goblins that gives Rock 'N' Roll nightmare its indelible charm.

Was it good for you, baby?
Aside from the silly effect, actor Jon Mikl Thor brings the movie to a whole new level of endearing ridiculousness with his portrayal of Triton, an impossibly earnest metal band front-man. Thor is simply so clearly into his role despite the bad script and bad direction that his commitment to this bizarre movie should put a grin on your face. Watch him rock that mic in a red vest and belt out complex lyrics such as, "Energy takes me where I want to be. And you're where I want to be.Girl, you give me (give me) energy!"

The poor direction and production values also contributes to the film's silly factor. After creating the abysmal Zombie Nightmare (my review @ The Zed Word), Jon Mikl Thor re-teams with John Fasano to demonstrate that they still don't quite have a handle on this whole movie-making thing. Case in point: I REALLY hope you like to watch a van driving...for 10 minutes.

Someone needed to give the editor a hand on this picture

What Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare lacks in quality, story, and genuine scares, it makes up for in shamelessly gratuitous female nudity. Almost every woman gets nude in this movie, there's plenty of bouncing busts, and even the chiseled Thor gets into the buff for an awkward shower sex scene. There's no time to get bored with the movie with this much bare flesh on screen!

The always classic Handbra

Peek a Boob!
Oh yeah. That's steamy.

Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare would just be another cheap Canuxploitation film if not for its balls-to-the-wall ending. As the devil appears to claim Triton, Triton reveals that he's been the only one in the house the whole time. All the other band members, even the one he awkwardly tonged in the shower, have been illusions created by Triton, for Triton is no mere mortal. In fact, he is THE INTERCESSOR, a warrior angel.

He-Man: The Rock Opera
The Intercessor looks like Dolph Lundgren from Masters of the Universe crossed with a heavy metal runway model. We learn that the Intercessor's imaginary friends were just a ploy to trick the devil (played by a rigid rod puppet) out into the open so that the Intercessor could lay a WWF beat down on him.
Arrrrgh! Cyclops starfish attacking!
Seriously, as the battle between the Devil and the Intercessor gets underway, it consists of Jon Mikl Thor grimacing like a wrestler and putting wrestling locks on a cheap rod puppet.

Choke the devil!
Does any of this make sense? Not one bit. But it's a surreal and completely left-turn from demon possession horror into superhero pseudo-fantasy. And I love it.

Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare is not a good movie -- that's why we call it trash cinema -- but it's a crusty Canadian gem that provides a guilty pleasure for fans of horror and glam metal. Jon Mikl Thor is admirable for keeping a straight face as Triton (aka. The Intercessor). He's the heart of the film. Without him and the insane Intercessor twist, Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare would be little more than a dusty old VHS sitting in someone's basement. As it turns out, the film has enough kooky qualities and a cult fan base to support it that Synapse Films put out a very nice DVD full of extra features. More than you ever thought you wanted to know about Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare.

And Thor fans, rejoice further! Jon Mikl Thor has a brand new project coming out that's screening on April 30th at the Shock Stock horror and exploitation weekend in London, Ontario. I'll be in attendance to bring you a review of THOR -- The Rock Opera. Stay tuned!

April 19, 2011

Warlock (Review)

Warlock (1989) 

Director: Steve Miner

While Harry Potter fever once again grips video stores upon the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I on DVD,  I turn my attention to a different tale of witchcraft and wizardry: Warlock. Released in 1989, Warlock was a film I never had opportunity to see as a kid although my friends who rented it used to talk about it. 22 years later, I finally delved into Warlock courtesy of the bewitching magic that is Netflix. After all this time, has Warlock's magic waned? Did it have any to begin with?


In the 17th century, an evil Warlock (Julian Sands) is sentenced to death. Before the expert witch-hunter Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) can carry out the sentence, however, the Warlock opens a rift in time and space that transports them to Los Angeles in the late 1980s. Clearly the Warlock is a man of fashion before his time when you consider that his dress and behaviour raise so few suspicions in 1989 despite the fact that he literally crashes through someone's window. Surrounded by other 80's hipsters, the Warlock's ponytail, shoeless feet, and black frock seem ultra-modern. It's even hard to distinguish the Warlock from other late 80's yuppies. Both are arrogant, pretentious, and self-serving, but whereas 80's yuppies might be violent while on a coke bender, the Warlock is wicked by definition: he lives to curse and kill people who get in his way. His satanic mission: locate the separated pages of the Grand Grimoire, an evil book that contains the true name of God. If spoken in reverse, the name of God will reverse all of creation. It's up to ditzy Kassandra with a 'k' (Lori Singer) and time-displaced witch-hunter Redferne to stop him. What begins as a promising supernatural thriller devolves into a dumb road movie full of lame time travel jokes and a story that is more interested in developing a lame-duck romance than any kind of horror.

Rating: 2.5 / 5 Witch Compasses


Slightly. In terms of violence, the Warlock manages to do his fair share of damage. Basically, the Warlock is pretty much a dick: he'll kill you just for the fun of it. Some tongues are ripped out and some eyeballs plucked, but the extreme violence (the killing of a child) happens off screen. Most of the time Sands is on screen as the Warlock he's not terribly scary. Prissy and hammy, the Warlock starts to lose credibility the moment he floats through the air like Peter Pan and is hampered by a weather vane. The mild horror he wrought is essentially negated. Something tells me he's not Hogwart's material.

The Warlock only has eyes for you

Exceptionally. First of all, the film spends way too much time trying to develop an awkward love connection between Kassandra and the hairy-vested Redferne. He's a fish out of water in the modern world, but hilarity does not ensue when movie tries to turn Kassandra from a self-absorbed and annoying airhead into a viable love interest for Redferne by making her bond with Redferne over his bewilderment at modern technology. These scenes completely drag and essentially killed this movie for me.
The Past and Future of Fashion Crime
 On top of this flat romance, Redferne spends much of the film illustrating a number of silly old-world rules about witches and warlocks with which to fight Julian Sands. On the one hand, it's neat that the film abides by (and surely invents) some archaic beliefs about witches (such as that milk curdles in their presence). This gives Redferne plenty of avenues for tracking the Warlock. On the other hand, these same rules also make the Warlock vulnerable to a silly degree. No matter how strong he becomes, he's extremely vulnerable to salt. Just plain old salt. Dump a bucket of tears on him. Push him into the ocean. Trick him into eating french fries at McDonald's. All this will all kill him. How scary or impressive can a villain be when the very powers of Satan he wields can be bested by one of the most common of all food seasonings?

For a movie about a killer man-witch, Warlock is insufferably dull. If not for the somewhat quirky witchcraft rules and the mildly amusing violence that follows in the Warlock's path, Warlock would be a complete pass. As it stands, however, the Warlock could stand to take a seriously harsh lesson from Voldemort in what it means to be a real bad ass magic man.

April 18, 2011

Insidious (Review)

Insidious (2010

Director: James Wan

I love a good ghost yarn. However, after Poltergeist, The Changeling, The Amityville Horror, and countless other films including the influx of Japanese ghost stories like The Ring, is there really any new ground to be broken in the sub-genre?  Insidious, the new horror film from Saw collaborators James Wan and Leigh Whannell, was finally released this year, and it proves that, yes, we shouldn't give up the ghost yet.

While the story is not startlingly original, Insidious rearranges the time-tested conventions of the haunting story into a smart, tight, and expertly manipulative "boo-machine" fine-tuned to get you jumping out of your seat. Insidious is a relatively bloodless film compared to recent gore fests but will nevertheless get your blood pumping with an even deeper sense of dread.


Looking for a new start, Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) move their family of three children into a brand new home, but soon they encounter a very old and insidious evil. At first, things start slow. Books fall from bookshelves and items do not remain where they are left. Things only get worse after their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls and bumps his head while exploring in the attic. He seems okay at first, but the next morning he doesn't wake up. The doctors are baffled. For lack of a better term, Dalton appears to be in a coma, yet there's no brain damage. As Josh, Renai, and their other young boy struggle to come to terms with Dalton's condition, the family is plagued by a series of increasingly terrifying ghostly encounters and unexplainable events that follow them from one house to the next. After they bring in a psychic medium (Lin Shaye) for help, Josh and Renai discover that the paranormal activity centers around Dalton and is connected to a hidden family secret.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 Insidious Specters


Except for some blood-red hand prints left on pristine bed sheets, there's no blood to speak of in Insidious. No one is cut. No guts are pulled out of bodies. No brains are munched and no flesh is flayed. Then how shocking could Insidious be? Well, as a seasoned horror-viewer, let me say that I can't remember the last time a horror film got me to jump out of my seat until I saw Insidious. And I'm talking about an honest jump; I don't count cheap jump scares in which slashers or monsters lunge at the camera and loud musical stings assault your eardrums. Yes, Insidious, managed to spook me -- honestly and genuinely spook me -- with its creepy atmosphere, expert editing, and startlingly creepy slow burn that climaxes in a series of startling reveals.

 In the first two-thirds of Insidious, the art of the shock is produced by combining sound design and deliberate yet floating camera moves to draw in the audience's attention with the anticipation of scares to come. It's not what you see that's terrifying so much as what you might see. Sometimes the scene resolves itself on a mundane detail that takes on an eerie importance. Sometimes the scene resolves itself with a shocking twist of perception. Other times, the scene will explode with a truly uncanny experience. One of the film's most effective scare techniques is the reverse-jump scare: Instead of the film hitting you with an overt ghost or goblin that jumps in your face, you realize that something creepy has been lurking quietly in the frame the whole time.... Also, by setting the action exclusively within the home, Insidious exploits a host of domestic fears and scenarios. Insidious is a film that knows exactly how to shock you and manipulate your emotions without pandering.

So a Mormon and a Psychic walk into a haunted house....
In the third act, the creepy imagery and power of suggestion become more overt, and the story takes a turn away from horror into dark fantasy, but this change of pace works in its favor. I felt the haunted house full of "boo" moments was losing its novelty; eventually I was craving answers, resolution, and then catharsis. While Insidious changes its pace to pull back the curtain on the ghostly mysteries and place the story within a detailed metaphysical mythology, the catharsis remains elusive. Even when you think Insidious is wrapped up in a nice bow, it has a few more slippery tricks up its sleeve.

Aside from the "boo" moments and thrill scenes, Insidious is also extremely well-acted. Rosie Bryne and Patrick Wilson perform as extremely natural and likable parents even under stress. They fully commit to keeping the film grounded in a domestic reality even as its metaphysical plot threads begin to tighten. In this symphony of scares, without the strong cast hitting each of their character notes, the "boo" beats certainly would have fallen flat too.

I was both incredibly surprised and satisfied with Insidious. It plays safely within the sub-genre of ghost films with all the available conventions as established by other movies, but it fixes them in a new arrangement that even managed to scare a horror junkie like me.

With the glut of remakes and reboots flooding the horror genre,  why not take a chance in the darkened theatre with an original film like Insidious? The worst that can happen is you'll begin to wonder what else is lurking unseen in the dark with you.

100 Horror Movie Spoilers in 5 Minutes (video)

Um, need I say "spoiler alert" ?


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