• Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (Synapse Films) DVD Review

    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: June 27th, 2006.
    Director: John Fasasno
    Cast: Jon Mikl Thor, Jesse D'Angelo, Clara Pater, Chris Finkel, Jillian Peri, Teresa Simpson, Frank Dietz, Liane Abel Dietz
    Year: 1987
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    Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare – Movie Review:

    By Ian Miller

    “We Live, We Live TO ROCK!”

    A family is happily going about their business on what we can only assume is a typical morning, Mom preparing eggs, Dad shaving, and the young boy doing whatever it is that young boys do. The wife calls to the husband that breakfast is almost ready, but is then faced with some kind of monster and (before we have any idea what has taken place) the scene shifts to the Dad looking worried and heading downstairs. What’s that? Something weird in the oven? Well, let’s just see what…..GAHHHH! Scary bug-eyed monster attacking! Child screaming! So begins ROCK’N’ROLL NIGHTMARE……….

    Ten years later, Jon Triton (Jon-Mikl Thor, baby!) and his band Triton are heading to that very same house to pound out “ten minutes worth” of decent music to give their label before their advance is yanked out from under them (funny, I always thought that happened after your album tanked i.e. Goo Goo Dolls before the MOR crossover!). What better location than a lovely farm house with a full studio in the barn and a piano-shaped bed? Demons non-withstanding, of course. What a freakish entourage they are, too: body-builder/frontman/visionary Jon, his lovely girlfriend Randy (Teresa Simpson), bassist Roger (Frank Dietz), his blushing bride Mary (Liane Abel, Dietz’s actual wife), milquetoast axe-man Max (David Lane), hot-to-trot keyboardist Dee Dee (Denise Dicandia), total moron drummer Stig (Jim Cirile), his uber-bitch gal Lou Anne (Jillian Peri), and finally, “wonder-manager” Phil (“It’s a wonder he’s our manager”, quips a band-member wittily), played by Adam Fried, who somehow managed to not get a listing in the end crawl. But I digress………..

    So, work they do, and before you know it, Triton is blasting out one of their sure-fire hits, “We Live To Rock.” A rousing number it is, too, giving Jon Triton/Thor plenty of room to strut his stuff, and boy does he. Unfortunately, it’s two steps forward and three steps back for this unlucky crew, as the house demons start to get restless and do a little flexing of their own. One by one, the crew is taken out, either by possession, destruction, or both. But not before a little ficky-ficky for all the band members, culminating in a loooooooooong shower scene between Jon and his lady. Fairly revealing it is too, as you get to see just about everything short of “Thor’s Hammer”! Of course, by this time Triton is as good as over, and Jonny boy has to take matters in his own meaty paws, leading to a climax that the viewer will simply not believe, and I’ll leave it at that.

    ROCK’N’ROLL NIGHTMARE (on-screen title: EDGE OF HELL) is, traditionally speaking, pretty damn awful: there are problems with lighting, sound effects, make-up effects, continuity, acting, you name it, it could well be termed a disaster. Could be. But it isn’t. Why not? What raises it above any other impoverished late 80’s schlockfest headed straight for Rhonda Shearer and USA’s UP ALL NIGHT weekend movie program? Let’s take a closer look……

    Originally conceived as a bet (yep, just like Roger Corman’s THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, 1960) between investors that one couldn’t get a saleable movie made in ten days for $100,000, things got even more interesting when the first production company that was offered the deal flat-out refused. First-time director John Fasano stepped in and claimed he could get it done for half of that sum (he brought it in at $53.000), and a deal was struck. Enlisting his new pal Jon-Mikl Thor (they had just appeared together in ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE with Adam West and a young Tia Carerre) to write, act in, and score the picture, he set about hiring every childhood friend, relative , and cheap-working crew-person that he could find, and set off to the hinterlands of Markham, Ontario to bust this thing out.

    What emerges is a film that brims with enthusiasm and fun, with the viewer truly getting a sense of these individuals trying out everything: “Hey, I like slasher movies, why don’t we put a group of people in an isolated house and bump ‘em off?” Ok! “Better yet, they should be a ROCK BAND!” Yep, even better! “Y’know, movies like GREMLINS, CRITTERS, and GHOULIES are big, how about a bunch of cool-lookin’ hand puppets?” And so on…..But, truly, the thing that makes ROCK’N’ROLL NIGHTMARE so much fun, and what makes it hold up so well, is the one and only Jon-Mikl Thor. The guy has an undeniable charisma, (if not the greatest acting chops in the world) that had been honed in a performing career that at that time had already spanned some fifteen or so years. Body-builder, rock singer, innovator of Viking Rock fashion, and film actor, this guy had already carved himself a one-man genre: THOR (for more detailed info regarding this powerhouse, please consult Ian Jane’s review of AN-THOR-LOGY). What he brings to the film is a tangible sense of joy and determination: there was just no way that this thing would not get done, plus there’s his distinctive Vancouver B.C. accent. Larger than life, yet down-to-earth, there’s just no way you can’t like him instantly. Whether he’s belting out his personal brand of anthem (“Energy” and “We Accept The Challenge” are two more fist-pumpers featured on the soundtrack), or kicking some demon ass, he is a true shining star.

    Like it or lump it.

    In fact, that pretty much sums up how I feel about ROCK’N’ROLL NIGHTMARE.

    Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare – DVD Review:

    This is where things start to get pretty exciting. Synapse have gone through the trouble of bringing what most sane people would consider a marginal film at best to the digital medium with great care and consideration. First off, it is presented in a NEW high-definition, anamorphically enhanced transfer, in its OAR of 1.78.1, and it is a BEAUTY! Naturally, given the original constraints of time, budget, and circumstance, there are some shots that will always look dark and grainy, and to change that would be to mess with the original integrity and look of the film. But when the rock band and special effects scenes happen, hoo-boy, this thing takes off. It glistens and it shines. Framing looks great (better than the old Academy fullscreen VHS by a HUGE margin), with lots of bits of peripheral detail heretofore unnoticed by these eyes, colors are strong when they are supposed to be, and not as bold in the plainer-looking scenes. Grain is only truly apparent in the darker shots, no mpeg compression to speak of, and maybe one slight instance of shimmering (visible on the grill of the Ducker van). Print damage is virtually non-existent (you would have to strain pretty hard to notice it). Overall an awesome job – now please bring it out on Blu-ray!

    Audio options include the original mono track, a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, as well as a commentary track with director John Fasano and Jon-Mikl Thor (more on that in the next section, so hold on to your muk-luks!). The mono track sounds nice and central, with the music and dialogue sounding warm and with a lot of mid-range beef, but it’s the 5.1 that really makes the sound come alive. Just try to not start bending mic stands and blowing up hot water bottles when those tunes start pumping. You can’t! Dialogue is clear as a bell, with no audible hiss or muffling, and the whole track makes a perfect complement to the eye-popping visuals.

    Extras? This is where Synapse just blows the whole thing wide open. Not only do you get a fifteen-minute documentary on Thor entitled REVELATIONS OF A ROCK’N’ROLL WARRIOR where the big man takes you through a brief tour of his career and legacy, focusing mainly on the production of this, his magnum opus, you also get TWO behind-the-scenes featurettes made up of ORIGINAL video camera footage from the shoot.

    The first is CREATING A CHILD-WOLF (13m, 20s) in which we see Fasano’s step-son Jesse D’Angelo being made up for his role as the creepy child-wolf. The second is something of a godsend to fans: ROCK’N’SHOCK MEMORIES, which consists of twenty-one-minutes of home video footage that is set up in the order of the film. SEE! Cigarette smoke used as a fog machine substitute! WATCH! Several guys and one gal on instruments they don’t know how to play try to convincingly mime to Jon-Mikl’s backing tracks and nearly succeed. GASP! When Thor bruises his knuckles on and tries not to get taken out by a 70lb demon head.

    It’s all very entertaining and enlightening, and best watched after listening to what I consider to be not only the greatest bonus on the disc, but the most entertaining commentary track I’ve yet experienced. Fasano and Thor hit the ground running here, wasting no time in telling you everything you wanted to know about this film and more. They really leave no stone unturned, from production history and woes, to who’s related to whom and how, and most entertainingly to me, the whys and wherefores of just about every weird and unexplained occurrence in the film, from plot points glossed over in the script, to strange sound effects, to why the film opens with ten padded minutes of Thor driving a van. These guys have a great attitude about this film, alternately self-deprecating about and proud of their achievement, plus they sound like really good friends and that energy carries over. Awesome.

    You would think that would be enough, right? WRONG! You also get two music videos: one for “Energy” that is basically just that scene from the film mixed with other shots, and (you guessed it) “We Live To Rock,” which combines film footage with a current Thor performance of the song, and finally a fun and informative set of liners from some guy that really seems to like this movie a lot. I have no argument.

    Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare - The Final Word:

    It must be said that discs like this make me so very glad to be alive in this day and age. Only a maverick company like Synapse would have the brass pair to pour so much love and affection into a decidedly niche-oriented release such as this, and they fully deserve all the accolades that fans will surely heap upon them for treating us so well. In Thor We Trust!

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