Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; we’re so metal we can’t get through airport security. Every week during the month of October we will be showcasing the shockingly schlocky, the horrifyingly horrible, and the most terrifyingly terrible horror films we can get our claws on. We will drive a lampooning stake through the film’s heart and laugh maniacally as it takes longer to die than Paul Reubens in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
But then, because we learned nothing from The Evil Dead, we will resurrect the film by reciting passages from the necronomicon of pure adoration. To complete the blood ritual, we will pair the film with a insidiously delicious snack food item in the hopes that we can create for you a completely interactive horror film experience by actually shortening your life.
This Week’s Beast: Black Roses
The basic story here, and I do mean basic, is that a very popular rock band called The Black Roses has decided to begin their world tour in Mill Basin, Ontario, Canada USA. The kids in town are all super psyched, but the parent groups seem to have their collective undergarments in various stages of entanglement. They feel that The Black Roses is a group that promotes evil and the corruption of youth. Eventually, the parents see the error of their ways and let the band play all four (?) of its consecutive shows. Turns out they were right because much evilness and corruptitude ensues.
What Makes It Bad?
Black Roses is 1980s white conservative America’s worst nightmare caught on celluloid. Writer Cindy Cirile (which I choose to pronounce “surreal” for the purposes of irony), who actually played a mom in Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare just a year before, crafts a preposterously paranoid world in which attending one heavy metal concert turns perfectly upstanding American teenagers into juvenile delinquents; subsequent concerts transforming them into murderers and, worse, hoebags. And I mean these are the best kind of American teenagers, the Canadian kind, so this heavy metal music must be pretty evil. I mean smoking? Fighting? Making sex times with each other? Clearly these are all by products of loud music having almost nothing to do with the fact that these teenagers are… teenagers. My favorite absurd example of how this music corrupts is the hedgehog-headed six-year-old who chucks his superhero action figures into the fire claiming that they are actually the bad guys. It’s subtle; about as subtle as throwing what would now be priceless collectibles into a fireplace. The geek in me therefore has no trouble believing he’s an evil little bastard.
Some religious scholars subscribe to the The Clockmaker Theory of theology. In this theory, God was responsible for creating the universe, but is no longer actively involved in its operation; as a clock is created by a craftsman but then runs on its own. This same ideology was evidently used to construct the script for Black Roses. Ms. Surreal came up with a general conceit of “evil heavy metal concert makes kids no good” and left it up to the universe to decide how the plot would get to that point and how it would conclude. There are so many half-finished scenes that go entirely nowhere and lines of dialogue that ardently profess to the film’s mind-gelatining nonsensicality. The opening of the film shows the effects this band had on another city wherein an entire audience is transformed into zombies while an old man guards the door. The authorities shove him aside and open the door, unleashing the horde. Who the hell was that old man and why wasn’t the zombie storyline repeated to conclusion in Mill Basin? This absentee screenwriting is also apparent in the scene where a woman we can’t identify walks up to a mirror, pulls down her top and begins playing with her nipples for a solid three minutes. She then pulls her top back up and exits the scene. Umm, well, thank you of course, young lady but uh…what? In Canada, context eludes YOU.
There are in fact many, many head-scratchers to be found when examining the unapologetically disjointed arrangement of scenes in Black Roses. The band itself relegates its communication with Satan to a tiny room adorned with lipstick-drawn pentagrams and what I assume are apple-tart-scented offerings from The Yankee Candle Company. It’s just about as intimidating as the lead singer’s ewwrotic leather daddy wardrobe. And why is there a playground outside what is supposed to be a high school? True, I suppose it could have been a K-12 school…a tiny, three room K-12. It also doesn’t help matters that there is an obviously thirty-year-old student attending this school who resembles, in both appearance and swagger, Andrew Dice Clay; though he’s Canadian so I suppose it would be Andrew “Molson Ice” Clay. There’s of course also the woman who holds up the band’s logo before a town hall meeting as evidence of their dalliances with the dark arts. Trouble is, the logo is a smiling skull quite similar to the cartoonishly non-threatening Wal-Mart decorations you find in any first-grade classroom during the month of October. One does not typically find anarchy and finger paints in the same aisle.
Black Roses has one of the most uncompromisingly awful endings of any horror film I have ever had the happy misfortune of subjecting myself to. Let me see if I can explain all the events leading up to the closing credits without the reasoning center of my brain suffering a Vietnam-like flashback and crumbling in on itself like an expiring pill bug. First the band’s lead singer, named Damien in the interest of nuance, removes his wig and turns into a rubber lizard monster who engages in a dainty slap fight with our heroic, Tom-Selleck-clone of an English teacher (do they even speak English in Canada?). Then, the teacher douses the stage and monster in gasoline and, after uttering cinema’s most inaudible final one-liner, sets the demon-lizard-rocker ablaze. He then later completely fails to react when the evening news reports that The Black Roses will be playing Madison Square Garden. Hey, Mr. Selleck…ish, you do know that was the name of the band you literally just burned alive, right? eh? The worst is when they zoom in on the lead singer’s photo and the voice-over states only, “evil.” After a pregnant, which you can actually afford to be in Canada, pause they proceed with the character’s earlier monologue about the nature of evil. But for a good ten seconds, you think the film is simply reminding you where everyone stands.
Why I Love It!
One of the things I love most about being a horrorphile is discovering pockets of esoteric subgenres. Black Roses is among the very best of one of the weirdest of the secondary horror classifications: heavy metal horror. Truth be told, I am not incredibly well versed on this particular breed of horror film, but of the few I have seen, there seems to be a very distinct pattern at work. Namely, these films uniformly reveal that filmmakers in the 80s had no idea what to make of heavy metal or, especially, its fans. Between this film and the similarly toned Trick or Treat (1986), in which a metal band lead singer is also an instrument of evil, it seems clear that where these writers heard “heavy metal” their brains translated “root of all that is sinister and nasty.” It’s almost like Invasion of the Body Snatchers wherein the pod people are “pod punks” and one fearless, upstanding (read: hopelessly square) adult must save the children from the big bad metal band. Where there seems to have been this intention to subversively condemn the musical genre, the hilariously misguided fear of heavy metal lends an even greater charm to the cinematic subgenre that augments the already tangible charm of 80s horror. To wit, Black Roses is endlessly entertaining and effortlessly succeeds despite its failed heavy-handedness.
Not surprisingly, one of the largest components of Black Roses’ irresistible appeal is its soundtrack. Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way advocating that the music featured in the film is to be taken as quintessential heavy metal. Point of fact, it isn’t even to be taken as decent heavy metal; or even mildly cumbersome metal. But it is a syrupy bastardization that tries so hard, and nosedives so epically, as to win over even the most stalwart metalheads. It pulses with the same dimly electric, but wholly intoxicating, energy as, say, the theme song from New Year’s Evil, but manages to sustain that energy throughout the film as opposed to merely shooting its load in one track. Part of the ironically palatable nature of this terrible music is again rooted in the subgenre’s utter misunderstanding of the music scene to which it is ultimately so beholden. If this is what the spooked conservatives think real metal is, they actually have no idea how terrified they should be.
As a torch-bearer (read: crotchety old fart) for practical effects, there was plenty for me to love in Black Roses. One of my favorite scenes in the film, and quickly climbing the list of my favorite death scenes of all time, features a not-s0-caring father, played by none other than Vincent Pastore, meeting a fitting and giggle-inducing demise. A demon flies out of his son’s stereo and, after wrestling with him Ed-Wood-style, sucks him completely into a speaker. The design of the monster was respectable and the use of camera tricks and clever editing to complete the illusion on a stingy-budget was most impressive. I also love that prior to this head-banging stage dive off the mortal coil, Pastore – the biggest Pussy of TV’s The Sopranos – actually says to his son, “only two kinds of guys wear earrings: pirates and faggots. I don’t see a ship in our driveway.” Eat your heart out…inexplicably ungagged right-wing talk show hosts! I also loved the scene in which the girl transformed into the, for lack of a better term, tufted tit dragon; strange as those are usually dormant in Ontario this time of year. Just after rendering herself shirt-free in a failed act of seduction, she launches into a demonic mood swing that sees her neck elongating and her head going full puppet (and it’s not even Oscar season yet!). It may look silly at first, but the wide shots where we see this thing stalking the guy through his kitchen is categorically ooky.
As a special side note to this film, it has been rumored that fellow film critic, and good friend, Mr. James Rocchi of MSN Movies has a small part in Black Roses. And by “it has been rumored,” I mean “James Rocchi is totally, 100% in Black Roses.” Back when Rocchi still lived in the great white tundra of Canada – or as I like to call it, his pupa stage – he happened to be in the same area where Black Roses was being filmed and the rest is “Stuff We Just Found Out Today” history. If you’re looking for him as you watch, Rocchi described himself as “a scarecrow nerd in a white denim jacket.” This only increases my love for this unsung horror gem.
Junkfood Pairing: Devil’s Food Cookies
There is a paradox inherent in devil’s food cookies that echoes that of both Black Roses and the climate of fear surrounding heavy metal as communicated in heavy metal horror. While devil’s food is a typically heavy delicacy, devil’s food cookies are light and fluffy. In much the same way, The Black Roses purport to be a “heavy” metal band, but their overall act and sound could not be more fluffy…and the result is just as awesome as eating an entire box of devil’s food cookies in one sitting.
Also, devil’s food cookies are every bit as ensconced in the practice of satanism and the black arts as was the heavy metal music of which 80s parents were so desperately afraid. You’re just as likely to sell your soul under the influence of this chocolaty treat as you would be listening to Iron Maiden.