As a movie icon, Jon-Mikl Thor gained his greatest fame when his other movie, Zombie Nightmare, appeared on TV’s Mystery Science Theater 3000. This was a rare slipup for MST3K; this, his other cinema opus, is much funnier. Produced, written and starring Heavy Metal-god wannabe Thor, Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare claims its place as one of the great unheralded horror comedies of the 1980s.
We open on a bucolic farmhouse. Mom is cooking breakfast, Dad is shaving, their young son is getting ready for school. Little do we suspect that Evil will soon destroy them (well, actually, we do. But you know what I mean). The terror begins when mom opens the refrigerator, and screams. At least, I think she screams. The soundtrack is so poor at this point that you follow the action like a silent movie.
Anyway, Dad, reacting to the assumed screaming, runs downstairs into the now empty kitchen. The oven door is shaking (maybe a better title would have been Appliance Nightmare), causing Dad to scream, Oh my God, Carol! which, when you think about it, is an odd reaction to a shaking oven door. Suddenly, when we most expect it, a rather silly inanimate prop demon rolls out of the oven. This is filmed from a couple of different angles to, uh, disguise that fact that in real life you could just walk away from it. Needless to say, Dad, like Mom before him, meets his fate offscreen. The same with Junior, last seen looking down the stairs and screaming.
Cue the credits, with Thor getting his three different title cards, intercut with imitation Evil Dead cam shots to imply that something evil is still running around the house. Brrrr.
With the prologue over, the plot proceeds. We meet John Triton (Thor), driving his cool custom van (Dude!). Handcuffs hang from the rearview mirror, subtly establishing his outlaw sensibility (Duu-uude!!). As he drives down the road, he finds one of his own tunes playing on the radio (which I guess explains the film’s title). So we are treated to almost three solid minutes of his driving down the road as his song plays. Say, where could he be going? Gasp! Not the house of evil we saw before!?! No, John, turn back!! Ah, well, they never listen, do they.
On arrival, we find that John’s van contains his band, Triton. A little expository dialog cues us in on the following: 1) The band’s here for five weeks. 2) It’s ten years since anyone’s lived here. 3) There are no phones (bum bum bum!). Thor’s band is composed of three other guys (one of whom, Stiggy, has about the worst Australian accent ever), their chicks, and their manager, Phil, whose clothing screams Hey, I’m the comedy relief.
Then the band engages in some funny dialog to establish characterization: Thor’s girl is Randy; Stiggy is the wild and zany one; his chick Gwen is the hip and bitchy one, Roger and Mary are newlyweds, Dee Dee and Max are attracted to one another, Phil is a miserly nerd. All in all, about the most unthreatening Metal band imaginable (When John later tells his band Let’s Rock! he does so with all the authority of, say, Donny Osmond, when he was a little bit Rock ‘n Roll). Then the highlight: Phil tries to get the house keys from a talkative guy. After two minutes of ignoring Phil’s pleas for the keys, he hands them over, asking Why didn’t you just ask? Rim shot. The House Key Sketch, ladies and gentlemen. The House Key Sketch.
Things begin to turn ominous. When John goes out to lock up the van, a shadow (with scary music) plays across a window in the house. (It turns out it’s Randy. Whew!). Clouds move across the sky to more scary music, which sounds like something Enya might have written as a child, had she no talent. What horror is the director trying to prepare us for? Then we find out: the band goes out to the barn to play, with John attired in a shiny silver tuxedo jacket and no shirt. Their song is wittily titled We Love to Rock. Also, we get our first new demon sighting: a plastic hand puppet that goobers into Phil’s coffee. Since this has no immediate effect on him, I guess it was supposed to be funny.
Finally, the film’s action starts. For the record, Gwen (or a Gwen doppelganger) is the first to take off her shirt. Phil is the first bumped off (Yeah! Now is we can just get rid of zany Stiggy, we’ll be saved from any further comic relief.) Their van disappears, cutting off retreat (This angle would be more effective if it wasn’t for the fact that every establishing shot of the isolated farmhouse shows headlights driving by about a hundred yards off). The band splits to their respective rooms. John and Randy have the master bedroom, which features a silly piano bed. John’s reading what appears to be a script (trying to figure out what’s going on here?). He’s so busy he doesn’t pick up on Randy’s hints that she wants to have sex. Yuk, yuk. In Max’s room, Dee Dee drops by as he strums his guitar. Oddly enough, not to tell him Shut up, already! It’s the middle of the night! Roger and Mary are telling each other how much they love each other (Uh Oh!). Stiggy and Gwen have sex in their room (Uh Oh!), with Stiggy still wearing his sunglasses. When he’s done, Gwen calls him a one minute wonder. Har, har. It’s hard to tell what’s more effective in this movie: the horror or the comedy.
Yada, yada, yada. The movie drags on. In a truly pointless scene, four groupies show up in the middle of the night. They are met by Phil, who asks them to take their shirts off (they don’t), and shows them to the basement, where presumably they’re killed, though we don’t see it. The scene is so pointless, that I can only assume that the actresses were, uh, girlfriends of the filmmakers who were promised parts in the film.
The next morning, we see a demon turning off a Triton cassette, proving that there are limits to what even the damned are willing to put up with. Unfortunately, although the audience pretty much agrees with the hordes of hell on this issue, we are then subjected to the band’s rendition of (You give me) Energy. By now, much of the band’s been knocked off, but since doubles take their places, the rest of the group is unaware of it. Although you’d think somebody would notice that Stiggy no longer has his Australian accent.
Finally, only John is left. After some of his exceedingly crummy sock-puppet demons fail to kill him, Satan himself (a larger prop, with flailing arms) appears, and in an unexpected twist we find out…
WARNING!! SPOILER ALERT!! THE FOLLOWING BLOWS ONE OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE TWIST ENDINGS EVER!! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU EVER INTEND TO SEE THIS MOVIE!!
… that John Triton is, in fact, the archangel Triton, sent to lure out Satan and kick him back to Hell. In fact, he’s the only one who was ever at the house. All the others were illusions created by him to bait Satan. Oddly, Triton’s true form is a pumped-up, frizzy haired, mascara laden version of John Triton. He wears only a cape, boots, leather gauntlets and shorts adorned with metal studding. Pausing only to admire his oiled biceps, Triton engages Satan in epic battle. Satan’s first gambit is to toss what look to be a bunch of Korean knock-offs of the Sucker-Man toy figure at Triton. Triton even courteously holds them in place on his torso, yet manages to survive this fearsome attack.
He then engages Satan in direct physical combat. Since in this form, Satan has less fighting maneuverability than, say, a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot, he’s defeated. But only after three solid minutes (!) of the camera moving around Triton grappling with the prop to create the impression of a Battle Royale. After all, it is possible, with talent, to give an inanimate object (Satan, not Triton) the illusion of life. Remember when Fred Astaire danced with that coat rack?
This isn’t like that.
Anyway, Triton wins. The earth is safe again. Or is it? Cut to a suburban home, where eerie camera movements imply Satan is trying again to enter the realm of Earth. So the film ends, leaving the audience chilled at the thought that there could be a Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare II some day.
Pretty much nobody in this movie can act. Even the people killed in the beginning of the movie, who have about two lines apiece, suck. They have dinner theater written all over them. It’s hard to believe that acting is so hard, yet the evidence is on the screen every single moment.
Nor are the actors helped by the direction. It’s needlessly arty (well, not really, but you know, it tries to be) and the director’s penchant for lame and overlong reaction shots (all horribly acted by the cast) badly hampers the film.
The demon masks, hands, sock-puppets, Satan and Oven Demon props, all really blow. They might have been OK for a high school play, but only just.
In the movie’s favor, the shock ending is certainly one of the funniest I’ve ever come across. It has to be seen to be disbelieved.
In spite of the terrific competition for the worst acting scene, Jon-Mikl Thor wins it hands down for his inspired grimacing and snarling as he battles Satan. He makes the World Federation Wrestling guys look like minimalists.
When the gang goes downstairs to search for Phil, John’s wearing his silver jacket and his stage makeup. Later, upstairs, he’s wearing a sweater over his jacket and his face is clean. Then when he goes downstairs again, by himself, he’s wearing only the jacket, and the makeup is back. Why? They filmed all the basement shots at one time, and didn’t catch that John had changed into a sweater and washed up in between.
Comedy Relief Manager Phil: In yon barn-like structure, we have constructed a 24-track recording studio!
Hipster Chick Gwen: Let me guess. To record roosters in the morning?!
Throw another shrimp on the barbie, eh:
Australian Dude Stiggy: Why Canada?.
Tourist Board Pal John: ‘Cause Toronto is where it’s happening, man! The Music, the Film Industry, the Arts!
Wry Quips, II:
CRM Phil: Have no fear. Wonder Manager will save the day!
Sarcastic Dee Dee: Wonder Manager?!
Max, the modern Oscar Wilde: Yeah. It’s a wonder he’s our manager!!
Looking for Phil in the basement:
Randy: Let’s go check upstairs.
Amateur detective John: Well, it sounded like the scream came from down here. Short pause. Right, let’s look upstairs. (?)
Looking for Phil, II:
Hey, I’m Australian Stiggy: The sniveling git’s not out at the bloody house!
Gwen: That’s an understatement! (??)