During the ’80s MTV was on the television no matter where you went. You were at your friend’s house, a bar or the pool, MTV was on the screen. The channel ran rock videos all day and night with VJs such as Martha Quinn and Alan Hunter getting you pumped up to see your new favorite song. Most of the early videos captured the band playing the song. After the channel got hot, bands wanted to create mini movies so viewers could get caught up in the story and want to see it again and again. They made four-minute-long mysteries, adventure tales, spy thrillers or soap operas. A few would produce science fiction with the band flying through space. The one genre that was avoided was horror since bands didn’t want MTV to say it was too scary for their audience. That all changed in the winter of 1983 when Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” arrived. The video was directed by John Landis with special effects by Rick Bake. The duo behind An American Werewolf in London covered the screen with werewolves and zombies. Music videos could be scary. Instead a flood of horror inflected music videos, directors and producers figured a way to make horror films that featured music videos. “Thriller” cost over half a million bucks to make which in the ’80s was about the budget of Friday The 13th. The double feature of Hard Rock Zombies & Slaughterhouse Rock brings out the horrific joy of the merger of rock and horror.
Hard Rock Zombies (1985 – 97 minutes) wasn’t supposed to happen. This was originally being shot as a movie that plays on the screen in American Drive-In. Director Krishna Shah wisely decided to raise additional funding so they could make an entire feature film and not just shoot a bunch of scenes. The gambit paid off when the legendary Cannon Films distributed the film. The heavy metal band Holy Moses is about to get the big break of their lifetime when they’re invited to a small town for a talent showcase that will feature a major record company executive in attendance. What the band doesn’t know includes the horrifying town is outlawing rock and roll. Before they can get into town, a fan invites them to play the estate of a rather eccentric man. The warmup gig changes their lives in the sense that the band members are tracked down and killed. The real identity of the eccentric man and his frighting plan for the world is shockingly revealed. Who can stop him? When a mourning groupie visits the band’s graves, she plays their final song. The lyrics were borrowed from a medieval book of spells. This causes the five members to rise up from their extremely shallow graves to seek revenge for being murdered and play their final gig. The film is bizarre as the zombie band members look like prototype of future Kiss members with their white make-up covered faces. It’s easy to imagine several of the scenes popping up in the background of another movie. While they look like a metal band, their big “hit” is a soft rock ballad that sounds like Michael Bolton wanted it for a B-side. How weird does the action get? The film features a little person Nazi zombie biting a cow.
Slaughterhouse Rock (1988 – 85 minutes) takes us back to The Rock. Student Alex Gardner (Marked For Death‘s Nicholas Celozzi) has vivid nightmares about being pursued around Alcatraz prison by a grotesque humanoid creature. Are they just nightmares? Turns out there must be more as disturbing things happen to him including classmates seeing him floating above his bed. A teacher tells him that he must go to the closed prison to confront this evil that has got a grip on him. This leads to Alex and his pals taking a late-night trip to The Rock. Things go as bad as expected with the evil spirit going after the kids. Alex’s only hope is when he encounters the ghost of stylish Sammy Mitchell (Five Easy Pieces‘ Toni Basil). She was a victim of the evil creature and wants to help Alex. She does dance as she teaches Alex the moves to help him astral project. Oddly enough Toni Basil plays a singer in a band and had a number one hit with “Mickey,” but doesn’t actually sing on camera. Toni joins up with Devo for “The Only One” during the end credits. Devo provided the score and songs for the film although there was no soundtrack album released at the time. The movie isn’t quite a rock horror film since the rock in the title is the legendary prison. The movie was shot at Alcatraz prison. They aren’t teasing us with a backlot imitation.
Hard Rock Zombies & Slaughterhouse Rock make a sweet double feature since they give us a music video-stylized look at the undead without repeating the same plot. They’re both ’80s cheesy in their own ways. The special effects are gut churning at points. This is the perfect way to spend a late night if you’re .
Video for Hard Rock Zombies is 1.85:1 anamorphic. Slaughterhouse Rock is 1.78:1 anamorphic. Both films look fine. Hard Rock Zombies was scanned off a release print and had snipped moments restored from a video transfer. The Audio for both films is DTS-HD MA 2.0. They both are more up for the music than the bumps in the night. Both films are subtitled.
Never Say Die (66:09) goes deep into the making of the film with interviews with the following actors: EJ Curse, Sam Mann, Geno Andrews, Mick McMains, Ted Wells, Richard Vidan and David O’Hara. They love the film although they swear they can’t tell all the tales. EJ Curse hooked up with Gene Simmons. Mick McMains can’t remember his character’s name. Many of the band members were actual musicians before they acted.
Popcorn Farts and Low Budget Cheese (21:21) gets into the visual nastiness with special effects artists Chris Biggs and Everett Burrell. Biggs got into his career of special effects after seeing Star Wars in college. He got lucky and worked for Roger Corman during Galaxy of Terror. Burrell met Biggs waiting in line for a movie. He hooked him up with a gig with Corman.
From Bit Player to Band Leader (10:46) has actress Susette Boggs discuss how a small part as a groupie led to bigger things. She is still pals with members of the cast. She talks about composer Paul Sabu (whose father was Sabu from The Thief of Bagdad). He was instrumental to her success, but I won’t say what sort of success.
The Bible of Holy Moses: Watching Hard Rock Zombies Through a Fanatic’s Eye (10:29) interviews author Lucy Hall. She has a website called “Heavy Makeup” about films that feature metal bands. She saw the film on VHS and bought the rental copy when they store dropped it from their stock. She’s putting together a book with her reviews and interviews about films including Hard Rock Zombies. She is a crusader for the film.
Low-key Horror (11:12) talks with cinematographer Nicholas Josef von Sternberg. He had a lot of fun with director since he was able to shoot on Alcatraz. He couldn’t bring a dolly to the former prison, but he shot on roller skates. He also shot Dolemite.
The Girl That Lives (19:26) catches up with actress Tammy Hyler. She talks about moving out to Los Angeles when she turned 18 and worked at a theatrical agency. This was her first audition for a lead character after doing small parts in films. You might want to watch this after the film since she gives away major plot points.
Wearing the Right Clothes (15:55) has actor Nicholas Celozzi talk about how the film pops up every Halloween. His agent hooked him up with the gig because the film had A Nightmare on Elm Street buzz. He did an episode of A-Team before the film. He was amazed his character had a lot of dialogue even with the major effects in the film. He was happy he didn’t have to wear contact lenses. He discusses the effects he did experience.
Lunch Break with Claws (19:13) interviews actor Al Fleming. He worked as both a character and creating monster effects. He came up with his own character as The Commandant. He cut a deal with the producer to get to be the monster.
Original trailer (2:08) promises a kid that will be possessed by four dead rockers trapped on Alcatraz. Plus we get a dose of Toni Basil.
Vinegar Syndrome presents Hard Rock Zombies & Slaughterhouse Rock. Directed by Krishna Shah and Dimitri Logothetis. Screenplays by Krishna Shah & David Allen Ball and Ted Landon, Sandra Willard & Nora Goodman. Starring E.J. Curse, Geno Andrews, Sam Mann, Mick McMains, Lisa Toothman, Jennifer Coe, Ted Wells, Jack Bliesener, Nicholas Celozzi, Tom Reilly, Donna Denton, Hope Marie Carlton, Tamara Hyler, Steven Brian Smith, Ty Miller and Toni Basil. Boxset contents: 2 movies on 2 Blu-ray discs. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: April 26, 2022.