I started scribbling down a long-winded write-up about Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, but then I realized...why? Here's all you need to know: this is a 1987 flick starring legendary rock warrior Jon-Mikl Thor as the front-man of The Tritonz, a cock-metal band rehearsing for a month in the barren Canadian wasteland. Turns out the house they rented is infested with demons that gradually pick off the band and their groupies one-by-one. You might go so far as to say that it's a real rock 'n' roll nightmare. And, y'know, I could say that the movie ranks somewhere up there with the best-worst ever, among the hallowed ranks of indescribably funny, endlessly rewatchable schlock like Troll 2 and A*P*E or that it has one of the most bafflingly out-of-left-field plot twists in the history of film or that even with all of the shameless padding to bring this seven-day, $53K production to feature length, it's too campy and fascinatingly strange to ever feel boring, but...nah.
See? Those few screen grabs review the movie faster and better than I ever could, and if you scrolled through all of those pictures and are still reading, that probably means Synapse Films can count on your sixteen bucks or whatever the going price is these days. No, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare isn't exactly what most people would describe as "good", but if I sit down with a flick for eighty minutes and have as much of a blast as I did with this one, I can't exactly consider it "bad" either. So:
Video: I don't have a hat, but if I did, I'd be taking it off right now to Synapse Films. Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare doesn't just look great for a nearly twenty year old flick shot in a week on 35mm ends for fifty grand and change: it looks great, period, trumping a lot of major studio films with a couple hundred times the budget. The movie's been retransferred from original negative elements, remastered in high-definition, and popped on this DVD in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
There's very little wear visible in the source: just a handful of tiny specks throughout. For such a low budget flick with quick-'n-dirty photography, there's surprisingly little film grain buzzing around too. Only one sequence is particularly grainy, and it was shot outside during dusk and was lit with car headlights, so...yeah. Stretches of the movie were kind of an indiscernably murky mess on video, but you can ::gasp!:: actually tell what's going on in the DVD version, and with rock-solid contrast, oodles of detail, and, depending on the scene, vividly saturated colors to boot. I could keep fawning, but you get the general idea. Yet another exceptional effort from our pals at Synapse.
Audio: Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is served up with its original 2.0 monaural audio and a shiny new 448Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The remastered songs in the six-channel soundtrack roar from each speaker, but garden variety dialogue has a tendency to slink into the background, and even in a couple of meeker scenes, I'd occasionally have a hard time making out every word. Outside of the music and some smooth pans during the trek to Canada, the surrounds don't draw an awful lot of attention to themselves, but I'm not really a rear-channel-monger, and I'd prefer a more subtle remix to forced, gimmicky surround effects anyway. So, I think I'm getting at "good, but not as impossibly, transcendently great as the video".
No subtitles and no closed captions. Sorry.
Supplements: "So, Bob must have been banging this girl because we certainly didn't hire her 'cause she could act, right?" Director John Fasano and actor/writer/producer/lots-of-other-titles-separated-by-slash-after-slash Jon-Mikl Thor chime in with an audio commentary. The track's kinda View Askew-esque in that it generously dishes out heaps of information about the production but has a hysterically self-deprecatory sense of humor. Fasano and Thor don't take themselves or their movie too seriously, explaining why the movie opens with nearly ten minutes of Thor driving a van, running through the studio's checklist of demands (five deaths, ten tits...), noting how it was so cold that the cameraman was frozen to the viewfinder at one point and that no one in the band could actually play their instruments, and pointing out how everyone dies after having sex or standing in front of a sink. And, y'know, lots of other stuff. If I get around to making a "top ten favorite commentaries of the year" list, this'll be on it somewhere. A ree-diculous amount o' fun.
Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare also has three of the most verbosely titled featurettes ever. First up is Red Shirt Pictures' fifteen minute "Revelations of a Rock 'n' Roll Warrior: Interview and History of Jon-Mikl Thor". Along with all of the chatter about what goes into becoming an Asgardian metal-god and what the future holds for Thor is footage from his appearance on The Merv Griffin Show and movies like Recruits and Zombie Nightmare. Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare gets a lot of attention as well, and Thor gabs about stationary-monster-wrestling and his fully nekkid shower-sex scene.
The other two featurettes were culled from a bunch of behind-the-scenes camcorder footage shot on the set. "Creating a Child Wolf: Behind the Scenes Make-up Featurette" spends thirteen minutes running through every step of Jesse D'Angelo's monster make-up, all the way from making the life cast to being fussed at by his stepfather while shooting his big scene. "Rock 'n' Shock Memories: Rare Behind the Scenes Footage from the Set of Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare" is twenty-one minutes of rare behind the scen...yeah, you read the title of the featurette already...tackling make-up effects, rehearsals, and Roger Eburt doing take after take of the big "yoink!" in the kitchen.
...and, hey! Two music videos. "Energy" is pieced together from snippets of the movie, and "We Live to Rock" bops between Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare excerpts and some present day-ish concert footage with Mr. Thor. These two videos are offered up in anamorphic widescreen, and likewise for "Revelations of a Rock 'n' Roll Warrior". The other two featurettes are full-frame, if you're keeping track with the DVD Reviewer List of Rambling Technical Specifications home game.
The packaging features new art by Wes Benscoter on a shiny cardboard slipcase, and tucked inside the keepcase are plugs for Thor's upcoming album and the Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare soundtrack CD. There's also a set of liner notes penned by DVD Talk's own Ian Jane. Neat.
Conclusion: If you've taken a peek at the screencaps scattered around this review and not been scared away, you desperately need to own Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare. Hysterically campy flick. Top shelf DVD. Highly Recommended.