Color, 1988, 84m. / Directed by John Fasano / Starring Carmine Appice, Jesse D'Angelo, Julie Adams, Frank Deitz, Vincent Pastore / Synapse (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.9

After the, ahem, success of Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, horror fans were assaulted the following year with another, even more elaborate take on heavy metal horror, which received plenty of coverage in Fangoria and lured in lots of video customers with its eye-catching embossed cover art. As a horror film the end result is utterly ineffective, but as a time capsule of hair-metal monster mayhem, this is sheer perfection.

After a puzzling prologue with a band of demons rocking out on a small city stage, the story proper begins in Mill Basin, a quiet town chosen to be the kick-off venue for a reclusive but popular metal band, Black Roses. The burly, mustachioed English teacher, Mr. Moorhouse (Martin), can't understand why the kids would be more fascinated with head-banging than Walt Whitman. (How this band could be so popular without ever performing live is never really explained, oddly enough.) The alarmed parents show up for a demo performance in which the head-rocking band turns out to be more like Chicago-lite, but that's all a clever ruse; soon the kids are exposed to subliminal demonic messages from the monstrous band members, whose true nature has yet to emerge. Soon it's up to the stalwart English teacher to stop the escalating chain of youthful misbehavior consuming the town before the Black Roses give their final, apocalyptic performance.

Needless to say, this film sends out some drastic mixed messages by tryin to appeal to metal-loving horror fans while telling them that, well, it really is the devil's music and elders really do know what's best for them, though somehow the incoherence just adds to the amusement value. Hopefully the muddled message was intentional, though it's difficult to tell for sure, even with the DVD supplements. For maximum enjoyment, it's best to just shut your brain off and enjoy such sights as Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos' ill-fated Big Pussy) getting offed by a Videodrome-inspired melty vinyl record and a malicious speaker. Since this is a Shapiro Glickenhaus film, that also means lots of rubbery monsters, utterly gratuitous bare boob shots, and a cheerful disregard for narrative logic, all on a budget that wouldn't fund a single episode of Two and a Half Men. The soundtrack actually got distributed more widely than the film, and since it features such names as Lizzy Borden and King Kobra, that's hardly surprising.

Almost everyone who's seen Black Roses encountered it solely through the chalky-looking, pink-hued VHS release back in the '80s, so it shouldn't come as a shock that Synapse's DVD marks a gargantuan leap in quality for this title. It looks like an entirely different film, with bright red-oriented color schemes and much better black levels. A handful of night scenes come off rather poorly (due to a switch in cinematographers during filming, which is understandable given some weird day-for-night efforts and some truly oddball framing), but 95% of the film looks terrific. Apart from the inevitable hi-def release someday (c'mon, this title was just made for HD-DVD!), it's hard to imagine this looking any better. The Dolby stereo soundtrack doesn't do much with directional effects, but it sounds fine; basically it's your typical low-budget '80s horror sound mix, which means loud music with little bass and lots of flatly recorded dialogue.

While most '80s cult items get the bare bones treatment now, Black Roses benefits from an all-out deluxe treatment highlighted by an amusing commentary track with the director, writer Cindy Sorrell (who cameos in the film as a concerned mom), and actors carla Ferrigno, John Kody Fasano and Lucia Fasano. They cover all the bases on the film ranging from Glickenhaus' demands for more monsters and breasts to Martin's funny side careers, as well as the director's erroneous crush on Creature from the Black Lagoon's Julie Adams which got her a part in the film. They also reveal the goofy reason behind Pastore's odd lack of audible screaming during his death scene and seem to place way too much stock in the main singer's character name, Damian. Also included is a dupey-looking and very long promo trailer, a slightly different Cannes promo reel, and a series of Damian audition tapes packed with a nightmare-inducing amount of fluffy hairstyles. Grab it now, and just tell the cashier the devil made you do it.

Color, 1987, 89m. / Directed by John Fasano / Starring Jon-Mikl Thor, Teresa Simpson, Jesse D'Angelo, Dave Lane, Rusty Hamilton / Synapse (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

Ah, heavy metal horror, how we miss ye. Gone are the days of the late 1980s, when intrepid terror fans could, in the wake of the video favorite Rocktober Blood and its theatrical successor, Trick or Treat, enjoy the feature-length fusion of head-banging metal and gore-drenched horror. Then we have director John Fasano, who assaulted the world with his astonishing 1987 home video favorite, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, and its equally worthy successor, Black Roses (with its unforgettable embossed VHS cover box). Starring the unofficial godfather of Viking rock, Jon-Mikl Thor, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare uses that old horror chestnut, a bunch of people going out to an old farmhouse and discovered unrelenting terror, only to break the rules during a climactic showdown that simply must be seen to be believed. Here the potential demon food is an aspiring metal band, the Tritons, led by blond-maned singer John Triton (Thor), whose choice of a remote farmhouse proves to be unfortunate considering the site consumed its previous residents, an all-American family. Along with some ditzy groupies, the band members talk a lot, eat, and "rock," but something nasty is waiting in the shadows. After a few false scares, the interlopers are picked off by a demonic force until Triton finally reveals his true persona in the mind-shattering final plot twist, which pits him against Satan himself. No kidding.

This movie is just incredible. Shot in the wild woods of Canada with a menagerie of monsters stright from a deranged kiddie show, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is a far cry from the usual slasher-choked '80s horror fare. No one can act, really, but Thor's antics manage to ramp up the entertainment value scene by scene until the final climactic explosion of pure cinematic Limburger. Still an rock/metal personality, Thor (who previously headlined the MST3000 favorite Zombie Nightmare) really chews the scenery here, particularly the iconic climax in which he battle Play-Do monsters with all the zeal of a professional wrestler. And then of course there's the music, since the film was evidently designed as an extended commercial for his band (and Coca-Cola as well); by the film's end, you too will be screaming, "We live to rock!"

Salvaged from the refuse of '80s VHS hell, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is presented in a ridiculously extravagant special edition (under its original title, The Edge of Hell), complete with a brand spankin' new transfer from hi-def that looks a million times better than you would ever expect. Now every metal stud, coiffed blond hair, and rubbery beast looks crystal clear. Then there's the audio, which comes in the original mono or, far more delightfully, a rousing 5.1 remix guaranteed to make your home theater system beg for mercy.

What, the movie itself is enough for you? How about an audio commentary with Thor and Fasano, both of whom seem to have a pretty good grasp on the movie's absurdity and relate plenty of stories about the production -- pointing out friends and relatives, explaining what the hell "Special Appearance by Rusty Hamilton" means, pointing out that none of the band members actually played their instruments, and explaining the role of Cheerios in creating a starfish monster. Thor (in a Synapse T-shirt) also supplies brief opening and closing wraparound comments for the film and gets into the spotlight completely for "Revelations of a Rock 'n' Roll Warrior," a featurette interspersing a new Thor interview with plenty of music bits, film clips, backstage video footage, and other visual ephemera, plus a new performance of "We Live to Rock" over the end credits. The behind-the-scenes featurette "Creating a Child-Wolf" covers the creation of the furry kid-monster via plenty of VHS footage, while "Rock 'n' Shock Memories" features another 21-minute compilation of backstage coverage, mostly focusing on the monsters. Top it all off with newly-created music videos for "Energy" and "We Live to Rock," plus enthusiastic liner notes by DVD Maniacs' Ian Jane, and you've got one of this year's most essential DVD releases. Long live Thor!

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