Color, 1988, 84m.
Directed by John Fasano
Starring Carmine Appice, Jesse D'Angelo, Julie Adams, Frank Deitz, Vincent Pastore
Synapse (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), NSM (Blu-ray & DVD) (Austria R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
After the “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 (Appice), 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 appealing 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. Hopefully the double standard 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 melting 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 Survivor. 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 colour 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 obviously essential hi-def release someday, 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 small 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 are 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. The elaborate Austrian edition is even more elaborate and may be worth the additional cost of importing as it contains a Blu-ray (looking gorgeous), DVD, and soundtrack CD. Grab it now and just tell friends the devil made you do it.