There are important lessons to be learned when you’re picking out movies to watch (or, as in this case, when your brother picks out a movie for you to watch. Thanks, Jake!) Looking at the DVD case for this film, at least the bare-bones 2003 edition, one could easily get the wrong impression of it. The cover features hard rock musicians Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne, as they appear today, and gives them top billing over Marc Price (“Skippy” from Family Ties). It’d be pretty easy to dismiss this as a film guaranteed to be terrible, but hopefully cheesy, when starring two rockers who not only aren’t actors, but are known for being more than a little addle-pated. But in truth, the two of them barely have cameos in the film, making this a case where after-the-fact marketing has decided to cash in on their celebrity status in disproportion to their actual roles in the film. And, despite some flaws, this is actually a pretty watchable film.
Marc Price plays Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer, a teenaged metal-head going through a rough time at Lakeridge High School. Most of the kids there aren’t into the metal scene, or at least not as much as Eddie, and he’s very much the outcast. Most of the girls think he’s creepy, and the jerk jocks, led by Tim (Doug Savant, who played the similar Brad in Teen Wolf) go out of their to harass him in the most humiliating fashions possible. They sabotage his school lunch, they play keep-a-way with his cassettes, and at one point they shut him out of the boy’s locker room, naked, in front of the girls’ volleyball team. When he crashes a pool party, they even put a weight in his backpack and shove him in. Eddie’s ready to explode, promising that he’s going to “nail” these guys one way or another. He has only a few sources of solace; his best friend Roger (Glen Morgan, in his sole acting role; he’d go on to write Final Destination), and his crush Leslie (Lisa Orgolini), but she only becomes aware of him after the nudity incident, and he initially feels set up by her as she was the one who invited him to the party. Mostly, though, he takes solace in the music of Lakeridge alumnus Sammi Curr (Tony Fields), a heavy metal maniac who shocks politicians and parents with his vulgar lyrics and Satanic stage act. Eddie feels a connection to Sammi, as someone who rose above the school bullying.
And then Sammi dies in a hotel fire he set himself.
Satanists generally aren’t known for intelligence.
Eddie’s crushed. But when he goes to the local radio station where he works, DJ Nuke (Gene Simmons, doing a vague Wolfman Jack impersonation) reveals that Sammi Curr had one last album produced. Nuke’s already made a tape transfer of the vinyl for the station, so he gives the master of Sammi’s unreleased album to Eddie. And here things take a turn for the weird. Playing it at home, Eddie notices some back-masking on the album, apparently not uncommon for Sammi. But when he plays it in reverse, it seems almost like a personal message, telling him how to set up the school bullies to get them into trouble. He takes the advice, and the next day leads Tim on a merry chase that ends with Tim blasting the faculty with a fire extinguisher. With his first victory, Eddie starts to show more confidence in himself, even as he lets his school work slip.
It’s like an after-school special, except with impending doom.
Eddie starts listening to the album backwards more and more, hearing messages from Sammi in the reversed music. At first, it’s possible to play this off as Eddie having some sort of mental breakdown, but then odd things start happening… machines start taking on a life of their own while the music plays, acting out revenge fantasies against those who have wronged Eddie, or even those who are simply around him. After Tim’s girlfriend is put in the hospital following a demon emerging from her tape player, Eddie realizes things are going too far, and attempts to put a stop to it. But it’s too late… Sammi has found a way back into the world of the living. And once out, he can show up anywhere the music play, and carries out a rock and roll killing spree, starting with a television evangelist who preaches against the evils of rock and roll. When he targets the school Halloween dance, it’s up to Eddie to put a stop to it.
The Reverend is Ozzy Osbourne. Seriously!
There’s a certain goofiness inherent to this film, and it has the occasional technical gaffe, but it’s surprisingly good. When you view it within the genre, there really isn’t anything more ridiculous about a Satanic rocker coming back to life than there is about a serial killer who haunts dreams, or an angel of death who kills through elaborate Rube Goldberg devices. It’s definitely cheesy, but the acting is mostly pretty solid, and other than the one demon appearance the internal logic of the film holds up pretty well. Admittedly, there was one technical gaffe which was hard to overlook, but other than that, there aren’t going to be any laugh-out-loud moments caused through ineptitude.
Funniest thing in this scene? Eddie’s mom dressed as a valley girl? Her boyfriend dressed as Rambo? Or the boom mike poking in from the top?
The actors are all believable in their roles, and there are no wooden deliveries, or clunky lines. Sammi’s more than a bit over-the-top, but that’s rather the point, isn’t it? And of course, you can’t have a heavy metal horror movie without some heavy metal, so the soundtrack is provided by Fastway, who honestly fit the feel of Sammi Curr’s glam-metal style more than either Simmons’s or Osbourne’s bands would have. (Well, OK, KISS could have worked, but it would have added greatly to the cheese factor. KISS had only one non-cheesy song, and “Beth” wouldn’t fit here.)
I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable this film was, and more particularly, the fact that I was enjoying it on its own merits and not out of cheesiness. The cheesiness is there, but it doesn’t dominate the film. With a bit of editing, this could have made its way up to a four-star film.