Horror Movies and Heavy Metal: Black Roses
Heavy metal is the Devil’s music, right? I mean, that’s why the world has been plunged into a thousand years of darkness ever since the release of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”. Oh, wait. That didn’t happen did it?
Every few years, groups of people with too much time on their hands get their dander up about the “evils of rock music”. The majority of people know this is ridiculous, but it certainly doesn’t help when a few goobers throw out a few lyrics from a metal band before committing heinous acts. No, a song isn’t going to flip a switch inside your brain commanding you to give your soul to the Dark One. But it’s not a bad idea for a movie.
Black Roses is a 1988 horror movie starring John Martin (General Hospital, One Life To Live) as high school English teacher Matthew Moorhouse. Black Roses, an up-and-coming heavy metal band, has decided to come to a small town to play 4 shows as a warm-up act before heading out on the road. Parents and school officials are both concerned with the lyrical content and the imagery put forth by the band’s music. While most of the adults want to shut down the shows, Mr. Moorhouse urges for the group to have an open mind. Students excitedly pack the auditorium to watch Black Roses and they adults sit in the back. One inoffensive power ballad later and the adults leave the show, safe in the knowledge that the band, while a bit too loud, is nothing to be afraid of. As soon as they leave, the concert kicks off in earnest with loads of sexual imagery and devilish music. The next day, Mr. Moorhouse reaches out to Black Roses lead singer Damian (Sal Vivano, The Jitters, Law & Order) who assures him that the band has no ill intentions towards the kids or the town. Even Mr. Moorhouse’s prize student Julie (Karen Planden in her only acting role of note) shows a marked change. Soon, the behavior (and clothing choices) of the high-schoolers begins to change. It is revealed that Black Roses are, in fact, demons corrupting young people with their music in an effort to turn them into fellow demons. Students start killing their parents and other adults in gruesome fashion. When Mr. Moorhouse confronts Julie about her change in behavior, she transforms into a hideous demon and tries to kill him. How will Mr. Moorhouse be able to stop Black Roses before it’s too late?
With an idea like this, there’s only two ways the movie could have gone: extremely serious or extremely goofy. The general concept isn’t bad and if done seriously, it at least had the potential to be a good horror movie. Of course, this was made in 1988, the same year that gave us tons of horror sequels like Friday the 13th part VII, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, Halloween 4, Hellraiser II, and Howling IV or lots of not-serious horror like Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Hobgoblins, Scarecrows, and Waxwork. For the most part, Black Roses is goofy. I say that because there are some scenes of violence in the movie that take an extremely dark turn compared to the tone of the rest of the film. A student shooting his father repeatedly in the head, another beating her perverted step-father to death, and Julie slitting someone’s throat are a stark departure from the lighthearted beginning of the movie. It kind of took the fun out of the movie’s initial camp. It’s hard to laugh when you’re cringing.
So what makes Black Roses silly? Beyond the general tone of the movie, one has to look towards the flow and pacing of the movie as well as the continuity. The movie tends to slow down at various points just when you think it should be ramping up. Every time we get some action, the story veers off into different places, such as Mr. Moorhouse’s love life. Not enough time is really given to his personal life for us to care, so it’s just wasted minutes. I would have liked more attention spent on the band themselves. It would have been nice to have had a clearer motive for their actions or even some of a back-story. The movie just presents them as some sort of magical demons and that’s about it.
When we are first introduced to Black Roses at the beginning of the movie, their demonic look is completely different from their look at the end of the movie. Why? I actually thought their original costumes, why obviously cheap masks, still looked good. Compare that to the embodiment of rubber bodysuit embarrassment we see at the end. That costume looks like it should be handing out overpriced rubbery pizzas at Chuck E. Cheese, not corrupting the innocent and turning them into monsters. In fact, I think he’s a little shorter than Mr. Moorhouse. Mr. Moorhouse should have just put his hand up, keeping the monster at bay while flinging it’s arms wildly.
When the movie first began, I thought the main character was a male student. About 20 minutes in, he is pretty much forgotten about as the focus shifts towards Mr. Moorhouse. I thought it was a bit odd that the hero of the movie was a teacher instead of one of the students. Wouldn’t it have been better and more cohesive to have a student save the day, resisting the pull of the evil metal music? It probably doesn’t help that some of the students are clearly in their late 20’s. But hey, we get famous metal drummer Carmine Appice (Ozzy Osbourne, Vanilla Fudge) in all his 80’s sleaziness as the band’s drummer. They get points for that at least. The acting throughout the movie is passable with no one being particularly bad or good. We do get a small scene with Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy from The Sopranos) as the father of one of the students. I’ll bet he doesn’t put Black Roses on too many resumes. In a bit of a funny coincidence, director John Fasano also directed Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.
In a movie about heavy metal, how does the music hold up? It’s not bad actually, with real musicians such as Appice and Mark Free (King Kobra, Unruly) recording the songs. It’s your typical late 80’s mixture of rock and hair metal. Kind of catchy in that typical glittery cheesey 80’s way. The movie also features music from Lizzy Borden, Bang Tango, and Tempest. The sound track was released by Metal Blade, proud home of bands such as the Goo Goo Dolls, Viking, and Austrian Death Machine. Oh, and some other well-known metal bands too.
Black Roses manages to have some fun moments, but doesn’t seem capable of pulling it together. The main message of the film does in fact seem to be that heavy metal is evil, though it’s not entirely clear given that the main character encourages people to have an open mind. The dark, intense nature of the movie’s violence takes away from the fun, leaving the movie in a weird sort of limbo between serious and silly. It also doesn’t help that the demons look like the leftovers from a Halloweentown store on November 1st. The music is probably the best part thanks to the filmmakers wisely relying on established bands to provide it. While it’s not a particularly good movie, it can still be fun to laugh at with a group of friends.
[Joe Note: This “trailer” contains pretty much the entire film synopsis.]
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