Black Roses

The devil’s music
★★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1988
Director: 
John Fasano
Starring: 
John Martin, Karen Planden, Sal Viviano, Frank Dietz
The Setup: 
Rock band comes to small town and turns all the kids there into delinquent demons.
Discussion: 

A reader wrote and recommended this to me, and it shot right to the top of my list, based on his description. And, pleasant surprise, it turned out to be even better than I could ever hope!

We begin with a short interlude in which this 80s hair band [this was released in 1988] in demon makeup [or are they REALLY demons?] plays to this crowd of enthusiastic kids. When someone opens the doors to the concert, all the kids have turned into demons and rush out! Shocker! Only not really. But whatever—credits!

We now shift our scene to the sleepy hamlet of Mill Basin. This looks like somewhere in Indiana or something… I didn’t catch exactly where it’s supposed to be. We see our teens getting ready for school, while we have this cheesy synth version of the happy “doodley-doo” music that might open a later-period John Hughes movie. The kids report to class with Matt Morehouse, who is sort of a budget-bin Tom Selleck, appearing in a hoodie over a white turtleneck and tight blue jeans. Matt is the sort of “cool teacher” who makes mildly off-color jokes, frequently diverts away from literature to discuss life topics, and says “Forum!” to indicate that all the students should arrange themselves into a circle. The whole thing was terribly amusing to me as it takes place during the exact period when I was in high school, where I had my own cool teachers with mustaches who wanted to foster an environment of the open sharing of ideas.

Anyway, mysterious figures have rolled through town, putting up posters announcing that Mill Basin has been selected as the site of the first concerts ever by Black Roses, this hair metal band fronted by this guy Damian. This has caused a scandal among the parent’s committee, who are mobilizing against the event. This seems so, like, unfair to the 28-year-olds playing high school students, who believe that kind of repression is like, SO TOTALLY what Walt Whitman was talking about. The kids describe the concert as “the most important thing that has ever happened to this town” [and it very well may be], while the parents have meetings in which they recite the lyrics of this “satanic music” made by the “disciples of the devil.” There’s a hilarious moment in which the hysterical mother holds up their album and says “THIS is their symbol,” and the crowd gasps, when what she’s holding is a very generic cartoon of a skull, something you might get on a patch out of one of those vending machines outside the K Mart. Then the mayor talks, and ultimately they decide that they need to open their minds and let the concert go forward.

Meanwhile we have started to focus on our main teens, Johnny and Julie. I cannot stress enough that both of these two, and all of the teens, are just under 30 years old. Johnny is getting more and more frustrated by being held back, and he is about to paint something red in the street [delinquent!] when he is interrupted. During this time the astonishingly inappropriate synth score is playing quite ostentatiously. And although it’s only 15 minutes in, many of the questions this film presents start to overwhelm it. First of all, Johnny is a troubled rebel pushed to the edge of his limits—but WHAT is his problem? His dad is a barber and he lives in a podunk town? That’s IT? Then let’s not neglect that this band is apparently a nationwide sensation, yet they have never, ever played a concert, and when they do decide to take their act live, they choose to rock the city hall of this tiny town in the sticks? For a FOUR NIGHT engagement? You just have to go with it, but the whole thing is so low-budget and humorously amusing [hysterical parents! Delinquent teens!] that the more bizarre it gets the more charming it becomes.

So it’s the night of the big concert! All the parents attend the concert, wherein the band performs in white trenchcoats and sing a mild song about following one’s dreams or whatever. The parents all decide that these rockers really aren’t all that bad and leave—despite the fact that they earlier recited anti-social lyrics and have heard the band’s real music playing in their kids’ bedrooms—and then the band suddenly change into black leather [with leopard-print codpieces, in some cases] and sing a song called “Rock Invasion… we’re coming down to rock your town.” I must say that, in the context of an 80s hair band, the song isn’t that bad!

SPOILERS > > >
The next day in class the formerly active and involved class are all sullen and silent. Turns out the band gave the kids free tickets to all four of their concerts, and they appear in the parking lot of the school to pass out LPs, which causes a FIST FIGHT. Can you sense how this town is coming apart at the seams?

That night this one muscle thug teen is playing his record when his Dad tells him to help his mom. Then the LP turns all grody and starts breathing, and before you know it the speaker has transformed into this Videodrome-style breathing thing with veins and such. Long story short, a giant bug comes out of it and drags dad into the speaker. Then it’s the second night of the concert, and this time we explicitly see teens turned into desiccated skull-things. I guess they eventually turn back, because no one mentions them missing later. Then the teens take to the streets to drive fast and smash garbage cans, among other wild, out-of-control activity, which amazingly, only Matt seems to notice. Sure, Priscilla, the Mayor’s daughter, who Matt is dating, is keeping the news of the riots from her father, but what about the whole rest of the town? Priscilla and Matt have a nice bitchy fight, by the way. And the muscle thug runs over him mama, and Johnny has sex with some mystery fantasy woman who appears in his room, then goes to the living room and blows his dad’s head off. You really just don’t know where this is going to go.

So after the second concert, the kids are all super-sullen. One of them throws her books on the floor and says something like “Who cares about these stupid dumb dead guys. I want to study the poetry of Damian.” They’ve also all changed their wardrobe to tight black what-have-you. I love the whole idea that the lone Guess? Outlet in town was virtually out of business until Black Roses came to town, whereupon they had a sudden run of business. Anyway, Matt is upset that the kids have gone crazy and adults are being killed [which is not to mention egregious property damage], but still, he is accused of being some sort of “obsessed teacher.”

Meanwhile some girl brings her friend home to seduce her dad, which she does through a game of strip Gin, but ends up killing him before they get it on. Then Julie stands in the front of the mirror and gives herself a COMPREHENSIVE self breast assessment—it really is rather something—then comes on to her stepfather, who is only too willing to oblige. Only she bludgeons him before they get to it. Me, who does indeed like my horny older suburban men, was a bit disappointed, but then again, I do have a whole movie full of Matt. This dude, by the way, came from soap operas [and once I knew that, it ALL made sense], and continued on soaps and other television to the present day. Whereupon he is not looking quite so fine.

Speaking of seductions, earlier Julie came on to Matt and he told her that he can’t be with her, because he already has a girlfriend. That is, not because a) he is her teacher, b) he’s 20 years older than her, or c) there are serious ethical issues—no, just because he’s already got someone. Regardless, she stops by his house again, after Matt has discovered that she bludgeoned her stepdad, and comes onto him WAY hard. Not one to be put off, she starts turning into a nasty demon right there in his house. He thwacks her several times on the head with a tennis racket, then, when a few threads on it are broken, throws the whole thing away. After some more struggle, Julie gets a stool leg through the… forehead? Chest? I can’t remember.

Well, then Matt knows he has to stop this demon band once and for good. So he goes and loads up on gasoline, and heads off to the concert. There it seems as though his brilliant plan is to go right up to the side of the stage during the middle of the absolutely packed concert, and just hope that no one notices him throwing multiple spurts of gasoline out over the stage over the course of five minutes. But Drat—they notice! Damian turns into a full-on demon at last, when Matt fires up a road flare and says “The show’s over!” The whole place goes up, but the rest of the town has finally awakened and help get all the kids—now oblivious to their behavior the past few days—out of the building. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that somehow Julie is still alive. This is never explained, but I guess we’re supposed to understand that the demon one wasn’t her.

In the final scene Matt is smoking a cigar [at last!—he is SO my boyfriend] when they hear that Black Roses will be playing at Madison Square Garden. Then there’s a picture of Damian on TV and we hear a single word: “Evil.” Yep.
< < < SPOILERS END

I thought it was awesome. I love people getting all bunched up in righteous indignation over something really harmless and stupid, and this movie had that in spades. You have the Satanic rock music, the school board all up in arms, the 29-year-old "kids" trying to be all delinquent... and not even to mention the whole layer of satire that criticizes all of this even as it's going on. It was really fun, cheesy and clever throughout, and even though it's obviously super low-budget and and not all that well made, it's very genial, funny and energetic. Everything about this movie is hilarious and yet awesome at the same time. It was obviously made with a lot of love both for horror films and metal music, and that enthusiastic feeling carries it a long way.

The DVD contains footage of some of the auditions of actors for the role of Damian, and they are definitely worth watching. Overall, a fun and cheesy winner! Now I have to watch the director's other movie, which, to be honest, looks like exactly the same thing.

Should you watch it: 

Sure! Especially if you're into metal music and would enjoy a satire of parent's fears of metal being "the devil's music."