Voyage of the Rock Aliensrecommended viewing

One can only stare
★★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1988
Director: 
James Fargo
Starring: 
Pia Zadora, Craig Sheffer, Tom Nolan, Ruth Gordon, Michael Berryman
The Setup: 
Rock-n-roll-lovin’ aliens come to earth to rock hard and rock steady, as well as love the ladies.
Discussion: 

When heeding the demand from certain readers for a solid representation of what Pia Zadora has to offer us all, this movie was mentioned as something that must be witnessed. So, after a bit of YouTube research [which has a number of the musical clips from this movie—you really should check it out now], I ordered that shit. This is currently only available on VHS, and I wouldn’t be looking for it to appear on DVD any time soon.

We open in space. There’s this spaceship shaped like a guitar with these aliens who, we discover, have been searching for the rock sound since they first heard it. They click through a number of television channels until they happen upon this music video. This is the video for “When the Rain Begins to Fall,” a duet between Pia Zadora and Jermaine Jackson, which was apparently quite a big hit in countries that are not the United States. In it, Pia is the moll of this motorcycle gang that wears all white, with white long kerchief-things on their heads, clearly influenced by Zardoz. Pia’s first appearance in this video—swinging around blithely in these ludicrous black and white angular sunglasses—is really not to be missed. Jermaine, who does not appear in the rest of the movie, is apparently the leader of this all-black motorcycle cru that clothe themselves battered rags in earth tones. So you see, it’s really black vs. white—OH my God, the significance of Pia having sunglasses with BOTH black and white just hit me.

Because you see, Pia and Jermaine share an impassioned glance, which does not go unnoticed by the lead white guy, and they flirt and preen for each other amongst the ruins of some crumbling architecture [this is obviously Morocco or somewhere passing as some sort of European post-apocalyptic wasteland]. Tensions rise, then Pia breaks away from white dude and accepts a blissful ride on the back of Jermaine’s bike, which really pisses white dude off. He and his group lie in wait and all of this leads to the kind of highly choreographed gang war, the kind that only occur in music videos. You’ll see that from somewhere, Pia comes up with a woman to fight, because we all know that a woman cannot fight a man. Boy, if I could defeat entire armies just through jazzy spins—well, I guess I’d be in Iraq right now. But Iraq would have to be a much funkier place. Anyway, their inter-tonal love was not meant to be, and they end up sharing a yearning backward glance as Pia gets on white guys’ motorcycle and takes off.

Thus ends the video, which causes the aliens to set a course for Earth, to soak up more of that shit-pop sound. This means that they must transport themselves through this tube, and when this happens you are truly watching plastic Ken dolls being sucked through a plastic tube while we hear this small rustling sound… and this may be the first of many times you ask yourself: “WHO is the audience for this?” Because it is just SO INANE I have a hard time imagining what market it was intended for. The only thing I can think is that it’s intended for the Nickelodeon kids of the mid-80s, because it does sort of have that tone of that show where people get gloop poured all over them. Even so, I’d be reluctant to think many people over 12 [who aren’t just making fun of it] are watching this for enjoyment.

We now find ourselves on the shores of the toxic waters of Lake Eerie. Have I mentioned that they’re dressed in a manner reminiscent of Devo? On shore we are introduced to Pia Zadora as Dee Dee, although let’s just continue to call her Pia. She sings this song “Real Love [That’s What I Want],” on the beach, inexplicably wearing this Union Jack ripped T shirt, as this large pink tentacle slithers up onto land. One could be forgiven for wondering if this tentacle was part of the alien presence, but I think we are supposed to understand that this is the terrifying result of the toxic waste in our midst.

Let’s focus on Pia. This movie was made five years after her last starring role in The Lonely Lady, and the same year as her short appearance in Hairspray. After that she only has Mother Goose Rock n’ Rhyme and one episode of Frasier on her resume. What I did not know about her is that she is seemingly just over four feet tall, and between that and her loud beach-going outfit she really looks like an animated Miss Piggy on Meth. It must also be mentioned that—Grammy nominations aside [I’m not kidding]—she really can’t sing. She has a really deep voice and declaims every lyric in a manner free of emotion. I have written in my notes: “Honks like goose.”

Anyway, she has a permanently moody boyfriend in Frankie, played by Craig Sheffer. This is the guy known as “that guy from Nightbreed,” and he also played the other brother in A River Runs Through It. He is sort of a 50s greaser [the whole thing is inexplicably evocative of the 50s] with a posse of greaser buds. They reside in the town of Speelburgh [sound it out], whose police chief is played by Ruth Gordon. I got a chuckle [back when I thought this movie might inadvertently turn out to be funny] when she sees the guitar-spaceship in the sky and says “There’s a giant guitaaaaaah! It’s an invaaaaaaasion!”

So the aliens, who are named ABCD [pronounced Absid, and our main alien], EFGH, IJLK, etc., descend to Earth. ABCD sees Pia and explodes with lust. I seriously mean that his body explodes, limbs flying everywhere, an arm getting stuck in one woman’s hair. The aliens take him back to their ship, where they throw all his limbs in a bin, and are presented with a life-sized color copy of him, which they inflate to make him dimensional again. At this point I have written in my notes: “Relentlessly stupid.”

So the aliens return to Earth and perform some song atop the massive tractor that is inexplicably parked right on the beach. Then ABCD beams Pia to his ship where they perform “Now I’ve Found My Little Bit of Heaven” as they dance across planets and suchlike. This does not please Frankie. But anyway, the aliens are perfecting the “Sexual Response Stimulator,” which’ll do pretty much exactly what it says, and they worry that it might be too much for Earth women. They try it out, but find that it’s not perfected yet, and all the MEN are turned on to them! Isn’t that hilarious? Then we see an alien inspecting cow dung as we hear this song “She Doesn’t Mean A Thing To Me.”

During this time we also encounter two escaped convicts, one who is the “chainsaw killer,” the other pulling along some sort of medical device. They go straight to this guns and ammo shop and buy a huge arsenal, including a bazooka. This is apparently supposed to be funny. After some other bullshit, they have an astonishingly moronic fight with the police to the tune of this song “Troublemaker,” where they are ostensibly struggling but end up disco dancing, and finally the chainsaw killer comes after the sheriff with an electric toothbrush and ends up brushing her teeth.

Then Frankie is trying to prevent the aliens from gaining entrance to the big battle of the bands, but they get in anyway, and perform “Let’s Dance Tonight” as performed by them with vocals by Pia. If you go to YouTube and watch only one video from this whole movie, I would make it this one. Pia dumps Frankie just before being transformed into a ball of light and making her way onstage, where she reintegrates and starts rocking the house. This entire scene is simply beyond the limits of description. Then Frankie, incensed that the aliens rock so good, rock so strong, rock so raw ‘cause they last so long, starts his own version of the song from the opposite stage. Him and the aliens go back and forth a few times, and you will notice that the audience runs screaming from one stage to another as soon as a group starts playing. Is this a scathing indictment of the mindless live music audiences of the 80s?

Meanwhile we are beginning to make frequent and utterly inappropriate dips into slasher-movie territory as the chainsaw killer and the other goon begin stalking people through the back corridors of the school. Pia’s friend gets cornered, then the guy’s chainsaw jumps its chain, and she pulls a huge collection of tools out of her purse to help him repair it. You see what I mean about it all being Nickelodeon-level, aside from the bizarre turns into slasher movie? I truly do not understand.

Anyway, so ABCD finally comes clean as an alien. “That’s okay,” Pia says, “There’s lots of English bands. What about Menudo?” He then proposes to Pia, but she finds that she’d have to bid adieu to Earth and all her Earthly friends and family forever, and also have all her emotions removed. There has been absolutely no indication thus far that the aliens are emotionless, but whatever. Pia ain’t havin’ it, so she returns to Earth. Meanwhile Frankie opens his deluxe walk-in locker to reveal a huge promotional poster for Pia, and he has a reverie in which he sings “The Nature of the Beast,” another indescribable video that you should definitely look up on YouTube. In it, Sheffer sings this really lame song while the video constantly compares his animal magnetism to that of a Puma or whatever. It’s one of those things you can only stare at.

By the time Pia gets back to her school [she was in space] it is under attack from the pink tentacle. There’s this whole attack sequence, then Frankie cuts off the very tip of the tentacle, bubbles comes out, and the entire thing retreats. This is enough to make Pia love Frankie again, and he doesn’t mind obviously being second choice, and they reprise “When the Rain Begins to Fall” as the aliens take off. I may have forgotten to mention that before they go, the aliens turn all of Frankie’s posse gay.

So it’s really not the voyage of the rock aliens, it’s more the visit of the rock aliens. They're also not really rock aliens, so much as aliens that appreciate rock. I know, these kind of complaints are stupid, but there is one that really bugged me: given that the aliens are watching Pia and Jermaine in their video at the beginning, which is apparently being broadcast somewhere, are we to understand that Pia is some sort of star? If so, then why is she just hangin’ out in Speelburgh and pining over obvious loser Frankie? [And WHAT is Frankie so troubled about?] I know, there is no point in bellyaching about such things, but they do kind of bug me.

Other than that, it’s just inconceivably inane. Apparently this was made in 1984 and not released until 1988, at which point it went direct to video. It was also co-produced by Tino Barzie, Zadora’s husband at the time [who also produced Butterfly and The Lonely Lady]. I don’t know—in a way it’s all too sad to think about.

Should you watch it: 

If you really are ready to face something incomprehensibly stupid, but with amusingly awful 80s songs.