Black Roses (1988): Metal Don't Need No Education

Last week when I reviewed Trick or Treat, The Film Connoisseur left a comment mentioning another well known heavy metal horror, Black Roses. I had been meaning to get around to it for quite some time. I first heard about it a while back on Outside the Cinema, and the host, Bill, shrieking the title in the style of a metal god reverberates in my mind. So off to Netflix I went, and thanks to the magic of the postal service, I finally got to see what at the fuss was about. When Black Roses was in theaters, I was twelve years old, right at the real beginning of my metal years. So I could understand the excitement of the kids in the film. My first metal show wouldn’t be for two years, but I was out of my mind that Poison and Warrant were going to be at the local auditorium. Thankfully, while I recall my friend and I smoking two whole packs of Marlboro Reds, seeing my first pair of bare breasts when a girl showed Janie Lane her goods, and learning to hold up my lighter like self respecting concert goers used to do (cell phones ruin everything), the band didn’t turn into demons and kill anyone. It would have been tragic if people had indeed died there with "Nothing But A Good Time" ringing in their ears, but a story like that would really dovetail quite nicely as an intro to Black Roses..

Nothing ever happens in the sleepy  little town of Mill Basin, but now that the rock group Black Roses, who have never played outside of the studio, has booked a four night run in town, the kids are beside themselves with excitement. While every high schooler in town wants a ticket, the local parents groups want to shut the concerts down. The shows go on thanks to the mayor (Ken Swofford) and the high school English teacher Matt (John Martin) who doesn’t see any harm in a little rock and roll. Jus to be sure, the parents go to the first show, and when lead singer Damien (Sal Viviano) prances out in a white jacket singing a song so wussy that Michael Bolton would be embarrassed to croon it, they all leave figuring everything is fine. That of course is when the lights go down, and now clad in black leather, the band starts the show for real. The band’s demonic music takes an almost immediate effect, brainwashing the teens, making them go from small town hicks to killers, criminals, and rapists. As the adults start getting bumped off, it falls on Matt the English teacher to stop Black Roses before the world fall under their metal spell.

Most reviews I read of Black Roses go on and on about the band at length. Talking about Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice playing in the band, waxing poetic about Sal Viviano’s hair, or trying to figure out what kind of buglike demons they actually were, the reviews of Black Roses contain no shortage of material to discuss. They seem to be missing the thing that made the most impression on me. What I don’t see talked about nearly enough is our hero Matt Moorhouse played by John Martin, who went on to a career as a soap opera actor on General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. This guy is no mere English teacher. He’s an Action English teacher. Sure, at first he thinks the music is innocent enough, but after he sees what it does to his formerly attentive students, Matt knows that must be stopped before they can take their show on a national tour.

With his tweed jacket in hand and mustache groomed expertly, Matt does what any scholar might when faced by a demonic metal band. He hit the books. That’s right, to figure out how to defeat demons, he went to the Library. I would say the film pays off that by demonstrating how knowledge is power, but I actually don’t think he learned anything that he used in the final showdown from the books. If he did, then someone needs to write this guy a tome that says, “If you want to try and stop the evil heavy metal band, do not march right in and confront them during a concert by pouring gas on the stage. They will see you. Try sneaking around instead.” Matt may come up a little short in the hero department, but I’ve got to give him a break. This is a guy who spends most of his time teaching Emerson and Walden, and defeating a band of demons is going to take a lot more than civil disobedience.

Black Roses director John Fasano already had plenty of experience with heavy metal horror because of his first film, 1987’s Rock and Roll Nightmare (which hopefully I will talk about next week sometime). While Black Roses was no stunning technical achievement, it was a solidly made film with little, other than some pitchy performances, to take away from it. His next film, this time starring Sal Viviano as the hero, The Jitters was an American film centered around hopping Japanese vampires, and he would go on to write a number of screenplays including Another 48 Hours, The Hunley, and Darkness Falls. Currently he and director Scott Spiegel (From Dusk Til Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money) are at work on the direct to video sequel Hostel III. I wonder if there’s a part for old Sal in there somewhere.

Black Roses does a number of things that I really liked. The bait and switch on the hero was well orchestrated (at first it seems like the savior might be one of Matt’s students and not the teacher), and the songs stuck in my head for days after watching the film. The real question is did I like it more than Trick or Treat. That is pretty hard to say. The music was better in Black Roses to say the least. The bad guy was still pretty cheesy, but didn’t move like he had just left the set of Solid Gold. However, Trick or Treat better illustrated the PMRC scare of the mid-80’s and brought way more gore to the table. Yet then I have to counter that with the fact that Black Roses had Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore, introduced me to the idea of the Action English teacher, and one of the silliest endings I’ve ever seen in any film. In the end, Black Roses gets the edge, but only barely. Both films are definitely worth checking out, and if you’re like me and had a metal time when you were a kid, this one will make you want to throw the Devil horns the air one more time.

 Bugg Rating

I couldn't find a trailer, but here's the opening scene featuring the band singing their song "Me Against the World"...

1 comment:

  1. I *liked* Black Roses, but I think my expectations were simply astronomical and I constantly found myself comparing it to Hard Rock Zombies. Still, this one is fun and the DVD has a pretty great commentary (if memory recalls) with the director, his wife, and their teenage kids.


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