Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Census Flashback: Movies Starring Musicians

On our Fright Flashback/Census Bloodbath crossover, every week this summer we'll be exploring an 80's slasher film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to the weekend's upcoming blockbuster.

This week we’re anticipating Christopher Nolan’s World War 2 film Dunkirk, which inexplicably gives a high profile role to ex-One Direction crooner Harry Styles. In honor of this film (which I will dutifully avoid seeing), we’re reviewing a 1984 slasher starring the L.A.-based hair metal band Sorcery: Rocktober Blood.

Year: 1984
Director: Beverly Sebastian
Cast: Tray Loren, Donna Scoggins, Cana Cockrell 
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Rocktober Blood is a movie I’ve kinda been looking forward to for a long time. That sublimely stupid title is hard to ignore, even though 80’s rock ‘n roll slashers don’t have a particularly great track record. Terror on Tour and New Year’s Evil were kind of a wash, and the type of music bands are willing to write specifically for use by a cheap slasher film doesn’t tend to be terrific. There’s a reason there’s no “My Heart Will Go On” of the slasher era.

As usual, my excitement was unfounded, but I was rewarded with certain idiosyncratic nuggets that Rocktober Blood has to offer. For one thing, it’s yet another member of that oh-so small minority of slasher films that were directed by women. Beverly Sebastian (of the surprisingly prescient early 70’s slasher satire The Single Girls) is at the helm here, presiding over a script she co-wrote with her husband Ferd. Whether or not I dig the film, it’s always an honor to be in the presence of a woman her clawed her way through that blood-covered glass ceiling.

This is why we march.

Rocktober Blood weaves a tale about the band Headmistress (as played by Sorcery), who play music that some wily producer in the 80’s convinced everyone was called “rock.” After lead singer Billy Eye (Tray Loren) brutally murders the sound team one night, he is executed.

Now it’s two years later, and his band is back playing the old songs on their Rocktober Blood tour, now fronted by Billy’s jilted ex Lynn Starling (Donna Scoggins). At the press party kicking off the tour, Lynn is attacked by a killer who claims to be Billy, returned from the grave for revenge. He stalks her everywhere: from the band’s secluded lakeside cabin to their glitzy debut show, murdering those who get in his way.

By pure happenstance, many of these obstacles happen to be sexy women.

Because this movie was conceived first and foremost as a vehicle for Sorcery, we need to talk about the music. Really, considering the output of its rock slasher brethren, the three original songs that form the crux of the plot here aren’t bad at all. While they’re a sickening miasma blending hair metal, New Wave, pop lyrics, and goth performance art, they’re performed with gusto.

The character of Billy (voiced by Nigel Benjamin) has a frankly remarkable range, and Lynn’s gravelly yowl (provided by Susie Rose Major) gives her a lot more character than Scoggins’ performance ever could. Their song “Rainbow Eyes” I’m actually considering putting on my iPod, but the other sub-Dokken tracks “I’m Back” and “Killer on the Loose” at least aren’t boring. I’d place them somewhere between Slumber Party Massacre II’s “Tokyo Convertible” and “The Darkest Side of the Night” from Jason Takes Manhattan.

If you can follow that comparison, you’re a big ol’ nerd.

Although the music is surprisingly decent, the band’s self-promotional demands do get in the way of the plot, or at least the string of random scenes that Rocktober Blood attempts to pass off as a plot. The third act devolves into what is essentially a crummy concert documentary (Stop Making Sense this ain’t), and not a single band member is killed, keeping the body count at a perilously low level. If they had committed to the orgy of bloodlust the final 20 minutes attempts to be, I would be singing this film’s praises, but what we get instead is a killer awkwardly wandering onstage and flailing around a microphone stand like he’s one of Steven Tyler’s scarves.

It was certainly too much to ask for Rocktober Blood to be scary, but any semblance of tension vanishes around the hour mark (though there is a good/ridiculous jump scare that reveals the killer has been hiding inside a hot tub). It’s a rigorously formulaic slasher for the most part, which kind of inherently prevents it from being particularly atmospheric, but it also maintains a base level of interest that will at least slightly hold your attention throughout the film’s slight run time.

You really shouldn't underestimate a slasher that doesn't bore you to tears.

Within this ironclad formula, Beverly Sebastian does manage to have a bit of fun, spicing up a death-while-pinballing scene with a cheeky flash of a “game over” screen, and fitting in little bits of comic business on the sidelines like an MTV reporter accidentally getting caught on tape offering someone a bump of cocaine.

None of that really adds up to anything, even with a soap opera-esuqe twist at the end (which you know I love). Slasher films that are this rote live and die on the eccentricities of the characters, and the anemic crop in Rocktober Blood just doesn’t cut it. The anonymous band members barely appear offstage, only half the others are even given names, and thy share about 1 ½ character traits between them. Hell, there’s a character named Frankie that I’m pretty sure doesn’t actually appear in a single frame! That’s the level of bland we’re playing with here.

Do I even need to tell you that the acting is uniformly terrible? I feel like we can just assume that from context clues. So yeah, Rocktober Blood is a routine slasher that’s just OK enough that I don’t hate this project that I’ve committed myself to. I’m not sure that translates into a recommendation.

Killer: John Harper (Tray Loren)
Final Girl: Lynn Starling (Donna Scoggins)
Best Kill: I can’t say I’ve ever seen somebody strangled with an iron before.
Sign of the Times: C’mon.


Scariest Moment: The grammar in the title card: “a film by The Sebastian’s”
Weirdest Moment: Somehow, Lynn gets chases through the forest by the sound of backmasking.
Champion Dialogue: “I don’t think you’re nuts. You sign the paychecks.”
Body Count: 8; not including Billy, who dies between the events of the prologue and the movie proper.
  1. Kevin has his throat slit.
  2. Mary is impaled on a spike,
  3. Donna is drowned in a hot tub.
  4. Honey has an iron pressed against her neck.
  5. Stage Vixen #1 is impaled on a mike stand.
  6. Stage Vixen #2 is impaled on a mike stand and has heart ripped out.
  7. Stage Vixen #3 is decapitated.
  8. John is electrocuted.
TL;DR: Rocktober Blood is an underwhelming, rote slasher with only a few decent hair metal songs to offer.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1161

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