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Lately, I have been weighing the pros and cons of being a zombie. Obviously, I am a fan of the concept's depictions in entertainment but if my very own body got up after death and started doing shit the deceased shouldn't do, would that be a good thing or bad? Personally, this depends on how much of "me" is still inside my noggin while undead. I don't really like having the urges and feelings I have now, so I don't want to add new ones, like a thirst for human flesh. In the movies, zombies seem to be drawn to gathering, and I'm not a fan of crowds or joining up when other humans get that herd-thing going on. Would I be a prisoner inside a broken body, lining up with other drooling cadavers like idiots at a Best Buy on Black Friday? Furthermore, as a living, breathing human, I can already feel myself getting dumber, and the thought of being awake for an expedited process gives me chills. I don't want to have to wake up from what promises to be the best sleep ever, just to experience my brain rotting away while I walk around with my mouth hanging open. If my intellect is not along for the ride, though, I could care less; my body can do whatever the fuck it wants. My flesh capsule can go wild while turning into man-cheese. It has my permission. Just leave my consciousness out of the adventure. That is, unless I had a reason to be undead. I could be okay with disturbing death for a goal left unattained, a lost Jess Franco film uncovered, some kind of eternal love--or, of course, to rock out and kill Nazis.
After playing a bar show, the rock band Holy Moses is rousted by their manager to get some pictures with groupies for publicity's sake, before heading to the nowhere California town of Grand Guignol. Most of the band members have little issue with this job requirement and greet the females joyfully as they rush into the dressing room, except for Jesse (E.J. Curse), the lead singer. Instead, the moody rocker strikes a conversation with the odd one out Cassie (Jennifer Coe), who grimly warns him not to travel to the next town as they are "not wanted." Jesse ignores the cryptic message and continues to mack on this new love interest. The following day, the group is heading to the next gig in their van, where Jesse is trying out a song he inexplicably found in a mysterious book that supposedly raises the dead. Surprisingly, his modern acoustic rendition seems to bring a swatted fly back to life multiple times. No one seems to be amazed by this and quickly forgets after a blond hitchhiker (Lisa Toothman) is spotted on the road. They pull over to pick her up, which leads to her inviting them all to stay at her house. On arrival, they are greeted by their new friend's roommates--a cast of strange characters including a mutant, a bald dude with an ax, and an older man who keeps making fucked up noises (among others). To make matters worse, it is apparent that the townspeople do not, in fact, want the concert to happen, especially the local law enforcement. In no time, things only get more peculiar and hostile, to the point that the whole band is slaughtered. Luckily, Jesse taught his new girlfriend Cassie the magical resurrection song.
Hard Rock Zombies (1985) is a hair-metal remix of a Scooby-Doo full-length feature, cut with exploitation film cliches, doused in cheap vodka, and set in an impoverished version of the town from Footloose (1984). It is near aimless, as if there was a general idea of what was going to happen in the plot, but the actual events were made up on the spot. There is no basis for any of the characters' actions and no reason for anything that takes place. None of that stops the wild tale from being a fun watch. In fact, if you happen to like bad zombie flicks, fictional rock bands, and Nazis getting stabbed in the neck (like I do), it's a fucking blast. For me, It's like someone stuck some of my favorite toys together with Crazy Glue to make a stupid looking Voltron, which still has each part's plastic missile launcher or pull back-action chop. Before we meet the band, we are given a small mean spirited taste of horror schlock and skinny dipping with a mood that never really returns. Right afterward, we are introduced to a music group that sounds like a less talented Rod Stewart, looks like a broke Lynyrd Skynyrd, and tacks on as many butt-rock cliches as possible, including a loose policy on checking groupie I.D.s. As it starts to flush out the group members, the plot could be on its way to several different brands of low-rent hijinks until the very classic horror warning is issued about the tour's next stop. It is indicated that Jesse (who you can tell is the leader because of his handlebar mustache) is more profound than his party-prone mates because every rock band needs their moody philosopher-king. Unlike the other guys, he doesn't care much for the non-prophetic groupies and becomes instantly infatuated with (the probably underage) Cassie. He also keeps calling her "little girl," which is pretty creepy. Anyway, soon, the genre tropes are popping up left and right. There is a nod to Paganini Horror (1989) or at least one of the other tales that have used the resurrection trope. However, in this case, it brings the protagonists alive as zombies. Some basic points from Spider Baby or, the Maddest Story Ever Told (1967) (1967) and its angry blood relative The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) can be seen in its DNA, especially as things start to get spooky for the boys. On top of that, we have a rainbow of cinema favorites, including disfigured little people, werewolves, and music-hating hicks. Plus, eventually, it's all revealed to be part of a convoluted nazi scheme. Hitler is there and hasn't aged much. He has been hiding out in California since WWII, and his right-hand lady is a genre-appropriate bombshell who has some fitting dance moves for all the 80s music shit going on. I don't like spoilers, but the Hitler-reveal happens maybe halfway in, so I'm sure it doesn't count.
It is quite humorous, and while it throws out a confusing tone every so often, the mood is never severe. Bizarrely, the film also thinks it's a musical. There are breaks for entire songs that could be cut out and used as stand-alone music videos. The characters don't sing along like a proper musical unless they are on stage performing. Still, the movie makes complete stops to go through the songs, in full, with dance numbers. Despite the band being entirely fictional, it never stops feeling like a vanity project built around a group, like Head (1968), A Hard Day's Night (1964), or (probably more accurately) Spice World (1997). In the same vein, some of the random musical montages give off a distinct American International Pictures Beach Party vibe--only, instead of being on a beach, it is in a small backward town, and the teenagers are dudes with feathered hair.  
The movie is stuffed full of slurred madness, visual body odor, and illogical choices--without committing to anything. Despite being a cinematic bag of moldy mixed nuts, all the failures roll together into beautiful b-movie greatness. You never know where it's going to go or how long it's going to take to get there, but every stop, no matter how familiar, is absurd entertainment. 
If I had one word to describe this unkempt concoction's technical qualities, it would be dingy, but I would say it with love. It's always dark, not because it's nighttime or stylized that way; instead, the picture is dim, like you have spent the last few days on a bender, and your vision hasn't fully recovered yet. So the lighting is shit, but the camera work has several great moments, especially when the music starts. The angles and framing are enriched with zany corn, whether performing horror parody or going full cartoon.  It looks like a cross between the Monkeys T.V. show and a Devo video with the pacing to match. This energy keeps the completely random, nonsensical plot from feeling disjointed and instead creates free-form flow. About twenty minutes in, anything could happen, and it would feel natural in this film's surreal, goofy atmosphere. The sets and costumes are in line with eccentric archetypes portrayed, akin to a drugged-up stage play. However, like the story itself, the effects are all over the place. Most of the creatures in the film are slapped together, minimal, or just look terrible. Grandma isn't the worst werewolf I have ever seen, but she is mostly saved by the gag involved with her introduction. The zombies are the shittiest part of the whole thing. There is barely any visual indication they are undead at all, outside of scant makeup. If it weren't for the fact they climb out of graves and walk like Universal's Frankenstein monster, I would have just assumed the band was going into a flashy-goth phase. Luckily, they show up late (especially for a movie with zombies in the name) and dance around in costumes jacked from Yellow Submarine. On the other hand, the short mutant member of Hitler's California family is impressive, as if his mask was made by a different crew altogether. Likewise, he is involved with the film's best gore, due to his zombified version of a magician pulling himself out of a hat.
 The soundtrack is something else, and quite possibly the most produced aspect in the production. It's a big part of the enjoyment for me, although I wouldn't call any of it "heavy metal" or "hard rock" even by 80s standards. The band sounds closer to a perverted male version of Josie and the Pussycats, but I can dig it.
 Hard Rock Zombies is at the far end subject-wise of director Krishna Shah's eclectic career. In the 60s, he worked with Alan Paton (author of Cry, the Beloved Country) on the award-winning Broadway play Sponono (1964) as well several other works both on and off-Broadway, often about South African social issues. During the late seventies, Shah dabbled in television writing for junk-food classics shows like The Flying Nun and The Six Million Dollar Man. In that same era, he adapted The River Niger (1976) for the cinema, which featured an all-star cast including James Earl Jones and wrote/directed one of India's most expensive films, Shalimar (1978). Closing out the 70s, he put together a "comprehensive" documentary detailing the history of Indian cinema, titled Cinema Cinema (1979). After a short break, Shah directed American Drive-In (1985), a schlocky sex-comedy, for Vestron Video in the middle of the 80s. This led him to Hard Rock Zombies, aka Heavy Metal Zombies, or just Rock Zombies, as it was initially intended to be the film within a film playing in American Drive-In. For whatever reason, the decision was made to fill out the twenty-minute skit, and it was released as its own thing by Cannon. Before his death in 2013, the filmmaker went back to working India based projects while providing a helping hand to things like Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor (1992) and Omega Cop (1990).
E.J. Curse plays Jessie, who I think is the main character despite dying relatively early on, and becoming a zombie. Besides this role, Curse has about five credits to his name, mainly for small television parts as nameless hunks. Among the cast is the legendary Phil Fondacaro. Even if you don't know who that is, I can guarantee you have seen him before, possibly as an "Ewok". Fondacaro has played memorable characters in everything from big-budget films to television cameos. He worked a lot with Full Moon over the years, and despite having acted in almost seventy parts (including American Drive-In), I can't help but think of him always as Sir Nigel Penneyweight from Ghoulies II (1987). Donald G. Jackson's homie Sam Mann plays the drummer (well, at least I assume he is Jackson's friend as he is in three of the Rollerblade movies). He doesn't do much here, but I have to mention him because his short filmography is made up of nothing but bad-movie gold. By far, my favorite part of the film is Elsa, played by Lisa Toothman. Elsa's the better dancer in the movie, has the best kills, and embodies the acid-washed jeans-style 80s video girl. She's the kind of hot that kept me watching VH1 throwbacks when I was a kid. Her evil character is matched perfectly with the over the top tone of the film. I couldn't instantly point her out, but Toothman has been in The Girl I Want (1990) with Linea Quigley, Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death (1991), and worked alongside Mann in Roller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force (1989). The man who plays Hitler, Jack Bliesener, has some pretty funny lines, and his presentation is energetic. He also plays "The President of the United States" in a low budget cop-action movie called Crime Killer (1985) the same year. I haven't seen it, but judging by the synopsis and bad reviews, it looks like an unloved piece of trash I might enjoy.
Hard Rock Zombies is a tale of music, comedy, and horror, as if told by a coked-out roadie with a short attention span. The plot is a cheesy, incoherent jumble of tropes without a point. It's not a good movie, most would call it bad, but it's fucking fun. There is no reason you should take the film seriously as it is pretty clear it never took itself that way. Just sit back and take a ride through the reanimated rock craziness and enjoy. Why not? Someday you will be dead, and there is no guarantee anyone will bring you back to life to kill Nazis to a ridiculous soundtrack.
1h 38min | 1985
Director: Krishna Shah
Writers: David Allen Ball, Krishna Shah

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