Thursday, October 21, 2021

Cult Flops - Rockula

The Cannon Group, 1990
Starring Dean Cameron, Toni Basil, Thomas Dolby, and Tawny Fere
Directed by Luca Bercovici
Music and Lyrics by various

We kick off this year's Halloween horror reviews with a true cheese-fest. Fans of this blog know I have a soft spot for B film specialists The Cannon Group's charming low-budget fairy tales and their one-of-a-kind Biblical disco allegory The Apple. By the time Rockula filmed in 1988, the company was rocked by a series of over-hyped box-office disasters was facing bankruptcy. Thanks to the chaos, the movie was shelved, then barely released and dumped onto an uninterested video market in 1990. Did it deserve that fate, or should this everyday vampire finally be released from the curse of its troubled production? Let's begin at home with Ralph (Cameron) as he bemoans his own fate and find out...

The Story: Ralph looks like an ordinary twenty-something guy, but he's really a 400-year-old vampire under a terrible curse. His true love Mona (Fere) was killed by her jealous boyfriend, a pirate with a rhinestone peg leg and hambone, before Ralph could come to her rescue. Every 22nd Halloween since then, he meets Mona, only to lose her again. He's fed up with the whole thing and intends to sit this Halloween out in his room...before he's hit by a car driven by the current Mona. 

He's fine, thanks to being a vampire, and immediately tells her to stay away. Changing his mind after a bad dream, he goes to see her sing with her band. They hit it off, to the frustration of her ex-boyfriend, moratory owner Stanley (Dolby). He tells her he's in a band when she asks what he does. Turns out he is a musician and sets up a band with his barfly buddies he calls Rockula. They're a hit, allowing Ralph to finally revel in what he is. Even Mona notices him differently. His mother isn't as happy with her little boy walking out and plays psychic for a jealous Stanley, encouraging him to "rescue" his love from her cursed vampire sweetheart for the last time.

The Song and Dance: This may be one of the most 80's musicals in existence. It weirdly reminds me of another very 80's cult musical, Streets of Fire, with a lot of the same neon-in-the-rain, black leather rock tough guy aesthetics. It has somewhat similar characters, even down to Chuck, the woman bartender with the mannish name (Susan Tyrell). The difference is, this one is played 100 percent for comedy. It's almost like a spoof. Dancer and choreographer Basil is definitely having the most fun as the protective mother with the odd 40's Technicolor-meets-80's video wardrobe.

Favorite Number: "Break These Chains" is the first major number and Ralph's big dream sequence. He imagines himself at Mona's concert, trapped into seeing her die again when pirates invade onstage. Mona begs "Turn Me Loose" at the actual concert, before Ralph tells her what he really is. "Rapula," Rockula's second concert number, spoofs the funky neon-and-bling look of very early hip-hop. Mona and Ralph are "By My Side" in their music video as three urchins bring them together at a carnival with lots of dramatic fades in the rain. "The Night" is Basil's big number, a dance and song in a stripper-style black and white costume in front of Mona that scares her silly and must be seen to be believed.

Trivia: Yes, that is blues master Bo Diddley as one of the bar musicians who eventually joins Rockula.

What I Don't Like: Far more than the fairy tales or The Apple, this one really shows its B origins in the cardboard production and costumes. It looks and sounds like something my sisters and I made up to amuse each other around Halloween in the late 80's. This may be one of the biggest cheese-fests in a decade that reveled in them. No wonder they didn't know what to make of it in 1990. Ralph is an obnoxious whiner who shows none of the charm Cameron displayed in Ferris Buller's Day Off and Summer School, and Fere is so uninteresting, you wonder why Ralph keeps coming to her rescue. Ralph's talking reflection, who likely stands in for the horny best friend in most other 80's comedies, is so annoying and pushy, you wish he'd start breaking mirrors. 

The Big Finale: This does seem to have picked up a cult following recently who find it adorably cheesy, but I think it's more annoying and cheap than anything. Unless you're a really huge fan of Cameron, Basil, or horror comedies from the 80's and early 90's, I'd pass by this blood sucker. 

Home Media: Never on DVD and out of print on video, it was finally released on Blu-Ray by Shout Factory in 2018 and can be found on streaming.

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