a Primal Root review
Admittedly, the cheesy movie fan is kind of an oddity unto himself. Someone who won’t go see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen because it’s a contrived multi-million dollar hunk of dog shit but will spend countless hours looking for the next “Manos”: The Hands of Fate that they can laugh their asses off at with their pals while downing some rot gut in the comfort of their own living room. Well, my fellow collectors, you will be happy to hear I have come across one of the strangest pieces of Trash I’ve ever witnessed. It’s a greasy, hairy, spandex clad monstrosity from 1984 entitled, Hard Rock Zombies.
Now, you can never judge a movie by its title. At first, Hard Rock Zombies sounds like it could be just fine– Zombies rising from their graves to munch on the warm, gooey flesh of the living as metal music blares over the soundtrack and the arterial spray spatters against the wall. Alas, no dice. Instead we get a hairy, sleazy quartet of rockers lead by the mustachioed lead vocalist and guitarist, Jessie. They play nightly to crowds of about a dozen or so young women decked out in their leopard print spandex and requiring a cheering track as they couldn’t quite work up the excitement to cheer while they were actually on camera at the concert.
Once their introductory concert is over and the audience endures a scene where they all hang around in their tight little underwear and fiddle around with their junk, they head out for their next scheduled concert in a town by the name of Grand Guignol (SUBTLE!!), a small town Jessie has been warned to stay away from by a young pre-teen girl named Cassie. The warning goes unheeded and as the band rides off in their van while chanting a tune that will raise the dead (Jessie read about it in a “book”) they pick up a scrawny blonde hitch-hiker chick who invites them to stay at her family’s mansion.
Just wait till you meet this bunch. One-eyed midgets, wheelchair bound werewolf grannies, bald-headed blood spattered chicken slayers and even a retired 90-something year old Adolf Hitler who bangs werewolf lady at night with an audience of midgets he calls his grandchildren. And you say that the Sawyer clan from Texas Chainsaw Massacre had awkward family get-togethers! Needless to say, the band sees nothing wrong here, and is even mildly charmed. Upon arrival and hearing constant screams of agony coming from the mansion the band’s keyboardist sheepishly asks the little blond minx, “Um, excuse me. I don’t mean to be rude, but what’s with all the screaming?” Were people just more accepting of this kind of behavior in the 80’s? I suppose this was post-Manson pre-Waco America. Still, no red flags go up? Not one?
As the band hypes the town up over the impending HARD ROCKING by way of a dancing montage where the band members hop, skip, jump and mime (yes, mime), Jessie spots Cassie again and chases her across town. Over the course of the film, Jessie falls madly in love with this 16-year old girl. So much so he writes a tender yet shitty love ballad just for her. His love is so passionate it is already penned and rehearsed to perfection by the band.
And so, night falls as the band recuperates from a painful but not fatal electrocution at the Freak residence. And it is them after much anticipation, the Freak family ACTUALLY decides to kill the band! This had me cheering in my living room as one by one these hair band rejects get slaughtered in very cheap and awkward ways. The keyboardist and bassist get murdered by werewolf granny, who regains the power to walk when she puts on her wolf mask. Um, Jessie gets crucified on an oak tree and then receives a weed whacker to the chest and the drummer gets it while naked in the shower with the blond hitcher as they try to recreate the legendary scene from Psycho.
Halfway through the running time and we’re one step closer to actually having some zombies show up now that the entire band is murdered. The small town residents bury the guys a foot or two deep in the front yard of Freak Manor and call it a day. Cassie has a harder time letting go. She sits beside Jessie’s grave and plays her favorite cassette tape of theirs that just so happens to feature… the same REANIMATION ROCK we heard them playing in the van earlier! The four fellows rise from their graves to march around town doing some strange dance before getting their vengeance against the Freaks who killed them.
Oddly enough, our story doesn’t end there. Before you can say “This movie is retarded” those killed by the band rise up from the dead to begin killing anew. That’s right. Zombie Hitler, Werewolf granny, zombie midgets and ever a zombie interpretive dancer! They are all back to tear about the quaint little town of Grand Guignol to pieces.
Will the band impress the big wig record executive now that they are dead? Can Grand Guignol be saved from the zombie apocalypse? Will the band ever be able to convincingly fake-play their instruments? Will there be any explanation as to why the midget zombie has decided to ride a cow? Will any of the severed head jokes make me laugh? Will Hitler’s gas chamber in the Cave of Death come in handy? You’ll just have to check this puppy out to see!
In all honesty, probably the only truly disturbing aspect of the entire film is Jessie’s strange lusting for Cassie. The 12 year old girl. The man writes songs about her. He runs after her as she flees. He even corners her to give her a sentimental ring which seems to win her over. There’s even a fantastic fantasy sequence that takes place towards the end of the film as the now zombified band rocks out their brand new Monster Ballad “Cassie” where Jessie sees himself running to embrace his little girl love in a secluded area of the woods while he is decked out in a white leisure suite and a matching ascot. This can only be the sexual fantasy of a mustachioed pedophile with a rotting brain and a taste for the tacky. That sequence was the one that elicited a serious reaction from me, a strange combination of nervous laughter and stomach churning.
The film reaches a climax as the town folks realize the only way to appease the zombie is to let them gang bang a virgin girl to death. AND THE TOWN FOLKS ARE COOL WITH THIS! They find this information in some random book (probably the same one Jessie got the Raise the Dead song from) and decide it’s time to sacrifice Cassie’s sweet, virginal love outlet to the hordes of the undead who probably can’t get it up anyway.
I mean, kudos for originality, but I have a feeling there was some creative force on this project who liked the prospect of a very young girl getting fiddled with a bit too much. The film already makes one feel dirty while watching it simply due to the production values but the added bonus of this strange Lolita complex makes me want to incinerate my clothes and take a scalding hot bath while trying to scrub away the stain on my soul with a Brill-O Pad and AJAX.
Hard Rock Zombies is a one of a kind film and is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and hopefully, you will ever see again. It’s awkward, bargain basement schlock that is hard to really get a grip on because there’s just so much zany shit going on in every dang scene! People running around with giant pictures of faces to avoid zombie attacks, people fondling dead women’s breasts, old men ascending to heaven after providing exposition, men parading around in tightey whiteys! It must be seen to be believed, and even then, you may not be able to wrap your mind around it.
In the pantheon of zombie cinema, Hard Rock Zombies undoubtedly is among the very worst. The scummy film at the very bottom of the Trash Cinema dumpster. But no viewer can deny its gonzo kind of creativity and originality. I mean, it didn’t transform into anything good. But, for those of us who find the appeal in the trashiest of bad movies, these are the flicks we are looking for. We’re not looking for something “good.” We’re looking for the forgotten. The oddities. The films everyone else threw away and banished to obscurity decades earlier. And for those of us who make up The Collective we find the beauty in such trash. And that’s what always keeps us searching and, in the end, always coming back for more.
-The Primal Root