Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.
The 1980s gave rise to big hair, MTV culture and splatter gore, so it was inevitable that a film should come along combining all three of those things badly. Acclaimed Broadway, Hollywood and Indian filmmaker and producer Krishna Shah may well wish to forget this period of his career. Indeed, Hard Rock Zombies was never destined to be a feature-length film, but rather a 20-minute piece to be screened as the movie-within-a-movie for Shah’s American Drive-In. In a decision that may have changed the course of all of their lives, it was expanded into a feature film and we now have this bizarre relic from the decade of shame.
Strap yourself in, the plot is a bumpy ride. Jessie (E.J. Curcio) and his long-haired, soft-metal bandmates have just finished a show, and are preparing for an industry showcase in the backwater town of Grand Guignol for some reason. A local girl, Cassie (Jennifer Coe), comes to the gig to warn them not to go. Despite clearly being no more than 13, Jessie is taken with the girl and the band heads off to Grand Guignol anyway. They are soon drawn in by another more adult blonde siren, who invites them to stay with the family. The “family” is a group consisting of an aged Adolf Hitler (Jack Bliesener), an Eva Braun werewolf, midgets who like to watch their Nazi elders fornicate and a guy who slowly eats himself.
The town is none too happy about their new long-haired guests, and small lynch mob is formed to get rid of them. Jessie and the crew throw caution to the wind, and show the townsfolk what they are capable of through the time-honoured art of the music video dance sequence, the kind that begins with skateboards and can only end with the band in jail for being too darn cool. Along the way, the band is killed and through ancient resurrection music and more dance montages, they are brought back as zombies vaguely resembling KISS, temporarily dooming the town.
Montage with Music – and Zombies!
Current DVD releases of Hard Rock Zombies bill this as a comedy for the ages, and it turned up on Showtime Comedy on Australian television quite recently. We’re not so sure this was its original intent or its best fit, but until stores start cordoning off a dedicated aisle for Nazi Zombie Musicals, this is as good a fit as any. For a film that should have never been made, comes a movie that is almost impossible to watch. Effectively a feature-length music video, it is entirely possible that Hard Rock Zombies could be held up as a triumph in non-sequential art, except that most of it will just leave you wondering what the hell is going on. We’d never be so irresponsible as to suggest that this film is best enjoyed under the influence, but it might help.
A historical curiosity only, when people make fun of the 1980s, it is because of films like this. The film does not begin well, with the director’s name misspelled in the credits, and tapers off into tedium by the time the third or fourth dance montage has taken another victim. The film is neither hard rock, nor filled with that many zombies, but in a case of life imitating art, it did launch the musical career of E.J. Curcio, who rechristened himself E.J. Curse and launched the band Silent Rage. Their first record Shattered Hearts was released in 1987 and produced by Paul Sabu, who was the composer of Hard Rock Zombies!