I have a weakness for cheesy, "so bad they're good" low-budget horror, sci-fi, or action movies. I watch' em so you don't have to!
Hard Rock Zombies (1985)
Director: Krishnah Shah
Starring: E.J. Curcio, Geno Andrews, Sam Mann, Lisa Toothman
During the 1980s numerous attempts were made to cross-pollinate the scary-movie genre with the "devil music" hysteria that was surrounding the heavy metal scene at the time. The most well-known and arguably best of these "heavy metal horror" flicks is probably 1986's Trick or Treat, which starred Marc ("Skippy from Family Ties") Price and rocker Gene Simmons of KISS.
But, if you dig deeper into the sub-genre you'll find several other mostly-forgotten cheese-bangers like 1984's Rocktober Blood, 1987's Rock N Roll Nightmare (starring Canuck bodybuilding rock legend Jon Mikl Thor), and 1988's Black Roses. Trick Or Treat aside, most of these flicks were pretty terrible... but nothing prepared me for the onslaught of awfulness that is 1985's Hard Rock Zombies.
As a dyed-in-the-wool metalhead and a bad movie aficionado, I have been told several times over the years by people whose opinions I usually respect that Hard Rock Zombies was a movie I "had to see." The film's relative obscurity made it hard to track down a copy, but a few years back I finally found it - in the bargain bin at my local supermarket, of all places, on a 3-film zombie compilation DVD. I happily slapped down my $1.99, bought some cheap beer to wash it down with, and raced home to give Hard Rock Zombies a spin...
...and 90 minutes later, I was punching myself in the head and wondering aloud, "Why the @#$% did I buy this movie? WHY?"
"They came from the grave to rock 'n' rave and misbehave!"
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Our heroes are an awful mullet-rock band whose name is never actually mentioned -- or at least if it was, I missed it, and I'm not about to revisit the film to find out what it is. Anyway, the rockers are on their way to the town of Grand Guignol (subtle, huh?), conveniently located in the middle of nowhere, to put on a showcase gig for a record-company scout. They pick up a hot blonde hitchhiker along the way, who invites the road-weary travelers to stay at her place instead of at a hotel. Naturally, this will prove to be a terrible decision.
As it turns out, the Hot Blonde's house is populated by the most bizarre cast of redneck characters this side of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel - including a wheelchair-bound, switchblade packing Granny, some twisted looking midgets, and an old guy who we soon learn is ... Adolf Hitler himself. Yes, seriously.
The moment of the band's arrival is apparently the perfect time for Adolf to throw off his disguise and announce the rise of the Fourth Reich (Wheelchair Granny is also revealed to be Adolf's squeeze Eva Braun ... and by the way, did I mention she's also a werewolf?).
The creepy house inhabitants swiftly gang up on the band members and murder them, but fortunately, a bushy-eyebrowed groupie appears at their shallow gravesites and plays one of their songs on a boom box, which re-animates them thanks to the power of rock n' roll... or something. I wish to point out at this juncture that I am not making any of this up.
The zombie band now resembles KISS, and they robot-walk into battle with Adolf and his crew. Naturally, every Nazi they kill becomes a zombie as well, and soon the tiny town of Grand Guignol is overrun by the Undead.
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At this point, the band's (still living) manager reappears and convinces Jesse and the boys to go on with their record-label showcase anyway, even though they're dead. The zombies show up at the gig to rock out, and the band leads them out of town to a cave, where they are sealed inside and dispatched by a stash of Hitler's mustard gas.....aaaaaand that's the end.
The film fails to mention whether or not the band ever scores that elusive record contract, which is a shame. Nothin' sells records like a dead rock star, y'know.
The utter randomness of Hard Rock Zombies makes a little more sense if you read the "trivia" section of its IMDb page. Apparently, HRZ was originally intended to be just a small part of another film called American Drive-In, in which clips from HRZ would have been the "feature" playing onscreen at a drive-in theater.
At some point, the producers decided to pad Hard Rock Zombies out to feature-length and release it as its own separate film. I guess that explains the numerous, overlong rock concert sequences, as well as the MTV video-style musical montages of zombies munchin' on hot dancing girls, set to a couple of halfway decent songs and instrumental tracks by AOR/melodic rock legend Paul Sabu—who has worked with everybody from Heart and Alice Cooper to Ann-Margret!
You'd think that Sabu would want to downplay his connection to this turkey as much as possible, but he actually released a Hard Rock Zombies soundtrack album via CDBaby in 2008.
In case I haven't made it totally clear: Hard Rock Zombies is the absolute bottom of the barrel when it comes to heavy metal horror flicks. If you can imagine a cheese-metal version of Michael Jackson's Thriller made on one-hundredth of the budget but with 1000 times the suck, you're in HRZ's ballpark.
I've seen Trick or Treat more times than I can count over the years, and I'd gladly revisit Rocktober Blood or Black Roses again, but Hard Rock Zombies should've been left in the ground. You have been warned!
© 2017 Keith Abt
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 11, 2017:
Hey Natalie - If "Hard Rock Zombies" isn't your speed, I watched "Tales of Halloween" on Netflix a few nights ago, which was lots of fun. It's an anthology of ten short horror stories which all take place in the same town on Halloween night. A few segments were gross, most were quite funny, and it definitely put me in the proper Halloween mood! Check it out.
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on October 10, 2017:
Any recommendations for what to watch on Halloween? I'm not usually a fan of zombie movies unless there's some kind do of humor involved. (I'm generally a bigger fan of vampires). Thanks for the article.
Kari Poulsen from Ohio on September 29, 2017:
It's worth the time if you want a laugh. :)
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on September 29, 2017:
Hi Kari - "Zombeavers" is currently in my Netflix list, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Hopefully soon! :D
Kari Poulsen from Ohio on September 29, 2017:
I had to laugh when you wrote you were not making this up. I may find it's randomness amusing in a certain mood. Speaking of cheesy zombie movies, have you ever watched "Zombeavers". Wonderfully cheesy. :)