MARCH 28, 2010
Despite meeting a few of my horror “requirements”, I was prepared to just watch something else for the day and forget about Rockula review, but under severe pressure from some friends who were also at the screening to count it, here we are! Why wouldn’t I count it, you might ask? Well, Rockula’s vampirism doesn’t really have anything to do with the movie, he doesn’t follow any traditional vampire rules (goes out in the sun, doesn’t mind garlic, etc), and no one even seems to notice he’s a vampire. So it's really about a guy with weird teeth.
But it IS a wonderfully batshit movie, the type I would probably like more with each viewing, and ultimately love it after I watched it 10-15 times if such a thing was possible (it’s not on DVD, and it’s not physically possible to watch a VHS tape too many times, even I found one). There aren’t a lot of actual jokes in the movie, but it’s just so damn goofy and weird, with “huh?” worthy sight gags passing by in the background more often than not. Some of it is ZAZ-worthy, like a bloodmobile delivering blood in bottles like a milkman, but more of them are a bit less obvious and random, like the idea that his love is always going to be killed via hambone by a guy with a peg-leg.
There is one but-gusting amazing moment around the half-way mark though. As our hero and his eternal love are about to “go upstairs”, they begin to sing a fairly catchy (in a cheesy 80s ballad kind of way) duet called “By My Side”, and just as he is about to start the chorus, a car comes out of nowhere and slams right into him. But it doesn’t stop him from singing, he just carries on as the car keeps driving with him spread out on the windshield. He finally gets off in a homeless area, and the two continue singing as they look for each other amongst all the homeless people, some of whom rough him up. It’s a glorious moment - I love when movie musicals play with the conventions of the genre (i.e. that people are suddenly breaking out into song in the middle of a street or whatever). I wish more of the songs had this sort of parody quality, but sadly the bulk of the songs are performed on stage.
See, Rockula is the name of the band that our hero starts in order to win over the girl, but the band keeps changing genres. First he’s a Devo-esque rock band, then they perform a rap song that sounds like a Tone Loc leftover, and near the end he’s doing an Elvis number. He’s the David Bowie of vampire band leaders. But these scenes more or less stop the movie cold for the song to play out, unlike the “By Your Side” one which doubles as the film’s only real action scene until the end.
Rockula (actually Ralph) is played by Dean Cameron, who you all know as Chainsaw from Summer School. I think he was better suited to comic relief supporting character than a romantic lead, but he’s fun to watch all the same, and actually plays two roles (his “reflection”, which is sort of a Jekyll and Hyde type relationship), and some of the movie’s best scenes involve him basically talking to himself, going in and out of “mirror acting”. He’s definitely a very skilled comic performer, and it’s a shame that this film got buried (due to Cannon going bankrupt - this was one of their last films). I doubt it would have been a very big hit, but it probably would have gotten him enough recognition to get better leading comic role scripts than Ski School in the following years.
I definitely wish we had seen more of Tawny Fere. I don’t know if she did her own singing, but she’s a knockout AND a pretty decent actress with good comic timing. And she looks like Rachel McAdams, which I would have liked to have before the real one came along a decade or so later. But this was pretty much her last big role, she followed it up with a stint on General Hospital, and then appeared in a pair of DTV movies (one as just “neighbor”) at the end of the 90s. Her only credit of the 2000s is a short film. Lame.
The rest of the cast is primarily musicians. Ralph’s mom is played by Toni “You’re going to put Mickey in quotes in between my first and last name, aren’t you?” Basil, who comes off like Fran Drescher more often than not and stops the movie cold for a song AND dance around the hour mark. Ralph’s main band mate is played by Bo Diddley, who is game enough to join in for several silly montage scenes such as when Ralph is trying to think of a look for the band. And his nemesis? Thomas Dolby, obviously (if they remade the movie his role would probably be played by Will Ferrell). As a villain he’s pretty ineffective, but he’s an important part of this movie’s random charm - I particularly like his commercial for his graveyard, featuring horrible ideas like windows on the caskets.
Had I seen the movie during its (apparently excessive) cable run, I probably would have been singing along and cheering at certain lines. I’m not sure if seeing it at midnight (actually 1 am by the time the Q&A with Cameron ended - not a complaint though, he was a great guest AND forever earned a place in my cool book when he inexplicably made an obscure reference to the HMAD screening of Dr. Giggles*) was the best way to see the film for the first time - I was a bit sleepy (duh) and had no idea what to make of it. And it’s a very low-key movie with many subtle, almost subliminal gags (what the hell is up with SQUID being written on the wall during the “By My Side” scene?), which makes it a better fit for home viewing to boot. I just hope a DVD gets released so I’m not stuck with Youtube clips forever.
What say you?
*Someone in the crowd asked if Cameron would do the “Tension breaker” bit from Summer School, and he quipped “No, but I will do the Dr. Giggles laugh.” At the Dr. Giggles screening, Larry Drake, an otherwise wonderful guest, bummed everyone out by not doing the laugh for the crowd (as he rightfully pointed out, we were about to hear it 1000 times in the movie). I don’t think Cameron was at the Giggles screening (and for the record, he did indeed do the Summer School bit for everyone), so I assume Phil told him the story, but it was a funny joke all the same. New Bev inside jokes!