Rock Music Bites: ROCKULA (1990) Review

Whoever thought of the idea to combine horror movies and rock music was a genius. From my observations, it started in the seventies with stuff like Phantom of the Paradise and KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park, then really took off in the eighties with such golden nuggets as Rocktober Blood, Hard Rock Zombies, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, Terror on Tour, and other gems. By the end of the decade, the fad had all but petered out. But that didn’t stop Rockula from getting a release!

ROCKULA (1990) Review

Ralph (Dean Cameron, Bad Dreams) is a vampire who hasn’t gotten laid in over 400 years. You see, the only girl he ever fell in love with was cruelly beaten to death with a hambone by a jealous pirate on Halloween night 400 years ago, and every 22 years she is reincarnated and Ralph always fails to save her from a different person dressed as a pirate wielding a hambone. However, this year, he is determined to not let her slip away! He discovers she’s part of a popular band, so he starts his own rock show called…Rockula! He wins her affection, but finds that Halloween is swiftly approaching. Can Ralph save his love and break the chain, or is he doomed to repeat this process forever?

I think the best way to describe the Rockula experience is that it’s just here to have fun. It has no primary goals, no real reason for existing except to provide the world with bountiful entertainment. A lot of this is due to the lively performances, fun script, and all-around carefree attitude. I’ve always found Dean Cameron to be a very underrated actor, from doing serious roles (Bad Dreams) to really fun ones like this. He’s onscreen for a majority of the movie, and he does great with everything he has to do. It turns out Slaughterhouse Rock did not kill Toni Basil’s movie career, as she makes an appearance as Ralph’s overbearing mother here. She’s really good, probably because she has a lot more to do her than in the previously-mentioned movie. British musician Thomas Dolby is deliciously over-the-top as Stanley, the jealous lover of Mona (the girl) who’s conveniently going as a pirate for Halloween…The late, great Susan Tyrell also makes an appearance in a minor role, but she’s as good as ever. The rest of the cast work really well with the material, and I really can’t pinpoint any weak links.

Surprisingly, the humor in Rockula is actually funny! One thing I feel was lost upon most of the comedies from the late-eighties to the early-nineties was the sense of comedic timing, yet Rockula has some surprisingly greatly-timed humor in it. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know what I mean when you see it. Another big plus was the great writing. Rockula has some really funny and memorable lines of dialogue, like when Ralph’s mom is telling them about her experiences over the years (“And as for the father of our country, let me tell you, he may have been hell on the battlefield, but in bed, he was a s wooden as his teeth!”) and a line near the end you just know was the sole purpose of the whole “hambone” aspect. It also rides on some so-stupid-it’s-funny moments; for example, when was the last time you’ve seen a movie in which a rock-n-roll vampire battles a hambone-wielding pirate over a cryogenic freezing chamber? And midway through Ralph puts on a show as…wait for it…Rapula! What’s not to love?

The one real problem with Rockula is that the songs in it aren’t that great! The Rapula tune is funny and catchy, and the final song is fun as well, but other than that, none really stand out! They’re not as boring as the live songs from, say, Night Screams, but they border on it. However, the live antics going on while the songs are being performed are a lot of fun and make up for the bland nature of most of the soundtrack.

1990 was an alright year for horror, with fun titles like Mirage, I Come in Peace, Exorcist III: Legion, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, and more seeing release, and Rockula is certainly one of the stand-outs. Sure, it has the dreaded PG-13 rating, but with this much humor and cheese, how can you not enjoy it? It’s got wonderfully over-the-top performances from the entire cast, great writing, meticulous comedic timing, a few alright songs, and a concept you can’t help but love. Unfortunately, it has never seen the light of a DVD release, but since the rights were owned by MGM, there is a distinct possibility of it seeing a release from the great folks at Scream Factory (the current holder of the rights for most of MGM’s horror movie titles). Fingers crossed, because this is one rocking horror comedy you won’t want to miss.

The Verdict: In the annuls of B-movie history, Rockula is a one for the books, with loads of cheesy wonder and smart writing. Besides, it’s so inoffensive and harmless, how can you possibly hate it? “Read it in the commentary by William Safire, because he’s the DJ; I’m the vampire.”

Score: 9/10

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