“A hard rock band travels to the tiny and remote town of Grand Guignol to perform. Peopled by hicks, rubes, werewolves, murderous dwarves, sex perverts, and Hitler, the town is a strange place but that doesn't stop the band's lead singer from falling in love with a local girl named Cassie. After Nazi sex perverts kill the band to satisfy their lusts, Cassie calls the rockers back from the grave to save her, the town, and maybe the world.” ~ IMDb
If you’re of a certain age, or at least of a certain questionable taste in movies, then you no doubt are well aware of the heavy metal horror fad of the 1980s. But just in case you’re one of the (lucky?) ones who missed it, I’ll elaborate. You see, although heavy metal and its psuedo-satanic trappings had been around since the late 1960s, it wasn’t until the combined onslaught of M-TV and glam metal at the start of the awesome 80s that the scene piqued the interest of moviemakers. Okay, it’s true there was Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park in 1978, but I’m willing to forget all about that if you are. Besides, that wasn’t really horror. No, what we’re talking about here is that unique mixture of big hair, shredding guitars, and shoddy monster effects that only the M-TV generation could provide.
Now, rock stars being the attention whores they so often can be, a few of these films managed to attract some well known names from the heavy metal industry. Trick Or Treat had a possessed teenager making trouble for Gene Simmons and Ozzy Ozbourne, Monster Dog had a werewolf troubling Alice Cooper, and Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare had demons giving a hard time to Jon Mikl Thor (what, Thor counts, he put out some albums). Most of them, though, couldn’t really afford guys with any name recognition. Instead, films like Rocktober Blood, Black Roses, and Terror On Tour got by with bands most people had never heard of and budgets nobody would ever try to make a real movie on. And then there’s Hardrock Zombies, which stands in a class by itself. It features a band nobody in their right mind would ever want to hear from and a budget pooled together from whatever spare change they managed to find on the floor of the bus station they were probably sleeping in at the time.
What Hardrock Zombies does have going in its favor, however, is the absolute insanity of everyone involved in the production. Okay, I don’t have the medical records to back that up, but how else do you explain the things you see in this movie? I mean, you know things are messed up when a ninety-something year old Hitler is one of the more normal sights. Besides Der Fuhrer, there’s his octogenarian wife who occasionally turns into a double-switchblade wielding werewolf, the two deformed dwarves he calls his grandchildren, and a heavy metal chick who can’t act a lick, but who can absolutely throw her leg up over her head, a talent she must display forty to fifty times over the course of the film. And, of course, there’s the two main characters, Jesse, he of the most spectacular power mullet known to mankind, and Cassie, she whose enormous eyebrows might possibly be a sentient lifeform of their own.
But it’s not just that the cast seems to have taken a break from their day jobs in a sideshow to make this film. No, the story itself is completely loony as well. If there’s any one thing to blame for this, it’s probably that Hard Rock Zombies started life as roughly twenty minutes of footage created to serve as the movie playing in the background during the comedy American Drive-In, a film which was also released in 1985. But in a move worthy of Roger Corman, the producers looked at what they had and decided that with a few extra bucks (but not too many extra) they could expand Hard Rock Zombies into a second feature film. Of course, building a coherent story around their existing footage was next to impossible, so, if the end results are any indication, they didn’t even try.
That’s why, besides all of the crazy stuff going on at Hitler’s house, there’s plenty of time spent with the inept town council who are horrified at the idea of a rock concert taking place in their town, something which complicates the budding romance between Jessie and Cassie. Well, that, and the fact that Cassie is supposed to be fifteen or sixteen while Jessie has obviously left his teen years long behind him. Probably the creepiest thing in the whole movie is watching the zombified Jessie stand onstage and sing a power ballad to his under-aged sweetheart. And yes, you read that right. After the band comes back to life and disposes of the Hitler clan, they do indeed head back over to the stage to finish their show. Unfortunately, all the bad guys come back to life as zombies as well, so, while the band sings (a lot), the town is soon invaded by a horde of undead Nazis (not to mention the werewolf grandma and the girl who can kick her leg over her head).
This leads to one of the loopiest scenes in the whole movie in which the council formulates a plan to drive off the zombies. Under the assumption that zombies are the antithesis of intellectual existence, a state of being which is centered in the head, the townies determine that zombies must hate heads the way Satan hates the Church. Based on this hypothesis, they create body sized placards adorned with pictures of the heads of well known celebrities and charge the zombies with them in the hope they will work in the same way crosses do with vampires. It doesn’t quite go as planned so, in the end, it all comes down to the Nazi and townie zombies versus Cassie and the Hard Rock Zombies (which isn’t too bad of a name for a band now that I think of it).
If for nothing else, you have to at least give Hard Rock Zombies a little credit for its unique take on the walking dead. At a time when mindless gut munching Romero-style zombies were all the rage (kind of like today), the shamblers in this movie actually had a little personality. Oh sure, they’d still take a bite out of you, but they also held onto to some of their old ways of doing things, like playing in a rock band, holding hands with their jail-bait girlfriends, or even kicking their legs up over their heads. They’re dead, for sure, but they’re the same folks they were before they stopped breathing. It’s a fun change of pace on the whole zombie idea. Of course, it has to be said, it’s a take that someone like St. Thomas Aquinas could never get behind and endorse.
Aquinas would definitely have been a Romero man when it came to zombies. He was a firm believer in what the Catechism teaches, that “man is a composite being, spirit and body.” He explained it in his Summa Theologica this way:
As stated in De Anima ii, 4, "the soul stands in relation to the body not only as its form and end, but also as efficient cause." For the soul is compared to the body as art to the thing made by art, as the Philosopher says (De Anim. Gener. Ii, 4), and whatever is shown forth explicitly in the product of art is all contained implicitly and originally in the art. In like manner whatever appears in the parts of the body is all contained originally and, in a way, implicitly in the soul. Thus just as the work of an art would not be perfect, if its product lacked any of the things contained in the art, so neither could man be perfect, unless the whole that is contained enfolded in the soul be outwardly unfolded in the body, nor would the body correspond in full proportion to the soul. Since then at the resurrection it behooves man's body to correspond entirely to the soul, for it will not rise again except according to the relation it bears to the rational soul, it follows that man also must rise again perfect, seeing that he is thereby repaired in order that he may obtain his ultimate perfection. Consequently all the members that are now in man's body must needs be restored at the resurrection.
In other words, when we are to be resurrected by God, like we read about in this week’s readings from Ezekiel and Romans, it’s the whole package, perfected body and soul, that is to come back. If it was only the body without the soul, then it wouldn’t be the actual person at all, because both parts are required to be a perfect resurrected being. A walking corpse reanimated by something other than God (who alone has the singular ability to confer souls) might register some residual memory, as we see in Romero type zombies, but it would be impossible for the real personality to be there. It would just be a mindless husk waiting for the true resurrection.
Now some zombie movies such as the recent Warm Bodies get around this technicality by having a virus that causes the body to mimic death while simultaneously withering the mind and soul to a state of near non-existence. In that way, their zombies can still have a real personality that can resurface with the proper stimuli, such as the love of a good woman. They acknowledge Aquinas while still finding a way to have zombies be more than just mindless eating machines.
But let’s be honest, that’s not what’s going on in Hard Rock Zombies. There’s no way the people who made this movie put that much thought into it. They just thought it would be fun to have a bunch of zombies kicking their legs up over their heads and playing loud music. And you know, if you’re in the mood for some big hair and bad moviemaking, they were kind of right.