I finally did it. After attempting to watch Rockula a handful of times throughout my life since the film's release, I sat down at down and took in all 80+ minutes. In all honesty, I got no more than five minutes into the film before bailing out. Thanks to the Philadelphia channel THiS and their Cult features on Saturday nights, I finished what had been started several times before.
The only reason that I attempted to watch this so many times before was due to the fact that I am a Dean Cameron fan. Simply because he projects great charisma and seems like a guy who is a really funny and down to Earth guy off-screen. In my ees, the guy is cool as shit and the filet mignon of b-movieland. Summer School (where he played Chainsaw aka me in high school) and Bad Dreams are what most people recognize him from, but I watched the lesser known Ski School (1 and 2), Miracle Beach, and the extremely underrated TV series They Came From Outer Space all because he played the lead...and never disppointed. So I owed it to the greatness that is Dean Cameron to see his performance in the horror-comedy rock musical. And once again, the man hit a homerun.
Dean Cameron. An instant inductee to the ETMC Hall of Fame.
Yep that's right. I said horror-comedy rock musical. Rockula stars Dean Cameron as Ralph, a vampire with low self esteem whose true love Mona was killled many years ago by a pirate with a rhinestone peg leg wielding a hambone. Ralph's dilemna and cause of his insecurty stems from the fact that Mona is reincarnated every 22 years but always meets the same fate after falling in love with him. No matter the circumstance, the end result is the same: they reunite, fall in love, she dies from a blow with a hambone, and he is helpless to stop it. After having some zany conversations with his reflection in the mirror (yes the vamps in the film's universe do cast a mirror reflection), he decides this is the year that he will avoid meeting her and save himself the heartache yet again...until she runs into him, literally, in a car accident which sets things into play.
Ralph, an excellent musician, decides to impress Mona by starting his own band called, you guessed it, Rockula, which includes a bartender (played by veteran actress Susan Tyrell) and late blues legend Bo Diddley. Although this "rock" band plays new wave style music and even rap song or two. Mona's main suitor Stanley, a car salesman type of coffin dealer, learns of her new attraction to Ralph after her reaction to his on stage performance. Through the advice of his very familiar looking psychic (hmm), he learns that Ralph is one of the undead as well as the history behind how to end Ralph and Mona's destined love once again through the film's pirate-hambone running gag.
Can Ralph finally make things right this lifetime around and find everlasting happiness with his true love? Sorry but you have to see it for yourself to learn the outcome...and I trust you will enjoy the ride.
That's some whacked synopsis, huh? Sounds goofy as hell and, well, it is. But Rockula is actually a hilarious and dare I say undiscovered classic cult flick that needs to be seen by a larger audience even more than 20 years after the film's limited theatrical release.
Cameron is awesome as usual in the lead role and carries the film, but the supporting cast is just as good and really backs him up. Toni Basil ("Hey Mickey!") is great as Ralph's sexually charged and overprotective mother Phoebe, but the real surprise is Thomas Dolby ("She Blinded Me with Science!") as Ralph's nemesis Stanley. If Dolby and his technology didn't revolutionize stereo sound as we know it today, he might have had a great career in comedic acting.
Well renowned audio technological genius yet little known comedic genius.
Some of the funniest moments in the film are courtesy of Stanley's commericals in which he advertises the newest in state-of-the-art coffins. They have to be seen to be understood just how zany they are, but Dolby's offbeat performance sells the jokes even further and makes them more effective. He also perfectly executes the role of the jealous nemesis and the main obstacle in the way of Ralph and Mona's happiness.
Speaking of Mona, actress Tawny Fere is an absolutle knockout who does a great job as the central piece of the Ralph and Stanley triangle. Her acting is believable enough for the role and I am surprised that she did not have a bigger endeavor into acting after this film. She truly is stunning and the outfit she sports in her first concert scene drove me f'n crazy.
Besides the running hambone jokes, Ralph's arguments with his reflection in the mirror or any time Dolby is on screen, there are a lot of other cheesy gags that take it to cult status level and constantly reminds the audience that this film is all in silly fun and not to be taken seriously. For example, Ralph is a vampire but he does not feed off the living. Instead he has a blood bank deliver bottles of blood to him ala a 1950's milk man. And wait until you see what he has to do to prove to Mona that he is a creature of the night. Plus we learn the notion that sunblock protects vampires in the sunlight unless they decide to turn into a bat and fly. Ouch!!
A better version of cover art
So I am sure you are asking "hey dude...didn't you say this was a musical? What about the music?" Well even if you aren't asking , I am going to tell you. The concert scenes are pure grade-A cheddar and while the songs are not going on my iPod any time soon, they are catchy in a Hard Rock Zombies kinda way which will stay in your head long after the film is over. For me, I can't flush the film's title track "Rockula" or the "He's the DJ, I'm the Vampire" out of my noggin. The best thing is that Cameron sings all of his songs himself and does his thing with the utmost confidence even though he would probably concur with me that he does not possess Grammy-winning vocal chords.
Dean does all his own singing stunts in Rockula
The worst part about this film is that I have not indulged the cheesiness of Rockula sooner. The camp/cult factor is up there with Hard Rock Zombies and Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare for example, or even the Rocky Horror Picture Show. If you can enjoy that type of culty film, then you need to see Rockula immediately. If you already have, then you are way cooler than I am.
Time to wrap this sucker up...
- The legend that is Dean Cameron (duh!)
- Thomas Dolby who proved to me that his talents are limitless
- Tawny Fere (drools), Bo Diddley and Toni Basil
- He is the DJ, I am the Vampire
- Hambone violence
- Arguments with one's own reflection
- Why have I not seen this sooner?
- The fact that probably not many other people have seen this yet either
- No DVD release
In an homage to Rockula, this edition of Amateur Hour's scoring system will use instead of the usual from cheese slices, five out of five...
If you can find it, it is worth seeking out and watching... again, if you are down for silly fun and can appreciate films of a camp/cult nature. If your cable provider carries THiS, be on the lookout for it because it has been playing all this month.
- Rockula is listed as being released in 1990 but it was actually made for release in 1988...and you can tell it is a product of the 80s. The whole time I was watching it, I kept saying to myself "this is too 80s to be a 90s film".
- The reason for the 1990 release date was due to the issues surrounding Cannon Films at the time before it eventually closed down shop for good. While films like Warlock snuck into the market via other production companies, the underappreciated Rockula sat on the shelf for two whole years. Given a bigger release, this review might be positioned about one of the great cheesy cult flicks of all-time instead of one that "coulda been a contenda".