Saturday, February 09, 2008

Rockula – review


Director: Luca Bercovici

Release date: 1990

Contains spoilers

Whilst the release date for this may have been 1990 it is clearly an eighties flick that has just managed to refugee itself in the next decade. It is a vampire rock musical, though I have to say that the way the songs were handled was nice in that they appear in the form of performances and videos, and the occasional dream sequence, rather than being spontaneous bursts into song.

Toni Basil as PhoebeRalph LaVie (Dean Cameron) has a problem and it is not that he is a vampire. We first see him playing organ wearing a cape and it looks atypically stereotyped horror vampire, that is until his mother, Phoebe (Toni Basil) comes in. He is practising and, despite their ages, it seems an almost typical (rather young looking) mother and teen son relationship. We establish in this scene that vampires have no reflection, with a quip about Phoebe applying makeup, and then (after she leaves) seem to break the rule.

Dean Cameron as RalphOne of the interesting aspects of the lore used in this is that Ralph does have a reflection but the reflection is independent of him. As things transpire we discover that Ralph is not a very good vampire. He cannot stand the sight of blood – he survives on the red cross dropping blood off like a milkman would drop milk off – he can’t fly, his bat transformation is poor. His reflection seems to be able to do all the vampiric things he can’t and the reflection actually makes a second character.

Tawny Fere as MonaHowever his poor vampire abilities are not his problem, as he explains to his friends in a local bar. In the seventeenth century Stanley met and fell in love with a girl named Mona (Tawny Fere). She had a boyfriend who was a pirate, with a rhinestone peg leg, but ran away with Ralph. Before he could turn her into a vampire the pirate came and killed her with a hambone (leading to the joke late in the film, when Phoebe is hit with such a hambone, of you’ve boned my mother). Now, every twenty two years, Ralph (who is still a virgin) meets the reincarnation of Mona, they recognise each other, fall in love and then the pirate comes along and kills her, after two weeks, on Halloween.

RockulaDetermined to break the cycle, Ralph leaves for home but midnight has turned and he is knocked over by a car driven by Mona. In this incarnation she is a rock singer and he must woo the girl (forming the band Rockula is part of that) and then save her from the pirate. Thrown into the mix is Stanley (Thomas Dolby), Mona’s ex-boyfriend, sponsor of her band and owner of the funeral supplies Deathpark, who finds out that Ralph is a vampire. Could this would be Van Helsing be the pirate?

the power of Christ doesn't compel meThe film is silly, the story ridiculous but it manages to be bizarrely mildly entertaining despite itself. Lore wise the vampires have permanent fangs that no one seems to bat an eyelid about. We discover that Ralph can use sunscreen to go out during the day. Garlic does not bother him, he uses it in cooking, and holy items clearly have no effect on him. There are plenty of movie references, in conversation between Ralph and his reflection, on the generic rules of cinema vampires and what happens to them when they follow those rules (ie the vampire looses).

bat creatureI mentioned the bat transformation and it is into a man-bat form, short, squat, farting and with the unfortunate side-effect that it leaves his trousers around his ankles when he turns back. It is almost as though the filmmakers took the concept of crap bat syndrome, pushed it to the limit and then made the concept a joke of the film, pulling it back from oblivion and into the realm of the deranged.

poor, poor BoThe star performance has to be by Cameron whose conversations with himself are well done and who becomes likable as the dweeb vampire who finds his confidence in rock and roll. His guitarist is Bo Diddley and I do have to say, when Rockula goes rap, that dressing the legendary Bo up in a gold superhero costume seemed almost criminal. It was probably a very poor scene in its own right but the shame of doing that to Bo overwhelmed any other feelings about the scene.

Thomas Dolby as StanleyToni Basil is clearly having great fun as Phoebe, mincing around in a variety of weird costumes and lapping up the dialogue with gusto. Dolby is just plain creepy. Okay, all in all, there are definitely no Oscar winning performances here but nothing is entirely irredeemable (except for putting Bo in a superhero suit), every performance is tongue in cheek and the film knows what it is and is thus self effacing.

The music obviously plays a big role in this and goes through blues, pop-funk and rap and careens squarely into a very eighties ballad rock land – which is no good thing. The music fits the film though and adds to that all round eighties refugee thing. Perhaps it isn’t a refugee, perhaps it pokes fun at the decade just past – nah, it isn’t that clever, it is a refugee but it allows us to poke said fun.

This shouldn’t be fun at all, the story was simplistic, the effects silly and the premise absurd and yet a deeply warped part of me enjoyed the flick. It was something a little different within the genre, and it reminded me of days gone by – and perhaps warmed me by reminding me that they have, most definitely, gone by. 3.5 out of 10 is most likely overgenerous but anything less would seem to be churlish.

The imdb page is here.

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