Black Roses
U.S.A. | 1988
Directed by John Fasano
John Martin
Karen Planden
Sal Viviano
| 84 Minutes | R
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Synapse Films
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    8   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Jon Allen
Now almost twenty years old, John Fasano's Black Roses is something of a dated touchstone to the paranoia surrounding "Metal" music of the era. Though its release in 1988 shadowed the genre's crossover to a more synthesized, pop friendly format, Fasano obviously enjoyed employing the notion that metal — even in its more saccharine form — can be satirized to the degree that the Black Roses, a band that sells its collective soul to the devil, can really be evil incarnate.
    Fasano, auteur of Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1986), a seminal slice of the small and limited genre of metal/horror, crafted his masterpiece of sorts with this film. In the process he actually proposes the idea, though not logically or without a swift kick of humor, that heavy metal might be a disruptive force that unites our pimply teenagers while slowly draining them of motivation to succeed or act as worthy citizens. This is why Black Roses is so enjoyable; it simultaneously wants to rock and yet takes a loving, only slightly gory look at why our children are willing to sell their souls for their idols.
    Sal Viviano plays Damian (hint), leader of the fearsome Roses. He and his band ride into tiny Mill Basin in Lamborghinis, stop in the middle of an intersection, and survey the area. The band is in need of a venue to warm up before its worldwide tour, and the community is soon up in arms about what to do with the demonically possessed metal warriors. The band place flyers of upcoming shows around town, featuring a nice-guy image of Damian, with the idea that the band will lull our adolescents lovingly into each concert.
    Mr. Moorhouse (John Martin of The Young & The Restless), a somewhat sympathetic English teacher with a porno-actor mustache, asks his class what Walt Whitman might have meant when he wrote that "evil is what propels us." Johnny (Frank Dietz) proclaims that good Christian citizens of Mill Basin are at odds with him and his peers. Why not let the Black Roses play? Johnny suggests what any teenager from this particular era might, that parents will hate or find evil in whatever it is their sons and daughters are into. Moorhouse corrects Johnny, telling him that Whitman is only suggesting that we keep an open mind about ourselves, to be (maybe) situationally moral or ethical.
    And that's an interesting premise. Fasano directs this film as an unintrusive arbiter of the town's own moral dilemma. Should these kids be allowed to rock at the Black Roses concert? Of course. Should the parents be allowed to decide whether or not the band is invariably affecting their children? Check. Mill Basin is the perfect choice for Fasano, as it acts like any other well-to-do Midwestern town. Parents question the merits of seeing a rock concert, while our over-sexed teenagers wonder why they live with their parents at all.
    A committee composed of upright, God-fearing parents suggests that Black Roses' "satanic image and subversive lyrics" are enough to damage the very moral fabric of the town. The committee is led by a laughably overwrought right-leaning woman (Creature from the Black Lagoon's Julie Adams) who disseminates the lyrics to a particular Roses song as though merely reading them will be her own undoing. The mayor (Ken Swofford) suggests that rock and roll is inherently there to "shake us up a little bit." Fasano keys in on a number of the members, bland facial expressions suggesting that maybe, their implied morals will not surmount the band's victory over the town.
    Johnny is something of the naive child amongst his peers. It is here that Fasano projects the image of Johnny's disquieting frustration on the dullness of Mill Basin's standards. But by allowing the mayor a more logical man than the committee to approve of the concerts, with his message of rock's more positive possibilities, and by accentuating the naiveté of his teenaged subjects, Fasano wisely, quietly lambastes the ham-fisted "us against the world" mode of thinking that so obviously hampers their mindsets. Unwilling to face logic or objective relations, the town soon falls prey to the band simply out of the socio-cultural rift that divides the younger generations from their parents. Students are soon restless and, before long, Black Roses must prove to the parent committee that they are every bit a part of that moral fabric; their test is a one song-only ballad performed in front of students and elders that highlights good feelings and hometown values that many believe they are against. The stubborn committee leaves, and soon the Roses turn into the band that made that pact with the devil. It's a "Rock Invasion"!
    Of course, Black Roses exists simply to entertain. But even with a larger budget than Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare, as well as more seasoned (albeit bad) acting and better makeup, it's a movie that can be seen as a satire of Fasano's own interests in the metal/horror domain. Fasano's direction here is something to commend; we might actually be inclined to believe that dumb rock music makes uninspired, bored teenagers, though we might also be inclined to believe that implied and tired morals are questionable from person to person (Mr. Moorhouse, the one 'voice of reason' from the committee, is in fact secretly dating the mayor's daughter, played by Carla Ferrigno (heavily featured on the disc's audio commentary). It's not as though Fasano is employing a part of Kant's categorical imperative, but with Mill Basin's limited size and preconceived notions of whatever it is that composes misconduct, it's as though Fasano realizes that those who stand at odds with the town's adolescents are consequentialists: the end justifies the means. In that sense, it's obvious that the music of Black Roses will brainwash Mill Basin's teenagers because of their inherent lack of action in fighting Damian's message of destruction. And since no one benefits from the moral fabric of small town America, so to speak, the consequences from viewing Black Roses will reap inalterable damage.
    These possibilities aside, it is fun watching Mr. Moorhouse's students change from their Black Roses experience. Maybe they have been truly brainwashed. Their sudden lack of collective interest in learning seems to be inextricably linked to getting rocked by Damian's crew. And when the band gives free tickets to everyone who comes to their next set of concerts, the film, with glee, enjoys the humor-laden downfall of Mill Basin's willing teenagers. Parents and kids vie in a war of attrition. Will the band collect the souls it has promised the devil? How long has Damian been alive? As "Soldiers of the Night" and "Take It Off" (great hair metal titles) play on, the downfall of Mill Basin awaits. The reason this movie succeeds is not because of the gore, which is minimal, but because of the interplay, humorous as it may be, between our teenage subjects and the concerned citizens, and Fasano's conceptualization of moral implications. Watch and see, and know this... Black Roses, though flawed, is way more fun than you might think, it's quite funny in many places, plus it rocks really hard. The lack of gore might upset some more hardened horror fans, and the opening half hour suffers slightly from pacing, though it does set up the last hour very well. And strangely enough, the lack of acting chops amongst the cast does not impede on the fun and only enhances the rift between kids and parents. The ending, which I will not give away here, is one for the ages.

The Synapse DVD offers a new 16:9 anamorphic transfer which improves greatly on the VHS version. Videotape copies tended to highlight a bright, almost pink hue to many scenes (especially the concert sequences), but thankfully, Synapse does such great work with hi-def transfers the colors here are not overbright or too muddy. In fact, after years of delayed DVD release, the film looks positively glorious considering its low budget origins. Audio is Dolby 2.0 stereo, clean and trouble-free if not particularly robust.
    The commentary track is what elevates the supplements, and Black Roses is that rare feature that's actually enjoyable from start to finish with the running commentary. Fasano and writer Cindy Sorrell are joined by Ferrigno, as well as Fasano's children, and they all have fun dissecting the movie's more humorous attributes. They joke about actor John Martin, his career and the fact that he could not wait, while filming, for the scene "in which I get to kiss Carla Ferrigno". It's obvious that everyone had fun making the film, and with Fasano's near mocking of the sub-genre in which he created, it's great to hear him laugh, and with admiration, at what ultimately might be his best movie.
    Extras also include a Cannes Film Festival promo (why they made one for Cannes is beyond me) and an audition footage reel showing various actors trying out for the role of Damian.