Review by Jon
= Highest Rating
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.
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.
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.