What we got here is one of those cheapo horror comedies they used to make back in the eighties, the kind that weren't even trying to be scary anymore. I generally find that movies that try to be stupid and succeed are inherently less entertaining than movies that try not to be stupid and fail, but Hard Rock Zombies is kind of a hoot. It's the story of an unnamed and unsigned hair metal band that goes to the hick town of Grand Guignol, CA to do a show. They get invited to stay at this big mansion populated by a randy old dude, his werewolf wife, a big-haired blond groupie, a rubber-faced gnome, and a midget in an eye patch.
Now, midgets have somehow become the international symbol for absurdity. For some reason, you're supposed to think it's just so damn hilarious every time there's a midget on the screen. Man, how irreverent. Look, he's just like a person, only smaller. In my younger days, I was guilty of falling prey to this particular fallacy, but I think that doing so in this case does a disservice to this specific midget actor, since he is far and away the most accomplished member of the Hard Rock Zombies cast. His name is Phil Fondacaro, and he has over sixty credits on his résumé. He's been an Ewok, a Garbage Pail Kid, and one of them hooded Phantasm dwarves. He's played Cousin Itt, Dracula, the Yattering (Clive Barker fans know what I'm talking about), and someone named "Stinksucker" in a movie called Monster High. He portrayed the title character in Troll, a role he is currently reprising in a remake under the direction of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood's John Carl Buechler (who also did special effects work on Hard Rock Zombies). Basically what I'm saying is, this dude Phil Fondacaro is a goddamn B-movie superstar, and I'm not gonna treat him like a punchline just because he's a little shorter than average. I've been saluting a lot of motherfuckers lately, from Frankie and Annette to whoever the fuck played Luther the Geek, and now I'm adding Mr. Fondacaro to that list. You rock, sir. What you lack in stature, you make up in awesome.
Anyway, the folks in Grand Guignol think rock and roll leads to Satanism and masturbation (which, if you're lucky, it does) so they hold a town meeting to decide what to do about it. ("My National Enquirer says that musicians can't play a single note unless they eat drugs first," says one frightened housewife.) They vote to cancel the band's concert, but due to sloppy wording, they end up banning rock in all its forms.
Shit just got real.
So then the entire band gets murdered, and after they're dead, their square manager discovers that the old duder who owns the mansion is really Hitler. I guess this was right around the time when Hitler became funny again. Nowadays, that's old hat, but I guess back then, it was pushing the envelope. This part's trying a little too hard to be offbeat, if you ask me, but I might have liked it more if they didn't give it away on the DVD box. I have to say, though, they must have hired an actual Hitler impersonator, because he does a damn fine job, even giving long speeches in German.
So then this virginal groupie chick who's in love with the band's lead singer plays this tape that he recorded before he died. It contains a song he'd read in a book ("A what?" asks the drummer) that brings the dead back to life, so the band rises from their graves and kills all of the motherfuckers who murdered them, including Hitler. The movie's over, right? Wrong. Then the dead Nazi villains rise again and go on a zombie rampage, turning everyone they meet into flesh-eating goons. Then it's up to the band to find a way to stop them, even though all they really want to do is play their farewell concert. It's funny, because they don't talk or show any personality, but then they get on stage and they rock the fuck out. I like that they come back to life with two things on their mind: rock and revenge. These are zombies I can relate to.
This is a pretty straightforward description of the plot, but the movie isn't straightforward at all. It's artsy in that early MTV way, so every now and again, a music video breaks out full of random images that don't have anything to do with each other. This is fine when it's for a frolicking montage, but when important parts of the plot (like both major murder scenes) get turned into Duran Duran videos, we got a problem here. It's alright, though. I could still figure out what was going on, more or less. It certainly made me pay attention.
There's some good wackiness in here, like when this nerd decides that zombies hate heads because they symbolize the intellect, the antithesis of zombiedom, so everybody tries to escape by shielding themselves with giant cutouts of famous heads. And then there's the running gag about the undead gnome who eats himself, ending by sucking his face into his severed skull like a piece of chicken skin.
So I had a good time. But I do have one problem with this movie. These are not really hard rock zombies. With the possible exception of their semi-metal set closer, they have way too many keyboards in their music to qualify. I'd say they're heavier than Night Ranger but softer than Dokken, if that helps you locate them on the eighties cock rock continuum.
I'd say your enjoyment of this movie is going to depend on your tolerance for cheesy eighties rock. Personally, I love this shit. It makes me wish the nineties never happened. When did being a whiny little bitch become rock and roll? Rock and roll is music you make with your dick. It should be fun, goddammit. The way I figure it, if a song makes me laugh, it's just as good as a song that makes me cry. I don't believe in guilty pleasures. Either it makes you feel good or it doesn't. Be a man and own up to what you like. Or be a woman and own up to what you like. Your choice.
Anyway, if you like cornball humor and songs whose lyrics consist of the words "shake," "it," "up," and "baby" repeated over and over again in no particular order, this is your movie. I suppose the zombies could stand to rock a little harder, but couldn't we all?