The return of Horror Movies and Heavy Metal!
Heavy metal and the occult. It was many parents’ worst nightmare in the 1980s. “What are all these satanic toilet noises coming out of these records” they (probably) said. Heavy metal was the boogeyman of suburbia, along with crack and communists, so it’s no surprise that it became the backdrop for a few horror movies. While the details may have been different, movies like Black Roses and Trick or Treat generally had the same message: heavy metal is evil and will probably turn you into a monster. Take a look in any metal website’s comments section and see if they were wrong.
Shock ‘Em Dead (also known as Rock ‘Em Dead) is a 1991 direct-to-video horror moving starring former adult film actress Traci Lords (Cry-Baby, Blade) as Lindsay Roberts. Lindsay manages her boyfriend Greg’s (Tim Moffett) band Spastic Colon who have a big showcase lined up with an important record executive. Unfortunately, the band is without a lead guitarist and are frantically trying people out with no luck. Desperate, the band contacts Martin (Stephen Quadros, announcer for Strikeforce and Glory Kickboxing), an unlovable loser working at a pizza place to try out. Martin is deemed the worst guitar player ever by the band and leaves hurt and humiliated. Soon after, he meets a voodoo priestess (Tyger Sodpipe) and makes a deal with her: in exchange for his soul, she will grant him incredible guitar playing skills, a trio of beautiful women (who have also sold their souls for various reasons), and an incredible house. The voodoo woman stabs Martin in the chest and when he awakes, he is a rock god. Martin, now going by the name Angel Martin, tries out for the band again and blows them away with his incredible guitar playing.
Things, however, are not as well as they appear to be as Martin learns that he can no longer eat food like a normal human being. To survive, he must kill people with mystical knives provided by the voodoo priestess and feast on their souls. The showcase arrives and Angel asserts himself as the leader of the band, literally kicking the over-the-top vocalist off the stage. The band is offered an incredible contract, but Martin has become too enamored with Lindsay. With his lust for souls and Lindsay reaching a fever pitch, how will Greg and the rest of the band stop Angel Martin?
Selling your soul for rock n’ roll is not a new concept. Plenty of movies and stories are built upon the general concept of giving up who you are for what you want to become only to find out that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Everyone fantasizes about success at one point or another in their life. Some want to be Hollywood stars and others want to play their music in front of sold out crowds. There’s always the underlying desire to be more than what you are which is why we see this trope again and again.
As you can probably tell, Shock ‘Em Dead isn’t a very serious movie, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s this self-awareness that allows the movie to be enjoyable for what it is: a cheap b-movie. If it tried to be too serious, then it would have been a painful slough to sit through and endure. I mean, the band is called Spastic Colon and they have songs called “I’m A Virgin Girl” and “I’m In Love With A Slut”. No subtlety needed here!
Don’t be mistaken, though. Shock ‘Em Dead would not be considered a “good” movie. The acting isn’t very good (save for Traci Lords), the story can’t decide if Martin or Lindsay is the main character, and the only person of color in the movie is some sort of demonic soul taker caricature. There is a lot of willful ignorance in the movie that allows the story to move forward, but at the cost of its credibility. It’s wrong to ask a lot from a direct-to-video movie that was made in the same year the horror well ran a little dry with a ton of sequels (Critters 3, Omen IV, Howling IV, Puppet Master III, Child’s Play 3 and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) released. The budget was small, the story was written in 3 weeks and the film was shot in 6. You get out what you put in.
It’s unclear if Martin is supposed to be a sympathetic character or not. Despite essentially being the villain his story is the main focus. Greg is too whiny and annoying to be a suitable hero, and Lindsay is treated as the object of affection and not much more. The movie lacks the nuance needed to showcase Matin’s meteoric rise and catastrophic fall. We never really get the sense that the power and soul-lust has corrupted him as much as we would like. This is mostly due to the movie’s relatively light tone. The play for laughs eliminates the emotional investment from the audience to make the story meaningful. It just leaves Martin as some goofball that got in over his head and killed a few minor characters along the way.
Interestingly, the movie does have some real heavy metal connections. The tight shots of Angel Martin’s hands playing guitar are actually neoclassical guitarist and “check out what I can do master” Michael Angelo Batio. Stephen Quadros also has some rock and roll chops, though not as a guitarist. Quadros was a drummer for the band SNOW and even tried out for KISS at one point. It also helps that he looks a lot like W.A.S.P.’s Blackie Lawless in the movie. The band Acid Witch even played the main riff that goes throughout the movie and references Spastic Colon in their Midnight Movies EP.
Shock ‘Em Dead is a movie best watched with a group of friends. There isn’t anything particularly scary about the movie, so it would be a good watch for people that don’t particularly like horror movies. It’s silly, over-the-top, and irreverent. Not all the jokes land and the story loses steam at the end. Ultimately, as long as you’re not expecting a four-star classic and accept it for what it is, Shock ‘Em Dead is a fun watch.