Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

Around 1983 or 1984, director Krishna Shah planned for his 1985 film, American Drive-In, to feature a 20 minute short metalsploitation film called Hard Rock Zombies. The concept of metalsploitation short films would later become a trend which I'll discuss more in the future; however, shortly after they began making Hard Rock Zombies, they decided to make it a full length film instead. Thus was born one of the most unique films of the metalsploitation world.

Before any zombies of the title come into play, we are introduced to our heroes, who are the pop metal group Holy Moses (although we don't actually hear anyone call the band Holy Moses, if you look closely during several scenes throughout the movie, you can see their name written on flyers and their rad logo on their rad tour bus.) The band consists of singer and bassist Jesse (Silent Rage frontman E.J. Curcio), lead guitarist Tommy (Geno Andrews), keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Robby (Mick Manz), and drummer Chuck (Sam Mann). After we see the band closing one of their concerts in a bar with their song, "Shake it Out", we find out via their manager Ron (Ted Wells) that the band is headed to the hick town of Grand Guignol to play a showcase for record label executive Don Matson (Michael David Simms).

However, a young lady named Cassie (Jennifer Coe) warns the band not to go to the town, but the band still goes. Jesse and Cassie fall in love, but we find out soon enough that the town is not a safe place, not only because of rock-hating bigots, but also because of a sexy yet dangerous hitchhiker named Ilsa (Lisa Toothman) and her family; which includes two bloodthirsty dwarves (Mickey played by the legendary Phil Fondacaro and Buckey played by Gary Friedkin), and their dad who happens to be Hitler (Jack Bleisener), and Eva Braun (Nadia) who happens to be a werewolf! The family of freaks unfortunately kills off the band as part of Hitler's plan to "outlaw polluted Rock N Roll music" and begin the Fourth Reich. Fortunately, prior to their untimely deaths, Jesse recorded an ancient riff that raises the dead, and when Cassie plays it at their gravesides, the band members come back to life as zombies!

The zombified band members extract their revenge by killing Hitler and his family and then the undead band goes on to perform the showcase for a very enthusiastic Don Matson. While they are rocking out on stage, the bad guys that they have taken care of come back to life as zombies and soon there is a zombie outbreak on the town, and the remaining town's folks don't know what to do. Now it's up to the undead Holy Moses, Ron, and Cassie to save the day!

Although according to most sources the actors who played the band members were real musicians, most of the actual music was written, produced and performed by award-winning singer/songwriter/producer/guitarist Paul Sabu. In fact, when I was speaking to Paul himself once, he told me he did all the instruments and vocals on the soundtrack. The soundtrack is very hard to find, and even I am still trying to locate it. According to some sources, back in the day it was only released on vinyl in France, and nowadays, some of the songs can be downloaded online, and some can be found on Paul Sabu's compilations - still very high quality songs.

1) Angels First
A pretty nice instrumental that plays at the beginning of the movie when Ilsa lures some innocent people to their death as sort of a prologue. Ilsa is the "angel" in the song title.

2) Shake it Out
A great high-energy song that Holy Moses performs at a club where we're first introduced to them, and they play it later in the movie too.

3) Cassie
This is the love ballad that Jesse writes for Cassie during the movie and the band performs it for her a few times during the course of the film. It's one of the finest power ballads I've ever heard.

4) Street Angel
This is a really nice, lively anthem that the band performs near the end of the film.

5) Zombie's Revenge
Another pretty cool instrumental that also works well as a showcase for Sabu's multi-instrumental powers. The song is called so because it's played during the montage where the zombified band members extract their revenge on the evil family.

"Hard Rock Zombies definitely remains one of the essential 80s metalsploitation films."

6) It Don't come Easy
A pretty nice catchy song that plays during the montage where the band first comes into town.

7) Morte Assandre
This is the ancient riff that raises the dead and that Jesse and the band makes a recording of. This is a kickass song with lots of great solos.

By all means, this is an excellent soundtrack to a great movie. Paul Sabu really proves himself to be a multi-talented genius here. His brilliant musicianship shines through. He plays all the instruments perfectly. The songs are the right mixture of melodic and raw and gritty at the same time, and Sabu's vocals sound kind of like Bruce Dickinson, and his guitar playing sounds like Randy Rhoads. I also love how much, like many other classic metalsploitation movies and soundtracks, many of the songs here also tie into the theme of the movie, and almost form a concept album or rock opera. Sabu is renowned for many of his soundtrack works (including other metalsploitation films like Trick or Treat and Ghoulies 2, which I will discuss in the future), and this is a true blue highlight - no doubt about it!

Hard Rock Zombies definitely remains one of the essential 80s metalsploitation films. The package is complete, and the extra doses of comedy thrown in are always welcomed. I also love some of the social commentary made, how religious nuts who were trying to ban rock n roll are compared to Hilter and the Nazis. Currently, I'm not friends with many people from this movie, but I'm trying to contact them. However, I am friends with the legendary Paul Sabu, and he is an extremely nice guy as well as being super-talented. He's told me many cool stories about the making of the film such as how he was originally asked to play one of the band members but declined. And that on the soundtrack, for most of the drum parts he used the same drum machine that was used on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album. Currently, the movie is available on DVD from Blue Laser films with extra scenes that had been cut out of the original film added back in. The soundtrack is still not widely available but we can always hope that it will be someday. I also heard in an interview with EJ Curcio that a deluxe DVD of Hard Rock Zombies was being planned containing a commentary track and many other goodies. Until then, I highly recommend this great movie and soundtrack to everyone out there, so check it out and enjoy!

Movie and Soundtrack made between 1983, 1984, and 1985, in California.

For full cast and crew, click here.

Billy Larouqe, HMS

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