Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of looking around your home and realizing that occasionally you let your hobbies or interests overtake your life in ways that you might come to regret. Okay so maybe this is just me. Just like most of the rest of the people of the world at the moment, I am spending a lot of time at home and when I’m not baking bread and learning about new ways to pass the time, I’m usually off staring into the void and usually come to and realize I’ve been staring at the many things that clutter up my tiny apartment. Well, that might be somewhat of a lie. I mostly am stuck in front of my computer, trying to avoid social media long enough to get shit accomplished but when I fail at that, I end up staring into the void and usually end up noticing stupid little bits of things I’ve been surrounding myself with. That established, it dawned on me recently that I live amongst my things but I rarely pay attention to them. One of the side effects to living in quarantine is that it brings to the forefront of the mind exactly what we most value and the things that we enjoy the most and when I do this, I notice a certain theme to my interests. Namely, I like vampires. A lot.
This review was actually kind of inspired by the fact that when I got my Audible credit this month, I was all excited to get my newest audio book and upon making my choice, I realized that it was another vampire book. This isn’t really news to me usually, as I do like vampire stories (a lot) but I do like to think of myself as being a bit more well rounded as a horror fan. Then I realized that all of my audio books are vampire books with the exception of two. Granted, that’s only something like seven books but that means out of all seven, five of them are about vampires in some way or another. I won’t go into how many of my ebooks and physical books are about vampires, but, well, suffice it to say that it outnumbers any of the books that I have on linguistics and I have a whole university degree in that subject. So, yeah, I like vampires. A lot.
That said, lest you think I am just an obsessed vampire fan, looking for a way to shove my favorite subject into a review, I can assure you that I have other interests and some of them have nothing to do with horror or vampires. Take for instance, the works of Thomas Dolby. For those of you who might not know the name, you almost assuredly know the song that he’s most famous for. Dolby was the mad scientist behind the song “She Blinded Me With Science” and the man is an absolute treasure of talent. You might think I’m being a little on the sarcastic side here but I am entirely serious when I say that beyond the hit song, he’s actually got a fairly large and diverse body of work and he’s done a lot in his career. Among the many things he’s done includes some acting, which isn’t really that much of a stretch for musicians as a whole, but buried amongst his video credits are a whole three films, including tonight’s film, a TV movie I’ve never heard of and the one is heavily reminded me of that I didn’t actually know he was in until I looked this up. Tonight’s feature film features Thomas Dolby as the villainous Stanley in the baffling rock horror comedy, Rockula. Yes it’s about vampires. Fine, I’m a vampire obsessed fan and I’m surrounded by things about bloodsucking undead creatures and you’re coming with me on this cringeworthy ride that involves one of my favorite singers.
This film was released in 1990, this film looks like it might have been the last gasp of the eighties, trying desperately to cling to life in the new decade but luckily for it, fashion hadn’t really gone on to plaid and greasy hair just yet. It still had a few minutes to be weird so it decided to take full advantage of this. Full of bright colors, odd outfits, weird sets and some interesting hair choices, you could see the new decade emerging but it hadn’t arrived yet. That said, it looks pretty spectacularly cheesy, even for the eighties. I think it’s forgivable to some degree that it looks so utterly dated because it was likely filmed long before it was released but it was still kind of interesting to see how it captured that strange transitionary period where the eighties hadn’t quite given up the ghost and the nineties hadn’t really started just yet. I bring all this up because there was something odd about this aesthetic that reminded me of something very specific. A movie that infamously came out in the eighties and despite being absolutely panned by the critics, has still managed to become kind of synonymous with the decade. I’ll leave that at teasing for now but for the moment, let’s get to the movie proper.
So the movie opens up with our main character, Ralph, played by Dean Cameron, brooding over a piano. The brooding is somewhat spoiled by the fact that he’s trying to play “Chopsticks” and struggling mightily. Thankfully, we have that silliness interrupted by Ralph’s over the top mother, Phoebe, played by the ultra talented but super campy Toni Basil. If that name is a familiar one for you, then you probably got that one song stuck in your head at least once in your life. It was that old tune about someone named Mickey and how they were so fine and they blew her mind. I’m sure it’ll come back to you in time. Anyway, Basil plays Ralph’s mommy dearest, set on going out to find out where her next lover and meal is while our hero whines about what day it is. You see, Ralphie boy is going to meet the love of his life tomorrow, as he’s done about twenty two times now. Through his bar friend who also moonlights as an exposition dumper, Ralph will meet this girl, fall in love with her, get just close enough that he can almost have his happily ever after and then she dies when she’s struck by a ham bone wielding pirate. If you think this is stupid, you aren’t wrong but you also might want to brace yourself because the real fever dream of weird bullshit is yet to come.
Ralph, you see, is kind of tired of this crap, considering how many times he’s lost his love by failing to rise to the challenge of saving her from the dreaded ham bone. There’s a lot of talk throughout the film of this whole scenario playing a role in what they call his legacy. Having watched it now, I am kind of convinced that the people who wrote this film didn’t know what the word legacy actually meant as they never really spell out what he’s supposed to accomplish by getting together with this woman. Other than no longer being a 400 year old virgin. Apparently that’s something that is of great importance to his reflection. Oh, I suppose I didn’t mention that.
While his mother, who is also very much a vampire, isn’t able to see herself in the mirror, Ralph has a version of himself that he can not only see but talk to. I had to look this up on the Wikipedia page but apparently when they said it was Ralphie’s legacy, they meant curse, which we all know is exactly the same thing. Methinks this movie script could have gone through another pass or two across the editor’s desk. Anyway. According to the greater world of the internet, Ralph’s jackass reflection is a part of the curse that torments him and it taunts him constantly, either telling him that he’s a loser who isn’t going to succeed and he’s going to be a virgin forever or mocking him for not wanting to participate anymore. Once again, this guy is kind of playing the role of comic relief, though at least this time, it’s not a detective trying to make weird banter at a funeral. Onwards! There’s more batshit insanity to get to!
Despite Ralph’s protestations that he isn’t going to do this again and he’s going to avoid the woman he loves, he is then immediately hit by a car driven by the lovely Mona, played by Tawny Fere. As you could probably guess, this is their latest meet cute and to his credit, Ralph actually does try to go out of his way to runaway from her. This doesn’t last very long, however, as he decides that if she’s going to die, maybe he could try to stop her from biting it this time. After he eventually catches up with Mona, he bumbles his way through their first meeting before relying on an age old tradition in comedy to try to impress her: that being to lie about what he does. He blurts out that he’s in a band and to make it super believable, he has no idea what music they play or what they’re called. With the real meet cute now over thanks to the incredibly campy Stanley interrupting, all Ralph has to do is start a band. Normally this would be a feat, considering that usually in these movies, your hero doesn’t have any talented friends save for that one thing they can do. Ralph has some supernatural horseshoes stuck up his ass, however, because among his bar friends to whom he whines is none other than the legendary blue musician, Bo (Fucking) Diddly. Yes, the man who helped shape rock music with his particular style of playing is keen to play second fiddle to Ralph the whiny vampire. Then again, perhaps it’s just me who isn’t seeing his appeal because after a short montage, Ralph settles on calling themselves Rockula and invites Mona to his first show. Despite them being broken up, Mona brings along Stanley and her bandmate, Whatsherface, and while everyone else is either neutral or less than impressed, Mona is so taken by the Rockula performance that she has to see Ralph again.
I won’t spoil the rest of the film because while you can kind of count on filmmakers who didn’t know the definition of legacy wouldn’t exactly stray too far from formulaic drivel, and you wouldn’t be wrong, there are still some surprises to be found in this film. I don’t know that this means it has a whole lot of rewatch value, it does have some things that should be seen and best if you don’t already know about them going in. That said, let’s talk about the characters because if you need a reason to watch this movie, this is it.
First of all, Dolby’s Stanley is delightful and campy as fuck as the villain. Seriously, he’s the best part of the film as the manager of Mona’s band who is also a shady funeral home owner. He never misses an opportunity to make himself the centre of attention and his antics are actually hilarious, especially in comparison to the parts that are supposed to be funny and often kind of aren’t. It gets even funnier when he finds out that Ralph is a vampire and is convinced that he has to kill Mona to save her. It’s stupid but in a way that comes off as more endearing than annoying. And between him and Toni Basil’s Phoebe, the whole film has a kind of weird, cartoon feel that made it feel like anything could happen and it wouldn’t seem out of place. Like impromptu dance battles. Or pirates with a rhinestone peg leg. Or a duck that also became a rockstar and the manager for one.
Right. That. Okay so early on in my viewing of this film, I noticed it was campy as fuck but I also couldn’t shake the feeling like I had seen a film like this before. It wasn’t until I saw Mona that it clicked for me, but this film with the colors, the weird atmosphere and the musical elements really reminded me entirely too much of Howard the Duck. From my vague recollections of that film, I am going to go out on a limb and say that the plot of both had nothing to do with each other, but it also kind of existed on that plane of batshit insanity that made it so you could almost buy that a duck could be sexually appealing to a young woman or that a four hundred year old vampire would be concerned about losing his virginity while talking to his cursed reflection. (Also: Dolby had a bit role in Howard the Duck. It still has nothing to do with this movie but when I looked this up, the only reaction I had was to think that of course he did.) I bring up Howard because I think that if you are going to watch this film, you will enjoy it more if you understand about where the bar for enjoyment is and how to set your expectations. It’s true that both movies aren’t good but that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining. I will say that Rockula is all kinds of dumb but it leans into its campy stupidity and it’s not trying to be something other than what it is, which is cheap, easy entertainment.
All this said, there is one element that I could have done without and that is, for the most part, the musical interludes. I had a bit higher hopes for this, considering that Dolby is in the cast and I was hoping that his music would be featured more than it is. While there is at least a few instances of Stanley performing (and they are wonderful), for the most part, it is watching Ralphie boy trying to rock out and, at least once, get down with this whole rap thing the kids are on about these days. That scene is about as cringe as you might expect. There’s also some kind of weird cringey moments surrounding Phoebe, who also performs a song and dance number for Ralph and Mona. I will say that anything that Dolby or Basil do is well done technically and probably the more enjoyable parts of the film but they are weird and at least a few times out of place because they break the whole flow of the film. Bad as it might be, the movie does have a story and it tends to break the narrative to shove in these musical elements. The part that it does this best is really to show Stanley’s advertisement for his business but otherwise, they do feel forced in. And it’s kind of a complete travesty that they had Bo Diddly in the cast and did basically nothing with him. He does get a kind of blink and you’ll miss it kind of moment to play and it’s great but honestly, the man deserved better. And if, like me, you were hoping for more Dolby music, there is a great song on the soundtrack that he contributed called “Budapest by Blimp” but that can also be found on his album Aliens Ate My Buick which was released around 1988. Honestly, he was kind of made for this kind of film, wasn’t he?
Anyway! Is this a good movie? All kinds of no. The story barely makes sense, the characters are pretty stock and you’ll get most of your entertainment from Stanley and Phoebe. The resolution doesn’t really even make that much sense and when you get there, you end up kind of wondering if there’s more. Still, it’s funny in parts. It’s super campy and that alone is kind of fun for a popcorn watch. It’s something that might be fun in a group setting and as long as you weren’t in the mood for something along the lines of Midsommar, you’ll probably be entertained at the very least. I do suggest fast forwarding through his rap section unless dad joke levels of cringe humor is your thing. If so, you’ll love this. Otherwise, grab the popcorn and crunch as loud as you want because you won’t miss much but you might want to quiet down during Dolby’s scenes because the man is made of gold.
And with that, thank you again for joining me on another Friday Nightmare Reviews. Special thanks to my Patrons who get all the content from this site early as well as sneak previews on what is coming up next. If you are able to contribute, there is a link to my Patreon HERE. If not, that is very much okay. I appreciate everyone who comes to watch another movie with me. Until next time, make sure to say some nice things to your reflection, keep your rhinestones polished and I’ll see you next week with another review.