Back in 1987, a director named John Fasano took a bet that he could make a releasable full-length feature film for only $50,000. Putting together a cast of friends and relatives, including rocker Jon-Mikl Thor as the lead, Fasano came up with Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, also known as Edge of Hell. The finished film consisted of two-thirds generic monsters-in-a-haunted-house shenanigans; but suddenly at the two-thirds mark, the movie threw dignity and common sense to the winds and introduced the loopiest Plot Twist ever devised.
Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare has endured as a cult favorite, not so much for its routine beginning, but for its ridiculous twist ending. You'll be tempted to watch it again and again, just to make sure you really saw what you think you saw. But you wouldn't think there was much sequel potential in Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare. After all, once you've experienced that mind-bending twist, that's it. The nickel has been spent; the genie is out of the bottle; the Gibson's hocked his wad into the coffee cup, and that's that. You can't recapture the shock of that one incredible moment.
So guess what? There's a sequel! An unfortunate, unwanted, ill-conceived sequel! It's called Intercessor: Another Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, made nearly 20 years after the original! It was shot on home video by a bunch of enthusiastic kids, with Thor and Fasano participating out of misguided charity. It is sadly lacking in both humor and hand-puppets. It's the kind of movie that makes the four-minute "van driving down the road" sequence from the first film look like gripping cinema by comparison. And yet, in spite of the paucity of both ideas and talent on display in the film, somehow it manages to last seven whole minutes longer than its inspiration.
The original Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare promised us a rocky ride from the very beginning, when we got our first glimpse of its marionette-style monsters. Intercessor: Another Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare goes its predecessor one better: it starts sucking from the very opening frame. The very first thing we see is a clumsy animation of a burly man in a mask — or possibly an anthropomorphic Great Dane wearing a cape — thwarting an knife-wielding attacker. Everything about this animation, from the bodily proportions of the characters to the frame-rate, is slightly off:
We've barely had time to register this, when we're given a digitally-edited glimpse of Jon-Mikl Thor in his prime 20 years before. A voice-over begins to read us the Intercessor's back-story. The trouble is, the girl doing the reading sounds exactly like a high school kid in English class, who's been called on by the teacher to recite a passage out of a textbook. She reads the individual words, with intense self-consciousness, but it's clear she has no idea of the meaning the paragraph is supposed to convey. This is what the voice-over says, with a little extra punctuation to help reveal the way she says it:
O ye space gods — we haven't even finished the credits yet, and the agony has begun. So great is this movie's commitment to sucking that it doesn't even let up during the credits: since the effects team wasn't able to afford a smoke machine, the credits are displayed over someone blowing cigarette smoke into a fan.Many years ago a mighty warrior roamed the earth.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that the opening title song — "Intercessor, Rise!" — is unintentionally hilarious. It's a stereotypical old-school metal song, but it's much catchier, in its goofy way, than any of the music from Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare. The fact that it sounds under-rehearsed, with the backup vocalist struggling to find his harmonies, actually adds to its charm. Now if only I could get it out of my head...
The movie proper begins by introducing us to a kid named Harry, whose life is one big steaming crock of shit. To begin with, he's an orphan: he lives with his repulsive Aunt Beatrix, who refuses to lift so much as a finger to help herself, and relies on Harry to do all the chores around the house (Harry's Aunt is supposed to be a fat old harridan, but if the actress playing her is more than five years older than Harry himself, I'd be very surprised). Harry has no choice but to do as Beatrix asks, even though he's partly disabled and had one arm and one leg in braces. Harry's pallid skin makes him look as though he hasn't seen the sun in years; while his greasy, stringy hair makes him look like he hasn't seen water in twice that time. He's such a loser that the local kids egg his house even when it's not Mischief Night.
To make matters worse, Harry blames himself for the suicide of his big brother. Come to think of it, everybody blames Harry for his big brother's suicide. No wonder: the audio of his brother's last moments was so badly recorded it's impossible to tell why he offed himself. But the worst thing of all, the one thing that rouses Harry from his sullen torpor and into a full-blown snit, is this: the pretty girl next door no longer comes over to play board games with him.
Really, there's no reason why that attractive, focused, college-bound young woman should even give Harry a second thought. It's not as though Harry makes much of an effort to keep up a civil communication with her — if it were up to him, he'd just sit moping in his chair, practicing for his intended career as a comic book artist. It's not as though he doesn't need the practice! But Julie — that's her name, Julie — continues to talk to him from house to house via walkie-talkie (an amazing device that reproduces the caller's voice with much greater clarity than the voice of the person in the room).
Aside from his talks with Julie, Harry has one other escape from his dismal existence. That's the comic-book hero persona he's dreamed up: a muscle-bound, sword-wielding god among men, who fights injustice, stands up for the innocent, and always gets the girl. It's... The Intercessor.
"The Intercessor!" muses Harry to himself. "Now there's a hero. I need a cool name for my hero..." (Uhh, wait; what is "The Intercessor" if not a cool name for your hero?) "But I suppose a name alone doesn't make a hero." And as he says this, we cut to a very large, very old-looking man in a leather jacket and a floppy hat. He's walking along the street, looking for a place to get a nice cup of coffee.
There's something disturbingly familiar about this man. It could be his sheer size... it could be the words of the voice-over intro... or it could be the paucity of other adults in the cast list... but we begin to suspect the unthinkable. It can't be! But it's got to be: it's him.
Ladies and gentlemen? I give you Jon-Mikl Thorazine:
How the mighty have fallen! In the last episode, he was outwitting Satan himself and throttling the Prince of Darkness with his bare hands. Alas, time has caught up with the Mighty Thor, as it's caught up to all of us who were in their prime in 1987. The same cruel process that turned Boy George into Donald Pleasence has worked to ensure our hero will not be taking off his shirt in this installment.
Thor's fictional character isn't holding up so well, either. Somewhere in the many centuries that have passed since 1987, he got mugged by a bunch of Vikings and had his memory taken away. Now? Now the Intercessor's saving tired waitresses from unruly customers, who are mad about getting sausage instead of bacon with their eggs.
That's right: instead of indulging in the heroic tradition of bar fights, the Intercessor is brawling in a café. That's if you can even call it brawling: he doesn't really have to do very much to stop the attacker, who's an out-of-shape middle aged guy with a cold. The waitress isn't exactly thrilled with him, either, even after he sends the other man packing. It's not until the leather-clad stranger offers to pay for the damages (and leaves a generous tip) that her eyes grow misty, and she asks his name.
"I don't have a name," he growls, and stalks out.
I think that's supposed to make him mysterious; but if you ask me, it makes him sound like a wino.
"KRAK! The Intercessor forces his sceptre into the face of Zompira, knocking him backwards into the pit where his Portal has opened!" We're back in Harry's head now; back, too, to the world of thinly-veiled phallic references and awful effects (in other words, as close to the spirit of the original as we're going to get). The quality of the drawing this time is even worse than it was in the opening sequence:
I can't even call it animation: it's just still drawings that are moved around the screen. The cartoon Intercessor hurls defiant words after the disappearing cartoon Zompira, who responds: "Damn you, Triton!" (See? He did have a name, after all, though maybe not as "cool" as Harry had been hoping. Now, where was I?) "Damn you, Triton! I will never release my grip on your beloved Mortal World! I shall make my Final Sacrifice, and..."
>> (Sound of a phonograph needle being dragged off an LP) <<
Wait, wait, wait: this movie has just broken the cardinal rule of homemade shot-in-Canada horror films. You must never, ever, under any circumstances, mention The Final Sacrifice — lest you summon Rowsdower the Unspeakable and doom your project to endless ridicule.
Oh no! Too late! Because the following scene makes eternal ridicule impossible to escape. We see the real Zompira — yes, there is a real Zompira: not a buxom horror hostess, as you'd expect, but a pale young man with a rotten zombie hand — sitting in his underworld lair. He's visited by the Oracle, a semi-transparent girl in the worst prom dress you've ever seen, who warns him that his ongoing feud with the sorceror Mephisto is at a crucial turning point. "There is a boy, and a girl," says the Oracle: "Both are needed to gain control." The rest of what she says is pretty much inaudible... which I guess is par for the course with an Oracle.
Zompira is pleased with this augury. "A-HAA!" he shouts; "I will have you now!" The he laughs: "MWA HA HA HA HAA! (pause) "HA HA HA." (pause) "HA." And with a stylish double-take, he exits.
Not long afterwards, we're given a similar sequence in which the evil Mephisto gathers his henchmen War, Death, Pestilence and Famine to discuss a plan to rebel against the Dark Lord and take over the earth for themselves. War is an effete military caricature with exaggerated epaulets. Death wears a big bone-face mask, of the kind you can buy off the shelf at any large Halloween supply store. Pestilence has a couple of sores on his face; the suspiciously well-fed Famine speaks in falsetto and sometimes complains that he's hungry. Mephisto's plan hinges on trapping the two "last innocent souls" on Earth: one is a five-year-old girl (really? They couldn't find, say, one other five-year-old that wasn't thoroughly debauched?). I'm not sure who the second pure soul is supposed to be: it's never really explained. Or if it was explained, it was during one of the bits of dialog that was badly recorded and drowned out by the music.
Mephisto is afraid of being overheard (in Hell) so he adjourns the meeting for two hours (they have hours in Hell, but "cycles" in Zompira's dimension). He was right to be concerned: one of Zompira's brain-dead minions is concealed in the bushes (in Hell).
In the meantime, another of Zompira's brain-dead minions has made his way to earth, looking for "the boy". In case you hadn't guessed, "the boy" is Harry. "The girl" is Julie, and it seems their plot thread as absolutely nothing to do with the "two last innocents" Mephisto is after. When one side is playing chess, and the other is playing checkers, it's really hard to tell which of them is going to win the World Cup.
Now, Harry is expecting Julie to come over to see him; and in one of the film's actual (relatively) good moments, he thinks he hears her coming in... while we see her through Harry's window, still getting ready to leave. It's not Julie who's upstairs with Aunt Beatrix, as Harry discovers to his horror. It's a crusty zombie in a terrible leisure suit. The zombie has knocked Aunt Bix off her chair and pinned her to the floor; and as Harry bursts in, he's busy puking something that looks like heavily-used motor oil all over her (this is the point where the actress playing Beatrix stops screaming, and gets a look on her face that suggests this scene wasn't fully described to her when she agreed to be in the movie).
The zombie rises from the floor and shambles after Harry, who tries to run back downstairs. Unfortunately, Harry's encumbered by his crutch and braces. Before he can shut the basement door, the zombie knocks him off the stairs. Harry falls on his head, and knocks himself unconscious.
That should be the end of Harry's sad little subplot, right?
Sadly, no. Harry has a flashback to a scene from his wretched childhood: he's with his brother on a soccer field, and his brother is telling him tp be strong — that there's absolutely nothing he can't do (like, I suppose, put a bullet through his own brain? We could only hope...). When Harry comes to, the door at the top of the stairs (in defiance of all continuity) is shut and locked. Zombie Aunt Beatrix and Zompira's minion taunt Harry from the other side of the door, trying to get him to open it. I know, I know: what self-respecting zombie waits for a door to be opened? Then again, what self-respecting zombie closes the door and locks it first, waits until his unconscious prey has awakened, and then tries to get the victim to open the door?
At this point, Julie calls Harry on the walkie-talkie and reveals that her house, too, has been invaded by the living dead. Harry looks out through his basement window, and watches aghast as two more of Zompira's minions carry her off. That's the amazing thing about Harry's basement window: earlier, when he looked out, he could see Julie's bedroom window directly opposite his own; but looking out now, he sees the front of Julie's house. Note to aspiring film-makers: if you need to resort to a green-screen to show the views outside your hero's window, you may need to re-think your shooting location. Just saying.
Seeing Julie be carried away by ghouls changes something in Harry: he stops whining for someone to help him, and decides to make a stand. Oh, it's not the fact that his girl is in trouble that's suddenly made a man of him. Rather, Julie was the last person he had to whine to for help... with her gone, he doesn't really have much choice. In any case, when he does finally unlock the door, the zombies are a little nonplussed to find Harry waiting for them in his late brother's old hockey uniform.
(Did I mention that Harry's brother's hockey team was called the Tritonz?)
Harry manages to defeat the minion zombie completely by accident, while landing flat on his face. Fortunately for him, his Aunt is even lazier in undeath than she was in life. She crawls toward him so slowly that even he has time to stomp on her head and send her back to Hell.
The zombies' mention of the name Zompira troubles Harry. "It can't be!" he cries — and in a sensible universe, he'd be right. He riffs through his "Intercessor" comic book in stunned disbelief: its characters have come to life, and they're after him.
So it turns out that the trite fantasies of one troubled teenager are actually subtle messages from another plane of existence! Who would have thought? And furthermore, who would have thought that these characters from beyond would turn out to be even more poorly-drawn than the comics?
While we're thinking about different planes of existence, I can't help but imagine what things would have been like if some musician other than Jon-Mikl Thor had been the Intercessor. Say, for instance...
It's time we were introduced to the child who is one of the "two last innocent souls" on Earth. Her name is Laurie, and we meet her just in time to watch her being put to bed. She falls asleep immediately... and in her dream, War, Death, Famine and Pestilence have gathered (in Hell) at Mephisto's "banquet hall". He's got quite a spread laid out for his guests: some nice microwave fishheads, maggots in blankets, a pu-pu platter made of actual... umm... you get the idea.
The Four Horsemen are more than a little put out to discover that they're not the only ones Mephisto has invited to take over the world: he's also invited girls. Stinky, rotten, cootie-infested girls. They're what the DVD cover refers to as the FOUR ELEMENTAL DEMONESSES, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Four Horsemen, four elementals... perhaps this was Mephisto's ill-thought-out idea of date night? They can't stand each other, but Mephisto insists they're all necessary to his plan. If they can stop sniping at each other long enough to kill either or both of the two remaining innocents — one of whom is dreaming all this right now — the sacrifice will allow them to take permanent physical bodies on the "earthly plane". Once incarnated, they can lead the Legions of Hell into the world of men. At least that's Mephisto's story. He sounds like he's making it up as he goes along, but the spirits in Hell seem to be so unbelievably stupid that it really doesn't matter.
Note this "incarnated" bit: Mephisto claims to have found a spell by means of which these spirits can maintain themselves on earth for a staggering twenty-four hours. That's right: without this rare and powerful spell, War, Death, Famine and Pestilence can't stay on Earth for more than a few minutes. I guess that explains why there have been so few wars, famines, plagues, etc. throughout human history, right? And it seems to be the same for the ELEMENTAL DEMONESSES, Fire, Water, Air and... umm... and Earth? Really? Earth can't stay on Earth? How embarrassing.
Anyway: when War complains about how easy it is to kill a child, Mephisto advises the assembly that a far better course of action would be to corrupt her... to win her five-year-old heart over to the Dark Side. Mephisto orders his minions to blight little Laurie's dreams with visions of blood and death, apparently oblivious to the fact that she's dreaming them at this very moment.
You know what? I'm not sure I want to watch a movie that uses the corruption of a small child as a subplot. That's not exactly what I call "light entertainment". For one thing, I doubt Mephisto is going to enjoy his success as much as he thinks he is. Sure, you can traumatize five-year-olds; you can abuse them, and you can ruin their lives, since the most crucial phase of a child's development occurs up to the age of five. But "corruption" is a bit much to ask, considering a five-year-old's moral sense hasn't really developed much beyond the idea of punishment and reward. You can turn her into a monster if you want, but I doubt that makes her any less "innocent". You could say the same about little kids the world over, so how this particular little girl chances to be one of the "two last innocent souls" is beyond my comprehension.
But obviously, comprehensibility isn't high on this movie's list of concerns.
Zompira's zombie spy goes back to report that Mephisto is on the move, trying to corrupt the two pure souls. Zompira, though, is as confused as the rest of us: still thinking of the Oracle's prophecy, he asks if they intend to try to grab the girl first — meaning Julie, I guess — and the zombie, thinking he means Laurie, says Yes.
No wonder everybody's confused: by my count, that's what? five separate plot threads going on so far?
(According to legend, this movie was pieced together from the aborted fragments of two, possibly even three movies... and that would make sense, not only because of the nonsensically convoluted non-story, but because of the vast differences in the styles of the subplots. The scenes involving Harry are certainly scripted — you can tell by the mannered delivery of the actors that they're reading lines that have been prepared for them. But some of the scenes involving Mephisto and his henchmen sound improvised, and improvised badly: the lines are full of awkward pauses and repetitions; entire conversations lose their focus and drift off into incoherence; and you get the impression that these characters are talking around a situation instead of addressing it.)
Harry — remember Harry? — limps his way after the zombies carrying Julie. The zombies, unlike the plot, are relatively easy to follow, in spite of the amount of time that's passed since Julie's abduction. They stop to overact every few yards, which slows them down quite a bit; also, whenever they start to talk, they first have to spit out a mouthful of bloody bile — usually on Julie (tsk... sounds like somebody on the crew has a fetish!). So all Harry needs to do is stumble on after the trail of vomit.
As he arrives, the ghouls look up in consternation: "The Intercessor approaches!" they cry, and quickly carry Julie through a metal door. A few of the zombies stay behind, but for some reason this one scrawny kid is able to dispacth them all with his crutch-fu. In fact, Harry even shrugs off his braces, as though he were surging with new-found strength.
One masked, black-clad zombie carries a sword; but when Harry gives him the stink-eye, he tosses the weapon aside with a "bring it on" gesture. Harry steps forward, holds up his crutch dramatically, and drops it... onto his foot; whereupon he flips the crutch back up into his hand and pokes the zombie's eye out.
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
But when the triumphant Harry throws open the metal door to follow after Julie, we discover that not all the zombies are quite as stupid. They've left behind two of their number to overpower Harry, which isn't really that difficult. As they force him away from the door, one of them again calls him... "The Intercessor".
Laurie's dream goes on: she's wandering through the forest picking flowers. Then she's wandering by the seaside, picking up stones and shells. But Famine has snuck up beside her — and what, exactly, is Famine going to do to her? Starve her slowly over a period of days? Anyway, Famine sneaks up behind her, and somehow manages to turn the shells and rocks into...
... into... what the hell is that? Could it be...
USED SANITARY NAPKINS??
Somebody, please tell me those are just badly-photographed clamshells, and not used sanitary napkins. Because they look an awful lot like used sanitary napkins (and why is it always my luck to stumble over horror movies that use bloody pads as a shock tactic? Hmmm?).
Harry manages to clobber the zombies, and arrives in a shabby zombie club just in time to interrupt the sacrifice. Zompira appears as a gigantic floating head, in what's probably the only decent special effect in the whole movie. With one look at Harry, Zompira and his henchmen realize that this feeble child can't possibly be the real Intercessor, whom they thought they'd destroyed ages ago. So they proceed to beat the tar out of him... until Zompira, as is contractually obligated by all supervillains, tells them to stop so Harry can witness his triumph. Naturally, this gives Harry the opportunity to break free of his captors and impale Zompira's High Priest with his crutch. Yes, with his crutch: the crutch with the big rubber safety cushion on the bottom, which cuts through flesh and bone as though it were Jell-O.
At this, Zompira and his minions are sucked back into Hell. Unfortunately, Julie gets sucked in, too, so Harry decides to jump in after her...
... which means it's time for another cartoon. And this one is even worse than the ones that came before it. The DVD package mentions a "mysterious SPACE GODDESS" who combines her power with the Intercessor (just what we need — another character). But guess what? She's a line-drawing. What's more, she's a line-drawing who gives us the only glimpse of nudity in the movie — and her breasts look like they were drawn by someone who's never actually seen a breast in real life. They're too high, for one thing: in some drawings her nipples are level with her collarbone.
It seems that the Space Goddess, realizing that Harry is in over his head, has decided to intercede with the Intercessor and restore his memory. This will enable him to join the fray and (hopefully) defeat Zompira, or Mephisto, or somebody. But, warns the Space Goddess, he's not ready yet to take on the forces of darkness. First he must find his helmet and his scepter — or, to call them by another name, Subplot Number Six.
Meanwhile, in the Land of the Dead, the live-action Intercessor is too late to save Harry from damnation at the hands of Zompira (in his form as a gigantic Misfits T-shirt):
But pointedly not a battle with Zompira, even though he's standing right there in front of him. I suppose he's choosing not to battle the Lord of the Undead because he doesn't yet have his scepter. Fair enough; but if I were to tell you how the Intercessor regains his scepter, I don't think you would believe me. No matter how lousy the movie's been so far, I don't think you're adequately prepared for the sheer stupidity of the episode. It begins with the Intercessor hitchhiking — yes, hitchhiking, though we last saw him passing without effort in and out of another dimension — to his next confrontation. It ends... well, let me give you three words: "traveling scepter salesman". Yes. You're welcome.
Eurrgh. This movie is making me physically ill, so I guess it's time for...
So by this time, I'm watching Jon-Mikl Thor with his silly rubber mask... riding in a convertible with his cape blowing behind him... fighting demonic high school girls at the side of a lake ("I never wanted to hit a woman... [long pause]... but thou is not!")... and I'm thinking: this is familiar. Suddenly the movie has turned into a backyard wrestlers' version of a Blue Demon flick.
By the time we get to the Wind Demoness pretending to be a cat to lure little Laura into a trap, we think we've seen it all. But then we see the Hell Hound — the adorable fearsome beast with his harness and his drool problem:
And then we see Thor pretending to be attacked by a tree, wrapping branches around himself like Béla Lugosi fighting Ed Wood's killer octopus:
Then we see Mephisto trying to pursuade Laura to kill him with a kitchen knife. Then we see the End of the World represented by a badly-choreographed fight between the Four Horsemen and a couple of guys in zombie makeup. Then we see the cartoon deus ex machina with the misplaced nipples. And we realize this movie is a bottomless pit of suck.
If I've given the impression that there was any sort of professional effort involved in the making of Intercessor, or that any of this made any sense, then it's my fault: I just can't deal with chaos on this scale. Not only is the plot a confused mess, the technical aspect of the movie is just as bad. The sound engineering is probably the worst part of all: no attempt has been made to balance the sound, so that the speakers go from inaudible mumbles to shrieks within the same sentence. There's no continuity in the way effects are applied to the characters' voices, so that Mephisto will suddenly start speaking with reverb for no apparent reason. Zompira starts out speaking in a normal, if slightly syrupy, baritone voice... but in many of his subsequent appearances,the pitchof his voice has been artifically lowered. Machine noise from the video cameras, which is sometimes loud enough to be very annoying, changes in intensity from shot to reverse-shot. And the garage-band music — which is, after all, the main reason for this movie's existence — frequently either drowns out or just upstages the dialogue.
(Actually, scratch that last critique: that's one of the movie's few good points.)
It's easy to compare a movie like this to a piece of shit. It's tempting to suggest that instead of using stars or thumbs, this movie should be graded on the Bristol Stool Scale. But the fact remains that if I ever passed something that stank like this... that held together so poorly... that fell apart into a bloody awful mess... then I'd already be on my way to the emergency room. And with that charming and appropriately seasonal image, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a 2011 free of Rock 'n' Roll Nightmares.