Earlier this month Lisa posted a scene from Slaughterhouse Rock that she likes, but she said she hadn’t actually seen the movie. She might as well have slapped me across the face with a steel gauntlet. Well, I’ve seen Slaughterhouse Rock now. Twice in fact. Probably three if you count all the rewatching of segments I had to do while writing this review because I was still confused. I can assure you that scene is the most entertaining thing about this movie. Lisa is right, that scene does show parts from earlier in the film. I love that it even flashes back to pointless scenes like when one of the kids slips while climbing up onto Alcatraz Island. Or a quick shot of one of the girls talking in a restaurant. It’s like they reached that part of the film and ran out of money because they blew it on effects from earlier in the film. That, and it was probably in Toni Basil’s contract that they let her dance a little in this movie. Oh, by the way, this is one of two rock horror films that star Toni Basil. I already reviewed Rockula. Why are there two of these?
So let’s get this review over with so I can subject myself to more films of questionable quality. The film starts out with some dreamlike scary scenes that end with someone’s hand getting chopped off. Then a guy wakes up to find his hand missing. Of course he wakes up again because he was still in a dream. Cut to the opening title card. We find out that not only Toni Basil was involved in this, but Devo too. And then we find out that the cinematographer on this movie is Nicholas Von Sternberg. The son of famed director Josef Von Sternberg. I bring that up because the first film he is credited with shooting is Dolemite (1975). That film is famous for numerous reasons including the boom mic popping in from the top of the frame.
I mention it since I’m pretty sure there is a scene in this movie where the boom mic pops in on the left hand side of the shot. I wish I had watched a higher quality copy of this movie, but here’s the shot anyways.
But back to the story. That kid is Alex Gardner (Nicholas Celozzi) who has been having some weird dreams lately. Cut to the outside of a college building and we learn that Alcatraz has been closed down temporarily because of a tragic incident. A rock band called Body Bag broke off from the tour group and was later found dead. That’s Sammy Mitchell’s (Toni Basil) band. Since his dreams seem like they are taking place in a prison, his friends think there must be a connection. The next group of scenes are either stupid 1980’s teenagers in a horror movie stuff, creepy unreal stuff, or one of the very few shots in this movie that are actually of Alcatraz.
In here is one of the dumbest scenes in the movie. They obviously thought it was really cool and built atmosphere, but it’s actually just really frustrating and confusing like most of this movie. It takes place in a restaurant where the scene starts with this person picking up some food to take to a table. The camera moves in slow motion around this restaurant for what feels like an eternity. Then a voice kicks in. Who is saying it? Is it the people we are looking at? The camera is still moving so I guess it can’t be. It takes close to another 10 seconds before the camera slow motion moves some more and finally settles on a girl and Alex talking at a table. My god! Was it so hard to cut that shorter? This is especially frustrating because the rest of the scene is actually done rather well. It uses close ups of his eyes and other peoples faces combined with angles and playing with the sound to build up to a hand breaking through the wall behind him. None of which required that unnecessarily confusing roam through the restaurant. Likely, that stuff was padding. There’s a lot of stuff that feels like padding in this movie.
Now apparently these kids are taking some sort of class on the metaphysical in college because of course we can’t just have the kids go to Alcatraz of their own volition. No, Alex’s teacher finds out about his dreams after he freaks out in class. It’s her and this Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) scene that finally push them to take a small boat out to the island.
Once we arrive on the island then the film really starts to have issues. The problem is since this was obviously not shot on the island, what you are seeing are small separate sets. In a well directed movie, this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but here it is. You never really have a sense of space. How long is that hallway? Where is this exactly? Where is it in relation to the other sets? All of these problems are what make the film feel like a lot of just people walking and talking. To where? Who knows? And who cares.
After getting grabbed by a hand and pulled somewhere else, we meet Sammy Mitchell. She starts to tells us the story behind all of this and that she has been reaching out to him in order to bring him to the island. Expect there to be a reason she reached out to him specifically? Only in your dreams. We now learn about her fascination with the occult and that she let some demon out. Apparently, all the people who have died on the island are the source of his power and are trapped on the island by his power. She then explains how this guy allowed in something more evil than the guy could have imagined. Then it cuts away to someone else for a bit. We then come back to her, and he asks why she chose him. Her answer is that she needs a living being to open a door at the end of a tunnel in order to release all the souls trapped on the island. Now comes the stock footage dance that Lisa posted.
While all this is going on, we have the other kids wandering around the island. One of them includes Alex’s brother Richard (Tom Reilly). Richard becomes possessed by this demon. I love the scene with this one girl that he has shortly after getting taken over. It’s like that ridiculous dry hump sexual assault scene from the game Phantasmagoria. Only this scene actually makes some sense since the bad guy did have a history of that sort of thing whereas in the game it’s really random.
With Alex out of his body, the movie now has an excuse for how it can show us, and him, scenes from the past really explaining things. Okay, what’s going on is that apparently Alcatraz was a military outpost before it became a prison. And of course there was a really nasty guy who liked to hire girls, then eat them. After he couldn’t hire hookers and eat them anymore, he fed off the locals. The Native Americans finally got fed up with him and burned him. Unfortunately, he apparently had learned enough about magic that this didn’t do him in really. He had made a pact with the devil according to Sammy. I love the dialogue from the ghosts that almost sound like Sean Connery’s famous opening credits lines from Highlander (1986) that were recorded in a bathroom. Also, I love the quick anti-drug line they threw in with Basil’s exposition dump.
After Basil finally shuts up, although she keeps popping in from now on, the movie basically comes down to a D.W. Griffith cross cutting sequence. On one end you have people fighting the demon and on the other you have Alex (out of body) walking down the tunnel to open the door. Just as the camera seemed to take forever to move through the restaurant, Alex takes his sweet time walking through this tunnel. Almost like they shot all the other scenes of the kids fighting the demon, figured out how long they ran, then shot enough of Alex walking down the tunnel so they could keep cutting back to it. During this is where this lack of a sense of space really comes into play. The demon keeps pounding against a wall in some place and that somehow has an effect on Alex in the tunnel. The demon is hitting his hand against the wall, and then it cuts to Alex’s body to show his hand twist, which then seems to have an affect on his soul moving through the tunnel. It’s all very confusing, and since it’s the climax, it really damages the movie.
At the end, as far as I can tell, Basil joins souls with Alex in some fashion. There’s something there because he can suddenly play the piano at the end. I don’t care.
This film was disappointing. I wasn’t a fan of the opening stuff, but they should have stuck with it all the way through. Yes, they could have improved on the sense of space issue, but I could have forgiven that if I felt trapped and held in a suspenseful atmosphere. Instead, they had to explain things, bring in Toni Basil, the dance number, the ridiculous outfits on her, and comedy bits from other dead people.
In other words, you can skip this one. If you must have Toni Basil in a rock related horror film, then go with Rockula. It’s not great, but it’s better than this. Plus you also get Thomas Dolby and Bo Diddley in that one.