Arrow Video: The El Duce Tapes (2019) - Reviewed

Rodney Ascher has dabbled in some interesting documentary fare ever since cracking open the nut (no pun intended) of cinephile obsession with Room 237.  He also probed the terrifying paradox of sleep paralysis with The Nightmare.  Recently he joined forces with Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist editor David Lawrence after uncovering a strange, gross but compelling goldmine in the form of what they comprised as The El Duce Tapes.  Consisting of a collection of old VHS tapes shot by documentary filmmaker (and part time actor) Ryan Sexton, he dove with his oversized camcorder into seedy nightclubs where he filmed the infamous shock-rock band The Mentors and primarily the outrageously foul mouthed provocative front man El-Duce. 

Discovered by Ascher and Lawrence three decades after they were shot and left dormant, the two piece together the story of the late Eldon Hoke, The Mentors’ drummer and front man hiding behind an executioner’s black hood often hurling deliberately racist and sexist slurs at the audience.  Pushing the boundaries of good taste with a gleeful desire to offend including but not limited to making rape jokes, El Duce either really believed the hateful vile things he shouted out on the stage or was really putting everyone on.  Those who were close to his circle such as his sister, girlfriend, stage dancer and his creative partner Steve Broy seemed to think the latter. 

Whatever you make of the band featured in highlights from concerts and appearances on talk shows like Jerry Springer amid other shock rockers including Gwar, what became undeniable to everyone was Eldon Hoke represented another tragedy involving a clearly musically talented individual who  fell off the ladder through alcoholism.  Despite the fuzzy blurry aesthetic of the VHS footage augmented by some unneeded post-production editing effects, the subject of this self-made shock rocker’s unmaking comes through loud and clear.  How does a creative individual with obvious stage presence proceed to undo everything he built up and spiral towards rock bottom? 

At times El Duce is charmingly irreverent and gross, his interviews mixed in with candid recollections in between beer guzzling, burps and farts.  Other times he’s pathetic and sad when he isn’t completely and utterly vile.  In any event, the tale of El Duce and The Mentors remains a fascinating one for how not only how it ended for all involved but for how the documentary filmmakers use the footage left behind to tell their own story of a shock rocker that fell off the wagon and headed for downwards.  This isn’t always easy or enjoyable viewing but a journey you hypnotically can’t turn away from once started either.

--Andrew Kotwicki