Trasherpiece Theater: Shock 'Em Dead (1991) - Reviewed

Images Courtesy of Olive Films
Heavy-metal horror, or scary movies that were infused stylistically or contextually with elements of heavy-metal music, saw a rise in the 1980s through the 90s with such long haired guitar rock fare as Monster Dog, Trick or Treat, Black Roses and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.  Realizing every stuck-up mom’s worst nightmare on film of evil hard rockers actually transforming into something supernaturally demonic and/or a square youth turning into an edgy heavy-metal rocker himself with the help of occult powers, this premise played itself out in a variety of forms throughout the two decades.  One which slipped under the radar for awhile there before being scooped up by Olive Films’ sublabel Slasher Video is first-time writer-director Mark Freed’s 1991 straight-to-video flick Shock ‘Em Dead, a movie better remembered for being one of Traci Lords’ first non-adult film roles that conjures up all manner of black-magic infused meta heavy-metal cheese.  

Angel Martin (Stephen Quadros), a dorky young guitarist working part-time as a pizza delivery guy, tries his hand at auditioning for a local rock band which goes south.  Earning a tongue lashing from the lead singer before losing his job, Angel is approached by a mysterious voodoo woman (Tyger Sodipe) who offers a unique proposition: sell his soul in exchange for being transformed into a major heavy-metal rock star with all the fame, fortune, sex and drugs with it at his disposal.  The tradeoff is he must murder other humans and eat their souls in order to survive.  Meanwhile as he ascends the ranks of superstardom, he begins a fling with the band’s manager Lindsay (Traci Lords) and soon the bodies inexplicably start to fall as Angel continues to transform into a mere shadow of his former self.
Starting off as a riff on The Toxic Avenger with a geek that soon doles out the punishment himself, this corny, ridiculous and sometimes inept trashterpiece is somewhat unique in how it sends up the heavy-metal horror subgenre while giving porn actress Traci Lords a chance to shine in a different light.  Reportedly around the time of production the AIDS virus was on the rise and considering Lords’ role in porn, the cast and crew kept their distance from her during the shoot.  
Much of the film is trained on Stephen Quadros, ordinarily a martial artist who served as a choreographer on several films, who donning long hair occasionally spitting up green bile with poorly rendered opticals of glowing eyes comes across as a goofy spin on Faust and his dealings with the devil.  Also worth nothing this was the final film of Old Hollywood screen legend Aldo Ray in a thankless role as a domineering pizzeria manager.

Ultra low-budget (reportedly around $100,000), shot on 35mm film by recurring Troma cinematographer Ron Chapman before being transferred to video (Slasher Video’s blu-ray disc is sourced from a standard-definition tape), Shock ‘Em Dead right away looks and sounds like a Troma movie.  Closest to The Toxic Avenger for its character transformation and cornball stereotypical villains, there’s a kind of do-it-yourself quality to this straight-to-video heavy-metal horror flick and many of the set pieces have a student film feel.  The metal-oriented score by Robert Decker is aside from Pool Party Massacre his only known compositional work and it’s a serviceably cheap soundtrack mostly aided by metal music.  The film’s real secret star is guitarist Michael Angelo Batio’s participation, doubling for the guitar shots in the film as well as the demon in Angel’s dream sequences who does some amazing work on film which reportedly wasn’t sped up for hyperkinetic effect.

While clearly not very good in terms of quality filmmaking, as a direct-to-video small screen effort aimed at both channeling and parodying the heavy-metal horror tropes Shock ‘Em Dead does what it sets out to do in terms of being a tongue-in-cheek goof while also showing off some cool guitar moves.  Fans of heavy-metal horror as well as “bad” exploitation-horror gurus will find much to chew on here though indeed some of the gags and punch-lines aimed at the band’s former lead singer have aged poorly.  Still as a beer-and-pizza movie night this will tick off all the checkboxes fans look for with these sorts of films and despite the standard-definition source, the folks at Olive Films and Slasher Video have put together a nice edition of the film on blu-ray disc for those who get a kick out of nutty off-the-beaten-path home video movies with a bit of an edge to them.  Not “good” but definitely a fun time under the right circumstances.

--Andrew Kotwicki