Friday, May 8, 2009

Rockula (Luca Bercovici, 1990)

Well-oiled drum machines pump out their righteous beats with a disjointed nonchalance, a rhinestone prosthesis is secretly acquired under the cover of darkness, and, while in the middle of a performing song on stage, a musically inclined vampire orders Chinese food; these are just a mere pittance of the colossal awesomeness on display in the uproariously funny Rockula, a film that spoke to me on a number of unwell levels. Seemingly lost in the pitiless void that is cinematic indifference, the physical act of discovering this headphone thumping rock masterpiece was a minor miracle. Yet another in a long line of entertainment slabs that have been gestating in an obscure funk just waiting for me to come along and overly bask in their nutritious glow. Bold and audacious at every turn, filmmaker Luca Bercovici has somehow managed to not only create the world's lone rock and roll vampire comedy starring Toni Basil and Thomas Dolby, but he has somehow managed to create the world's greatest rock and roll vampire comedy starring Toni Basil and Thomas Dolby. Replete with lavishly modest musical numbers that come and go with a delightful randomness, mirror-based tomfoolery, comical funeral advertisements, strange swords fights that employ even stranger swords, and the most clean shaven protagonist in the stubbled history of onscreen grooming, the film is a bizarre mishmash of things that shouldn't be mashed together. However, it all inexplicably commingles with one another like a first-class stew.

Making one long for that kooky period of time when the 1980s were starting to run out of gas, Rockula reeks of a decade on its last legs. It's this desperation that gives the batty opus its nonrepresentational sense of urgency. It is obvious that the powers that be will not be allowing so-called "creative types" to make musicals about virginal vampires who must save their true love every twenty-two years from a ham bone wielding pirate in the near future. So the time for action is now, and boy, did they ever act. The amount of sheer wrongness that takes place in this film is baffling. Nevertheless, this wrongness is always counterbalanced through the double-dyed commitment to excellence of the cast and crew. Which is important, because a movie like this doesn't make itself, it needs to be nurtured by the hands of skilled craftsmen.

Funny in a self-deprecating sort of way, Dean Cameron and his first-rate eyebrows shine bright as the Ralph LaVie, the world's lamest vampire. Cursed to see Mona, the love of his life, repeatedly killed by a pirate over the past three hundred years (it's a complicated curse), the lonesome vamp decides enough is enough, and tries to save Mona this time around by thwarting the murderous buccaneer through the power of rock.

The sarcastic Dean injects a witty charm into proceedings as the lovelorn bloodsucker, and has a terrific rapport with the more confident version of himself that lives inside reflective surfaces. He is also solid when comes to being romantic and junk with the lithesome Tawny Fere (Angel III: The Final Chapter) and belting out the rocking songs that are featured throughout the film (the nocturnal duet with Tawny blew me away and the Elvis tinged number was glorious).

He even shows off his rapping skills on, you guessed it, "Rapula." Sure, there's a mild cringe-like sensation at first, but when he sincerely raps the line "He's the DJ, I'm the vampire," but that cringe quickly turns to genuine laughter. Oh, and having the always amazing Susan Tyrrell (sporting a blonde bowl cut) manning the wheels of steel and Bo Diddley rocking the spandex didn't exactly hurt, either. Speaking of spinning wax, the attractive Nancye Ferguson mans the switchboard for Tawny's erotic number, "Turn Me Loose."

An absolutely scrumptious Toni Basil opens up a major can of fabulousness as the divine Phoebe LaVie, Ralph's animated mother. Putting the likes of Christian Death, Aqua, Bauhaus and The Sisters of Mercy to shame, the incomparable Miss Basil manages to out-goth them with a breathtaking ease while performing "The Night," a self-choreographed showstopper that renders all previous attempts at coquettishness inert and extremely flabby. Similar to the feeling one gets after being dipped a carnival dunk tank full of pure, undiluted sexiness, the act of watching Toni dance, cavort, and camp it up in this movie was beyond heavenly.

The misguided sense of privilege I felt as I watched Rockula unfold and hurtle headfirst toward that inevitable moment where the evil Stanley (a hilarious Thomas Dolby) receives his comeuppance was unfathomable. This movie needs to be savoured, not shunned. Like I said, at first glance, it may appear to be seeped in wrongheadedness, but deep down beats a heart that is truly awesome.

video uploaded by r3moldarama


  1. "the world's greatest rock and roll vampire comedy starring Toni Basil and Thomas Dolby"

    I am sorry. I refuse to believe that this movie exists. You must have made it up.


  2. "einfühlungsvermögen" is such a great, Germanic word! And your hypothetical conversation between Alex Trebek and me made me LOL.

    I hate Star Trek and all of its silly incarnations with a bloody passion. Still, I hope it's a hit for Bruce Greenwood's sake. :)
    d. saw it and thought it was good.

    I once called a Rochester radio station and asked them to play "She Blinded Me with Science." I was told the station didn't have it because it was "too old." This was 1986!!!

    Seeing Susan Tyrell's name makes me wonder if you've seen Tapeheads yet. :D

  3. JM: Funny. I was thinking the exact same thing as I watched Rockula. But believe me, it's quite real.

    Karim Amir: For a moment there I was all like, "Einfühlungsvermögen?!? What the hell..." Then I realized that I had dropped the "einfüh" while rambling on about Picture Perfect.

    Quirky fun-fact: Arleen Sorkin, one of the writers of Picture Perfect, has Duet listed as an acting credit.

    I had a feeling you weren't a Star Trek fan. Probably because none of its many incarnations feature Indians (you know, from India). Actually, that's my main peeve with the franchise. Anyway, I hope to catch the new flick on Tuesday. (Hey, Winona's in it.)

    '86? Yikes. Pop culture moved pretty fast in the 80s.

    Nope, haven't seen Tapeheads yet. It's still on my radar. I mean, I check for it on youtube every so often.