With a dead end job at Pizza Playhouse, Martin (Stephen Quadros) has dreams of being a rock star, but his ambitions exceed his talent. After flipping off his boss (Aldo Ray in his last role), Martin has his day dream crushed upon being laughed off a lead guitarist tryout for the fledgling band Spastique Kolon. Things look even bleaker as the young nerd’s pushy landlord serves an eviction notice. Though Martin finally finds the answer to being “the greatest rock star in the world” in a local black voodoo priestess. Undergoing a ritual in which he’s stabbed in the heart, Martin awakens as the Fresh Prince of LA in a rocking pad and gaggle of smoking babes. Hair-teased and leather-decked “Angel Martin” overtakes both lead vocals and strings away from Spastique Kolon’s frontman and the future looks bright with a two-hundred thousand dollar recording contract.
Yet things aren’t as sweet as they appear. Martin needs to kill and feed in order to continue living. The babes that came with the house are in a similar predicament. Their curse boils over when Martin falls into lust with Spastique Kolon’s manager, the mortal Lindsay (Traci Lords), whose already in a relationship with the bassist. Martin’s band mates begin to get suspicious of their throat after witnessing odd occurrences while hanging at his place–leading to a “shocking” climax…
The mainstream explosion of Grunge rock with Nirvana’s Nevermind in late 1991 was the final debasement of the Metal gods that rules the decade prior. Subsequently, Mark Freed’s Shock ‘Em Dead from the same year ended up being heavy metal horror’s last stand. A real niche of a horror subgenre, arguably beginning with Don Edmond’s 1980 stinkfest Terror on Tour, that never quite found its footing as anything more than boozy fun. Flicks like Rocktober Blood (1984), Hard Rock Zombies (1985), Trick or Treat (1986), and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987) make for great, adult beverage-fueled late night viewing. This ’91 entry featuring burning licks from guitar virtuoso Michael Angelo Batio doubling as Martin in close-ups being no different.
Although being from the early ’90s, Shock ‘Em Dead feels like perfect fodder for the USA Network’s sadly missed Up All Night. It just has that long gone eternally sunny, neon-tinged atmosphere that makes those that remember growing up in that period richly nostalgic. This warm aspect, along with surprisingly funny writing, helps sheen over the few problems. Chiefly, the set-up involving Martin’s rise is well executed with the then-expected story arc just kinda fizzling out. After the group gets signed, one isn’t unreasonable to assume a larger climax than the one presented. Although I’m more or less nitpicking.
Once controversial porn star Traci Lords headlines; yet she doesn’t particularly do anything with her cardboard role or bare any skin despite the otherwise T&A fest. Rightfully, Stephen Quadros carries the lying share of the feature and always comes off as very likable–even when exacting brutal revenge on those from his prior life or gettin’ stabby with hapless groupies. This is where the bite arises in Shock ‘Em Dead; it’s not for those expecting a straight-up dose of horror. Instead, we get a more horror comedy tone with much more of the latter, copious breasts, and a cheese factor higher than all the Parmesan in Martin’s pizza joint. Prime red meat for brainless cult flick fans.
Shock ‘Em Dead still has yet to hit DVD officially, but that didn’t stop the film’s director from recently unleashing his own digital versatile disc special edition. This kind of shady “from the maker” release isn’t new. Several years ago Robert Morgan self-released a disc of his 1978 horror feature, Blood Stalkers. Unfortunately, the $20 disc ended up being a shoddy DVD-R featuring a direct rip of the old Vidmark VHS complete with Vidmark’s logo, tape rolls, and no extras. Not so much the case here but Freed might have just shot his film in the foot with regards to real video distribution. The more this release gets out; the less likely a distributor will even attempt to touch the property as a lot of the potential market has already been diminished. So be quiet!
This “20th Anniversary Edition” release, available here, arrives on a factory pressed single layer DVD. The transfer is open matte full frame, interlaced, and appears to be either taken from a very good VHS copy or an “okay” video master. The picture is stable, reasonably colorful, with black levels that indicate the source was definitely a tape of some sort. There’s some crispy edge enhancement, but zero tape-related anomalies. The Dolby stereo track is fine. The film runs exactly one hour, thirty-three minutes, and twenty-three seconds. The star of the supplements is the audio commentary with director Freed and associate producer Andrew Cross. The two run through a gamut of production details, but there’s quite a number of silent periods. Naturally, a lot of the information shared was unheard of until now and one gets the impression Freed made the film he set out to initially make.
The rest is a bit of a wash. The “director’s cut” is a two minute compilation of all the film’s nude scenes in slo-mo or zoomed-in. Considering this is from the director, this extra is reminiscent of Abel Ferrara ogling the women in his Driller Killer on Cult Epics’s notorious DVD commentary. The audition snippets run six minutes in total and are conspicuously missing any footage of Lords or Quadros. Although the last bit involves an actress attempting a scene involving a breast reveal until she freaks out and walks off. There’s two deleted scenes involving the Pizza Playhouse, a deleted scene of the drummer found beat up, a bit more of the graveyard scene with timecode, and three other very short deleted scenes. Rounding out the extras, we have two galleries of production stills and wardrobe stills set to clear-sounding songs from the soundtrack.
If you’re already a fan or interested in checking out Shock ‘Em Dead, this $18 DVD is a solid deal. The disc is authored well, the picture quality is decent enough, and the attempt at a few serious extras is welcoming for such a homebrew release. Check it out while ya can. Never know when this release will simply vanish…