There’s a classic scene in This is Spinal Tap where clueless guitarist Nigel Tufnel is showing documentarian Marti DiBergi his diverse collection of guitars. Despite having ones famous for their “sustain” and amps that go up to 11, nowhere in Tufnel’s sundry assortment is an axe with two necks pointing in opposite directions: a “Flying-W” if you will. If that’s the sort of heavy metal thunder you crave, turn to 1991’s Metal Horror schlocker Shock ‘Em Dead.
As the film begins, a band is auditioning new guitarists. Johnny, the sleeveless jean-jacketed, midriff-baring shirt and headband wearing lead singer, is croaking out a version of Hendrix’s Purple Haze so off-key it may as well have been sung by John De Hart. The band desperately needs a new guitarist because they’re playing an all-important showcase gig the next day. You know, the one where they’ll play exactly one song and the A&R guys will be blown away sufficiently to offer them a multi-million dollar recording contract on the spot. And yet, according to Johnny, no one seems fit to wear the spandex despite the consternation of the band’s manager Lindsay who is played by infamous ex-underage porn star Traci Lords. This is ironic because Lindsay is a) engaged to the band’s bassist Greg and is “waiting for marriage” and b) Lords is pretty much the only female in the entire cast to not doff her clothes.
Cut to Tony’s Pizza Playhouse where nerdy, bespectacled, aspiring guitarist Martin toils. Martin is so pathetic he’s fashioned a peephole a la Norman Bates out of a giant plastic pepperoni to spy on nubile co-workers changing into their uniforms. He gets word of the audition and unceremoniously tells Tony to take his mozzarella and stick it where the sun don’t shine.
Sad-sack Martin fails the audition then returns to his trailer to learn he’s being evicted for 6-months unpaid rent. He returns to Tony’s to beg for his job back but is literally thrown out on his keister and directly into the path of the Haitian Voodoo Woman who hangs around outside the pizza joint. She offers Martin power in exchange for his soul. He informs her that he wishes to be the greatest rock star in the world and all that that entails. Haitian Voodoo Woman stabs Martin in the chest with a dagger and mutters some mumbo jumbo and he promptly passes out.
While under, Martin has a hallucinogenic dream where he’s wearing a bizarre mask and is kneeling before Beelzebub. Old Scratch is dressed as an 80s hair rocker and is playing the aforementioned double necked guitar. When Martin awakens, he’s lying in a bed in a luxurious home with a trio of lingerie-clad beauties waiting for him. He’s also now sporting hair like Tommy Lee circa Theatre of Pain and has a closet full of studded leather and a roomful of guitars. He picks one up and fingertaps an Eruption-like riff.
Martin, now going by the name Angel Martin, returns to the audition where the band is breaking in their new guitarist by playing a number entitled “Virgin Girl.” Angel pushes the new guy aside, plugs in and blows them away. Of course, we never see the face of Angel when he’s playing, as his stunt hands are that of guitar virtuoso Michael Angelo Batio, voted the “Number 1 Shredder of all Time” by Guitar One Magazine.
With Angel now in, the band play their all important showcase gig, which is held in a high school gymnasium (not renting out Madison Square Garden for budgetary reasons, understood, but a school gymnasium? Come on!) The requisite A&R guys are there, played by B-movie stalwarts Troy Donahue and Aldo Ray, and naturally, the band kicks ass.
Now, as we know, the devil, rarely gives something for nothing, and Angel must claim souls in order to sustain himself (not one for altruism that Beelzebub.) He also has developed a major crush on Lindsay, but is informed that because they are now of two worlds he must now “peel her blood in water and baptize her with [the dagger].”
Lindsay’s betrothed Greg is on to Angel, and thus begins a battle of good vs. evil for the soul of the virtuous Ms. Lords. Souls are taken, bodies are burned and many a guitar is shredded.
Shock ‘Em Dead (originally titled Rock ‘Em Dead – a title that makes a hell of a lot more sense) is a horror comedy that has mild laughs and very mild scares. It’s not great, but one can do a hell of a lot worse for an evening’s entertainment. We’d love to give it 2 and ¾ stars, but since that’s not our mandate, in the spirit of Spinal Tap we’ll go up to 11 and give the film:
*** (out of five)