By Chuck Francisco
February 12, 2014 Source: Mania.com
As honesty is perhaps the best policy (or at the very least, a catchy platitude), I'll begin this Shock-O-Rama with a heaping helping of truth: the degree to which you will enjoy Voyage of the Rock Aliens depends entirely upon the company in which you view it. I happened to experience it in the company of a Sir Curtis Pumking and a Lord Nicholas Dangahzon, which believe it to not, aren't the nicknames of my right and left fists, but rather two good friends who similarly enjoy bad films. Yet for its obscurity, its meager budget, its imitation celebrity cavalcade, and its dated dopey antics, there are a great number of moments which will make viewers audibly say 'huh' with respectful surprise. Before I cover the VHS slip cases' slightly disingenuous proclamations, let's examine the DNA of the movie.
At the core, Voyage of the Rock Aliens ("released" in 1984) is a 1950's beach party movie. You're probably familiar with the type: inconsequentially, the stunning locals teens get up to slightly risqué shenanigans, punctuated by rollicking musical numbers by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello (and numerous cookie cutter duplicates in cash-in films that followed). This may sound strange, but the skeletal structure beneath the skin of this corny new wave aliens vs stray cat strutting greasers is formed from hep 1950's drive-in bikini cinema. Even more peculiar is the realization that the film succeeds expressly because of this- of course by succeeds I specifically mean "entertains those who love outrageously bad B-movies (something which I do not mean in a belittling manner).
So let's flash back to the VHS slip cover (since that was the last home video release of Voyage of the Rock Aliens). Emblazoned across the top, astride new wave hot pink, is the proclamation: Contains Music Video Hit "When the Rain Begins to Fall" starring Jermaine Jackson and Pia Zadora. Remember that this was 1984, while you let that marketing coup d'état sink in. The producers must have thought they scored big in the bingo hall that week, working the brother of Michael Jackson into their film. But how does this separately crafted music video fit into the overall plot of the film? Hilariously, though not in a manner befitting the high score on your local Tetris cabinet.
The titular Rock Aliens are a lame-o wave band, traversing the galaxy in their guitar shaped spaceship, on a quest to find the planet from which Rock and Roll originated. The planet scanned before Earth contains the braggadocious music video, a Westside Story tale wrapped in a post-apocalyptic plasticine badlands biker flick (think Warrior of the Lost World or Badlanders). The android running the flying six string figuratively rolls its eyes at the conclusion of the lesser Jackson's early MTV fodder, before moving on to our planet amid its early 80's mascara identity crisis. And oh, that chintzy automaton? He's voiced by Peter Cullen. Yes the powerful pipes behind Optimus Prime is here relegated to lending his voice to a doofy robot. It isn't the only surprise from among this film's motley cast.
That is Craig Sheffer doing his best Brian Setzer meets Lost Boys Keifer on the main poster. He's likely best remember as Boone from 1990's Nightbreed. Pia Zadora of course is not confined to the splinter universe inhabited by luscious Jermaine Jackson, as she doubles down the female lead billing in the film proper (playing nearly the exact same character, minus the Mad Maxi-an overtones). Michael Berryman plays an escaped lunatic with a penchant for chainsaws; his well known visage adorns the poster for Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. He's possessed of a face which you can't unsee (and by all accounts he is an amiable fellow). Perhaps the strangest incidental casting in Voyage of the Rock Aliens is Ruth Gordon as the diminutive town sheriff. This would absolutely have to be considered slumming after her best supporting Oscar for her role in Rosemary's Baby and her Golden Globe for Harold and Maude.
So into your lap I've deposited a tarnished, but rare gem. And while you can watch the entire train wreck right here on YouTube, I highly recommend you snag a DVD copy of the VHS transfer from George over at VHS Preservation Society (a repository for the kind of rare, bad movie treasure which you can't find anywhere else). There's one other factor, before you check out the trailer below, which is that this films was ahead of its time, including elements which better known movies would popularize later on (like the Rock Aliens landing in a rocket phone booth ala Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). Despite being a bad movie rocking a low budget, there's layered subversity and clever musical numbers throughout. I hope you give it the chance I did, you may very well dig it too.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
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