And the stars align at B&S Movies once again . . . courtesy of our propreitor, Sam, coming up with the idea of back-to-back “Mark L. Lester” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll”* tribute weeks. So this direct-to-video/streaming outing from the “director of Commando” . . . and our beloved redneck romps Steel Arena, Truck Stop Women, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw . . . and Roller Boogie . . . and The Funhouse . . . and Class of 1984 . . . and 1999 . . . and Firestarter is the prefect closing transition to our tribute week to all things Mark and our start of all things rock n’ punk! This time out, Lester only directs and leaves the writing to prolific SyFy and Lifetime Channel producer (Lester’s wife) Dana Dubovsky (Sand Sharks, Pterodactyl).
Taking its scripting cues from Great White’s tragic 2003 performance at The Station night club in Rhode Island** (which also served as fodder for “Blaze,” a 2003 “ripped from the headlines” episode of NBC-TV’s Law & Order: TOS that starred John Doe of X as “Teddy Connor,” the leader of the once great Wotan), Travis Bellamy (Hal Ozsan) and Dark Knights (think Buck Cherry’s “Lit Up” and “Crazy Bitch” colliding with Jet’s “Cold Hard Bitch“) love their pyrotechnics — and that love of the flame is what put them on top: Travis sets himself on fire amid a wall of sparks for the band’s encores. . . .
Oops. The club goes up in flames — and a 16-year-old (male) fan is trampled in the ensuing chaos.
Fast forward a year later: Dark Knights are cleared from any wrong doing and back on the road; but without the pyro-gimmicks, the ticket and albums sales are down and manager Eric Roberts (who produces; and is in this one a lot longer than most the films of his 500-plus resume) is urging Travis to “bring back the flames.”
. . . And in steps — instead of a Lifetime movie-inspired psycho babysitter or student or a long-lost “kidnapped” daughter or an orphaned niece infiltrating the family and tempting the emotionally flawed dad — an “innocent” groupie (Taryn Manning of Eminem’s 8 Mile and the Oscar nominated Cold Mountain) who begins to (bloodless and boringly) dispatch press agents, groupies, Eric Roberts (Lone Star Deception), and band members one by one.
Since this rock flick comes from the competent lens of Mark L. Lester, a man who’s blessed me with so many great films during my duplex-triplex theatre and video store youth, I really wanted to get lost in this horror-tinged murder mystery — in the same multiple-watches vein as Ash Avildsen’s intelligence rock n’ horror flick, American Satan (2017). And while Groupie isn’t utterly awful, this probably was going for the feel of Mark Wahlberg’s major studio rock romp, Rock Star (2001), as a slasher flick (with a crazy Jennifer Aniston performance), but it ends up being undone by its against-the-budget set and production design that leaves it meandering one step above a TV movie. (And if not for Lester and Roberts on the marquee — others have name-checked Taryn Manning — I wouldn’t have hit the big red streaming button at all.) I was hoping for some supernatural hocus pocus; e.g., the dead male fan returns as a female for revenge, ala The Wraith. Denied. We got a Hand that Rocks the Cradle twist instead.
Does Lester’s behind-the-camera’s eye and sense of tight pacing (this clocks in at a brisk 78-minutes) make for a more effectively-produced rock ‘n’ horror flick than say, Ferd and Beverly Sebastian’s Rocktober Blood (1984) — which, unlike Groupie, has no “second act” at all — absolutely. However, unlike Groupie, Rocktober Blood lends for repeat viewings because it gives us Billy Eye Harper in his face-painted and ghoul-masked glory, along with memorable, original tunes by Sorcery belted by Nigel Benjamin.
Perhaps if Groupie had the budgetary and creative confluence of American Satan and Rock Star — along with a few more boob shots, blood and, say, the retro-cum-modern rock sounds of Greta Van Fleet standing in for a Sammi Curr-styled rocker (Trick or Treat) fronting Dark Nights — we’d give Travis Bellamy some bow-to-the-alter-of Billy Eye worship. (Or even John Doe’s Teddy Connor and Wotan — who didn’t sing or play a note to achieve their faux band stardom.)
So while the film around him spins nothing we haven’t heard before from the rock n’ murder jukebox’s crackling speakers, Hal Ozsan (who you’ll recall in the early-2000’s final two seasons of Dawson’s Creek) shines (he’s the best part of the film) as trouble rocker Travis Bellamy — courtesy of his L.A. based band, Poets & Pornstars, providing the music for Dark Knights. You’ve probably seen Ozsan’s band live during their U.S opening slots for the revamped Alice In Chains (sans the late Layne Staley), the 21st century reinvigorated Bon Jovi, and modern rockers Muse. These days, Hal’s hung up his six strings to concentrate on his newly cast role as “Ryan Porter” on CBS-TV’s NCIS: New Orleans.
Check out this playlist of Poets & Pornstars’ 2007 second album; you can learn more about their albums on Discogs.
Groupie is readily available in the online marketplace as a DVD for your rock ‘n’ roll flick collection, but we found a free (with ads) copy over on Roku’s online streaming platform. There also a free (sign in) no-ads stream on Vudu and PPV streams on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and You Tube.
And for Tayrn Manning fans: She stars in another indie rock flick with the always awesome Peter Fonda (the wise ex-rocker), along with Jason Ritter (the troubled rocker) and Lucas Haas (the intrepid journalist), in the pseudo-cliched “road movie” The Perfect Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll (2010), a crossroad where the legends of the “27 Club” meets Eddie and the Cruisers with the dramatic arc and production quality of the rock flicks Almost Famous (based on the downfall of Humble Pie) and Still Crazy (based on the ’80s Animals reunion). Sorry, no freebies on this one, kids. You can check it out as a VOD on Amazon Prime (where it pulls 4 to 5 stars and a 91% approval), Apple iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and You Tube Movies.
* Don’t forget! July 19 to the 25 is “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week,” and we’ve got some great, deep obscurities to rock you all week long!