Editor’s Desk: This review originally ran on October 7, 2020, as part of our October 2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge. We’ve brought it back for John Doe Week.
“I don’t want to take lessons! I wanna have a fucking band! Fucking be like Deicide! Deicide. Yes, Deicide!”
loser leader of the Black Circle Boys
Yeah, maybe the guitar is broke, douche-dick.
I won’t say I hate this movie. But I was certainly disappointed by this movie, considering it “starred” John Doe of X and dealt with a misguided ne’er do well finding solace in black metal music. A group of Satan worshiping dopers want to start a band—and kill people—and John Doe? I’m up for that.
Oh, be careful for what ye hail, black metal and horror film buff.
What we ended up with here is an all-male version of—without the supernatural hocus pocus—1996’s much better The Craft, which also gave us a peek into the teenaged occult, as well as 1987’s The Lost Boys. And, oh shite, this film pulls the ‘ol Eric Roberts (Power 98) bait-n-switch on you.
Either John Doe was cast—in typical Eric Roberts fashion—for one scene just to get a brand name on the box/in the credits, or Doe’s work as a police detective investigating the Black Circle Boys Murders, for whatever reason, ended up on the cutting room floor. And sorry, Donnie Wahlberg is cool these days (and excellent) in TV’s Blue Bloods, but he just isn’t an effective consolation prize when we came to see John Doe (but, truth be told, the ex-New Kids on the Block member, in his third acting role, is very good as Greggo, effeminate Satanist who introduced Shane to the Black Arts). Oh, yeah . . . blink and you’ll miss Lisa Loeb (remember her gal-paldom with Ethan Hawke and hitting the U.S. Top 10 in 1994 with “Stay (I Missed You)” from Reality Bites?) as an “angry goth chick” in a club.
As you can see, the casting on this movie is flat out, upside down FUBAR’d. Why would a production (granted, it’s low budget, but still) take known commodities—that inspire us to rent in the first place—such as John Doe and Lisa Loeb—and place them in one scene cameos; each should be in the larger, respective roles of Detective Roy, played by Victor Morris (NBC-TV’s In the Line of Duty film series and Bigger Than the Sky), and the Dead Head-high schooler Chloe, played by Tara Subkoff (The Last Days of Disco; The Notorious Betty Page).
True, both Morris and Subkoff are affable in the roles, but wouldn’t you, as The Devil’s Advocate (sorry) producer, want to predominately feature Doe and Loeb’s names on the box in smaller type under the leads and copywrite-plug their past, known works on the box’s flipside? Loeb could totally pull off the wiles of a hippy chick high schooler—and you could feature her playing the acoustic guitar and singing a folk song—to the antithesis of the goth kids running the school. And if you’ve seen John Doe’s work in A Matter of Degrees and his co-starring role as Teddy Connor, the leader of the once great Wotan, in the NBC-TV Law & Order: TOS 2003 “Ripped from the Headlines” episode “Blaze” (which took it scripting cues from Great White’s tragic 2003 performance at The Station night club in Rhode Island*), you know that Doe not only carries a film as a lead actor with distinction—he can pull off a goth rocker with class and style. (Sorry, Donnie. No offense. We love Doe ’round these ‘ere Allegheny wilds and crush any actor before him.)
But alas . . . Black Circle Boys was made in 1998 and not 1988; so the producers decided to appeal to the then nostalgic-maturing New Kids on the Block contingent, instead of the ol’ punk codgers (aka myself and B&S boss Sam) who admire John Doe and rocked out to X in the ’80s via The Decline of Western Civilization and Urgh! A Music War. And yeah, David Newsom (ABC-TV’s Homefront) is a fine actor (and now a successful reality television producer; kudos, Dave!), but the divine Dee Wallace Stone of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Howling fame is wasted in her “Eric Roberts Casting” as the troubled mom; Wallace would have been more effectively utilized in Newsom’s larger role as the swim coach-physics teacher hybrid—and being the horndogs we are, even get a few scenes of her in a curve-accentuating one piece. And yes . . . that is the pride of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Richard “Les Nesman” Sanders of WKPX in Cincinnati (check out our review of FM) also being woefully underutilized in his one (uh, I think it was two?) shot role as Principal Dunkel. (At this point, the producers should have called in Eric Roberts—who we friggin’ love like blood around here. And yes, another major f-up by the producers: not having Killing Joke on the soundtrack, Deicide references be damned.)
Now, that’s how you cast, music consult, and sell tickets, kiddies. But alas, I am a schlub writer and not a casting director or music consultant. . . .
So, anyway . . . We meet Kyle (Scott Bairstow of FOX-TV’s Party of Five), a star high school swimmer wallowing in depression over a personal loss (an idiot friend fell off a bridge/water tower and broke his neck while they were drunk; instead of moving on and taking responsibility, Kyle blames “the world”)—which makes him easy pickings for paranoia-poster child Shane Carver (a very good Eric Mabius; big screen debut in Welcome to the Dollhouse, noticed in Cruel Intentions) and his little goth clique, The Black Circle Boys. Kyle is introduced to hard booze, drugs, devil worship, and frog beheadings-by-mouth in quick succession . . . and murder, by way of drug-dealing Rory (an early Chad Lindberg of The Fast and the Furious), a BCB “slave-trainee” by Shane as a form of sacrifice. Along the way the boys start a band, which is an utter failure. So, out of frustration—and a parnoid belief his goth-clique is betraying him—Shane starts killing off the other members of ‘the Circle.
At least I think that’s what happened. Yeah, they lost me. That’s what happens when you deny me of my John Doe fix, boondoggle me with Donnie Wahlberg, and don’t give us the black metal we came for and stick us with a bunch of never-heard-of bargain bin basement clutter that is neither “black” nor “metal” or anything worthy of woof or a tweet. I mean, come on . . . a movie about “black metal murders” that only uses the word “Satan” once? And what in the Sam Hill (another music consultant f-up: no Glenn Danzig and Samhain**) is this B.S. referring to Satan as “Father” all the time? Get the Anton LeVey (The Devil’s Rain) out of here, Mr. Politically Correct screenwriter. Fuck, dude.
And what the hell, bass player? Learn your root, 3rd, and 5th triads. Fuck me. Even the shittiest of shite bassists know ’em. You deserved Shane slashing your throat and tossin’ your lame ass off a bridge. I’d nut-punch you myself, dick breath. The Relentless from American Satan would dissolve you and your “boys” into a puddle just by pissing on ‘ya. Pusswads.
In the end: What we have here is an ineffective, low-budget variant of 1987’s far superior River’s Edge (starring Crispin Glover and Keanu Reeves), in the Black Circle Boys claims in its promotional materials that it is “Based on a True Story.” And while it’s beneath River’s Edge, Ricky 6 — which is also based on Ricky Kasso’s “Satanic Panic” inspiring crime — is better than Black Circle Boys.
F-You, marketing department. Your “true story” and John Doe bait-n-switch be damned, pisses me off. And you too, Mr. Music Consultant.
That “true story” takes us back to Slayer, whose loud and aggressive music—featuring violent themes that would even scare Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath—went beyond the usual horror-film influenced, satanic lyrical themes to include odes to sadism, necrophilia, serial killers, and Nazi death camps. Not helping Slayer’s reputation in the eyes of the Moral Majority was Slayer’s music being predominately featured in the River’s Edge, the film itself based upon the 1981 California murder of Marcy Renee Conrad and the 1984 New York murder of Gary Lauwers, where their troubled-teen killers bragged about and returned to the murder site of their victims.
The most catastrophic example of this ignorance regarding hard rock and heavy metal music was the highly publicized, 1994 West Memphis 3 case in which questionable “evidence” led to the wrongful conviction of three non-conformist boys as murderous Satanists. Their only guilt: a shared interest in rock music, horror films, and unconventional art and books (you know, guys like myself and Sam, B&S About Movies’ boss. And we’re harmless, really).
The occult and the America justice system simmered in a cauldron of abhorrence and ignorance once again in the 1999 Columbine massacre, as satanic-panic maligned the music of shocker-rocker Marilyn Manson and, to a lesser extent, the industrial/goth bands KMFDM and Rammstein as underlying causes. The misguided controversy forced Manson to cancel the remaining dates of his 1999 Rock Is Dead world tour and negatively affected the sales of his third album, Mechanical Animals (1998). Additionally slandered as “co-conspirators” were Oliver Stone, by way of the Quentin Tarantino-scripted Natural Born Killers, in addition to the designers behind the video games Doom, Wolfstein 3D, and Duke Nukem. (A 1999 Rolling Stone article: “Columbine: Whose Fault is It?,” in addition to Dave Cullen’s 2009 in-depth tome, Columbine, examine the tragedy.)
Paving the way for the legal atrocities of the West Memphis 3 was the 1986 case regarding the seminal British metal band, Judas Priest. In that judicial miscarriage against the creative arts, the parents of two Reno, Nevada, teenaged boys sued Judas Priest and its label, Columbia Records, for $6.2 million dollars, claiming the band’s 1978 release, Stained Class, contained backward, subliminal messages that drove the boys to suicide (the court dismissed the case in 1990).
Prior to Judas Priest’s slandering by religious zealots, Ozzy Osbourne, the ex-lead singer of Black Sabbath, became the victim of another bogus suicide-by-rock music claim. Three sets of parents sued the “Prince of Darkness” between 1985 and 1990, claiming the song “Suicide Solution” from Ozzy’s 1980 debut album, Blizzard of Oz, encouraged their young sons to commit suicide—all three cases were eventually dismissed. In an archetypal overreaching misconstrue by the Christian Right blinded by satanic-panic to deflect their parental failures and to excuse the “misadventures” of their own children, the clearly anti-alcohol and an anti-suicide song, with lyrics written by bassist Bob Daisley, was a touching tribute to Bon Scott, the then recently deceased lead singer of AC/DC (AC/DC: Let There Be Rock). Other tomes claim it was actually about Daisley’s concerns regarding Ozzy’s health. Whatever Daisley’s lyrical motivation, the song certainly is not a clarion for teenagers to commit suicide.
Anyway, back to Black Circle Boys.
This ain’t no River’s Edge and director Joe Berlinger’s theatrical, three-film documentary series Paradise Lost is more disturbing and far more engrossing (in addition to the non-fiction books Blood of Innocents by Guy Reel and Mara Leveritt’s Devil’s Knot, both which examine the WM3 tragedy at length; the later book itself was adapted into a 2013 film). If the filmmakers behind Black Circle Boys had only adhered to their source material: David St. Clair’s 1987 expose Say You Love Satan, about 17-year-old Ricky Kasso and the murderous exploits of the Knights of the Black Circle (which resulted in the death of the aforementioned Gary Lauwers).
You can stream Black Circle Boys for free on You Tube, as it is not available on any streaming platforms. Used copies of the unnerving Say You Love Satan are readily available in the online marketplace—it’s a highly suggested read. In fact, read the book instead of watching this movie.
Seriously, though: The appreciation of a film—whether it is good or bad, well-made or poorly made—is based in the age of the viewer; for film appreciation is of a time and place. While I love my horror movies (Phantasm to Rocktober Blood) and my Killing Joke, Samhain, The Misfits, Venom, King Diamond, and Deicide as much as the next guy, I was already ensconced in adulthood (wearing shirts with collars, even ties!) when Black Circle Boys was released. So, if you were in middle school or just starting high school at the time Black Circle Boys was released—as I was when the juvenile delinquency drama Over the Edge was released in 1979—rewatching this film will warm the cockles as your own person “classic” film.
* The Great White tragedy also served as the basis for the Mark L. Lester-directed and Eric Roberts-starring Groupie.
** Glenn Danzig is in the film biz these days. We recently reviewed his film Verotika and Death Rider in the House of Vampires. Yeah, we adore auteur projects and movies with rock stars ’round here. Speaking of which . . . you can get all of the rock ‘n’ roll flicks you can handle with our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week II,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week 3” features from this past July and September, and September 2021, with links to over 100 films reviews.