We had this faith-based film from Johnny Cash on our long list for our most recent “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” (which is actually musically diverse), then our Christian Cinema, aka Christploitation Week, came together, so here we are.
By the time Johnny had the clout to make the movie he always wanted to make — a film that professed his faith — he was already a seasoned film veteran, making his first transition from behind the microphone to the silver screen with a guest-starring role on TV’s Wagon Train (1959) and Shogun Slade (1959). After two more bit roles on The Rebel (1960) and The Deputy (1961), Cash made his feature film debut in Five Minutes to Live, aka Door to Door Maniac (1961). He soon followed with the lead role in the TV movie The Night Rider (1962) and held his own alongside Kirk Douglas in A Gunfight (1971) directed by Lamont Johnson (The Last American Hero).
At the time, “Jesus Rock” was big business, which lead to the film adaptations of the Broadway “Rock Operas” Godspell (via Columbia Pictures) and Jesus Christ Superstar (via Universal Pictures), and Neil Diamond taking the music reins on the film adaptation of the international best-selling novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull(via Paramount Pictures) — all of which were issued in 1973. So, when Johnny Cash pitched his version of the Gospel of Christ set to his original tunes, 20th Century Fox got on board the gospel train. The studio, however, only distributed the film: the production was fully financed by Cash and his wife (who plays Mary Magdalene).
To direct his version on the story on the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection on location in Israel, Cash, the producer, chose noted cinematographer and documentarian Robert Elfstrom, who directed Cash’s 1969 documentary Johnny Cash! The Man, His World, His Music.
As inspired Cash’s idea is — of his black-clad self narrating the story via an acoustic guitar performing original tunes composed by himself, his wife June Carter, and Kris Kristofferson — critics outright hated the movie (Michael Medved even gave it an entry in one of his Golden Turkeys books). Sure, the theology is skewed, the narrative is sappy, and the acting is rough in spots. But there’s a lot of heart (that Medved missed, big surprise) in the frames, and none of the negatives my production-critical eye sees today, as I revisit The Gospel Road all these years later, doesn’t detract from the fact that this was a big deal when it debuted in 1973. I have found memories of going to the theater and watching it as a family. I enjoyed it then, and still, today.
What makes it work is that Jesus (played by Robert Elfstrom) isn’t the pious, serious washcloth-wimp we’ve seen in other depictions. Johnny’s Jesus is a jovial messiah who takes to playing with children on the beaches of the Sea of Galilee. Beautiful stuff, indeed.
In addition to the film, the music in the film also served as Johnny’s fourth gospel album and 45th album overall, a double album issued in 1973. The music is, of course, absolutely fantastic.
Am I blinded by my Johnny Cash fandom? Probably. And this movie may not convert you, but it will certainly move you. Oh, yes. It will move you. Johnny has that way about him. And you can stream it for free on Godtube. You can watch the trailer on You Tube.
My memories of Ben Vereen decked-out in a green sequence suit and Bowler hat like an LSD-induced Frank Gorshin from Batman . . . was, in fact, real.
And my obsession for this MTM project, is real.
There’s nothing quite like watching an actor or musician reaching the top of their profession to relish the schadenfreude of their ego crash, burning down their career — regardless of the fact this received three Primetime Emmys (in technical fields). Such a project is this early ’70s Christian Cinema oddball inspired by The Holy Bible tales of Adam and Eve and the parable of Noah and the Flood.
Yes, step right up!
Menahem Golan’s rock ‘n’ roll take on Eve and that damned apple with The Apple has nothing on this hour-long prime time special written by Jack Good (the Monkees’ equally off-the-hut 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Minute and Patrick McGoohan’s rock ‘n’ roll inversion of Othello with 1974’s Catch My Soul) and co-directed by TV’s Jamie Rogers and Gene McAvoy (Sonny & Cher).
Does The Devil singing the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” — in full cabaret regalia — interest you? Does Ben Vereen (Gas-s-s-s in 1970, later Will Smith’s deadbeat dad in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) in a skin-tight red jump suit, his chest exposed, as he jumps around like David Lee Roth during his Van Halen-prime to the tune of “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations do it for you? No? Perhaps Ms. Moore taking a crack at Cat Stevens’s “Morning Has Broken” — during the Noah’s Flood sequence, while she floats on God’s plaster of Paris hand — floats your boat?
Yeah, didn’t think so. But I implore you, it should.
For watching Moore decimate the carte blanche gained from The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, with this disco-ballet-musical knockoff of The Wizard of Oz — with Ms. Moore as an angelic, Eve-Dorothy amalgamate — is a whole lot of fun. More fun that should be humanly allowed. As fun as Jesus returning during the disco-era to take on the Mafia in White Pop Jesus (1980)? Hey, it’s your thirty pieces of silver to spend however you want.
In her 1995 memoir, After All, Mary Tyler Moore explained that this special was originally going to be titled Mary Tyler Moore Explains the History of the World (Mel Brooks, of course, would do it so much better in 1981 with History of the World: Part I). Mary’s “version of the world” went down in history on Mary’s home channel, CBS-TV — and bombed — on January 22, 1976, taking Ben Vereen (who doubles as Noah and the Devil, in his TV acting debut) and lauded cajun-county fiddler Doug Kershaw (he appeared on Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Rock and Roll Restaurant” and records by Grand Funk Railroad; in the stoner western,Zachariah, and concert doc Medicine Ball Caravan; here, he doubles as Adam and the Devil), acclaimed Boston Pops maestro Arthur Fiedler (as God), and the Manhattan Transfer (angles, devils, and everything else) (who were always annoying, yet very hot before this, and not so much after this), down with the Ark.
Oh, the vanity of Ms. Moore tapping, dancing, and singing her way across the stage to a mixture of rock, pop, and classical tunes (even a good ol’ country Hair-inspired “washboard” number) in a tale about man’s creation, fall, and rebirth. Oh, but it’s not really happening . . . for it is all Mary Tyler Moore’s “dream.”
The “dream” is Mary drifting off to sleep . . . then being whisked away to the Pearly Gates — where Heaven is a giant, Westinghouse Radio (the kind Grandma kept on top of the refrigerator) to meet God (Arthur Fiedler conducting an angelic choir), the Manhattan Transfer show up with several (awful) numbers of musical wisdom, and Ben Vereen in that green tuxedo with a “666” on it, well, not since Jim Carrey in that awful Batman movie.
Does Mary become a cave girl to pull out a Flintstone-sytled bone microphone? Does a giant, plaster-cast “hand of God” save Vereen and Mary’s Mr. and Mrs. Noah from the flood, set to the backing of a Planet of the Apes-styled, waist-deep Statue of Liberty? Does Mary and a cast of Nazi dancers sport some green-glilter, Nazisplotation SS-uniforms for a softshoe? Is that stock film footage of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger making a timely political statement?
Yes to all! Yes. Yes. And, oh, my God. YES! This is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on acid with a speedball chaser. No, it’s not a dream. Mary Tyler Moore in this ersatz collision of Hair tangled with Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar really happened . . . just like those musical variety nightmares of the late ’70s starring the washed-up cast of The Brady Bunch that left our parents snickering and us wee lads and lassies scratching our heads.
Courtesy of the folks at Mod Cinema, we learn the “why” of this ungodly musical: Moore decided that the next season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (which morphed into the dramatic Lou Grant with Ed Asner) would be the last, as she was developing a variety show as her next project. And this “incredible dream” served as the (failed) pilot.
Yeah, uh, no more weekly variety show for Ms. Moore.
Well, not, not really.
During 1978 – 1979 TV season, Moore, once again, attempted the musical-variety genre by starring in two more, unsuccessful CBS variety series. The first was Mary*, which featured a pre-stardom David Letterman, Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz and Dick Shawn in the supporting cast. Making its debut on September 24, 1978, it ran for a total of three, low-rated episodes (its highest ranking was 64th out of 114 shows), until its cancellation on October 8, 1978.
Then, in March 1979, a mere five months after the cancellation of Mary, the network brought Moore back in a new, retooled version called The Mary Tyler Moore Hour**. Described as a groundbreaking “sit-var” (part situation comedy/part variety series), Moore portrayed a TV star putting on a variety show. The show-within-a-show format, which starred the likable and dependable Joyce Van Patten (Bad News Bears, 1976), Ron Rifkin (Silent Running), and a returning Micheal Keaton was cancelled in June 1979 after eleven episodes. Not even guest appearances by Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke, and Gene Kelly — starring as themselves and appearing on the “show” within the show — could save it.
Yes, dear reader, Mary’s Incredible Dream is incredibly, epically delicious. If there’s ever a time where you NEED to waste 51-minutes of your life — at least you’re not losing 9-minutes on commercials — this is it. Watch it on You Tube . . . but I have a feeling this two minute opening of Mary adorned in a flowing, pink chiffon nightie fly upward into the heavens just may be all you need to decide if you want to spend another 51-minutes with this, well, train wreck that gives the teachings of Jesus a bad name.
Oh, by the way . . . if you need to know more (we know you don’t, but anyway) about Mary Tyler Moore, there’s an hour-long Reelz-exclusive documentary (well, 44-minutes, since the TV commercials are cut) Behind the Smile on Tubi.
* Mary Tyler Moore has rabid fans, so yes, you can find episodes and clips of Mary on You Tube.
** Yeah, The Mary Tyler Moore Hour is on You Tube, so take your pick of the clips or episodes.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.
Editor’s Note: Sam Panico previously reviewed this Christian-leaning extensional film as part of our February 2020 “Box Office Failures” theme week of reviews. As we fill out our ever-expanding database of reviews of “Christian Cinema” films from the ’70s that we’ve missed, we brought this film back for another look.
Sam and I are split on this film. But he hasn’t outcast me, as was Jonathan, from the B&S flock. For we are still united in our love of Godfrey Ho and Bruno Mattei films.And there will always be The Astrologer, right Sam?
And what does this all have to do with the “Jesus Rock” movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s? Read on, brother.
The September 17, 1981, cover of Rolling Stone #352, with a picture of Jim Morrison emblazoned on the cover, proclaimed: He’s Hot, He’s Sexy and Dead. In the early ’70s, the same could be said about Jesus Christ, for the Son of God ruled the airwaves and theater screens.
To set up the “why” of this tale of existential seagulls (as well as the “hippie Jesus” romps Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar), we need to look back to the positive message of the “Jesus Rock” movement born out of the disillusioned “Summer of Love” of the late ’60s.
At the time, as Sam Pacino pointed out in his review of the Christian apoc-documentary The Late Great Planet Earth*, the hippie occult generation’s dreams flamed out at Altamont and was annihilated on Cielo Drive. I have to add that, the hippies, whether they accepted it or not, were long since assimilated by Madison Avenue. There was still money to be made at the expense of the “Summer of Love,” for it was no longer an ideal, but a marketing campaign.
Enter Brother J. to breath new life into a down-the-tubes advertising crusade.
The short-lived “Jesus Rock” genre (for a contemporary context: think of the 36-month run of the Nirvana-driven Grunge era) hit its peak in 1972 when the Doobie Brothers scored a Top 40 hit with “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Other bands topping the Billboard charts were the Stephen Stills-led “supergroup” Manassass (with Chris Hillman of the Byrds) and “Jesus Gave Love Away For Free” (1972) (remembering the Byrds started the genre with their 1969-version of the Doobies’ later hit), the folk-rocking “Now Be Thankful” by Fairport Convention (1970), “Jesus is a Soul Man” by Lawrence Reynolds (1970), Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the the Sky” (1970), Charlie Allen and his band Pacific Gas & Electric with “Are You Ready” (1971), Sweathog with “Hallelujah,” “Put Your Hand in the Hand” (1971) by the Canadian band Ocean, “Joy to the World” (1971) by Three Dog Night, and “If You Wanna Get to Heaven” by Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974). Pop music fans forget that Top 40-meister Tommy James of the Shondells followed up his early, playful hits of “Hanky Panky,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and “Mony, Mony” with an album that professed his faith, his second album, Christian of the World (1971); that “Jesus Rock” entry scored two U.S. Top 40 hits with the songs “Draggin’ the Line” and “I’m Coming Home.” (No, the prior song isn’t about cocaine use (“doing lines”), but about the futility of man’s efforts under God.)
Myrrh Records, a leading Christian music label, had their catalog distributed via A&M Records, which brought Petra (a Southern/Country Rock concern) to a national stage. Ohio’s Glass Harp (friends with the Eagles’ Joe Walsh, then of the James Gang), signed with Decca, and the Resurrection Band broke new ground with their Zeppelin/Sabbath “heavy blues” take on the genre. The smash hit, Broadway “Rock Operas” Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell were adapted into films; their respective cast albums and soundtracks topped the charts, with singles from each becoming Top 40 hits for Murray Head, Yvonne Elliman, Helen Ready, and even Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan.
So, with Columbia and Universal releasing their competing films versions of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973 (in March and August, respectively), the odd-studio out, Paramount, wasn’t missing the “Jesus Rock” boat. So they optioned writer Richard Bach’s 1970 best-selling novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And since the book — as did the two stage-to-films that inspired its production — didn’t come with a soundtrack, Paramount, through Columbia Records (his label), contracted Neil Diamond to write a companion piece to the book/film. Yes, Neil Diamond, the bane of many’s musical existence (not me), made a “Jesus Rock” album — and topped the album and singles charts.
Jonathan (aka Jesus Christ, voiced by James Francisus) tires of the boring life in his sea-gull clan. So he experiments with new, always more daring flying techniques (putting way the flesh and finding his spiritual side). Since his spiritual quest goes against the communal grains, the flock’s elders (Hal Holbrook) expel him from the clan (as was, if you know your Bible, Jesus). So Jonathan sets out upon the Earth to discover wisdom, find disciples, and a higher reason for being.
Needless to say, the general public had a hard enough time comprehending spiritually conflicted, sentient computers and alien interpretations of heaven as an all white-luxury hotel suite, as an astronaut traveled his “inner space” in 2001: A Space Odyssey. So, most — film critic Roger Ebert infamously walked out of the film — weren’t going for intelligent seagulls backed by a Neil Diamond soundtrack.
The seagulls, of course, do not actually talk; you’re hearing their “thoughts,” as it were, courtesy of a voice cast rounded out by Juliet Mills and Richard Crenna. You have to give Hall Bartlett credit, who, without the benefits of CGI or animation, somehow managed to film seagulls and frame it with dialog to give us an impression the gulls, in fact, talk.
If Roma Downey and her husband/producing cohort Mark Burnett (who found great success with their The Bible miniseries and 2014’s Son of God) remade this, courtesy of technology, the gulls — as do all of the animals in today’s films and television commercials, would actually, “talk.”
But let’s let this one be.
If you enjoyed the book — which many (criminally) dismissed as metaphysical drivel and thus, hated the movie — you’ll love the movie, a movie that is of its time and place: a time when seagulls could talk and Jesus was, in fact, “hot, sexy and dead.”
You can enjoy the soundtrack, in its entirety, on You Tube. The film is easily found on multiple PPV streaming platforms.
Ricky Kasso, an American teenager who murdered his friend, Gary Lauwers, in an alleged (it wasn’t) “Satanic sacrifice” during the summer of 1984, is a name we’ve oft-spoken on the digitized pages of B&S About Movies. We’ve examined his giving-metal-a-bad-name exploits (but, as we come to learn through the frames of The Acid King: it was actually the media’s fault, not Kasso’s) in our reviews of the Keanu Reeves-starring River’s Edge (1986), Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat at Dawn (1988) (by way of his short film, My Sweet Satan (1994), based on Kasso’s exploits; he opines extensively, here), and a rather weak attempt at dramatizing the horrors as Black Circle Boys (1998). Other films based on David St. Clair’s (since discredit) book, Say You Love Satan (1987), are the better, Canadian-produced Ricky 6 (2000) (written and directed by Peter Filardi; he wrote The Craft in 1996), and the even weaker, fictionally-based Under Surveillance (2006) (aka Dark Chamber, starring underground horror queen Felissa Rose). Prior to these films, there was the gritty, B&W short (thirty-minutes) that fictionalized the myth: Where Evil Dwells (1985).
In the release-wake of The Acid King, we can also look forward to that film’s producer, Chandler Thistle, soon-to-be-released, ’70s drive-in styled throwback on the life of Ricky Kasso: Lucifer’s Satanic Daughter (2022), a film which plays it loose with the tale: after sacrificing his best friend, Ricky really does summon a witch.
While the aforementioned David St. Clair’s book was the first document on Ricky Kasso’s life — one that quickly became a best-selling paperback (a “bible” we carried in our back pockets, as we did with the Jim Morrison paperback tale, No One Here Gets out Alive*) — that Dell Books’ paperback was left to fall out-of-print when it was discovered St. Clair’s work was not only heavily fictionalized: it also plagiarized several portions of “Kids in the Dark,” a November 1984 exposé on Kasso written by David Breskin for Rolling Stone.
The Acid King — the film — in turn, is not based on St. Clair’s discredited work, but Jesse P. Pollack’s own, well-received Simon Schuster book of the same name: a responsibly-written, nonfiction account of Ricky Kasso’s life; one that contains, not speculations or plagiarisms, but first-hand interviews with Ricky Kasso’s friends, family, and the investigators who worked the case. Pollack also takes it one step further: he examines the irresponsible, sensationalist journalism that led to the creation of St. Clair’s work and its inspiration in the creation of the above noted films (and as we learn from the film: bands and their song catalogues).
Pollack is a writer of distinction when it come to New Jersey-New York-bred crimes. His first book, Death on the Devil’s Teeth (2015), investigated the somewhat similar, 1972 murder (occult sacrifice) on the cold case of Jeannette DePalma. Born and raised in the garden state of New Jersey, Pollack serves as a contributing writer for Weird NJ magazine, since 2001. As an accomplished musician, his soundtrack work appears in Driving Jersey, an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary series. (The soundtrack to The Acid King, not so much a “soundtrack,” but a montage of queasy-inducing, Blair Witch-styled noises, is an excellent complement to its subject matter that needs its own release.)
While I enjoy film documentaries (especially true-crime documents, then music docs; since The Acid King is amalgamate, it’s a win-win) I know the documentary-storytelling format isn’t for everyone. So, while I do not mind this insightful investigation’s one hour fifty-minute running time (a limited-edition “work print” briefly streamed on Amazon in October 2019 at two hours twenty-three minutes), that length — mostly narrated by talking heads — may discourage others to stream it. That’s my only reservation towards the film: the length, for the work, as result of its honest desire to finally set the story, straight, encourages (an engaging) steaming. As we’ve discussed many times at B&S About Movies: We are no longer in the lands of ’90s indie theatrical features distributed by the likes of Fine Line Features, Fox Searchlight, and Miramax, and 80-minute home video DVDs. Today’s distribution platform is all about digital streaming and the new distribution model allows filmmakers to break the rules when it comes to the art of storytelling. Filmmakers, today, can bypass studios, self-distribute and go straight the consumer — while indulging and not commercially compromise their vision.
The 30-plus minutes edited out of the 2019 work print-version for this 2021 streaming-relaunch are the film’s sidebars to other “Satanic Panic” cases from the ’80s in the wake of the Ricky Kasso case (we discuss those cases in our reviews of Black Circle Boys and River’s Edge); the new-distributed version concentrates on Ricky’s case, as it was the “Satanic Panic” harbinger. Other superfluous, irrelevant interviews (too much talking-headin’ from Jim Van Beeber and musicians who weren’t there; too much Amityville Horror tangents**) have been excised. Still, even with that earlier version’s narrative and production faux-pas (mostly in sound): the film is still real; its honesty in documenting the unfiltered truth is to be commended.
In reviewing the previous coverage of Ricky Kasso’s crimes, until The Acid King, the only U.S.-made examinations as to the “whys” behind Kasso’s crimes was “The Devil Worshipers” (1985), a thirty-minute, ABC-TV episode of the hour-long news magazine-program 20/20, “Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground” (1988), a prime-time episode of the syndicated Geraldo series hosted by Geraldo Rivera, and “Occult Killers” (2012), an episode of The Biography Channel’s (later to LMN) Killer Kids series (S1:E1). Another is a critically-derided, hour-length Australian news magazine television document, “Satan in the Suburbs” (2000), which opted to enhance its insights with superfluous, A&E-styled “reenactments” of the events (some of which came from the movie, Ricky 6).
Considering those are hour-long programs, once you add in commercials, the actual running-time of those programs is about 40 to 45 minutes. I’ve read both, Say You Love Satan and The Acid King, and those episodic TV documents are greatly truncated, merely scratching the investigative surfaces: they’re also irresponsible, “Satanic Panic” agenda-driven pieces. The irresponsibility of those television, as well as magazine and newspaper, journalists (sans the responsible work of Rolling Stone‘s David Breskin) were exasperated by David St. Clair’s wreckless, religious-driven journalistic mania for the Paul and Jan Couch TBN crowd (Clip 1 and Clip 2 of their son Paul’s “Backmasking Special”; their minion, Pastor Gary, and his show, “The Eagle’s Next”: Clip 1, Clip 2, and Clip 3).
Jesse P. Pollack’s book is not only vastly superior to St. Clair’s (regardless of the controversies surrounding the book — which we did not know at the time of its release — it is still a well-written, entertaining read), his film is a superior, accurate account against those TV episodic documentaries. Where all other accounts stop, and inaccurately dismissed Ricky Kasso as the leader of a rock music-driven Satanic cult, Pollack’s film takes the necessary steps to examine the media’s irresponsible, “Satanic Panic” aftermath that came to influence (by way of duping, we learn) filmmakers and musicians. As The Acid King points out: Ricky’s crime is not to be excused; however, it was not a case of his being a “perfect kid” who started smoking joints, discovered Ozzy Osbourne’s music, then fell under Satan’s influence and decided to “sacrifice” someone.
While Jesse P. Pollack’s work is not as visually engaging as Tom O’Dell’s stellar, final documentary word on Charles Manson’s life with Manson: Music From an Unsound Mind (2019)**, or Joe Berlinger’s three-part Paradise Lost film franchise (1996/200/2011) on the tragic West Memphis 3 case, Pollack’s film is, nonetheless, an accurately-crafted, against-the-budget final word on the life and ongoing influence of Ricky Kasso. The Acid King also serves as a lesson to organized religion and big media: get the facts straight and enough with the self-serving sensationalism. And the fact that Ozzy Osbourne wasn’t on a recruiting drive for Satan, AC/DC doesn’t mean “Anti-Christ Devil Child,” KISS doesn’t mean “Kids in Satan’s Service,” W.A.S.P doesn’t mean “We Are Sexual Perverts” (or, insert your eyeroll: “We Are Satan’s Pawns”), and Tipper Gore was simply a woman with too much time on her hands who created the “Satanic Panic” industry.
The Acid King is a film that needs to exist about a man who shouldn’t have existed and a myth that should not have been created by an insatiable media and delusional religious fervor in the first place (but let’s not transform Kasso into a modern-day, Masonesque anti-folk hero for t-shirts and posters; he’s a murderer, after all). It’s a past that needs to be chronicled . . . so we do not repeat it.
But we always do, don’t we? We are human, after all.
And some of us are more human than others. And the less human do end up on tee-shirts and become infamous. . . .
The Acid King premieres-on-demand on November 9 through Wild Eye Releasing. You can learn more about the best-selling and acclaimed paperback that serves as the film’s basis at Goodreads, as well as sample several pages at Amazon Prime. You can learn more about the film and Jesse P. Pollack’s wares on Twitter, Instagram, and Simon and Schuster. Pollack also speaks at length with Micheal Whelan on his Unresolved podcast (45 minutes).
Update, March 2022: You can now watch The Acid King as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi.
* We get down and dirty with Jim Morrison in our review of Larry Buchanan’s “What If” tale, Down on Us. We also discuss AC/DC’s lone feature film that broke them in the U.S., Let There Be Rock — a production ironically connected to the “No False Metal” classic, Rocktober Blood.
** We discuss the earlier influences Charles Manson had on filmmakers of the ’70s with our review of Lee Madden’s The Night God Screamed. We also discuss the religious and journalistic mania surrounding Ricky Kasso’s ’70s doppelganger: Ronald DeFeo, Jr., in our “Exploring: Amityville” featurette.
“Between the worlds and music, something evil was tearing them apart.” — Vidmark’s alternate, copywriter hornswogglin’
As the televangelist-inspiring carnival barkers of old once said, “Step right up! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
So, if you are keeping track of your rock ‘n’ roll flicks, and we know you are, you know that Michael Paré (Moon 44) and Sean Patrick Flanery (Boondock Saints, forever!) each made two of them: Sean Patrick Flanery made this, and the even more obscure grunge chronicle, Girl (2000), while Michael Paré made this, and Eddie and the Cruisers.
In Girl, Flanery was an ersatz-Cobain who becomes the love interest of a wayward, college-bound high school girl. In Eddie and the Cruisers, Paré was an ersatz-Jim Morrison who faked his death.
Here, Flanery’s aspiring, oh-so-not-metal rocker (which a film of this genre needs: metal) runs afoul of Paré’s, well, faux-Tom Cruise — if his Stacee Jaxx from the abysmal Rock of Ages was running Scientology and brainwashing teens into hard rock zombies, like Damian in Black Roses. Oh, only if this film were as cool as that last sentence. . . . If this film was as cool as American Satan.
I just don’t know how to describe Raging Angels . . . this political sci-fi rock n’ roll heavy metal horror romantic musical (Phew!). I don’t know how to assume the “Christian” intent of the film, if any . . . what was its spiritual inspiration? And with five screenwriters (well, two on “story” and three scribes) — and with our fair director taking an “Alan Smithee” credit (plot spoiler: It’s Asian actress Hisako Tsukuba aka’ing on the writing front as Chako van Leeuwen; this is a “Chako Film International Production,” after all) — there’s no way to know whom is wholly responsible for this biblical-plot plethora pathos of analog schadenfreude. (One of the scribes taking a pass on it was Kevin Rock, who worked on sequels to The Howling, Warlock, and The Philadelphia Experiment, as well as Roger Corman’s rights-holding tax shelter, The Fantastic Four.)
Imagine Menahem Golan’s biblical tale of the Book of Genesis‘ Adam and Eve colliding with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust in The Apple, with its subplot regarding the power of love and music . . . and you thought producer Richard Zanuck greenlighting Russ Meyer, an independent X-rated filmmmaker, and Roger Ebert, a first time, inexperienced screenwriter, for a 20th Century Fox “sequel” with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was a weird picture, with its cautionary tale of innocent hopefuls chewed up and shat out by the Tinseltown music industry.
I just don’t know. . . .
Did the tape of Jon Mikl Thor’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare end up inside the VHS sleeve of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead on Hisako Tsukuba’s personal home video shelf? Perhaps, after watching Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate — and taking into consideration his work as a metal head and musician River’s Edge and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure — Tsukuba decided to re-imagine Al Pacino’s Lucifer-as-a-lawyer as a cult-leading rock star? Perhaps it was one too many spins of the likes of ’80s Christian (aka “White Metal”) bands Stryper, Believer, Deliverance, Holy Solider, Messiah Prophet, Whitecross, Trouble (okay, settle, they’re “Doom Metal”), and X-Sinner? (If only I just rattled off the soundtrack listing with that sentence, but alas, I have not.)
Oh, the majesty of it all, with this film’s pinches from Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (Gramercy’s concert hall headquarters; the concert assassination), They Live (recruiting the wayward homeless to boost their ranks), and John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (conspiracy, subversion, and government overthrow).
The beauty of Raging Angels is that it is inherently meta: The filmmakers (well, again, Asian actress Hisako Tsukuba, who co-produced Joe Dante’s Piranha, as well as ALL of its sequel/remakes) are using film to push what is best described as a (Tsukuba’s) socialism viewpoint; that a united, one-world welfare state under a supreme leader is the only way for the world to succeed in perpetual peace — which is the very message pushed by the film’s rock star-cum-celebrity spokesperson, Tom Cruise, er, Colin Gramercy (Paré). Ah, it turns out, Gramercy (in a plot twist), isn’t Satan-as-a rocker; he’s been brainwashed by Satan (a George Soros-styled billionaire philanthropist) as the chief advocate for a dopey, 501 c3 tax-evading pseudo-religion masquerading as a “self-help” book and tape-schilling amalgamate.
Like Daddy Rich pimpin’ his prosperity theology says: “There’s a good place in this world for money, and it’s right here in my pocket.”
Yes, praise Green Jesus! By watching this film . . . you will see the light! For watching Raging Angels will quell the “raging angels” within. This film will lead to your spiritual enlightenment . . . as you will learn how to be “your own god.” Yes you can! Just like “prosperity gospel” (i.e., “money gospel”) megachurch overseers Joel Olsteen and Creflo Dollar whom “God tells” to pick the pockets of the flock to buy the Houston Astrodome (to turn into a church; get those flood victims out of here: this ain’t no horse stable with mangers) and private 747s (fitted in real gold-plated fixtures, natch) to “spread the good word.” Hey, God can’t live or fly in junk, dear flockster. Hey, there, Lamor “Brooklyn Bishop of Bling” Whitehead (finally caught by the F.B.I). So, forget that utility bill and tithe to Gramercy: for “God” will provide the water, light, and curb-side pick-ups. The Coalition for World Unity will provide the room and board and you’ll never have to work again . . . as long as you “obey” the word. OBEY!
Eh, sorry, Ol’ Scratch, for I’ve stopped believing. Your attempt to brainwash me into socialism via a bad movie . . . you created a recruitment video for atheism. Besides, your film doesn’t even have backmasking? How can you make a movie with this subject matter and not have someone playing records backwards!
Anyway . . . our not-so-metal-warrior, Chris D’Amico (Flanery), is an arrogant, temperamental rocker on the way up who believes in his hype; and with his alcohol abuse out of control, his band sacks him. And the band he fronts is . . . none other that the aforementioned Holy Solider — ripping through Ronnie James Dio-era Rainbow with “Gates of Babylon” (on screen; here’s the clip), which is this film’s lone high mark (on the soundtrack we also hear their original, “The Pain Inside of Me“). And Chris ends up like Pete Best and Chad Channing (know your Nirvana heritage), as Holy Soldier nets a deal and achieves great success . . . as a metal band . . . during the height of the grunge era (put a pin in that, for more, later).
So, our now penniless rocker, who has beat the bottle and stowed the cockiness, needs a gig. He and his musician-girlfriend, Lila Ridgeway (ex-daytime TV actress Monet H. Mazur, in her feature film debut), audition for gigs in Colin Gramercy’s new, worldwide satellite-cable concert (Paré, unlike in his star-making turn as Eddie, actually sings here, with “The Hunger”). And Colin wants Lila as a back up singer, who quickly falls under the cult-rocker leader’s spell (for all good televangelists have that enclave of chicks to help work through those sermons), but not Chris.
Uh, oh . . . but Lila is changing. She’s not the same girl, anymore. And the drinking didn’t make Chris wreck his car, it was Satan (literally; a ghostly image appears in the windshield). But Lila ain’t buying the excuses, anymore. She dumps him on Gramercy’s word.
Cue Chris’s Grandma Ruth (Shelley Winters!), who, thanks to her horrific dreams and visions (that screws up his new band’s audition), starts with the nagging warnings that “Chris is in danger.” Well, the demons won’t have any of that. Let the demon attack begin. But not before our dead Grandma recruits the eccentric, religious-psychic-preacher Sister Kate (Diane Ladd!) to save Chris and Lila’s souls from eternal damnation. The demeaning of Jesus Christ down to evil-warding, biblical-verse spells and religious trinkets, ensues.
Eh, on the upside: everyone is trying. Grandma Shelly and Aunt Diane are going at it with gusto, and Sean Patrick and Paré always sell the drama — no matter how awful it usually is, as is the case with most of their films.
Yes, the final good vs. evil showdown we’ve been waiting for at Colin’s global, subliminal worldwide satellite concert, is here — the concert that will transform the citizens of Earth to the Coalition for World Unity way-of-life once and for all! Well . . . I think it’s best you watch the clip of the final battle, for the rest of the story.
(Sorry video embed elves, not this time; we’re hyperlinkin’ the final battle clip.)
See what we mean . . . did you click through?
Where’s Jon Mikl Thor when we need his bare-chested, bad-ass metal warrior self? Where’s Billy Eye Harper, Lynn Starling and Headmistress with the epic concert show closer? Ah, now I see why the CWU needs to subliminal message their concert: because the concert, with their screeching Christian symphonic rocker signing, Mozart (“One World”), and Colin Gramercy’s “life changing” epic, “The Hunger,” is — as is any Christian “rock concert” held in a church’s chapel-cum-gymcafeditorium that I’ve been too — absolutely, utterly awful (and when you realize the music sucks, they “kidnap” you by blocking the door and will not let you leave before the show’s over . . . and not even then. Screw you, One Bad Pig. Your Red Hot Chilli Peppers-for-Jesus schtick, sucked. At least Ronnie James Dio didn’t abduct me and force me to listen and indoctrinate me).
And that is what is ultimately missing from Raging Angels, the one thing that would have taken this Satan-steals-souls-with-rock-music mess over the top: a soundtrack on the level of the “No False Metal” classic Black Roses. For Raging Angels needs the likes of Lillian Axe, Lizzy Borden, and Carmine Appice’s King Kobra masquerading as the faux bands of the film. This film needed Metal Blade Records’ Brian Slagel as its music consultant to transcend it as the “No False Metal” classic it so wants to be . . . and utterly fails to be.
Granted, Sean Patrick Flanery impresses here (yes that is him singing, with “Come In My Mind“; in fact, here he is belting “One Step Forward” in Girl), but for as much as I enjoy any film with the ‘Flan, his character and the related songs are a bit too — through no fault of his own — douchy to pull off the demonic side of the proceedings. The rest of the soundtrack’s mostly B-Side castoffs — faux-Led Zeppelin’ers Kingdom Come (“What Love Can Be”), Golden Earring (?) (“Twilight Zone”), Boston (“Livin’ for You”), The Mission U.K (“Wasteland”), and well, what do you know, the aforementioned Stryper (“To Hell with the Devil”), and Sweden’s “dance rockers” Army of Lovers (“Supernatural”) (a big deal in Europe, but not in the U.S.) — just aren’t lathing the grooves on my vinyl. And, yes, shockingly, that snippet of “Arrow” by a band called Candlebox is the very same, we-relocated-the-band-to-Seattle-to-be-a-grunge-band, Candlebox. (Odette Springer, who scored Cirio H. Santiago’s Mad Max-rips Dune Warriors and Raiders of the Sun, scores here, as well as co-writing, with Hisako Tsukuba, Monet Mazur’s character’s vocal showcase, “I’m Crying Out for You.”)
And if the lack of metal in this Satanic music flick ain’t cuttin’ it, then, chances are, neither are the not-so-special effects.
When was this made? Well, based on the dated-soundtrack, certainly not during the post-1990 grunge-era. Raging Angels reeks as a film shot at some point during the hair metal ’80s — courtesy of its à la Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, practical-sfx rubbery monsters (taking into account that film’s epic “Plan 9 from Outer Space” Satan vs. Angel battle) and burgeoning-technology CGI. Yeah, the dank n’ moldy aromas of years-languishing on the shelf — as most “Alan Smithee” films do — to then be thou looseth on the shelves of oneth’s local Blockbuster Video, permeates.
In the end, what we ultimately have in the frames of Raging Angels isn’t a errant, “No False Metal” heavy-metal horror film: we have an evangelical Christian Cinema precursor to the rash of low-budget, direct-to-video evangelical Revelation/Apocalypse films triggered by Christian author Tim LaHaye’s mid-’90s end-of-the-world Left Behind novel series. Those best-sellers were, of course, produced into a tetraology franchise by Canadian’s Paul and Peter LaLonde Christian-based Cloud Ten Pictures, which specializes in end-times films.
So, forget about the Black Roses and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare analogies. The true spiritual cousins to Raging Angels are those proselytizing flicks starring past-their prime actors, such as the Apocalypse tetraology (1998 – 2001) with Gary Busey, Corbin Bernsen, Jeff Fahey, Margot Kidder, Mr. T, and Nick Mancuso, Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004), with Eric Roberts and Stephen Baldwin, David A.R White’s dopey Rapture-flicks, such as The Moment After (which rip off Schwarzenegger’s End of Days to lesser-and-lesser effect), and the biggie of the bunch: The Omega Code starring Casper Van Dien and Michael York. Raging Angels is all of those premillennialist flicks — only with a Satan-recruits-with-music plot device, and worse production values.
Eh, whatever, ye leaders of the CWU. If douchy music from tapered haircut and scruffy soul-patched dudes is the way to global peace, then give thee chaos. At least Satan has better music to-be-brainwash-by. At least I learned that the way to rock is to sling my axe behind my back and wear glittery tank tops.
Here’s the trailer to check out. As for the VHS tapes: they’re out there, but watch out for those DVDs, they’re grey DVD-r rips. And while they look really good, I am still not jammin’ on those Euro Region 2 copies, either. Emptor the caveats and know your regions before you go hard digital, kids.
In all of my years coveting this film for the VHS collection, I never found a copy. Sure, I could easily buy a copy online these days, but, well . . . it’s just not the same as discovering a copy in a video store’s cut out bin — or at today’s library book drives or second hand stores, is it? For the joy is the thrill of the analog chase and the celluloid discovery . . . and then having your expectations deflated as you struggle to get through the movie, and then apologize to your VCR.
Eh, I’ll just free-with-ads stream it on Tubi with ya’ll.
Hey, Scorpion Releasing! You need to do for Raging Angels what you did for The Apple and get this out on Blu-ray. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. . . .
Coming the first week of December. . .
We’re reviewing a week of classic — and heavy-handed — early ’70s Christian films with our upcoming “Exploring: Christian Cinema of the ’70s” featurette. So, join us on Wednesday, December 1 through the Sunday, December 5 . . . “join us . . . join us. . . .”
Producer, writer and director Peter Filardi is a name you know by way of his writing and producing the critically-mixed but box-office successful horror, Flatliners (1990), and the better critically-received and even more box-office successful, The Craft (1996). So, after writing a film about the near-death experience and witchcraft-pursuing teenage girls, it made sense that Filardi, for his third feature film, would tap the myth and legend of drugs, satanism, and murder in the upper class town of Northport, Long Island, in 1984 perpetrated by Ricky Kasso. (In the film: we are in the upscale enclave of Harmony.)
The life and ongoing influence of Ricky Kasso, an American teenager who murdered his friend, Gary Lauwers, along the windswept, Long Island Sound shores are examined at length in Jesse P. Pollack soon-to-be-released documentary The Acid King (2021). In the pages of B&S About Movies, we discussed Kasso’s exploits — and the dangers of the media-driven and religious-opportunistic “Satanic Panic” movement of the ’80s — with our review of River’s Edge (1986). Prior to Filardi’s nonfiction take on the material, Jim Van Bebber (Deadbeat at Dawn) released the short film, My Sweet Satan (1994). The first full-length feature film attempt at bringing Ricky Kasso’s exploits to the big screen was the more fictionalized, Black Circle Boys (1998).
Courtesy of the success of his first two productions, Orion Pictures (ironical releasing the 1978 juvenile delinquency classic, Over the Edge) gave Peter Filardi the opportunity to direct his first feature film: one that garnered two nominations for “Best International Film” at the 2000 Fantasia Film Festival and 2001 Fantasporto Festival — while winning the “Audience Prize” at the Fantasia Festival. It is also to be noted that the cinematographer, here, is three-time Academy Award-nominated Rodrigo Prieto, who received those nods for his work on Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Martin Scorsese’s Silence (2016) and The Irishman (2019). Prieto also lensed Eminem’s 8 Mile (2002) and Scorese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and is the winner of four Ariels (Mexico’s Oscars).
As with Black Circle Boys: David St. Clair’s since discredited, best-selling paperback, Say You Love Satan (1987), fueled Filardi’s more fact-based tale. Then, the film — appropriately filmed in the geographically-similar St. George, New Brunswick, Canada — vanished. Never commercially released by the studio, outside of a smattering of horror-centric film festival showings, the film went, appropriately enough, underground, and came to find a cult audience as a bootlegged VHS and DVD. (There are rumors that DVD copies (generic or “work print” DVD-r rips, or consumer-grade packaged DVDs?) were given to the cast and crew upon the film’s completion. As of 2017, the film began appearing online through fans’ video-sharing accounts and torrent sites.)
So what went wrong?
Well, the film’s closing disclaimer telling us that “some parts of the film were fictionalized, with many names changed and some characters invented” is disconcerting, but what biographical film — regardless of studio or budget — hasn’t taken those narrative liberties?
One Letterboxd reviewer compares Ricky 6 as the WB’s Dawson’s Creek meets River’s Edge (comparisons to a Katie Holmes TV series isn’t a good sign). Another user compares it as Richard Linklater’s ’70s stoner-comedy classic Dazed and Confused meets Lords of Chaos (never a film so anticipated has so disappointed me).
So what do we have here: just another forgotten, ’90s teen-horror romp or a dark, true crime film? For this reviewer: the latter. If anything, the inferior — and more fictionalized Kasso account in Black Circle Boys — is the tenny-bopper misfire.
Peter Filardi has never publicly spoken about the troubles shrouding his lone directing effort (it is, however, horror message boards-rumored the primary copyright holder on the film currently serves time in a South American prison). Filardi has since backed the modernized remakes and sequels to his two previous films, Flatliners and The Craft, as well as adapting Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot as a 2004, two-part mini-series. At press time, there’s no (online) insights from Filardi himself or the mainstream horror press to discover as to what went wrong on the production. Usually, even when a film fails at finding a theatrical release, it finds itself dumped into paid-cable channel rotation (refer back to the aforementioned Over the Edge, which became an oft-run HBO cult favorite in the early ’80s).
In addition to Orion Pictures, KatzSmith Productions — a shingle that later found solo success with their reboot adaptation of Stephen King’s It (2017), as well as Child’s Play (2019) — along with British Columbia-based Bron Studios — which later found acclaim with the DC franchise entry Joker (2019), as well as the “woke”-rebooted Candyman (2021) — backed the film. Three production companies on one film spells trouble. Then there’s those opening credits of six producers. And that the film was an American-Mexican-Canadian film production (chiefly by Terry G. Jones, Juan-Carlos Zapata, and William Vince, respectively). So, with that many fingers in the creative pie, rest assure: we’re dealing with a legal morass that not even the dark prince himself can escape.
Vincent Kartheiser (who came to star on the WB’s Angel from 2002 to 2004 and Mad Men from 2007 to 2015; he’s now on the channel’s DC entry, Titans) stars as Kasso, aka Ricky Cowen (“Coven”; cows are a “graven image”), our drug-dealing Satan worshiper. Patrick Renna, who the many know as Hamilton “Ham” Porter in The Sandlot, thespin-shines in a dark, mature role as one of Cowen’s co-conspirators (Ollie, aka the real life Albert Quinones who turned state’s witness) who murders Tweasel (a one-and-done Richard M. Stuart), our drug-stealing, ersatz Gary Lauwers. The always spot-on reliable Kevin Gage (all the way back to Dee Snider’s Strangeland; devastating in David DeFalco’s controversial Chaos) is perfect is his small role as Pat Pagan, aka “Pagan Pat” Toussaint, who took a fatherly interest in Ricky — and introduced him to Satanism. (When police began questioning him in the murder — of which he had no part — he committed suicide-by-train. Since the narrative is voice-over driven by the film’s faux-Jimmy Troiano, the narrative never transitions to Pat’s perspective; so we’re “told” of the suicide.)
While the film ignores some historical accuracy for the sake of narrative and takes low-budgetary stabs at depicting our malcontents’ drug trips and Ricky eventually meeting Satan himself (in a fire-stern swamp inside a hollow tree trunk; backed by Disembowelment’s “Your Prophetic Throne of Ivory”), as well as a murder-intent Jesus in a supermarket, Peter Filardi, while not the most visually stunning director, is a serviceable one, nevertheless (most likely discouraged by the film’s legal boondoggling to never direct, again). He captures — unlike the previous Black Circle Boys — Ricky Kasso’s (in hindsight) heartbreaking, downward spiral of parental mental abuses, drug addiction, homelessness, and discovering a misguided solace in the occult.
Unlike Black Circle Boys, and as with River’s Edge: Filardi did right in supporting the discontent by bankrolling an era-appropriate soundtrack featuring “The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden, “Screaming in the Night” by Krokus (who also appeared on Mad Foxes), “Rainbow in the Dark” by Dio, “Street of Dreams” by Rainbow, and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division. Contrary to fan-opinions: “And the Cradle Will Rock” by Van Halen does not appear in the film; that familiar “Eddie” guitar riff is an effective, ersatz copy by Abel Ferrara’s go-to composer Joe Delia (Ms. 45 and Driller Killer). (Too bad there’s no AC/DC, Ricky’s favorite band, and some Metallica and Slayer in the frames. Ah, those licensing rights: which is why our faux-Ricky doesn’t wear any concert shirts. In reality: Ricky Kasso lived in concert tees and jerseys.)
The rest of the capable, strong cast features Sabine Singh: in her feature film debut, you’ve seen her work in the U.S. teen soaps Charmed and Dawson’s Creek. Emmanuelle Chriqui rose through the thespin-ranks to co-star alongside Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess with Zohan, as well as currently starring as Lana Lang in TV’s Superman & Lois; you’ve also seen her as a cast regular on HBO’s Entourage and the modern horror classic, Wrong Turn (2003). Chad Christ (the tale comes from his POV, so he provides the we-can-do-without narrative voice-over as Tommy Portelance, aka the real life Jimmy Troiano, also arrested in the murder) has since left the business, but is best remembered in the late ’90s alt-rock comedy, Jawbreaker. (Chriqui, in a promotional interview for Wrong Turn, briefly spoke about working on Ricky 6 in an issue (possibly June 2003; #223) of Fangoria.)
I loved The Craft and enjoyed Peter Filardi’s take on Salem’s Lot; let’s face it: adapting-compressing Stephen King isn’t an easy task. So, to my critical end: I enjoyed Filardi’s honesty in not only chronicling Ricky Kasso’s exploits, but speculating as to what was going on inside Kasso’s mind: did he really think he finally met Satan in the flesh? So, yes: I wished it all would have worked out for Peter Filardi, as it surely hurt to have his labor of love — his directing debut, no less — cast into legal limbos for now, 21 years. (The only time any parts of the film were officially seen came result of segments of Ricky 6 recycled as “reenactment” padding in the hour-long, 2000 Australian television documentary, Satan in the Suburbs.)
Now, that’s not to say Ricky 6 is a great film: but it’s not an awful film, either. Again, it’s a film where I appreciate Filardi’s serious take on the material — and his ability to work against a slight budget — when compared against the inferior, more comical, over-the-top acted, first feature-length take on Ricky Kasso’s life with Black Circle Boys. Now, before you hate on me for not raving about the film: As we spoke about in our review of Black Circle Boys: 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. So, if you were in middle school or just starting high school at the time Ricky 6 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.
While Ricky 6 does result in one to reflect back on those dramatic, teenage misanthropes from Over the Edge (1978) and River’s Edge (1984), and the comical, retro-’70s counterpart of Dazed and Confused (1993), Filardi’s lone directing effort is not to the standards set by those classics. We certainly don’t want the brutality of say, the aforementioned David DeFalco’s controversial Chaos (2005), but we do want Atom Egoyan’s beautifully acted and production solid (but wholly unnecessary, in light of Joe Berlinger’s acclaimed, three-part Paradise Lost franchise) Devil’s Knot (2013; based on Mara Leveritt’s Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three). In fact, when considering Joe Berlinger — in what I thought was a fine, well-made, first fiction film for the documentarian — gave us the dramatic metafilm, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), I believe he would bring us a definitive Ricky Kasso narrative film.
It’s also too bad that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has aged-out to play Ricky Kasso; if you’ve seen his work in the Metallica soundtrack-backed Hesher (2010), you know what I mean — but Joe would give us one hell of a Pagan Pat. Thinking about Over the Edge: Again, Vincent Kartheiser is mighty fine (maybe a little too soft, clean n’ cute as some have said), here: but can you see Matt Dillon as Ricky Kasso and Micheal Kramer as Jimmy Troiano, as they, instead of tossing him in the lake: kill the narc drug-dealing Tip? Yeah, Over the Edge with a “Satanic Panic” backstory: that’s the Ricky Kasso theater ticket, right there.
In the end: Ozzy Osbourne didn’t “recruit” Ricky Kasso no more than Judas Priest convinced — via “subliminal messages” — James Vance and Raymond Belknap, nor did Ozzy “brainwash” John McCollum — to commit suicide. Nor did Ozzy’s “Bark at the Moon” brainwash James Jollimore to commit multiple murder.
Ricky Kasso was a powerless, verbally and physically (non-sexual) abused child also bullied in school who found solace in drugs at an early age as an escape. He was on the cosine of metal illness. His “model” parents kicked him out of the house to live as a vagabond in the woods, friend’s houses, garages, and harbored, Long Island boats. No one took responsibility for Ricky: not his parents, teachers, or doctors. They all failed him. Then they blamed “Satan” to cover up their mistakes. Now, that doesn’t justify what Ricky did (and let’s not turn him into a Masonesque-cum-Mafiso, anti-folk hero); however, as with Ronald DeFeo, Jr.’s multiple murder in suburban Amityville, Long Island, New York, in November 1974: DeFeo simply wanted to cover up his theft of a large sum of family money. Ricky was out for revenge on a drug theft. Both incidents — as with the victimization of Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne — were blown out of proportion in the pages of the since discredited books Say You Love Satan by David St. Clair and Jay Anson’s “true story,” The Amityville Horror.
Satan, indeed. Eh, Tipper Gore needed something to bide her time to keep her out of Al’s hair. Nancy Reagan had drugs: Tipper had Satan: “Just Say No!”. For kickstarting the “Satanic Panic” craze of the ’80s, Tipper, we thank you. . . .
Meanwhile, on the Pacific Northwest side of the country, existed Ricky Kasso’s doppelganger. The “Devil’s rock ‘n’ roll” also got hold of him: he picked up a guitar instead of knife. And for a brief time, Kurt Cobain, unlike Ricky Kasso, became infamous for his musical talents . . . but just as suddenly and shockingly, both burnt out in similar fashion. . . .
Regardless of my brevity-lacking, critical sidebaring: Ricky 6 is worth your watch as you delve into the twisted mind of Ricky “The Acid King” Kasso — so as to complement your rental stream of the upcoming The Acid King. Hey, after that documentary’s debut, it just may inspire another film on the sad life of Richard Kasso. It’s “never say never” in Hollywood.
If Ricky 6 is your first exposure to Ricky Kasso’s infamy, you can cut through the books and the films with two, well-written, truncated-quick reads of the true events: Emily Thompson of the Morbidology podcast (August 2018) and Gina Dimuro of All That Is Interesting (October 2020). Another definitive read on the true events is Dave Breslin’s timely “Kids in the Dark” published by the Rolling Stone in November 1984. Again, we discuss Ricky Kasso — and the “Satanic Panic” craze of the ’80s — at B&S About Movies in our reviews of River’s Edge, Black Circle Boys, and Deadbeat at Dawn.
— You can watch rips of Ricky 6 on You Tube HERE and HERE and HERE. The caveat is that they’re all muddy rips from those bootlegged DVDs or probably downloaded from torrent sites. Pick which one works best for your viewing pleasure.
— You can also stream a six-part upload of Satan in the Suburbs on You Tube.
— You can enjoy Peter Filardi’s newest horror streaming series, Chapelwaite — based on Stephen King’s short story, “Jerusalem’s Lot” — on EPIX. The 2021 Adrien Brody-starring series was co-created and written by Peter’s brother, screenwriter Jason Filardi (Steve Martin’s Bringing Down the House; the Zac Efron-starring 17 Again).
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes musical journalism explorations and interviews, as well as horror short stories, on Medium.
Hey, dude. Never say never. So goes another “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” in the can. If you’re here expecting our insights on Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman or Rock of Ages, then you’ve come to the wrong website. Really, you should know us better by now.
Let’s rock and round ’em up, mijo. Turn it up and twist it off.
“Heavy Metal Movies” During the last week of May/first of June 2021, we paid homage to the late Mike McPadden with a week of movies that appear in his book, Heavy Metal Movies. If you love your metal, you’ll love these movies.
Will there be a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week IV”? No sleep ’til Squirrel Hill, baby . . . see you in 2022!
About the Authors: Sam Panico is the founder, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, and editor-in-chief of B&S About Movies. You can visit him on Lettebox’d. R.D Francis is the grease bit scrubber, dumpster pad technician, and staff writer at B&S About Movies. You canvisit him on Facebook. Jennifer Upton is a floater and swing-shift QWERTY warrior at the B&S Bar ‘n’ Grill and an American (non-werewolf) writer and editor based in London. You can visit her at JenniferUptonWriter.com.
Amid the flurry of Beatles movies we reflected on during this third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” with our “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series, this one-watch, utterly forgettable Beatles-inspired sidebar came to mind. Then there’s our memorializing the late Tawny Kitaen . . . and our remembering her work in the analogous, sick ‘n sensitive musician flick, Crystal Heart (1986). (See our “Exploring: Tawny Kitaen” featurette.)
Yes, we said “Beatles” sidebar.
Now, before you start with the comments, let us explain.
Back in the days when Sting of the Police flexed his thespian skills and received positive reviews in his fifth project and first leading-man role in Brimstone and Treacle (1982), and then the lead as Baron Frankenstein in The Bride (1985), the pre-Internet rock press (don’t search for it online, it’s not there) reported Sting would star in the lead of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Inspired by the George Harrison composition from the Beatles’ “White Album” (1968) — Beatles’ friend Eric Clapton — who provided the lead guitar on the classic tune — would provide the soundtrack (it could have been in Circus or Hit Parader, maybe Spin).
The Beatles’ recording appeared on the soundtrack to Withnail and I (1987), a comedy film set in late-1960s London and produced by Harrison’s company, HandMade Films. (I can’t recall if HandMade was involved in the production, again, in that news blurb that . . . is not a figment of my imagination.)
Regardless, that proposed-rumored film, about a famous musician (Sting) losing his hands in a tragic accident (guitar by Eric Clapton), who then deals with the aftermath of no longer being able to create music, was never made.
And to the cinema gods, we thank you.
For meshing John Travolta’s The Boy in the Plastic Bubble with a Beatles rock ‘n’ roll subplot is a film that would send any sane Beatles lover screaming out of their local Blockbuster with blood-soaked hands. So, with that project from hell, finite: we get this Miramax-backed (curse you, Weinsteins) cyberpunk version of the Hands of Orlac, aka Mad Love (1935, but remade in 1961 and 1962), starring a then-hot Twin Peaks and Married . . . with Children alums.
Oh, HBO in the ’90s, when you were too cheap to purchase decent films to justify your excessive subscription rates, we love you for giving us films like Vibrations in between your incessant replays of Dom DeLuise’s Hot Stuff and nobody-asked-for-Bill Murray’s brother in Moving Violations.
Michael Paseornek — who gave us (well, at least me and Sam the Bossman) an always-welcomed Lorenzo Lamas (in the pretty fine 2020 indie, Water) one-two punch with his screenplays for Snake Eater (1989) and Snake Eater II (1989) — makes his lone directing bow with his seventh (and final) screenplay.
In this Ed Wood meets cyber-novelist William Gibson tale — we meet T.J Cray (James Marshall of Twin Peaks, but looking a lot like John Savage, here), an up-and-coming rock star. On his way to an A&R audition, he’s victimized by thugs — and loses his hands in the melee.
With his ability to make music, gone, and his girlfriend repulsed by his plastic-artificial hands (perpetual magnets for sharp, stabbing objects and fire), T.J becomes a homeless drunk. Upon his rescue of a damsel-in-distress outside of an illegal rave (this film is loaded with slobbering-for-fun-thugs), T.J finds sympathy from Anamika (Christian Applegate), a computer artist and the promoter of that illegal warehouse rave, because . . . well, in real life, hot girls always treat sketchy homeless men like a stray puppy in the movies. And, unlike real life street urchins, T.J is — even under the soot and grime — a non-alcohol, six-packed hottie, again . . . only in the movies: where the homeless, sans access to dental care or gym equipment, always have perfect teeth and muscle tone. (Just don’t. I am not making light of homelessness. I was, once, myself. So stow the acidic comments, Cletus.)
Anyway . . . taking up residence in Anamika’s artist-occupied apartment building (the income-to-abode ratio, as with Jennifer Aniston and the Friends gang, doesn’t compute), she introduces T.J to her Wired to Kill-inspired techno-geek neighbor who fits him with his new invention: robot hands, aka cyberhands. Then, fitted with a metallic “cybersuit,” and his piano skills returned — even more efficiently because of the robotics — T.J becomes an international sensation known as Cyberstorm.
And we’d rather go see the Blue Man Group and the Residents. Maybe if Cyberstorm wore a giant eyeball over his head. Or lost his eyes, as well as his hands, and received a set of Steve Austin* eyes . . . and became the internationally known Ministry with the worldwild hit, “Jesus Built My Hot Rod.”
Yeah, in case you’re wondering: this film’s knowledge of techno, rave, and avant-garde dance rock is utterly non-existent and is nothing but the set design window dressing that it is. (Illegal raves are by word of mouth; raves do not set up 800 numbers.) But if you can get past the dopey characters spewing techno-gobbly-gook, the music of the genre’s stars — who serve as the “sounds” of Cyberstorm — Utah Saints and 808 State, are pretty cool.
Sure, we got Daft Punk out the deal. But Jesus still didn’t build this hot rod — a hot rod that, if we go by the dates on the set-design flyers inside one of the rave warehouse gigs, took three years to transition from the film set to the cable screen. And notice that, before social media: you (apparently) called 800 numbers for the scenster hook-up.
Eh, whatever. It’s all captured in the lens well enough, but the proceedings are pure meh Albert Pyun — if you recall Radioactive Dreams and Vicious Lips. Marshall and Applegate are mediocre, and Faye Grant (TV’s V, Omen IV) and Paige Turco (April O’Neill from the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles franchise) have been better, and in better. And it saddens that Vibrations served the final film of journeyman TV actor Steven Keats (of the films Death Wish, Black Sunday ’77), who died in 1994 (at a youthful 49), just after completing his work on the film (which additionally “dates” the production).
And we dare you to call that number. We dare you. Hey, maybe Jenny will answer. You never know.
As an executive producer, Michael Paseornek would go to great success with Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, the critically-acclaimed Akleelah and the Bee (2006), the Americanized J-Horror The Eye, Punisher: War Zone, and The Hunger Games franchise. And, thanks to Mike, we get this sweet-as-hell box set.
Even with its shortfalls, Vibrations is a pre-The Matrix VHS classic with a loyal fan base, as these You Tube uploads of the film HERE and HERE, and clips from the film HERE and HERE, prove. If you’re into the techo-rave side of ’90s alternative rock, this will hold your interest.
Now, when is someone making a metal version of The Hands of Orlac with Swedish symphonic metal bands?
Many thanks, once again, to Paul Z. over at VHS Collector.com for the clean images. Be sure to check out his reviews of the DVD and Blu-ray reissues of the lost VHS classics of the ’80s on his Analog Archivist You Tube portal.
* We did an entire week of Lee Majors flicks. Do join us with our “Lee Majors Week,” won’t you?
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
This lost and obscure Canadian theatrical made its way across the U.S. boarder on VHS — sans publicity or any distribution. It’s a film I never came across by way of my multiple video memberships nor cutout bin excursions. It wasn’t until our local, dead and abandoned shopping mall transformed into an “outlet mall,” where retailers rented out a store space (well, cubicle) to sell their wares. In other words: it was an indoor swap shop.
Anyway, this older, crusty but still chatty gentleman, who was in the drive-in racket back in the day, then, when that industry dried up, he got into the home video market — but he hated running a video store. So he rented out a space and started purging his inventory. Then he got sick of that: one day I go to his canvas-fenced cubicle — and he’s gone.
So goes the story of how I got my copy of I-never-heard-of this faux-band romp that crosses Eddie and the Cruisers with American Graffiti — and uses the Beatles’ September 7, 1964, debut appearance in Toronto, their first of two concerts, at the Maple Leaf Gardens hockey area.
This isn’t the first time the history of the Beatles fueled a fictional tale. Robert Zemeckis (I love him for Used Cars, alone; the rest is gravy) scripted I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) around the Beatles’ historic February 8, 1964, appearance on CBS-TV’s Ed Sullivan Show. In that tale, a group of friends (headed by Nancy Allen and the Wendy Jo Sperber) scheme to meet the band.
This time, a quartet of ne’er-do-well teens from the wrong side of Toronto’s tracks form the Concrete Angels — in a plot that reminds of the earlier Brian Adams tale about a failed teen band, “Summer of ’69” — to enter a radio station’s battle of the bands contest and win the opening act slot for the Beatles’ gig. Will they win and escape their poverty or will they fall back into their juvenile acts of crime?
Fortunately, unlike Larry Buchanan’s earlier faux-Jim Morrison romp, Down on Us (1984), with its ersatz Doors, Hendrix, and Joplin tunes, first time producer and director Carlo Linconti secured the right to Beatles tunes — but only in cover tune form (“Twist and Shout,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “P.S I Love You,” “Misery,” “From Me to You,” “Love Me Do,” and “She Loves You”) — as interpreted by the Canadian new-wave band Quasi Hands (their lone EP is on eBay and heard on You Tube). Other songs appearing in the film are the oldies-classics (originals/covers mix) of Chuck Berry, Little Eva, Dion, and the Shirelles. One of the Beatles’ major influences, Buddy Holly, appears — however, in a cover form — by way of the Blushing Brides (who later etched out a career as a popular Rolling Stones tribute band; you can learn more about the ‘Brides at Canadian Bands).
Do we meet the faux-Beatles as portray by actors? Nope. But Paul’s voice shows up for a quickie (phone call) as voiced by Gary Grimes (aka “Hermie” from the American Graffiti knocks Summer of ’42 and Class of ’44) — or was he duping John, I wasn’t paying that much attention.
Do the Fab covers have the vim and vigor of the Beatles? Nope. They’re the “Drab Four”; the bar band covers you’d expect from a band as you suck back an Iron Horse at your local suds dispensary (know your Bob & Doug McKenzie trivia).
As for the acting: Eh, the acting is okay, but nothing to write home about. Italian-Canadian actor Tony Nardi, however, in his first starring role (after a bit part in Videodrome), earned his first of five Genie Award nods (Canada’s Oscars) for his role as Sal — was he a slimy band manager, radio executive, or . . . eh, don’t care; again, I wasn’t paying that much attention. Yeah, Concrete Angels is one of those films that lends itself to one viewing (two, if you’re a smarmy critic writing for a website in Pittsburgh), and you’re done. It’s not — as with Splitz or Hail Caesar — a beauty, eh.
Carlo Linconti is still active as a producer and director. Amid his 20-plus producer credits — one was the 1974 killer bugs romp Phase IV — he’s directed fourteen films; his most recent, in-production film is the western adventure, Bordello.
As for Concrete Angels, there’s no online streams — free or pay — but the VHS copies are out there on Amazon and eBay. There’s no DVDs from what we can see, but if they are, be assured they’re grey market rips off the VHS, so emptor the caveats, ye junk cinema purveyor. But we did find a trailer.
Be sure to join us for our three part “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series as we look at Concrete Angels and 33 other films dealing with the legacy of the Beatles.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Editor’s Note: What does this all have to do with the obscure, progressive rock band Pheonix and their connections to the Kinks, MTV popsters Charlie, and New Wave of British Heavy Metal stalwarts Saxon? Indulge me and keep on reading. Russ Ballard is more influential than you realize . . . beyond the smash hits he wrote for America, Ace Frehley, Kiss, Rainbow, Three Dog Night, and Uriah Heep.
Yeah, it’s no secret I’m a huge Russ Ballard fan.
In the “alternate universe” of the musical-fantasy, Yesterday, a failed singer/songwriter gets a bump on the head and wakes up in a world where the Fab Four never existed; he subsequently becomes an overnight sensation with the greatest hit-making album in the world — based on the Lennon-McCartney catalog (Who?).
In this writer’s ‘Yesterday’: R.D Francis becomes an overnight sensation with the greatest hit-making album in the history of recorded music — based on the songwriting catalog of Russ Ballard. . . .
Sadly, the screenplay based on my Russ Ballard-fantasy was rejected by all the major Hollywood studios. Even the dinky indie studios rejected me; the ones that pay struggling actors and screenwriters with an “IMDB credit” and “copy of the DVD.” (Even the studios who offer you a producer’s credit and an acting role . . . if you pony up several thousand dollars to make the movie.)
My fellow aspiring actors and struggling screenwriters know about those “deals”: the DVD never arrives and you have to send the self-professed auteur a self-address-stamped-envelope to receive your “pay” — and they misspell your name on the IMDB page. So goes our trip down the boulevard of broken dreams.
“Who?” smirked the high-seated, cigar-chopping movie executive to the sniveling screenwriter cowering in a low-slung chair before the golden throne of fate.
“Russ Ballard, ah-em. He wrote songs for Kiss — .”
“Russ Ballard? Never heard of him.”
“Well, uh . . . what about Billy Steinberg, he wrote songs for Pat Benatar and Heart— .”
“Mr. Weinstein, you’re 4 PM massage is here,” crackled the receptionist’s voice over the intercom.
(Sorry, Mr. Weinstein. Just a little creative license-joke? Okay?)
“That’s not funny, kid. You’re finished,” scowled Mr. Weinstein.
And . . . creative license revoked. Goodbye, screenwriting career.
So, since you will never see my biographical movie or hear my album, ‘Yesterday,’ it’s back to keyboard-jockeying once again. Yes, my fair-weathered readers, it is time for another ethereal journey into the phantasmic wormhole with another rock star you never knew or forgot (at least in the U.S., anyway). No, not me — it’s Russ Ballard.
“Hey, wait a minute, R.D. I thought Russ Ballard never existed and you wrote all those hit songs.”
Oh, yeah . . . I did . . .
The record breaking, most successful hit-producing album in the world . . . with every song a hit, your’s truly, R.D Francis, wrote it!
. . . And it was a whirlwind.
Jimmy Fallon, James Corden, The View, Live with Kelly and Ryan. The girls! The parties! A world tour as a headliner my first time out on the road! I’m best friends with Danny “Hey, Baby Doll” Collins, who looks exactly like Al Pacino (from the opposite end of the wormhole, you know, where Al Pacino is “Al Pacino,” and he’s an actor).
I became the only artist to have four hits simultaneously in the U.S. Top Ten. I charted more singles from a debut album and charted more #1 hits in multiple countries than any other artist — even the Beatles!
I charted on Adult Contemporary radio with “You Can Do Magic.” I ruled the metal charts with “Riding with the Angels.” When my drummer, Ian McLatchen-McManus Davis Mitchell III, on loan from Spinal Tap, went up in flames, Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters sat behind the kit to finish the tour. Dave told the Rolling Stone that I was “more prolific than Kurt Cobain.” When AC/DC was in a jam, I filled in for Brain Johnson and helped Angus and the boys finish their world tour.
In this brave new rock world: Weezer doesn’t exist. Rivers Cuomo and Patrick Wilson have an alt-rock band, Sixty Wrong Sausages. Sure, they had a very cool “SWS” logo, but their hit, “Freddie Garrity,” was stupid, as was its video that parodied TV’s Leave It to Beaver.
In this continuum variant-mishap: Van Halen doesn’t exist. The producer of Van Halen’s landmark debut, Ted Templeman, was successful in having David Lee Roth fired from the band and replaced by ex-Montrose lead vocalist Sammy Hagar.
The infamous “VH” wings-logo doesn’t exist: Van Hagar’s logo is a “VH” inside a white circle — emulating an old-style Formula 1 racing car — emblazoned on the side of Sammy’s red Trans Am. I ended up marrying one of the models covered in soap suds washing that red Trans AM on the album’s rear cover — Sir Denis Eaton-Hogg’s niece, Icelandic superstar model Erika von Bjőrn.
David Lee Roth sold a lot of albums with his next band: Diamond Dave. Erika and I vacation with Dave and his wife every year. Our best friends: David Coverdale and Tawny Kitaen. The oft told tale about my old band, Wyatt, Brian Adams, and the Moose in the hotel room, is true. When that grasshopper got stuck up my nose, Nikki Sixx, who wisely stuck to snorting ants, rushed me to the hospital.
Oh, and SWS had a pair of alt-radio hits with their quirky covers of Wyatt’s big hit, “Hold Your Head Up,” and “Hash Pipe” from our final album.
However . . . before my hit solo album, ‘Yesterday,’ I was in this little ‘ol band, Wyatt, that did a couple of albums. You bought Leather Assassins and Red, White ‘n Screwed, right? You might remember our big FM radio hit, “Hold Your Head Up,” and our tours with Van Hagar (Who?), AC/DC, and Whitesnake (yep, we hung out with Tawny Kitaen*). And that embarrassing onstage melee we had with Guns N’ Roses; regardless of what the press says, Axl didn’t start it — I did. I kicked his punk ass back to the Sunset.
Then, it all came to a screeching halt.
Jimmy Fallon ambushed me during my third appearance on The Tonight Show. He brought out these two chaps from England who claimed they were responsible for all the songs from Wyatt, and ‘Yesterday,’ my solo album. Some guys named Russ Ballard and Rod Argent. . . .
. . . Well, back to the wormhole and through that space-time continuum rip to my crappy, boring life. You play a good game, Mr. Ballard. Until we meet again. You can have your life back . . . for now. See you at the next vortex, Chewie.
The Reality of the Real Russ Ballard
Born on October 31, 1947, in Waltham Cross, England, Ballard joined his first professional band, Buster Meikle & the Day Breakers, in 1961 with his older brother, Roy, and drummer Bob Henrit. Together, Ballard and Henrit joined Adam Faith’s backing band, the Roulettes. The band appeared a record-breaking nine times between 1964 and 1965 on the legendary U.K. television series, Ready, Steady, Go!
After the world famous, hit making Zombies took a pick axe to the brain for the last time in the late ’60s (“She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” “Time of the Season”), keyboardist Rod Argent formed his namesake band, a harder-rocking affair, Argent; he drafted Russ and Bob from the Roulettes into the group, along with his cousin, bassist Jim Rodford (ex-Mike Cotton Sound). Argent, Ballard, and Rodford shared lead vocals.
During the Russ Ballard years, Argent produced five popular, U.S. progressive FM radio favorites with their 1970 debut, Ring of Hands (1971), All Together Now (1972), In Deep (1973), and Nexus (1974). While “Liar” and “God Gave Rock ’n’ Roll to You” became progressive FM album cuts, Argent scored only one U.S. Top 40 and Classic Rock radio staple (now criminally absent from the airwaves), “Hold Your Head Up,” written by Rod and sung by Ballard, which made it to the Top Five in 1972.
While Russ Ballard recorded as a solo artist with his old band’s label, Epic, Jim Rodford (bass) and Roger Henrit (drums), along with Ballard’s replacement, John Verity (guitar/bass), rose again on Columbia Records with Phoenix; they issued two albums: Phoenix (1976) and In Full View (1979).
Phoenix with “Easy” from 1976. Sound and feels a little bit like early ’70s Rush, right?
Verity and Henrit were then drafted as the rhythm section for the European-respected, British pop-rock outfit Charlie on their 1981 RCA Records release, Good Morning America. Henrit remained with the band for their follow up, Here Comes Trouble (1982) and their U.S. radio and MTV breakthrough, Charlie, which featured their U.S. Top 200 hit, “It’s Inevitable.” Verity also became a sought-out producer; he worked on the debut album for the pioneering New Wave of British Heavy Metal band, Saxon. (Yeees! SAXON! SAXON!)
Charlie’s lone U.S. hit single and beloved 1982 MTV-era hit, “It’s Inevitable.”
Saxon’s self-titled debut with their European hits “Stallions of the Highway” and “Backs to the Wall,” produced by John Verity.
Verity and Henrit worked together again in the Kinks during Ray Davies’s well-deserved “American” career resurgence with the hits “A Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy,” “Low Budget,” “(I Wish I Could Fly Like (Superman)”, “Paranoia,” “Around the Dial,” and “Come Dancing.” (Hit remakes of the Kinks ’60s hits “You Really Got Me,” “Where Have All the Good Times Gone,” “Stop Your Sobbing,” and “All Day and All the Night,” by Van Halen, the Pretenders, and New Wave of British Heavy Metalers, Praying Mantis (know your Iron Maiden sidebars), respectively, sparked Ray Davies’s resurrection.)
However, unlike Davies, Russ Ballard was unable to forge a front-and-center career as a solo artist on U.S. shores; instead, his songs created a rapid succession of U.S. — and worldwide — Top Ten and Top Forty chart hits for other artists:
“Cookoo” — Bay City Rollers “Free Me” — Roger Daltry “God Gave Rock ’n’ Roll to You” — Kiss “I Surrender” — Rainbow “I Know There’s Something Going On” — Frieda (Fältskog; of Abba) “Liar” — Three Dog Night “New York Groove” — Ace Frehley of Kiss “On the Rebound” — Uriah Heep “Riding with the Angels” — Samson (w/Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden) “Since You’ve Been Gone” — Rainbow & Head East “Some Kinda Hurricane” — Peter Criss of Kiss “So You Win Again” — Hot Chocolate “Voices” — Russ Ballard “When I’m With You” — Sheriff “Winning” — Santana “You Can Do Magic” — America
Thanks to MTV’s support on the video frontier, U.S. radio stations were encouraged to chart Ballard as a solo artist with “Voices” from his eponymous 1984 effort and the title cut from the The Fire Still Burns, which became his best known U.S. solo hits (Russ is known for a lot more throughout Europe and Asia).
In addition to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues” on episodes of the hit U.S. television series Miami Vice, “Voices” was also featured in an episode: “Calderone’s Return: Part 2 — Calderone’s Demise,” which aired on October 26, 1984.
The London-based soft-rock outfit America, whose radio chart career with a succession of early-to-mid ’70s gold and platinum U.S. Top Ten hits (“Horse with No Name,” “I Need You,” “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “Lonely People,” and “Sister Golden Hair Surprise”) had tanked by the late ‘70s, experienced a career resurgence in the early ’80s with Russ Ballard’s “You Can Do Magic,” which put the band back into the Top Ten around the world.
This “Russ Ballard” playlist (over on my personal You Tube page) features the solo versions of his most popular tunes, along with a few artists who covered his material — when versions by Russ cannot be located. Some of the songs appear on the following albums:
1976 — Winning (Epic) Features “Winning,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” and “Cuckoo.”
1978 — At the Third Stoke
1980 — Barnet Dogs Features on the “On the Rebound” and “Ride with the Angels.”
1981 — Into the Fire
1984 — Russ Ballard (EMI) Features “Voices.”
1985 — The Fire Still Burns Features “The Fire Still Burns.”
For Russ Ballard’s complete catalog, visit with him on Discogs.
Russ Ballard’s most recent worldwide hit came courtesy of the 1998 rock ’n’ roll dramedy, Still Crazy. The soundtrack and film spotlights his song, “What Might Have Been,” sung by British actor Jimmy Nail, the “bassist” for the movie’s faux-British rock band, Strange Fruit. Russ wrote the lyrics, while his collaborator on the song, Chris Difford of Squeeze, wrote the music.
The bottom line: Russ Ballard is one hell of a songwriter and vocalist. In this writer’s reality, Russ’s albums shelve-proud alongside the multi-platinum, hit-driven catalogs of Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen, and the not so hit-driven ’70s catalogs of Moon Martin and Warren Zevon — and some guy named Michael Bolotin (read about him on Medium).
Richard Curtis previously wrote another great, rock ’n’ roll film, The Boat That Rocked, aka Pirate Radio in the U.S. (2019), a comedy about Britain’s late ’60s pirate radio scene. When Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis are on the marquee, you don’t overthink the movie, you hold onto your popcorn bucket and go for the ride.
So, save me the aisle seat . . . and don’t sue me, Mr. Curtis, for having some fun with this “review” of your film to honor one of my all time favorites in Russ Ballard.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Poster Image Left: Yesterday poster courtesy of Etalon Films/Working Title Films/Universal Studios, via IMDB.com. Image Right: Graphic by R.D Francis. Russ Ballard’s Voices courtesy of Discogs. Typeface: “Anton” and “Dustismo” courtesy of Picfont.com.
Sidewalk Star courtesy of redkit.net image generator.
Wyatt Album Image Left: Graphic by R.D Francis. Peter Fonda/Easy Rider screen cap by R.D Francis. Chopper: unknown, from the R.D Francis image archives (Google Images can’t located it). “Flying W logos” designed by and courtesy of Weezer drummer, Patrick Wilson. Image Right: Record graphic By R.D Francis. Yellow 45-rpmImage: R.D Francis.