It was long overdue. Everyone reviews the music career of the man born as John Nommensen Duchac in 1953, but few, if any, have examined his acting career. So B&S About Movies took up the challenge because, well, we love John’s acting gigs as much as his music.
That’s right, we love ya’, John! May you have many more films and albums to add to your career. And when you finish your starring role in your currently-in-production 82nd project, D.O.A. – The Movie, B&S About Movies will be the first to review it.
Flicks we wanted to review, but were unable to locate VOD/PPV screeners or DVDs:
Under the Gun (2002) Red Zone (2003) Hated (2012)
The rest we didn’t get to as result of time and/or lack of VOD/PPV screeners:
Scorpion Spring (1995) — trailer The Price of Kissing (1997) Drowning on Dry Land (1999) MTV’s Wuthering Heights (2003) The Sandpiper (2007) Absent Father (2008) All Creatures Here Below (2018) — trailer
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of rock ‘n’ roll, be sure to check out our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” tribute round ups from July 2020, September 2020, and September 2021 featuring over 100-plus film reviews. And John’s A Matter of Degrees was also part of our week-long review of radio station flicks, which you can catch up on with our “Exploring: Radio Stations on Film” featurette. Same goes for John’s The Red Right Hand, which was part this year’s October “Slasher Month” of reviews.
There’s further reading on John’s career with Tim Stegall’s recent, two-part interview at Alternative Press published in October 2021. John also speaks with Daniel Kohn at Spin in April 2020 regarding the release of Alphabetland, the recent album by X.
You can enjoy John in 1991 promoting his solo album and a 1983 national TV appearance with X, both on NBC-TV’s The David Letterman Show.
There’s faux rock stars . . . and there’s Teddy Connor of Wotan.
If you’re an avid B&S About Movies reader, then you know Roger Corman ain’t one to pass up a hot film genre without creating a knockoff. And the paranormal was a hot property in 1999 courtesy of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense and David Koepp’s Stir of Echoes.
And Corman, at the very least, owned a solid to Craig Nevius — the guy he contracted to script the abortive tax dodge-copyright retainer that was 1994’s The Fantastic Four. So, yeah, the least Rog could do was greenlight another Nevius script. And remember, way back in the day, when Patrick Dempsey and Helen Slater were “things” that made you go the theater (ugh, chicks and movie date nights)? Well, Craig’s introduction to Hollywood was the 1989 Brat Pack-inspired Happy Together starring the duo.
So, that’s that backstory.
But why Rog didn’t slap an Amityville* prefix on this to sell as a bogus sequel is anyone’s guess. I mean, come on, Rog. Amityville: The Vacancy. Bam! Sequel city. How could you not see it, Rog?
However . . . we’re not reviewing this because of Corman or Nevius. Or that it was a missed Amityville “sequel” opportunity. Or the fact that David Carradine (Night Rhythms) is creeping up the joint. We’re here because John Doe of X is in the support cast as Professor Paul Ballard.
Yes. John Doe. As a University Professor. Yeah, you’re damn right I am watching this one — its Corman ripoffness be damned to the pits of hell.
So, Brad and Danielle (Brian Bloom and Kimberly Row) are two newlywed paranormal psychologists who enjoy their erotic kinks (hey, it’s a Corman ghost romp, after all). And Brad carries Danni over the threshold of the Sunset House, an infamously documented New England residence (actually filmed in Ireland), with the goal of recording the spirits-in-residence. And they discover the ghost of the autistic Samuel, a murdered little boy who likes to play “London Bridge Is Falling Down” on the piano and enjoys scrawling cryptic chalk warnings on the basement floors. And that Samuel sees the memory of his mommy in Danielle. Oh, and Danni’s pregnant and Sammy wants that fetus to keep his spirit warm. And that Sammy isn’t all too fond of sex, so Brad and Danielle “stir the spirits” with frequency. Oh, and Danielle used to get her freak on with her and Brad’s boss, Professor Ballard (you go, Mr. Doe). And the ‘ol town doctor, played by Carradine, only has kinky eyes for her. And so does the local cemetery’s creepy gravedigger. And with that, the ghostly grandfather clocks, red hot fireplace pokers, and axes are tossed around in quick succession.
Uh-oh! Caveat emptor ye David Carrdine fans: this is another marquee-on-the-box cameo boondoggle of the Eric Roberts variety, as ol’ Dave is on board for less than 10 minutes, and John Doe — who I personally came for — isn’t around for much longer. But if you’re into guys with haunting blue eyes of the Meg Foster variety (who doubled as a young “Burt Reynolds” in a gaggle of syndicated, late ’90s Smokey and the Bandit** TV movies) or actresses that look a little bit like Charlize Theron (and appeared in a bunch of soft core flicks prefixed with the words “Justine” and “Emmanuelle” and suffixed with numerals) frolicking inside a Corman house of horrors, then there’s something here for you to stream on a Friday Night.
But truth be told: Nevius’s script, in conjunction with its direction by Mitch Marcus (who also knocked out the 1999 Corman rip The Haunting of Hell House starring Michael York), actually has some nice, creepy n’ chilling visuals in spite of its low-budget effects, and genuine thrilling moments.
And you can watch it courtesy of a free-with-ads-stream on Tubi TV.
* We love our Amityville flicks around here, so much so we cataloged them all with our “Exploring: Amityville” featurette.
** We love our Smokey and the Bandit knockoffs and hicksploitation movin’ piktures ’round ‘ere, Cletus. So check out our “The Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List” featurette, a collection of down-home films produced from 1972 to 1986.
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 publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.
John, my friend . . . you own me a brew at the “Double Douche” . . . for I just endured a “chick flick” — for you. A chick flick with Sandra Bullock, no less. And Ben Affleck. And I just went from the rim of the bowl, and into the swirl of the bowl . . . storms and hurricane analogies of the heart be damned.
If all feels a little sitcomy, that’s because you’ll notice the name of Marc Lawrence on the marquee, who broke into the industry as a staff writer and supervising producer on NBC-TV’s Family Ties. He then went on to become Sandra Bullock’s go-to writer, also penning her films Miss Congeniality (2002), Miss Congeniality 2 (2002), and Two Weeks Notice (2002).
Amazingly, and only in Hollywood-penned careers, Ben Holmes, our romantic lead (Ben Affleck), is able to make a living — and live in Manhattan, the most expensive section of real estate in the U.S. — by writing “blurbs” on the sleeves of hardcover books. Meanwhile, Sam and I kill ourselves writing movie reviews for, get this, the glory — and the occasional free screener links. And the privilege to live in a week-to-week existence in Allegheny County where the Spaghetti-O’s flow like a fine wine.
Yep, as usual: in less than five minutes, Ben Affleck has managed to pissed me off with the desire to give him, as Sam would say, “a Chris Kattan punch in the nutsack” for making a movie.
Anyway, the “force of nature” comes in the form of a self-professed, free-spirited drifter named Sarah (Sandra Bullock) who ends up next to Ben on his flight from New York City to Savannah, Georgia. Oh, and Ben is on his way to marry Bridget who, of course, he discovers he doesn’t love, thanks to wild n’ crazy Sarah.
And how is it, a free-spirit without the income of our successful blurb writer, can afford to sit next to Ben on a plane? Eh, plot piffle. Lets cue the birds — the fowl that flies into the engines and grounds the plane. So Sarah convinces Ben to rent-ride share to Savannah. But why not hop another flight? Well, Ben hated flying in the first place — and now that friggin’ bird in the engine has him completely freaked out. Hey, he’s a book blurb writer and has everything to live for: for he, like the annoyances on NBC-TV’s Friends, has a job with an income level that in no way can afford him to live next to Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing who, based on economics, shouldn’t be able to live in Manhattan, either. (And how in the hell did Rachel Green — a homeless and unemployed runaway bride, without a degree in the field and no experience, and who couldn’t even cut it as a coffee house waitress — climb the ladder of Ralph Lauren’s fashion empire, then be courted by Gucci? Only in the sitcom-verse where you get amazing jobs with no training and apartments beyond your meager means, and there’s never a shortage of attractive women for annoying, bald Woody Allen knockoffs like George Costanza.)
Anyway . . . back to “The Force,” as the usual car rentals, train snafus, crowded buses, love on Tilt-a-Whirls, and thunderstorms — and the eventual hurricane — ensues. But why didn’t they call this Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Well, that title was already taken by a Steve Martin and John Candy movie, remember? And naming a film after transportational devices isn’t as romantic as giving a movie a title that implies kismet.
Hey, what about John Doe?
Well, he’s married to Sandra and she dumps him for Ben. Dumping a hungry wolf for a douchy wash cloth? Welcome to the sitcom-verse. But in Sandra’s defense: John’s a scumbag that’s cheating her out of her family home and never lets her live down life’s mistakes. In John’s defense: he slugs ‘ol Benny-boy right in the kisser. Nice. But it took an hour and a half to get to John’s scene, so that punch to Ben’s face isn’t enough to save this rom-doggle — even if it’s John Doe throwing the punch. Maybe if John also socked Ben’s whiny-nasally co-star, Steve Zahn?
Hah. Too little, too late. Time for Pat McGurn to tap us a cold one, you know, at the place where, when Ben Affleck confronts me for this review . . . they’ll be sweepin’ my eyeballs off the floor.
Yeah, I’m going to need a TBS replay of John Doe in Road House to flush this celluloid infamy from my eyes. Yeah, John. I know you were in The Good Girl (2002) with Jennifer Aniston. But sorry, my friend. No can do. I already did the Affleck flick for you, and now you’re on shaky ground with Jen. Even Sam, the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer and Mix Master of Movie Themed Drinks, scoffed at my challenge to review it. Not even a threat from your Uncle Brad will make us. Sorry, John. But we’re just not that desperate for entertainment in Allegheny County. But feel free to write the tune “R.D Hit and Run Ben,” with no publishing rights on my end required.
But Sam — being the uber Rowdy Herrington* fan that he is — is reviewing Road House for ya! (*So much so, he conducted a four-part interview with the director.)
From the Useless Movie Trivia to Amaze Your Friends at PartiesDepartment: This is the second John Doe review this week — the other is Man Maid (2008) — that features actor Steve Hytner and John Doe in the same movie — although they’re not in any scenes together, here. They’re also in the unreleased Mila Kunis flick Tom Cool (2009). And sci-fi fans may recall Hynter and Doe in the cast of “Into the Woods” from the first season of FOX-TV’s Roswell. So, there you go. Reviewing this movie wasn’t a total waste, for you’ve been movie trivia blessed.
New Queer Cinema (see Gregg Araki and his “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy”) director, writer, and producer Todd Stephens used his youth-raised years in Sandusky, Ohio (yep, the same town in Chris Farley’s Tommy Boy from 1995), to his advantage: most of his auto-to-semi-autobiographical films are set in that Buckeye State enclave.
While he turned the directorial reigns over to David Moreton (currently in production with his fourth film, Big America), Stephens made his screenwriting debut with the alternative, coming of age rom-com Edge of Seventeen, which was concerned with a Eurythmics-obsessed teenager coming to terms with his sexuality. And as with Stevie Nicks inspiring the title of his debut film, the “Welsh Witch” influence returned for Stephens’s second writing effort, which also served as his directorial debut. While mainstream critics applauded the film — and it found acceptance on the art house circuit (I made the drive to see it) — the film only managed to score award nods and wins in the LGBT film festival community.
To propel this coming-of-age road trip filled with the usual eclectic characters (a sexually-confused Amish teen runaway; Karen Black as a washed-up retired singer), Stephens used the then de rigueur Stevie Nicks Festivals where fans celebrated her music. Gypsy Vale (Sara Rue of CBS-TV Rules of Engagement and The Big Band Theory) and Clive Webb (Kett Turton; Vampire Steve on CW’s iZombie) are early-twentysomething goths who travel to the 1983 Stevie Nicks Festival, aka Night of a Thousand Stevies, in New York for Gypsy to realize her dream to become a famous singer, like her idol, Stevie Nicks. Fueling and supporting her musical dreams is her ex-musician father, Ray (John Doe of X; Border Radio), who deals with the loss of Gypsy’s mom and his musician-wife, Velvet.
Gypsy 83 served as one the earliest art house entries from Palisades Pictures. The studio would come to acquire the catalog of the shuttered, UK-based Tartan Films, which distributed East Asian films under the Tartan Asia Extreme imprint between 1992 to 2003 (Battle Royale, A Tale of Two Sisters, Oldboy). Comic book aficionados with take notice of Andersen Gabrych in the cast (also of Stephens’s Edge of Seventeen and Another Gay Movie) as a writer for several issues of Batman, Batgirl, and Detective Comics.
There’s no free-with-ads or VOD streams in the online marketplace, but we found a You Tube rip for you to enjoy.
Allison Anders and Kurt Voss wanted to re-team on another rock ‘n’ roll film since their 1983-begun, four-year shot Border Radio released in 1987, and the critical and box-office success of her Brill Building and Beach Boys “what if” rock flick Grace of My Heart (1996).
The film’s second genesis was their friend, bassist John Taylor, who aspired to begin an acting career; so Anders and Voss manned the typewriters to create an acting showcase for the ex-Duran Duran’er. To lend to the film’s realism, Anders and Voss opted to cast musicians in lieu of actors: the rest of the cast stars former Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp (who found acclaim in the 1990 British mobster flick The Krays; however, he worked as an actor since the early ’70s, you can see him in Fleshtone), Michael Des Barres (of Silverhead, Detective, and Power Station; as an actor, you know him as Murdoc from the original ’80s MacGyver), and John Doe of X (A Matter of Degrees). Also acting in the film — and providing the film’s musical direction — is Larry Klein, the ex-husband of ’70s folkie Joni Mitchell.
The plot concerns the exploits of Clive, Jonesey, and Nick (Taylor, Kemp, and Des Barres), three washed-up L.A. rock superstars who attempt to formulate a supergroup from their career ashes. They, of course, think they’ll return to the top of the charts with the outrageously sexist tune, “Gravy Stain Girl.” Their fellow washed-up L.A. rocker cohort, Carl (John Doe), is at odds with his pregnant wife over his recent hire as a lead guitarist for an up-and-coming singer. Roseanna Arquette stars as Eva, Clive’s equally washed-up and age-out actress wife, struggling to stay on top in Hollywood. Beverly D’Angelo is an older, rich woman who will back Clive’s musical endeavors — provided he sleeps with her.
Keep your ears open for John Doe’s post-X work in The John Doe Thing with “Tragedy by Definition.” The grungy alt-rock crowd will notice the sounds of PJ Harvey, Thalia Zedek’s Come, and Seattle’s Sup Pop’ers Combustible Edison on the soundtrack. J. Mascis of Dinosaur, Jr. (he recently appeared in I’ll Be Around), who scored Gas Food Lodging for Anders, provides the film score.
Made for a measly, budget conscious quarter of a million dollars, the film barely broke $170,000 in U.S. box office. So, don’t go into this expecting a mainstream Ray or Walk the Line; however, if you enjoy seeing rockers on film and enjoyed ’90s indie flicks courtesy of the October Films and Miramax imprints, then there’s something here for you to enjoy.
And for the Allison Anders and John Doe collaboration completists and Johnny Cash fans hankering for another cinematic beyond Walk the Line: Doe stars as the father of June Carter Cash (played by Jewel Kilcher instead of Reese Witherspoon) in Ring of Fire (2013), a cable TV adaption of the book Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash.
From the “Trivia to Impress Your Friends at Parties Department”: John’s daughter Elena Nommensen, who has a bit part here (and in John’s 2007 film, The Sandpiper), became a wardrobe and art director. In addition to working on the upcoming Venom: Let There Be Carnage, she also worked (didn’t realize it then) on the recently reviewed short The Devil’s Passengers (discovered on a You Tube dive), and worked alongside her dad in his upcoming, 82nd acting project, D.O.A: The Movie.
If you haven’t already guessed: this is another John Doe flick in our week-long tribute to his acting career. And even though John Doe brought us here — and does a great turn as a romantic lead — if he wasn’t here, I still would have loved this under-the-radar sleeper. The feature film writing debut for Lifetime and Hallmark movie scribe Betsy Morris, you may have watched SnowComing (2019), her most recent offering as result of its direction by Peter DeLuise — yes, son of Burt Reynolds’s buddy Dom (The Cannonball Run), and of the Stargate TV-verse.
And while Peter got me to watch Morris’s latest film and John got me to watch her first film, it was the fan base afforded to Elisabeth Harnois, Danneel (Harris) Ackles, and Jensen Ackles of TV’s One Tree Hill and Supernatural that got everyone else to watch.
It’s a simple story (with nicely-arced, complex characters) about the Empire Records-esque crew of Beach City Grill, a Santa Cruz sandwich shop owned by Trucker (John Doe), a surfing-hippie and de facto father to the staff of “not normal” twenty-somethings dealing with romantic issues and personal skeletons. Yes, even John Doe, who pines for Zo (Alice Krige of Sleepwalkersand Thor: The Dark World), the owner of a Wiccan store across the street. For me, it all comes across as a lighter, less dramatic inversion of one of my all-time favorite films, Inside Moves (1980), a post-Superman film by Richard Donner concerned with the employees and patrons of a local bar.
Of course, as with most of the John Doe flicks we’ve watched this week, his character and its related subplot (well-written and buoyed by John’s heartfelt performance) are secondary to the youthful, female stars of the ensemble cast that also features Clea DuVall (Veep, Better Call Saul, and American Horror Story; John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars).
Piper (Elisabeth Harnois) is a new-to-Santa Cruz artist searching for a lost family member and meets single dad Noah (Sean Patrick Flanery of Boondock Saints fame), Tish (Danneel Ackles) is a promiscuous temptress, Jen (Clea DuVall) is a humanitarian so shy, she searches for love on Net, and Priestly (a great Jensen Ackles), is a smarter-and-more-sensitive than-he-looks punk rocker who hides his insecurity through quips and off-the-cuff debates about Kurt Cobain and John Lennon.
To say anymore would be telling and ruin your experience of watching this charming, charismatic film. John scored himself a great role here, and you can enjoy it as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTV.
Yeah, this is my favorite John Doe performance of all the films this week. Yeah, Doe as Pat McGurn in Road House and his work here, as Trucker. Great stuff. Watch it.
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 publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.
This is a rock-documentary-cum-concert flick that dispenses with the backstage tomfoolery and goes right to the stage with professionally-shot footage compiled from a variety of 1980-era shows held in England, France, and the United States.
And there’s a couple of reasons why the Police spearhead Urgh! A Music War: Not only were they the most commercially radio-successful “new wave” band of the groups featured; Derek Burbidge, the director, helmed several videos (the famous “Roxanne”) for the Police (he also did Gary Numan’s “Cars”), while Miles Copeland, the brother of the Police’s drummer, Stewart Copeland, managed the Police and operated IRS Records, which produced the film. The film briefly appeared in U.S. theaters via Filmways Pictures (seen it in an art house theater, natch), but gained its cult status due to its frequent airings on HBO and the USA Network’s “Night Flight” video block.
Beginning in 2009, Warner Archive (the successor-in-interest to Lorimar Pictures, who co-produced with IRS) released an official DVD-R of the movie — burned on a made-to-order basis. As result, this one’s not available as a cable PPV or VOD online stream and the freebie You Tube and Vimeo rips don’t last long. However, searching “Urgh! A Music War” on You Tube populates numerous concert clips from the film. The bands you know in those clips are the mainstream MTV video bands the Police, Devo, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Gary Numan, Oingo Boingo, Wall of Voodoo, X, and XTC. The lesser known bands featured — that some know and most don’t — include L.A.’s the Alley Cats, the Dead Kennedys (Terminal City Ricochet), Magazine (off-shoot of the Buzzcocks), the Fleshtones (Peter Zaremba hosted IRS: The Cutting Edge for MTV), Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, 999, Pere Ubu, the Surf Punks, and Toyah Wilcox (Breaking Glass).
You can view the film’s full track listing on Discogs while you listen to the soundtrack in its entirety on You Tube: Side A/B and Side C/D. If you need more punk documents, be sure to check out our “Drive-In Friday (Saturday!): Punk Night II” featurette where we not only took a look at Urgh!, but Punk in London, The Punk Rock Movie, and D.O.A.
What do you get when you have a Roger Corman-bred director and a screenplay titled after a cut from the Grateful Dead’s 1970 album American Beauty?
A box-office bomb that failed at making back half of its $25 million budget.
The film killed Jonathan Kaplan’s feature film career and became his last feature film. That’s a hard fall from 1988, when Jodie Foster won her first Oscar courtesy of his directing work on The Accused, which elevated his B-Movie status to Hollywood’s A-List with such high profile films as Unlawful Entry and Love Field (both 1992). Of course, the B&S crowd remembers Kaplan for the Drive-In potboilers Night Call Nurses (1972), The Student Nurses (1973), Truck Turner (1975), and White Line Fever (1975), and the quintessential juvenile delinquency flick of the ’70s, Over the Edge (1979).
Screenwriter David Arata — who earned an Academy Award nod for “Best Adapted Screenplay” for Children of Men (2007) — penned the tale of two American girls (Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale) who decide to take a vacation to Hawaii after graduating high school. . . .
Then they make the mistake of changing their itinerary to Thailand because the prices to travel there are cheaper. . . .
Then they meet up with an Australian bad boy, natch, who offers to take them on a “free” day-trip to Hong Kong. . . .
Guess who just got duped into being drug mules?
I’m with Roger Ebert on this one, who gave it a “Thumbs Up” and three out of four stars. While it’s negativity toward the Thai justice system comes off a bit prejudice, Jonathan Kaplan crafted a quality film; he certainly didn’t deserve to be banished to the world of network television. And while a young Danes and Beckinsale deliver the goods, Bill Pullman and Lou Diamond Phillips are equally excellent. And there’s John Doe going toe-to-toe in the thespin’ arena, dependable and reliable on the screen, as always.
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!” —Shane Carver, 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 NotoriousBetty 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.
Another great scene — lost — that ruins the point of the previous paragraph.
In the end: What we have here is an ineffective, low-budget variant of 1987’s far superiorRiver’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).
Ugh. Again. Another trailer-clip lost.
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.
Okay, so we’re cheating with this review. It doesn’t star John Doe, the subject of our week-long film tribute.
This parody on organized religion and the mass communication medium of television directed by New York No Wave artist Beth B stars Doe’s ex-wife Exene Cervenka, who meet her second husband Viggo Mortensen on the set of this, her only acting role. Beth B made her feature film debut with the 16-mm black & white film Vortex (1981) starring Lydia Lunch (Blank Generation, Mondo New York) and a young James Russo (later a go-to heavy in films such as Beverly Hills Cop and Donnie Brasco).
Stepthen McHattie (Theodore Rex) stars in this black comedic statement on the televangelist craze of the ’80s (think Jim and Tammy Bakker) as Reverend Randall, a flock-bilking preacher who likes to compose and rehearse his sermons while watching pornography. His religious empire begins to crumble when the unemployed Jerome Stample (Viggo Mortensen), who grows tired his wife Rhonda (Cervenka) donating to Randall’s church, devises a blackmail plot with his sister-in-law (the singular Dominique) to ensnare the reverend in a sex scandal.
Surprisingly, the film’s soundtrack doesn’t feature the music of Cervenka or director Beth B’s frequent collaborator Lydia Lunch; it instead spins the popular college radio and new wave club hits “Sputnik,” “Touched by the Hand of God,” and “Skullcrusher” by New Order, and “Jesus Saves” and “Twanky Party” by Cabaret Voltaire — along with a few tunes by co-star Dominique (Davalos), who would form the Delphines with former Go-Go Kathy Valentine in the late ’90s.
While it was released on VHS and appeared on HBO, Salvation! has never been released on DVD; however, we’ve learned the vinyl soundtrack was, in fact, released on CD in 1988 (thanks, Fabio, for pointing that out!). The film was previously offered as a VOD stream on Amazon Prime, but has since been pulled from release. You can, however, watch the film through a series of clips uploaded to a playlist by a You Tuber known as “McHattie Fan.”