Film: Rockula (1990)
Directed by: Luca Bercovici
Written by: Luca Bercovici and Jefery Levy
Starring: Dean Cameron as Ralph LaVie
Toni Basil as Phoebe LaVie
Thomas Dolby as Stanley
Tawny Fere as Mona
Susan Tyrrell as Chuck
Bo Diddly as Axman
By Count Vardulon (naturally!)
Pre-screeening memories: Rockula doesn’t exactly fit in neatly with the other movies I’ve covered for Natsukashi – they all represented formative experiences in my developing love for film, while I first saw Rockula when I was already out of my teens.
I don’t think Rockula is any less important than those films, because while those other films shaped my tastes in one way or another, Rockula is the first film I’d ever seen that seemed to have been made specifically for me.
Why does it seem that way? Simple – everyone has a unique sense of humor that values different things (wordplay, slapstick, irony) at different levels, and are generally too complex to explain in a sentence or two. If you want to gauge a person’s sense of humor, there is a simple method available – ask them what the single funniest situation possible is. While it’s not going to give you a complete understanding of that person or their humor, it’s a great first step.
If ever asked that question, I have an answer ready: The funniest thing possible is having a civil conversation with a monster. So it’s no surprise that Rockula would come in high on a list of my favorite films of all time, since it’s the story of a forlorn vampire trying to find love in the world of the Los Angeles club-rock scene.
The strange part about the movie is that, living in Canada, where the film was apparently never released, I’d never heard of it when it just sort of turned up one day. My writing partner and I had just started working together, and we had a habit of renting a few odd movies and brainstorming as we watched them. One time he came over announcing that he’d found my “favorite film that I’d never seen.” Since that’s essentially a challenge, we watched the film immediately, and I discovered that he was completely right. It wasn’t just that the movie was delightfully absurd, or the fact that I’m always impressed by original screen musicals, what captivated me most about the film was how confident it was. Almost as if the film had no idea how crazy it was. The premise is so odd that it’s nearly impossible to imagine it being presented without constant winks and nods at the audience, but there aren’t any to be found.
It’s an utterly absurd premise delivered with a completely straight face, and that’s basically my favorite type of comedic film. The fact that I had never heard of the movie before that day was proof enough that it hadn’t been a big success, but no matter how few people saw it, there was an audience for it.
This led me to believe that no matter how crazed or insane a movie might be, as long as it was made well, there would always be a group of people who would appreciate it, seek it out, and support it. With this in mind, my writing partner and I pledged to work on personal projects, eschewing tradition and trying to offer our own unique comedic vision to the world. And while that’s been a professionally disastrous decision, it’s also incredibly creatively fulfilling, and I can credit it largely to how impressed I was with Rockula.
Tragically, I was only able to see the movie that one time. The video store it was rented from went out of business soon after, and I was unable to find another copy anywhere, nor was it available on DVD. Never before had I regretted not illegally copying a videotape. It lived on in my memories, though, and in the constant references that my writing partner and I make to ‘Rapula’.
New memories with recent screening – I’d go so far as to state that every bad thing the internet has given the world has been equally weighed, if not outbalanced, by the boon that is Youtube. Essentially operating as an internet nostalgia repository, I can’t count the number of childhood memories it’s managed to refresh (although, to this day, it fails to offer the theme song from Captain Redbeard)
No, it wouldn’t be until the advent of Youtube years later that I would be able to see it again. And the film would prove to be everything I remembered it to be and more. Sure, it was full of my kind of comedy, but beyond that, I was surprised by just how well-made a movie it was. If that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, I don’t intend to, it’s just that so many of these ‘nostalgia’ movies turn out to have such glaring flaws that I wind up questioning my taste.
Rockula, on the other hand, succeeds at everything it sets out to do. Not only is it a wonderfully fun vampire romantic comedy, but in the part I’d completely forgotten, the songs are just great. They all fit the period and tone of the film perfectly, and are hummable in their own right. I can’t remember the last time I wanted a soundtrack this badly, but one was never released. Luckily there’s the internet, where the songs can be found in their film versions, but it’s a poor substitute for a studio soundtrack.
Just as watching the film on Youtube is a poor substitute for being able to buy this movie on DVD. Look on any shelf in the DVD section of a electronics store (that’s where people buy DVDs now, right?) and you’ll see a few dozen movies that aren’t as entertaining or as high quality as Rockula. There’s no excuse for this movie not being out there, and I’m officially making it my quest to get this movie released on DVD. I’m not really sure what form that quest is going to take, but I’m very passionate about it. Which makes this the second time I’ve been inspired by Rockula. Can there be a better grounds for recommending a film?
Also, Rapula name-checks William Saffire. If you were ever looking for the definition of ‘reaching for a rhyme’, that’s it.
Download Natsukashi’s ‘Rockula’ podcast with writer/director Luca Bercovici
or rock out right here with our little on-site player:
Our featured guest: Luca Bercovici
Luca is the mad genius who put the rock in Rockula as its writer and director. The multi-talented artist got his first cinematic break with Demi Moore in the 3-D horror flick Parasite. As a writer, Luca began in 1984, crafting the first of the Ghoulies films. The film was the highest-grossing independent film of 1985 and, like the Ghoulies themselves, went on to multiply three sequels.
After Rockula fell victim to the changing hands of studios in 1988 and unjustly fell off the radar, Luca went on to direct the thriller Dark Tide, and then revisited the horror genre with The Granny with Stella Stevens. Luca continued to alternate in front of and behind the camera, starring in mainstream fare such as American Flyers, Clean and Sober, K2 and Drop Zone, while helming The Chain, Convict 762 and Luck of the Draw.
Luca now splits his time between the states and Budapest, Hungary, where he serves as Head of Production for Raleigh Film Budapest.
He has some exciting news of future projects (hint: Mickey Rourke reprising a beloved role) which he divulges to the Natsukashi listeners and we thank Luca for recounting his time spent creating the cult film that is begging for a DVD release, Rockula.
For those interested, you can view Rockula chopped up into nine parts on Youtube. The first segment is below. If you have an interest in getting this film a proper DVD release, drop us a line and we will make sure it gets in the proper hands.
Crank up the speakers and enjoy…