Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Voyage of the Rock Aliens (1987)

Directed by James Fargo
Starring Pia Zadora, Craig Scheffer, Ruth Gordon
Rated PG

"Can I get you a doctor? Or a vanilla shake?"

Surreal Devo-meets-Grease sci-fi teen comedy musical featuring cult Hollywood rockabilly's 'Jimmy & The Mustangs', Pia Zadora ('Hairspray'), Craig Scheffer ('Some Kind of Wonderful' etc), Michael Berryman ('The Hills Have Eyes') and.....Jermaine Jackson??!!!

Some futuristic aliens traveling through space in a guitar shaped spaceship see a 'rock music' video ( 'When the Rain Begins to Fall' by Pia Zadora and Jermaine Jackson). The video is a weird Mad Max type thing with 2 gangs of rival feral "street toughs" wearing face paint and headbands, and Pia and Jermaine prancing around, miming. Naturally, the aliens are instantly hooked on rock music and travel to earth looking like synth poppers Devo, with their robot sidekick. Arriving in the beach town of Speelburg they try to fit in with the local youths.
It just so happens that in this town resides a young hoodlum by the name of Frankie (Craig Scheffer). Frankie likes to sing with 'his' band, played in the movie by Jimmy & The Mustangs. Their music scenes are in the style of music videos, , particularly good is the clip for foot-tapping rock n' roll quiff-a-thon 'Justine'.

The aliens also perform music and when Frankie's girl Dee Dee (Pia Zadora) sees them she finds herself strangely attracted to the singer, who is the opposite to Frankie's tough guy 'male persona'. The alien singer also falls in love with Dee Dee, despite the fact he has had his emotions removed. Frankie is annoyed and sings a song about 'the nature of the beast' and his 'male persona' in the style of a George Michael-esque pop video, accompanied by footage of wildcats.

There is a big rock aliens vs Frankie's band musical battle royale, 80s synth pop vs rock n' roll, some kind of metaphor for old vs new I guess. Dee Dee gets the chance to join the rock alien's band and live with Devo-esque singer but decides she can't live on a distant planet with no emotions though, and decides to stick with Frankie.

There are also some fun scenes with monsters and Michael Berryman attacking things with a chainsaw!

If this all sounds bizarre, that is because it is! So, summarizing this movie is quite a challenge. All in all quite a fun movie that doesn't quite live up to the promise of its title. It was probably cutting edge at the time, fusing MTV style video scenes, music, and film, contrasting futuristic space aliens with retro rock n roll, Grease with Dr Who. However, maybe a bit too complicated for its own good, and probably a tad overlong, I had to watch it in 2 sittings. I got the impression that it was made on a limited budget which got over-stretched. But this film is fun and worth watching if you should happen to find a copy (and you dig your screwball 80s high school type movies). File under 'so bad its quite entertaining', rather than its 'so bad its genius/brilliant'.

Bonus: Jimmy speaks!

Jimmy & The Mustangs emerged from the Punk Scene in Southern California in the late 70's and early 80's. Evolving from roots-punk into a rockabilly/swing band, their reputation grew and they opened for X, The Blasters, Los Lobos, Chuck Berry, The Stray Cats and Joe Ely, just to name a few. It wasn't long before Jimmy and the Mustangs were headlining the same clubs with sold out shows of their own. Their first album sold in excess of 40,000 copies and Jimmy & The Mustangs were hired by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame to perform at his own private party, then also sought out by Bruce Springsteen, who joined them onstage.

Television and Movie appearances followed, including a big part in cult classic 'Voyage of The Rock Aliens'. A self titled E.P. was released on the Curb/MCA label and included the song "Justine" which was made into a video as part of the 'Voyage....' deal, and received play on MTV (back when it was cool) as well as being included in the movie (and is one of the best scenes!)

After some time out from rock n' roll (and movies) Jimmy is back. Although he does not seem particularly proud of the movie, his band have some of the best scenes in it, so I tracked him down for a brief Q&A:

Introductions: who are you? Where are you from? Describe your sound?
Hola! Jimmy Mustang Here! Originally from Los Angeles California and now tearin' up the Lone Star State in Austin Texas. Our sound is a bit of Country Rock, Rockabilly and Cow Punk. Like a grizzly bear trapped in a bird cage.

Your music is in the movie, is that you guys acting, too?
You call that acting?

Clip: Jimmy and the boys hamming it up!

How did you become involved with the movie?
We needed to eat.

Any interesting stories about the making of the movie? Any stories about Pia Zadora?
We shared a plate of Fries.

Did the movie have any impact on your career? What happened next for Jimmy & The Mustangs?
We got a pretty good 80's rock Video out of the deal.

Your favourite music video scene from the movie? Mine is 'Justine' because it is fun rock n' roll.

Did you play on 'Nature of the Beast' (the one with the panthers etc) or just the rockabilly songs?
Hell no. Just the Rockabilly tunes.

What are you up to now? Still rockin'? Anything else you want to talk about?
After a long time away from the music scene, I'm back in the studio, recording a new album and planning to try and get over to Europe sometime next year!

Visit Jimmy at his Myspace Page!

- Review and interview by Alex Eruptor

PS: Click here to listen to Voyage of the Rock Aliens episode of the Movies About Girls Podcast!

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