“Some call him Lucifer. Some call him Satan. I call him Master.” These words are spoken over a black screen. Their speaker is then revealed to be the jocular grandfather of a petrified boy named Jim, who’s rooted to the spot while Grandpa tells him, “Creatures who drink blood and can become wolves are real!” His joshing has dire consequences, though, because after he declares himself a “creature of the night” and says he’ll come back to kill Jim and his whole family, the young lad takes matters into his own hands and drives a wooden stake through the old codger’s heart when he lies down to take a nap. “What have you done? He was only joking,” cries Jim’s grandmother, but it’s too late. The traumatized boy has blood on his hands and has had a lifetime belief in vampires and werewolves instilled in him.
All this happens (in black and white, no less) in the first two and a half minutes of 1988’s Hard Rock Nightmare, which are quite honestly the best — and best-acted — two and a half minutes of the film. The remainder follows young adult Jim (Martin Hansen), an up-and-coming rock star, and his band, the Bad Boys, as they take his uncle’s Winnebago to the family farm left to him by his late grandmother (who apparently had no hard feelings about the whole murdering-her-spouse deal) so they can rehearse their repertoire (including the hard-rocking title song) without bothering the neighbors, who have called the cops on them three times in the space of a week.
Jim’s fellow noisemakers are his best friend Charlie (Greg Joujon-Roche) on guitar, perpetually stoned bass player Sammy (Robert D. Peverley), full-of-himself drummer John (Bryan Kovacs, who can’t mime along with the backing track to save his life), and nerdy keyboardist Paul (Tom Shell), who wears large, Trevor Horn-like glasses, and a single earring. Along for the trip are sound guy Tim (Gary Hays), Jim’s supportive girlfriend Sally (Lisa Guggenheim), Sammy’s petite squeeze Connie (Nikki McQueen), and Sally’s friend Tina (Annie Mikan), who’s hung up on Charlie but insists she’s not a groupie. And waiting for them at the farm, where they arrive on the night of the full moon, is a hairy creature that walks on two legs, has razor-sharp claws and fangs, and a sense of timing that is impeccable. (It claims its first victim after Tim, having tried to wheedle a hand job out of a reluctant Tina, says, “All I wanted was a little head,” at which point he is immediately beheaded with a single swipe of a paw.)
The monster’s first appearance, incidentally, doesn’t occur until after the band has had their first rehearsal and Jim has received a cryptic phone call from his long-dead Grandpa, prompting him to go for a walk to clear his head. Subsequent attacks are also timed to Jim’s periodic disappearances, putting suspicion on him when, having discovered the phone is out of order, the gang sends two of their number to the RV to try to raise someone on the CB, and two others to the local Ranger Station, which Jim’s Uncle Gary (Troy Donahue, the most experienced actor in the cast) knows will be deserted since he made a call from his office in the city while the band was en route and found out the ranger is away at a wedding. (“They’re up there all alone,” he says, to himself as much as anyone else.)
By the time Jim’s entourage has been effectively halved, he’s pretty far gone (it doesn’t help that his nightmares have gotten increasingly freaky), arming himself with a rifle and muttering about needing to make silver bullets for it. After Charlie comes face to muzzle with the beast and lives to tell the tale, though, the survivors concoct a plan to lure it out into the open and put it down for good. It’s only then that writer-director Dominick Brsascia (making his sophomore feature) gives viewers a full-body shot of his creature, which looks good enough that it probably could have stood to be featured more. The moment following the discovery of Tim’s headless corpse when Jim sits everyone down and tells them, “A wolf did this, a werewolf,” there’s no need to by coy about what they’re up against.
Hard Rock Nightmare is currently streaming on Shudder.