Black Roses (1988) Retrospective


tumblr_mz65m88v291qzr8nao4_500Black Roses concerns a heavy metal band that really does play the music of the devil. The headbangers breeze into the tiny midwesten town of Mill Basin and seek permission to hold a few concerts at the local high school. Parents object. Naturally, the kids are equally adamant about seeing the group. Mr. Moorhouse (John Martin), an open-minded teacher, intervenes, and the ghoulish group gets the green light for the gigs. But Moorhouse soon discovers that he made the wrong move. Changes occur in his students after they’ve attended the high-decibel extravaganzas. Former A students now straggle into class decked in black leather and studs, and the girls’ skirts climb higher and higher. The kids discover sex and violence. Finally, totally under control of the group’s evil leader Damian (Sal Viviano), the kids start slaying their parents in gruesome fashion. Moorhouse tries to convince his fellow teachers that the group has possessed the kids but ironically meets with disbelief, so he steels himself to battle Damian alone, unaware that the singer can transform into a bone-crushing monster at the snap of a claw.



With a less-than-fond farewell from an irate Canadian homeowner, schlock producer/director John Fasano recently departed Toronto after filming Black Roses.

“We had rented out a house which in the film belongs to the high school teacher, Mr. Moorehouse,” Fasano laughs. “We didn’t know it at the time, but the people who owned the house were in the midst of an ugly divorce. On the last day we showed up to film, the husband was inside with the lights off and all the doors locked. In the meantime, here we were on his front lawn with a trailer, a truck and about 70 people. Then his Scottish-Canadian neighbor came out and started yelling. ‘Get off of my land, ya goddamned Americans!’ The neighbor said that if we stepped on his driveway, he would shoot us.”

These days, it’s easy for Fasano to chuckle at his uniquely Canadian production problems. He wrote Zombie Nightmare and directed Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare up in the Great White North on budgets that couldn’t buy decent snow blowers. But now his low-budget days are behind him. Black Roses is priced at slightly under $I million (81.3 million. Canadian).

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The upscale purse enabled Fasano to hire a small army of FX men, a crew that included Mike Maddi, Richard Alonzo, Anthony Bua, Arnold Gargiulo and newcomer Daniel Platt. Bill Basso John Dods and Frank Dietz rounded out the team. There are three major monsters in the film: a six-legged speaker inhabitant created and operated by Anthony Bua, a student creature nicknamed the Julie monster courtesy of Bua and Mike Maddi, and the technologically complex Damian demon, from the hands of Richard Alonzo and Daniel Platt.

In addition to creating the speaker thing, Bua also oversaw construction of a breathing stereo speaker (from which the monster pops to feast on a nosey parent) which was produced by casting a bio-mechanical animal directly onto the speaker. Bua later removed the mold and cast the front section in polyfoam before cutting the back off the speaker. This enabled Bua and his assistants, from their position behind the speaker, to push and pull on the polyfoam front, simulating respiration. As an added touch, a polyfoam record was inserted with a bladder to create a breathing LP.

The monster itself was a 5-foot-long hand puppet made of polyfoam and fiberglass. “It had six legs, and the producers wanted some movement in the legs,” explains Bua. “There was no time for cable controls, so I ran armature wire inside the legs while the creature was cast. This gave the legs movement when I moved my arm around inside the puppet. That was for the close-up shots. Later on, when we used a whole creature. a tail was made. When I moved my arm, the tall could bend up to the back of the creature.”

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Bua also sculpted the hideous Julie monster. Since Bua was pressed for time, the she-beast was molded and operated by Mike Maddi. “I wasn’t on the project as long as the others,” Maddi reveals. “John Fasano called me and asked if I would like to take over a sculpture that was pretty much completed.” Maddi, currently employed on Howling IV. accepted the offer and flew to Toronto.

The climactic sequence of Black Roses occurs in the school auditorium, where Damian transforms into a hellish demon before an audience of horrified teenagers. Platt sculpted the Damian creature, which goes through several stages of makeup in its transformation, but the body suit was built by Richard Alonzo.

“We started out by taking body impressions and making a life mask.” recounts Alonzo. “Then we went into the various sections, such as the hands, which were extended arms mechanically controlled, and the head, which was radio-controlled. The head is fully articulated: the eyelids blink, the jaw snaps, there are even subtle brow expressions.


“Doing the full body suit was a challenge,” Alonzo continues. “I don’t think that one had ever been made in such a short period of time [six weeks] with as much quality. Once the mold was made, the suit was cast in polyfoam with a very thin skin like membrane. This worked well for the mouth. The feet and arms were foam latex. There was fiberglass construction around the mechanics.”

The opening scene of Black Roses depicts a ghastly performance by Damian’s band in another town. For this sequence, in which heavy metal fans have their souls vacuumed up by the band, John Dods created six full-sized upper puppets of teenagers in the audience. These were mechanical rod puppets, constructed from the waist up.

Bill Basso and Daniel Platt used prosthetics to turn the band themselves into four grisly hell spawn. “It took us four weeks to accomplish the job from life casts to actual application,” recalls Platt, subsequently at work on Warlock. “The foam prosthetics are all overlapping pieces. Bill used two appliances to create his demons, and I used a minimum of six sides, face, neck, chin, nose, upper lip, forehead and ears.”

The opening scene was one of several later reshot for the film. Why the reshoots? “The producers wanted more monsters. *’ Bua theorizes. “They looked at the rough cut and they wanted more creatures.”


Frank Dietz and Arnold Gargiulo were then pressed into service. Dietz whipped up a few horrific makeups for possessed high school students, and Gargiulo constructed nine zombie torso suits for the fiery finale of the movie, in which Damian’s band yet again transforms, this time into grotesque zombies. “The suits were built from the waist up, so that the actors could just slip into them,” explains Gargiulo.

Fasano hired Platt and Maddi after hearing recommendations from FX giant Dick Smith. Alonzo likewise had a referral. Bua and Gargiulo, on the other hand, were old friends of the director’s. “It’s good when you work for a friend because you’re happy to do the job,” enthuses Bua. Perhaps it also makes those in- evitable production problems easier to laugh at. With a chuckle, Bua recalls the somewhat painful experience he had while operating a monster puppet. “At first I was using a small dolly, but we abandoned that. Then they put me on the floor, grabbed my legs and just pushed me like a mop while I operated my puppet. I had rug bums all over my belly and chin.”

Gargiulo tells of a slight tailoring problem with his zombie suits. “The zombie suits that I made were actually designed for tall, thin people.” recounts Gargiulo. “John did hire one tall guy, but another zombie was short and fat, and a third was almost a midget. There’s a movie called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, in which Kim Darby is chased by little demons who say. ‘Sally, I want you!’ Well, that became a running joke on the set. Each time this little zombie would walk by the effects guys would whisper to one another, ’Sally. I want you!’ ”

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Although the Black Roses FX budget was large enough to keep the FX crew from cutting comers, most of the artists felt pressured by the eight-week shooting schedule. Richard Alonzo missed the “luxury of time” he enjoyed on previous films. Platt and Basso worked three weeks solid to complete the opening scene with the demon band. “We were putting in 16 and 20-hour days,” affirms Platt.

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The most elaborate effect in Black Roses is the climactic metamorphosis of Damian from headbanging rocker to head-removing monster. Platt had the dubious honor of wearing the Damian suit in this sweaty sequence. “The whole suit was made out of polyfoam,” Platt sighs. “It was very thick and very hot. I was glued head-to-toe inside the suit, wearing two layers of spandex to protect me from the polyfoam. I was also wearing a mechanical mask custom cut for my face. Basically, being inside the suit was like wearing four layers of pajamas and sleeping between the mattresses.” To add to his misery, Platt couldn’t breathe. The monster’s serpentine tongue covered the entire mask. “Every two or three minutes, or however long the scene was it always seemed like nine hours they would take the mask off and I’d get a gasp of fresh air.”

But Platt’s ordeal had only just begun. During one break for fresh air, he discovered that his next shot was a fire scene! “They told me to lift my arms over my head,” Platt frowns. “I had no idea what they were doing. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t hear. But I could feel, and I suddenly felt them dousing me with pyro-gel. They told me. ‘Stay on this mark, don’t move from the mark.’ I said, ‘All right, why?’ And they said, Because if you do. you’ll be stepping into a wall of flame.’ ”


The cameras rolled. Platt blindly swung his claws at John Martin in the school auditorium while nearby gas jets spat up an inferno. “I was petrified,” shudders Platt. “I had no idea where the fire was during the whole scene. Being in the Damian suit, which was at least 125 degrees, and then feeling the wall of flame rated at around 900 degrees where I was standing that was a bit frightening.”

Why endure such hardships for a horror movie? “Because we love it,” answers Daniel Platt for the Black Roses FX crew. “We love the genre and we love our craft.”


Interview with Director John Fasano

John Fasano directing the horror film BLACK ROSES in Hamilton, Ontario in 1987It’s been 25 years since Black Roses was released. How do you feel about that?

John Fasano: That’s a long time. God, now I have grown children! Twenty-five years ago, I was just trying to make a little horror movie that I hoped could get onto TV or video.

You shot Black Roses in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

John Fasano: Paul Mitchnick — who didn’t end up getting the job — interviewed to shoot the movie, and told me we should look into Hamilton because that’s where he had grown up, along with Eugene Levy and those other guys. He thought it looked like a small American industrial town, and when we went out there, it was perfect. There was a big, closed-down elementary school that we used for the high school, and we shot on the main street for the opening where the Lamborghini comes down.

Did you get any tax breaks for filming in Canada?

John Fasano: There were no tax breaks per se like there are now, but when you shot there for Canadian content, your distributors would get a better tax deal. We just went there because we knew we had a good crew, and the exchange rate back then was good.

What was the impetus behind the movie?

John Fasano: We had done Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare and Zombie Nightmare; Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare cost $52,000 and was shot on 35mm, and made like $400,000 in sales. [Distributor] Shapiro Glickenhaus came back to us and said, “This time we’ll give you $400,000 to make the movie, because you proved yourself.”


During that time in America, this little-known senator named Al Gore was always trying to find a cause. First he was anti-tobacco; then they found out he owned a tobacco farm, and his wife Tipper got it into her head that teens were committing suicide after listening to heavy metal. She said it was the devil’s music, and back in 1985 there was a huge movement against it. My ex-girlfriend Cindy Cirlle, who wrote the script, said, “What if this band really was from hell?” and we thought that was great, so we went to Lenny Shapiro and said we wanted to do that in a movie. Now, we’d had a worldwide soundtrack album for Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare with Jon Mikl Thor, so he said, “As long as there’s a chance for an album. I’m there.”

Is “Black Roses” meant to be a cautionary tale warning parents about the dangers of metal?

John Fasano: Ha! It’s about MONSTER killing bad parents! Pay attention to your kids or you’ll die!

Did you plan on getting Thor involved with Black Roses?

John Fasano: My first thought was to use Thor to play [Black Roses lead singer] Damian because he was Canadian and my friend, and we’d had a lot of success with Rock ’n ’Roll Nightmare. But his wife at the time, Cherry Bomb, wanted him to be the main producer and not me, so we didn’t work together on that. I ended up getting Sal Viviano, a Broadway actor, to audition, and he became a great Damian. It was always sad to me, because my dream early on was that everybody from Thor and [actor] Frank Dietz to my makeup men, Andrew Clement and Tony Bua, who did Rock ’n ’ Roll Nightmare and Zombie Night- mare, would do all my movies, like how John Ford had a stable of actors back in the day.


Another interesting casting choice was Julie Adams; how did that come about?

John Fasano: The first movie I ever saw was Creature Jrom the Black Lagoon, and I just loved it. When we were looking for people to be in Black Roses, I wanted to get a character actor like [Zombie Nightmare’s] Adam West, who would come up to Canada and work for three days for $25,000, so when I saw Julie again in Creature, I knew I wanted her. After that all I needed was a guy to play the intrepid English Teacher. I knew who I wanted: Gedde Wantanabe, the disgraced Japanese businessman in Ron Howard’s GUNG HO. Casting against type frail intellectual teacher fights monsters in big effects driven finale. Too bad his agent thought that the movie was beneath him. Then another Soap Opera actor came into our casting sessions handsome John Martin, who actually been The MARLBORO MAN. We had our teacher.

What about Vincent Pasture?

John Fasano: My sister Felicia worked on this movie as an associate producer. She and my ex Cindy went out to find someone, and came back with Vincent Pasture. His scenes weren’t part of the original filming; when we were done with the shoot and cut it together, James Glickenhaus said we had room for more monsters, so the scenes with Vincent, and the one were Julie fondles ’ . herself and you see the band playing in prosthetics, were all shot in and around my house in Westchester County, New York.

John Fasano and Sal Viviano - BLACK ROSES Production Still

Tell us a hit about Black Roses FX.

John Fasano: Tony Bua sculpted . the zombie head I wear in Zombie Nightmare when I fight Adam West at the end. He and his best friend Andy Clement were in college when they did that, and for Black Roses, Tony sculpted the Julie monster and Mike Maddi did the cast, made the puppet and painted it up. It’s a real cool creature. I had learned from Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare that having one giant puppet was difficult, so I called Mike and said I wanted one from the waist up, with an arm to be used for grabbing. It was all attached to a big 4×8 plank, so when you watch that scene in the kitchen, you don’t see the five guys on the floor trying to work the cables.

How did you manage to get an influential musician like Carmine Appice, of Vanilla Fudge and other groups, involved with Black Roses’?

John Fasano: Carmine was a friend of Elliot Solomon, whose dad worked for Shapiro Glickenhaus; later on, he took over the whole company. Elliot wanted to do soundtracks and did the one for Black Roses, and for the songs he didn’t write, he had connections with Vanilla Fudge and brought them in to help out. Since he knew Carmine, we thought it would be hilarious if Carmine came in to play the drummer.

Were you a fan of heavy metal growing up?

John Fasano: I get asked that a lot, and I will say that I listened to AC/DC in college, but I grew up on Long Island so our hero was Billy Joel, and there was Springsteen. But heavy metal was huge in the news because of those suicides, so I wasn’t a fan until I did these movies, and then I got into it afterward.

The original “Black Roses” VHS release featured a beautiful cover with 3D plastic artwork. Do you think this flashy packaging helped the flick stand out in video stores? Did it help with sales?

John Fasano: I get people today who don’t remember ever seeing the movie but remember that video box.



The soundtrack was released on compact disc in 1988 by Metal Blade Records.

Dance on Fire
Performed by Black Roses

Soldiers Of The Night
Performed by Black Roses and Aex Masi (as Masi)

I’m No Stranger
Performed by Bang Tango

Rock Invasion
Performed by Black Roses and Aex Masi (as Masi)

Paradise (Were On Our Way)
Performed by Black Roses and Aex Masi (as Masi)

Me Against The World
Performed by Lizzy Borden

Take It Off 
Performed by King Kobra

King Of Kool
Performed by David Michael-Phillips

StreetLife Warrior
Performed by Tempest

Performed by Hallow’s Eve


John Fasano

Ray Van Doorn
John M. Fasano

Cindy Sorrell

John Martin
Ken Swafford
Julie Adams
Carla Ferrigno

Elliot Solomon

Special Creature Effects
Richard Alonzo
Tony Bua     
John Dods   
Arnold Gargiulo
Michael Maddi
Dean Merci
Dan Platt






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