Spoiler: You need to watch this movie immediately. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime!
Rockula has a 1990 release date, but don’t let that date odometer rollover fool you: This movie celebrated the end of the ‘80s by cramming in every last bit of that decade they could find. It is fantastic. It’s not good, exactly, but really fun to watch and occasionally rapturously inspired in its strangeness. You want proof? Thomas Dolby has a major role in Rockula, and he is only the second-most-amazing casting choice.1
We open with sort of a Ruthless People opening meets Edward Gorey animation complete with some grooving headstones.
My God: I’m almost certain that whoever did the animated credits to Run Lola Run saw this at a formative moment in his or her life. There’s even a shot of a crazy clock.
We open on dramatic organ playing that devolves into a frustrated “Chopsticks” and then the opening to “Come on Eileen.” (Or really, “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms”) It’s a frustrated Ralph the vampire (Dean Cameron), and he’s interrupted by his cheerful floozy mom, who is TONI BASIL. ACTUALLY TONI BASIL.
She is instantly perfect.
Get ready for a lot of all-caps. Seriously, at less than three minutes in –INCLUDING THE CREDITS — she’s so perfect I don’t know why she’s not in all the 80s movies. She’s got a fun, broad character, a physical presence, and a deep sense of play. It’s great. Anyway, she’s going out to catch herself a man. She’s catching one because she’s a sexy vampire, and then she does a bit where she goes to check her reflection and it isn’t there and she’s like “I forget every time!” Ralph, wearing a Transylvania U shirt, wants to know how she puts her makeup on and she says “Practice!”
So Ralph is a mopey young vampire. So ahead of his time, cinematically. Toni leaves and Ralph plays organ and his reflection starts talking to him. (Yes, I know that we just reminded everyone that vampires don’t have reflections. I haven’t figured this part out either.) It seems to be, to the extent that anyone thought about it, that becoming a vampire just sort of untethers your reflection. Ralph’s sticks around, but doesn’t bother mirroring his motions and it’s a wiseass. Like me, you’re thinking that this is Ralph’s inner self talking to him, but later events seem to disprove that. Vampire reflections are untethered and they have things to do, OK? Or something. Just let it be what it is. Ralph’s reflection wants to know how it’s hanging, which is a thing that it really should know. It’s not hanging well because it’s going to be Friday the 13th of October in a few hours and Ralph is playing sick. He says he can’t go through with this again.
Ralph heads out to a bar to bitch. There are Chuck the Bartender (Susan Tyrrell), a guy who is tragically only named “Drunk” (Kevin Hunter) and holy everything, is that actual Bo Diddley? My God, it is. Bo Diddley is cheerfully hanging out in this movie. His name is Axman.
Ralph dispels some vampire myths. He hates the sight of blood (though he does have to drink it) and loves garlic. We’re about to knock down more exposition than the end of the World’s Fair here, so strap in. And kudos to Chuck the Bartender for this enormous assist.
Back in the 17th century, Ralph lost the love of his life, who was kidnapped by her peg-legged pirate boyfriend. While they fought over her, the pirate lost his sword and the girl was killed by a blow with the new weapon he picked up, a giant hambone. Because they were in lurve but Ralph didn’t give her the final kiss to turn her into a vampire with him, she, a human, gets reincarnated every 22 years until Ralph can get it right and save her and get her to kiss him. If Ralph screws up, the crazed pirate will kill her on Halloween. Ralph doesn’t want to even try this year because he’s starting to get depressed with all these whiffs. He says she’s better off without him.2 Ralph heads out, saying he’s not even going to look for the love of his life (undeath?) this time. Bo Diddley says that dude sure has the blues.
Midnight hits and we hear a scream. Ralph has been hit by a car! A girl with magnificent 80s hair – like better than peak Quarterflash, maybe as good as peak Bon Jovi – runs up and accuses Ralph of running out in front of her. She’s really mad at him. Ralph knows her name is Mona and, you guys, you will never guess who she is. They argue, then Ralph kisses her and she likes him in spite of herself. Oh, ‘80s. She’s mad at him, but just can’t help liking that man. Wait, that’s not the ‘80s. That’s like all romantic comedies forever. Dammit, world.
Ralph leaves Mona, the girl of his destiny, and runs to a gas station bathroom, where his reflection confronts him. Ralph says it’s worse doing this love-pirate-girl-dies cycle every time, and maybe if he can avoid falling in love with her, he can break the cycle. Ralph’s reflection confirms that it is somehow trapped in the mirror space until Ralph beats this thing. Reflection Ralph is pissed that they’re by far the oldest virgins on the planet. Ralph says that makes no sense, since his reflection is a huge slut, but the Reflection says Mona is the only girl who matters. So, yes, check that box on the lose-your-virginity urgency, but it’s really about this one girl and true love. Aww.
Mona is a rockin’ singer-guitarist in a band and HELLO, THOMAS DOLBY. He comes in to their rehearsal to show off all the equipment and gizmos that he’s apparently in charge of, because of course he is. I guess he’s their manager. Thomas Dolby’s name is Stanley and for no reason whatsoever he also runs Stanley’s Deathpark, an extremely tasteless funeral complex. Stanley’s assistants pop on a video so we can watch a new Stanley’s Deathpark commercial, and you know what? Dolby has some genuine comic chops as an elegant sleazebag.
He plugs some coffins for the Stanley’s Deathpark Heaven on Earth sale, which is the first point in my notes when I typed “My God, I love this movie” and wondered if it was too late to call friends over. Stan asks Mona how she likes the commercial, but she’s more interested in cuddling Ralph’s dropped hat. Aww.
Ralph gets his bloodmobile delivery so that we know he’s a good vampire who doesn’t bite. He tries to tiptoe past his mom’s room, but she hears and calls him in. She’s in a bubble bath with a ton of bubbles… that turn out to be hiding a guy in scuba gear. You know what? This film’s sexual politics aren’t half bad. Not ideal, but not half bad. Mom Vampire likes her some sex, and she goes out and get some. The movie plays it for laughs, but only as an over-the-top contrast to Ralph’s celibacy.
The man in the tub in scuba gear is Big Al. Al asks Ralph what he does by way of conversation. Ralph says “vampire” and Big Al laughs. Ralph goes to his room and Reflection is making out with a girl.
Ralph tries to fake going to bed, but Mom comes in wants to know how his night went. She knows the whole deal with Mona and the pirate and the repeated 22-year cycle. She confirms that Mona will die in two weeks unless Ralph does something about it.
RALPHIE DREAMS A SOFT-FOCUS ‘80s MUSIC VIDEO. Mona sings.
Dream Ralph is chained and wears a sign that says “I’M NOT GOING TO DO IT. NO WAY.” Ralph relives some pirate abductions but, as Mona sings, it’s time to break these chains of her heart.
Jesus, I love this movie. I’m not saying it’s good. I’m saying I love it.
During the dream video, pirates come in and kidnap Mona and the band. The Pirate King kisses her. “Hey,” says Dream Ralph. A reporter asks him if it’s true that he’s forsaken the legacy and the girl of his dreams. Ralph wakes up to a vision of Mona getting crushed by a pig and also he’s in pig pajamas.
Ralph thinks that if he doesn’t save Mona this time, he’ll lose her forever. He’ll find that band! Reflection says that’ll be too many bands to search through. Ralph says he’ll fly. Whoops! He’s not good at it. It’s one of many extremely corny bits. One of the many intriguing puzzles of Rockula: At whom is it aimed?
Ralph goes outside in daylight with sunblock and glasses, though he doesn’t seem to need the glasses that much.3 Ralph talks to some amazing hair band guys. One is wearing a Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt. There’s no dialogue, but he talks to them forever. Are they extras or a real band or what?
No time to scroll back! We got a search montage! Ralphie talks to more extras and/or cameos. He looks at band flyers. He’s wearing a grey plaid vest over a grey and white striped shirt, by the way, in case you were worried about the decade.
Ralph finds a pair of funhouse mirrors out on the street. YOU HEARD ME. He talks to his reflection while pacing back and forth so we get Tall Reflection and Short Reflection. Should he join a monastery? Or would that be damning Mona to hell? (Don’t worry. We’ll settle into a decision soon.) Reflection Ralph checks out his dong in the tall mirror, horrifying Ralph, who of all people should be used to it. Then he says that if Ralph is meant to find Mona, he will. Just then, someone tapes a flyer to the mirror. Mona will be playing in Club Hell.
YOU GUYS. At Club Hell, Mona sings while wearing miniskirt made of a curtain and a top made from Old West saloon table decorations.
This song is “Turn Me Loose,”4 and she sings from a cage. Geddit? The crowd loves her. “Don’t tell me ‘have a nice day’ if you can’t make my night” is my favorite line.
She sees Ralph and is thrown off for a moment. Stanley sees and is pissed. As dudes from the audience creepily climb the cage, she’s back on it. Also? Synth Girl rules. I think her name is Robin based on IMDb and the process of elimination. It doesn’t really matter. She is Synth Girl and she rules. She is all the coolness worked in with so few lines.
After the show, Ralphie tries to get Mona’s attention. It looks like no dice, but then she goes to him. She asks why he’s following her, which feels like kind of a leap, but we’re rolling. Ralph can’t say the fated love/pirate thing, so he says he’s a big fan from way back. He lies that he’s a musician and has a band. But doesn’t know what the band is called or what the music is. But he does say they have gigs. We’re interrupted by THOMAS DOLBY IN A TOP HAT WITH DAISIES ON IT.
I want to make out with everyone in the costume design department, for real. Stanley takes Mona away and gives the nod to the club manager. Ralph gets ejected with a full-body toss and cat noise upon landing.
Ralph is back at the empty bar. He noodles on the piano as Bo Diddley strums. You guys, can we talk about how BO DIDDLEY IS IN THIS MOVIE?! Ralph fills Bartender Chuck and Axeman and Drunk in on what happened. And he says he is a pretty good musician, so why did he blow it? HE NEEDS TO START HIS OWN BAND!
Time for a wacky band-theme-choosing montage! We get to see Ralph and these other bar characters we don’t know well in crazy musician outfits. Straw boaters, country, mariachi…
This would annoy me in most other movies, but here it’s endearing. They argue. I love it. Reflection saucily asks Ralph “Whaddya gonna call it? Rockula?” ROCKULA! A band is born.
Rockula is also playing at Club Hell because they are, OK? Ralph drops a flyer at Mona’s door. Stanley natters about life and death and Nietzsche to Synth Girl, who tells him he’s an egotistical, pseudo-intellectual, money-grubbing sleazebag. He accepts it with good cheer.
The Club Hell owner who had Ralph ejected is now introducing him as a real rocker. Dear God, this is wonderful. Bartender Chuck plays bongos. Bo plays guitar, duh. Mona watches in surprise, but just behind her in the shot, Synth Girl is killing it with her reaction. Ralph sings about being a vampire. He has ROCKULA written on hanging sleeve flaps and everybody in the jaded music crowd goes crazy for this third-person vampire joke song.
Girls rush onstage to kiss Rockula. He’s a hit! Stanley is all harrumphy and looks for Mona. Ralph walks down a hallway at the club and gets congratulated by a bunch of rockers, one of whom clearly says he was meshuggeneh. Heh.
Ralphie and Mona walk to her place. She thanks him for the walk. They eagerly agree to see each other tomorrow and she gives him a kiss on the check and runs inside. Aww. Stanley sees and is angry. Reflection, wearing a different outfit than Ralph, says he started a band too. He wants to know how it went and did Ralph score? Ralph tells him not to be crude. So no. Wacky mirror bits!
The next day, Ralph goes out. Mom confirms that he’s back on the quest and is thrilled that he’s going out to meet Mona. She wants Ralph to bring her to dinner, and when he hesitates, Toni starts power-wailing that he’s ashamed of her. Ralph says he just wants to break the whole vampire/fated eternal love thing to Mona gently. Mom says she wants a big wedding, then watches him go. She thinks a little and hisses.
Mona and Ralph leave a movie or a play called The Hands of Egon Schiele. Way to go deep for a reference, movie. Ralph messes up by telling Mona details of Schiele’s life – just like he knew him. He laughs it off. Stanley hears and is mad.
Stanley goes to a palmist/crystal ball reader, Madame Ben Wa to ask about Mona. The Madam hides behind a big Spanish fan, with which she repeatedly and gleefully whacks Stanley. She says Mona is under a vampire spell. It’s Stanley’s destiny to save Mona! Between fan whacks, she tells Stanley to kill Mona. Being a funeral home guy/rock producer/manager, Stanley wants to freeze her cryogenically so she’ll be all his. Madame Ben Wa tells Stanley it must be on Halloween. And he must dress as a pirate with a rhinestone peg leg. And he has to kill her with a hambone.
Time for another show at Club Hell. OH MY GOD, IT’S VAMPIRE RAPPING.
Specifically, it’s a song called “Rapula.” It’s the Dracula story, but rapped. There are also dancing aerobics girls. Ralph is dressed in a USA jacket and Olympic ski pants and tighty-whities. Chuck has bat deelyboppers. Bo Diddley is in gold lamé and Spandex. This is incredible, because, again, the movie is from 1990. Rap had been mainstream for a while. But this movie is all of the ‘80s crammed into one burst, so we have to have a sequence where white people are fascinated by rap and have to try it but they also have to make it silly because they’re afraid they can’t pull it off for real.
That said, there’s a repeated line that’s “Are you the DJ? I’m the vampire!” and I defy you to see this movie and not catch yourself repeating it. The band is showered with Silly String. Mona thinks it was great. Oh, no. Mom is here! She wants to meet Mona and loved Ralphie’s show. She barges ahead and invites Mona to dinner Thursday night. Mona can go after her big video premiere. OK, Mom has to go. It’s pistol range night with her ladies’ social group, of course.
Ralph and Mona get their caricatures done. They get caught in the rain and kiss. Well, both of those things are going to ruin that caricature. And then she’s alone. It’s not raining and Ralph is walking away. They each sing alone about their passion. But now he’s walking right back to her! They sing “By My Side,” which I had to look up the title of, because it has a million lines that they hit like the title. Ralph reveals his fangs as he hits a high note and also gets hit by a car and rides around on the hood for video comedy. There’s a weird sequence as they search for each other through the underbelly of the city. There are kind of a lot of homeless people – including adorable homeless children – as scene setting. Mona and Ralph are reunited by three winsome homeless girls. To whom they do not give sandwiches or shelter. That’s OK. The girls are just happy to have reunited them. Also: Mona is wearing a leather jacket with Madonna on it. (The religious icon, not the gay icon.)
Wait a minute. That was just a whole dream sequence while they kissed. They’re back in the rain from before.
Mona: What was that?
Ralph: (knowingly) I don’t know, but it was definitely beautiful.
We pull back and it’s Mona’s video that just premiered! Is your mind blown?! Synth Girl applauds. And the three little homeless waifs who helped them are here, all cleaned up. I feel better knowing that they were the artistic choice of a fictional video director.
Stanley wears garlic around his neck and a robin’s-egg blue suit with stars and what looks like crossed shovels on it.
Stanley thinks he’ll get Ralph with the garlic and a cross. No dice. Ralph just grabs the cross and dates it inaccurately as an object d’art.
Ralph, feeling the pressure, talks to Ralflection in the john while chugging Alka-seltzer. Ralfection says to bite him. Mona calls for Ralph at the bathroom door – honestly, a little quickly for someone who just stepped out from the party. They’ll need to establish some boundaries – And Ralph says he’ll tell Mona everything. Ralflection says bad idea. Ralph has been waffling on dinner with Mom, but he emerges from the bathroom saying they WILL go. OK.
Stanley calls the party’s attention and has his own premiere, a new commercial. Among other things, he offers a tombstone that pops out a bouquet of flowers when you put in 50 cents. “Just smell these chlamydias,” says Stanley. Another tombstone can nag your loved ones with your own recorded voice. And the Rotary 600 coffin keeps loved ones turning over in their graves. That bit comes complete with the faint heavy thumping noises of a corpse in the casket.
WHO MADE THIS AND WHO WAS IT FOR?
We also learn that Stanley is now offering a cryogenic chamber with learning tapes to help you improve yourself while you wait for a cure.
Mona angrily swats the TV off. Stanley blames Ralph for her not loving the new ad.
Ralph and Mona pull up at his house. She says she’s not just upset with Stanley – all that death talk makes her wonder if that three minutes of rock video is all she’s been working for all this time. Sounds like she wants something more enduring… Mom interrupts Stanley as he’s about to tell Mona everything and he chickens out again.
Mom, however, immediately spills all the beans about them being around in the 17th century. Mona seems to roll with it fairly well.
Dinner, it turns out, is being cooked by Boo Boo Williams, the Terror of Tennessee. He is a professional wrestler for no goddamned reason whatsoever except that 1) this movie is committed to including every last scrap of the ‘80s and 2) it is delightful and insane. Boo Boo Williams wears a kilt and a silver tank top.
We cut to Mom telling a post-dinner story about banging George Washington. Boo Boo asks is they want coffee served here or in the living room.
Boo Boo puts on a record and introduces Miss Phoebe. Who is Mom. Dancing in a flowing cape. This is the best parental intro dinner EVER.
Toni performs “The Night” and she is selling it and SHE HAS BATS ON HER TITS.5
Boo Boo absolutely loves her performance. He watches her and beams with both pride and desire. See? She’s weird, but the movie doesn’t ask you to mock her. She is doing what she pleases and doing quite well for herself, thank you very much. Mona, however, is finally alarmed. Like in full jaw-drop mode.
I know it’s the wrong holiday, but can we all take a moment to be thankful for this movie?
Oh, god, Miss Phoebe/Mom also raps a little. It’s OK, we’re done with that now.
A concerned Mona drives Ralph home. He says his mom is kind of strange and she says the whole night has been packed with strange. Now or never! Ralph asks Mona if she would give up everything for him, including career and friends. Which is a bit much, as she points out, since they’ve known each other like a week-and-a-half.
He takes her into a cemetery and tells her he’s a vampire. She says this delusion is common. He tells her the whole destiny thing, including “you are killed by a pirate with a peg leg wielding a gigantic ham bone.” Still not buying. Ralph takes out a trinket box he keeps and shows Mona pictures of herself through the ages. She’s almost there. Then nah!
Ralph says OK, then turns into a bat. It’s not a very good bat. Ralph explains he doesn’t practice much. He re-humans and forgets to pull his trousers up as he transforms. Mona is freaked out. Well done! Ralph says she always reacts that way and she’s got to go along or they just do this again in 22 years. She yells that she doesn’t love him and runs away. OK, you can see how that would be a lot of pressure on a new relationship.
We see Mona in bed crying while awesome Synth Girl trues to call her on a push-button phone. Stanley freezes a rose in liquid nitrogen. Ralph sees the caricature guy and gets sad. Ralph goes to Club Hell and finds no joy. This is with an actual Thomas Dolby song over it — “Budapest by Blimp.”
You just found a way to love this movie more, didn’t you?
Ralph, in bed, opens his trinket box and looks at Mona. He goes to sleep with it on his chest. Mona falls down to crysleep on something that could be sheets or bedspread or could be rugs. They’re that deeply ‘80s.
Mona dreams of a pirate sacrifice! She wakes up, worried, and throws random things into a suitcase. Ralph plays chess with his reflection, who calls him numb nuts. He’s running out of time. Ralph goes out. Ralflection quietly removes a chess piece from the board.
Stanley is looking for a peg leg for his costume. It’s the day of Halloween. He also tells Madame Ben Wa that he’s going to butcher a live pig that’s sitting there for the hambone. This is one of the few jokes that really misses – the pig is too cute.
Mona’s airport shuttle breaks down. The shuttle guy tosses her bag out on the street and it bursts open. She finds the caricature of her and Ralph. That is one sturdy caricature. Eternal fated love will do that, I guess.
In the green room at Club Hell, Synth Girl worries about Mona – she is a true friend – and Ralph’s band worries about him. But now he’s back!
Madame Ben-Wa shows up with the peg leg for Stanley. IT’S Mom! What the hell are you up to, Mompire? She tells Stanley to save her before midnight.
Stanley openly calls Ralph a vampire. He brought the ham from the pig he slaughtered that day. Gross. Stanley and Ralph posture at each other.
But wait! Time for Toni Basil to dance! She’s wearing a Hawaiian grass miniskirt and part of a flamingo over a lace-up bustier, and she dances with a man who happens to already be tearing up the dance floor.
I love you, Movie. Marry me.
Stanley changes into his pirate clothes and falls out of a bathroom stall. That peg leg is a bitch.
Ralphie reviews the plan with the bands and tells Synth Girl it’s up to her, because of course it is. You know she can handle it. Now the video homeless girls are singing dressed as child brides while Synth Girl leads/dances the hell out of “United States of Beat.”
Ralph and Mona are both there! On opposite sides of the stage! They kiss onstage in front of the child brides and the audience loves it. Ralph spots his mom and she pretends to faint, drawing Ralph off the stage.
The lights go out! Stanley the Pirate swoops in! He grabs Mona! It’s five minutes to midnight! The gang has to find her!
Stanley drags Mona away to a cryogenic chamber. She sees the hambone and realizes that it’s Halloween and Stanley is dressed as a pirate. Oh, no!
Ralph searches everywhere. Ralflection takes some time to be a dick. After making Ralph apologize and call him his best friend, Ralflection finally tells Ralph where they are. I DON’T KNOW HOW HE KNOWS. SHUT UP.
Stanley is going to kill Mona… but then Ralph is there! He grabs the peg leg and duels with Stanley and his ham bone.
The band needs to find them. A woman we thought was an extra who is wearing either a stylized Mohawk or kind of an Aztec headdress is suddenly addressed as “Tootie.” She tells them where to go in an accent. Never change, movie.
Whoops! We lose some sexual politics ground as Stanley and Ralph argue over whose girl Mona is. Mompire hears them arguing and then hears Ralph openly praising her for believing in him. She rushes in and Stanley recognizes her. Mompire reveals that she was behind this whole thing because she didn’t want Ralph to leave home. (Wait. This time or all 19 times? And she wanted to get Mona killed?) But now she knows that she was wrong and he’s all grown up. Stanley clobbers her with the hambone and Ralph says “That was my mother you just boned!” because yes, we get to do anything we feel like in this movie. That is the true message of Rockula.
We’re almost out of hope. Will Stanley win? No! Ralph goes bat! Stanley, startled, falls into the cryogenic chamber. As he freezes, he smiles blissfully and listens to golf affirmations. He goes under to the repetition of “My nine-iron is an extension of my penis.”
It’s midnight! Ralph saved her! Mona and Ralph kiss! And forgive mom. Which is really quite forgiving, considering her death was on the line here. Ralph and Mona run to Mona’s car and they kiss. Mona stops Ralph from going in on her neck and says “No hickeys.”
Ralflection, back in a dressing room, waits for Ralph. And waits for Ralph. And waits. He can’t stand not knowing what happened. He breaks the mirror with a trash can and comes out dressed like Elvis with three hot backup dancers.
Oh, were you not paying attention? WE GET TO DO ANYTHING WE FEEL LIKE IN THIS MOVIE.
Tootie is on stage with a pink guitar. Ralflection takes it and starts to wail on it. He, in Elvis mode, sings “The King is Back (Hey, Rockula)” We do not see Ralph or Mona again. Their story is complete. This is Ralflection’s adventure now, singing us into the credits. It’s everyone’s adventure, if we want it to be. Get out there, Rockula whispers to us all. Get out there and do that ridiculous thing, and do it big.
Thank you, movie. Thank you.
“Why Thomas Dolby?” You may ask. I don’t know. Even coming back around for my cleanup pass after watching the whole thing, I still don’t know. He’s exactly as credible as many professional actors who have taken this kind of role in this caliber of movie before, but it’s not like he’s so inspired that you can see where someone yelled “GET ME THOMAS DOLBY!” My guess is that they thought they would cast the movie entirely with rockers and then …didn’t. But what the hell, they had Thomas Dolby and a couple of other gets, so let’s go for it. ↩
Wait, does that just mean she immediately gets killed by pirates? Seems suboptimal for her. ↩
I’m kind of getting into it. They wanted a main character who was a vampire, but didn’t want to deal with all the restrictions, so they’re like “Doesn’t count. Deal with it. Let’s go.” ↩
No, not the Loverboy song. ↩
I would like it noted that the credits specifically state that Toni Basil’s choreography is by Toni Basil because you’re goddamned right it is. You don’t throw a resource like that away. ↩