Shitizen KaneSometimes I watch a film I know nothing about and wonder why the hell it isn’t more talked about. That includes films I’ve discussed on Mondo Exploito. Trepanator is one, and Aerobicide to a lesser degree. Shock ‘Em Dead is definitely in this category. While it has a cult following of sorts, it hasn’t received the nearly the level of attention it deserves.


USA, 1991, Mark Freed

Shock 'Em Dead

Some reviews of Shock ‘Em Dead on IMDB will tell you “this is the best movie ever”, while others label it “ho-hum rubbish.” Combine the two and you get the true answer: Shock ‘Em Dead is the best rubbish ever.

Martin (Stephen Quadros) is a nerdy dweeb working at a pizza shop. Martin sacrifices his job in hope of becoming a big rock star by skipping work for an audition held by Spastic Colon, a ridiculous cock rock band, led by the idiotic Jonny (Markus Grupa) and managed by the super sultry Lindsay (Traci Lords). Unfortunately his skills on guitar are no better than his skills on the pizza production line. He resolves this with a visit to a voodoo priestess (Tyger Sodipe) who assists Martin in making a deal with the (double-headed guitar wielding) devil (Michael Angelo Batio – stunt guitarist for Quadros later in the film) to become the greatest rock star ever.

Martin wakes up, sporting an impressive new hairdo, in a sweet new pad surrounded by hot ladies. Changing into the appropriate black leather pants, Martin – now re-dubbed Angel Martin – pays a visit to Spastic Colon for another audition (who don’t recognise him, by the way). This time he blows their fucking minds with his mad skills (or cutaways of Michael Angelo Batio’s mad skills) and joins the band. All good right? Yeah, except Angel/Martin made a deal with the devil and part of that deal is that he has to feed on the souls of people to survive!

I’m sure you can already tell from the synopsis that Shock ‘Em Dead is great. And yes, it lives up to its hilarious premise. Shock ‘Em Dead is a potent blend of wailing guitars, cool haircuts, tight pants, soul-sucking and gags. While a lot of the jokes are awful (in the best possible way), believe it or not, there’s some genuinely funny writing here courtesy of director/writer Mark Freed and co-scribes Andrew Cross and David Tedder.

Take Spastic Colon, for example. From the moment they appear, I was screaming with laughter. Partly this is due to the shameless performance from Markus Grupa as Jonny, but their songs are cock rock perfection. Written by Freed and the film’s composer, Robert Decker, their two headlining songs are titled “Virgin Girl” and “I’m in Love with a Slut”, both accurate parodies featuring lyrics like “a virgin girl is only good one time”. Spastic Colon’s big performance in which Angel kicks Jonny out of the band onstage had me gagging with laughs. Observe:

Shock ‘Em Dead is helped along by an entertaining lead performance from Quadros. While he doesn’t quite work as a voyeuristic geek – that kind of makes it funnier, anyway – he truly embodies the cheesy Rock God image to hysterical heights. Also along for the ride, we have Aldo Ray and Troy Donahue making surprise appearances, but the draw card cast member is, of course, Traci Lords. I’m not a fan of Lords – both her acting ability and her manipulation of the porn industry – but her presence adds a touch of absurdity to the proceedings.

Leaning more towards comedy, Shock ‘Em Dead is a little light on horror, but its ample use of smoke machines, snakes and lurid lighting give it that special charm only found in the late 80s and early 90s. The film hits its stylistic peak during Martin’s trip into hell – the fog is piled on, and blue lighting and neon-green video effects run rampant. With the addition of Batio’s squealing guitar solos, it’s like watching some long lost, uninhibited metal video.

If you can’t enjoy Shock ‘Em Dead and spend the whole time scoffing at its poor production values, then shut up. Shock ‘Em Dead makes me weep for a time where low budget filmmaking was a chance to have fun, a chance to be loud and stupid. Here’s a film that doesn’t have to shake the camera like the operator’s having an epileptic fit to energise the audience, or ironically wink at the camera to make a joke. Shock ‘Em Dead is just a cheap and nasty good time.


Shock ‘Em Dead is available locally (in Australia), but it came out nearly ten years ago so it’ll likely be difficult to find. I’d suggest buying the film directly off the director. It’s a legitimate release and features extras, including a commentary.