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Everything you (n)ever wanted to know about "Rock Aliens!"


Like so many other bad '80s sci-fi comedies that followed in the wake of "Star Wars," "Voyage of the Rock Aliens" is short on plot. A crew of aliens arrive on earth and soon a loopy singer (Pia Zadora) with a greaser boyfriend (Craig Sheffer) falls in love with one of them. Sounds like "Earth Girls Are Easy" until you factor in all of the film's randomness: there's a $2 sea serpent prop loose in town; two homicidal escaped lunatics -- one on life support (yep, he drags his machine around) and Michael Berryman as the chainsaw killer (who neglected to lubricate his 'saw); Ruth Gordon as a tactless sheriff who's convinced that the recent string of killings were committed by aliens; an alien robot who takes the form of a robo-fire-hydrant; Craig Sheffer strutting and posing and pretending to be a cougar-man; butch Allison LaPlaca as a bobby-socks-wearing mechanic who finds love in the most unlikely circumstance.... and one actual music video that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything.


Directed by James Fargo ("Any Which Way But Loose") with cinematography by Gil Taylor ("Star Wars," "Flash Gordon"), the movie was intended to be an '80s spoof of movies like "Grease" and "Beach Party." But once they threw in the Devo-wannabe aliens, an endless string of musical numbers and corny one-liners, hellaciously huge and hard hair, a frightening amount of spandex and pleather outfits, "Flashdance" headbands, horrendous lipsynching and ridiculously dated choreography, it seemed to be less of a movie and more of an '80s musical infomercial for Curb Records.


Pia Zadora had moderate success as a singer and actress and it seems this film was intended to showcase both talents... particularly since the movie was primarily financed by her wealthy husband, Meshulam Riklis. The once Christian-turned-new-wave band Rhema (whose management insisted they rip-off Devo) and the rockabilly-punk band Jimmy and the Mustangs both signed contracts with Curb Records which included a clause that they would star in this film, and the rest of the artists whose music was used in the movie were also under contract to Curb (3-Speed, Neil Sedaka, Mark Spiro, etc.). Unfortunately, due to the lack of success(/release) of the film, most of the artists were quickly dropped from the label.  The songs were not written explicitly for the film, they was recorded prior the bands learning that they were committed to star.  The sole exception is Jimmy and the Mustangs' insanely short "Come On," which opens with a brief reference to the film's plot ("Hey everybody have you heard the word? Someone's been messing with Frankie's girl!") -- but it's easy to speculate that this was an existing song and the line was added in post-production.


Filmed in November and December 1983, the movie was intended for release in 1984. Unfortunately, it was quickly apparent that something was amiss. In April 1984, Pia headed off to Italy to shoot a music video with Jermaine Jackson for their duet "When the Rain Begins to Fall," a song which was featured in the film. Before a single frame of the music video was shot, Riklis announced that he planned to have this video tacked on to the end of the film... which makes its inclusion in the movie even stranger. The plot of the "Rain" video (which ultimately wound up being placed immediately after the opening credits) has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of "Rock Aliens." Matter of fact, it's a bit odd to see Pia swooning over Jackson when it's established a few minutes later that she has a jealous boyfriend. And, of course, Jackson simply vanishes without mention. If they'd brought in Craig Sheffer or had any through-line other than Pia, it might not seem so oddly out of place in the movie.


Around the same time the music video was shot, there were big color ads in the trade papers declaring "the spaciest comedy ever launched" (appropriate tagline) was forthcoming... but alas, the movie didn't come. The first glimpse that audiences got was in March 1984, when The Hollywood Reporter ran a two page ad heralding special screenings of a 17 minute "promo reel" (which was issued as an extra on the German Blu-Ray).  



In 1985, the film had sporadic screenings in a few American cities. Those who attended were given posters, promotional backpacks with the movie's logo and a button which proclaimed "I Took the Voyage of the Rock Aliens!" 

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The film was released in West Germany in April 1985, where Pia's album "Let's Dance Tonight" was a monstrous hit.  Titled "Voyage of the Rock Aliens: Let's Dance Tonight," they were clearly trying to play up on her musical success. 



By September 1985 an American PR man revealed its greatest appeal was to "very young audiences," so they intended to launch it as a TV movie... which is what ultimately happened in Canada.  In March 1986 the movie began airing the Canadian First Choice Superchanel and played in heavy rotation through September before vanishing into oblivion. In 1987, the movie made its way across the globe to France and Finland for screenings, and it was ultimately dumped on video worldwide in 1988, though there was little fanfare and it went predominantly ignored on video store shelves. 

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Numerous variations of the poster art exist, but one of the more interesting pieces is a rejected piece of concept art featuring the majority of the cast members (including Jimmy &the Mustangs, who were omitted from the final posters) riding atop the guitar spaceship (whomever currently owns this, look me up and hook me up!).  There are two posters (and numerous variations) featuring Frankie and Dee Dee in the foreground (each in different poses) surrounded by flying characters both from and inspired by the film. The other widely circulating poster features a robotic hand clutching a photo of Frankie and Dee Dee.

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Although the film failed to do anything whatsoever for the careers of most everyone involved, there was one benefit for Pia Zadora...  Cult filmmaker John Waters caught an early screening and was so smitten that he hailed it as one of his favorite movies and sought her out for a memorable role in his now-classic comedy "Hairspray." 

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Not surprisingly (and much like the equally off-the-wall obscurity "The Apple"), "Rock Aliens" began garnering some cult movie notoriety after the turn of the century. In 2004, after being tracked down by a few fans who were eager to learn more about the making of this bizarro movie, former Rhema member Craig Jensen devoted a section of his site to the band and first leaked mp3s of Rhema's songs online (including numerous tracks which weren't included in the film). He later went on to establish pages for both the band and film on MySpace and Facebook.



In the UK the film was issued on DVD (dubbed from an old, fuzzy video master) and in Germany it's had numerous releases, including a lavish 2-disc special edition which featured a rare promotional reel by Curb Records with 45 minutes of  music videos from the soundtrack, an alternate workprint cut of "Little Bit of Heaven," and an upscaled blu-ray with additional music videos, TV spots and a photo gallery.  The picture quality of the German editions are superb (note the screen-caps) but unfortunately, all of these releases suffer from PAL-Speedup.


In the USA, the film has been out of print for decades but an original 35mm print was unearthed by the folks at Alamo Drafthouse and it's on its way to becoming an annual attraction at QFest, the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, in Houston, Texas, where it was freely screened in 2014 and 2015.  It's also popped up for a variety of cult movie screenings (utilizing both the VHS and German transfers) throughout the country.  Perhaps one day the movie will get the legit release (and acclaim!) that it deserves in the US, but until then it's pretty easy to track down on the internet.





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