“Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers”
-”Future Legend”, David Bowie.
It appears there was something special going on in Canada in the early 1980s. Specifically, in the animated-musical-science fiction-fantasy movie department. Debuting in 1981 was the cult classic Heavy Metal, the film based loosely on the legendary stoner magazine of the same name. Not as well known is Rock & Rule, a 1983 release with music from Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie, and Cheap Trick. While Heavy Metal is dotted with an oddly non-heavy metal soundtrack (Stevie Nicks? Donald Fagen? Devo?), Rock & Rule has a slightly harder edge. It’s also not nearly as popular as Heavy Metal; it enjoys no pot-smoke filled rooms at midnight revivals, but nonetheless, if you grew up with HBO and Showtime in the mid-80s, or if you collected bootlegs, you might remember it.
The movie got it’s start when Nelvana, the production company that later created Care Bears, wanted a rock and roll cartoon starring a group of mice. That was The Devil and Daniel Mouse, a cute little number with music by the very non-rockin’ John Sebastian of Lovin’ Spoonful fame. When Nelvana got the dough to produce it’s first feature film, they took the idea of a rock and roll mouse group and fleshed it out, complete with actual rock and roll.
How do mice figure in? The setting is post-apocalyptic North America. The cities have a distinct Blade Runner feel. Humans have been wiped out by nuclear war and the only survivors are the different breeds of cats, rats and dogs that have evolved into mutated humanoids. They live in a city named Ohmtown, and rock and roll is one of the few avenues of entertainment left. A band of mice are performing at a club, MC’d by a sleazy rat named Mylar. There’s the ambitious Omar (voiced by Paul LeMat in the American version, singing voice by Robin Zander of Cheap Trick) on guitar and vocals, the spazzy Stretch on bass, and the rotund Dizzy on drums. Finishing the band out is Angel (singing voice by Debbie Harry) on keyboards and vocals.
It’s Angel that provides the villain of the movie his modus operandi. The villain is Mok (singing voice by Lou Reed), a sleazy hybrid of glam rock excess and Joker-like hysterics. You don’t see him at first, for the first five minutes you only hear his gravelly voice from the back of his limo, talking about finding that “special voice.” With a special, Satanic, computer-activated ring, he hones in on Angel belting out a showstopper at Mylars club. The special voice he seeks will allow a fire demon to break through another dimension and grant him full power.
Mok is a lot of fun. In fact, while he’s obviously based on Reed, David Bowie, Tim Curry and Mick Jagger, there’s no doubt that Mok himself was an influence on Bowie’s Goblin King in Labyrinth a few years later. It shows when we watch Mok seduce Angel with a small, glowing orb called an “Edison Ball”, a spherical form of heroin that also entices Omar and Stretch. For all of Mok’s evildoer designs, he doesn’t have the best of luck. Hilarious sequences find him kidnapping Angel to “Nuke York”, only to have Angel get away from him and seek solace at a swanky discotheque called Club 666 (with music by Earth, Wind & Fire!), and finding out that Nuke York doesn’t have enough power to fulfill his rock concert needs. Mok can be a goof - he has three roller-skating mooks that do his handiwork, and he resorts to television studio trickery in order to convince Angel he’s not such a bad guy.
When the film was released in Canada, it caught some heat from concerned parents and critics regarding its liberal use of drug use, Satanism, and a boob or a butt here and there. Matters didn’t help any when MGM picked up the distribution leg for America. After they decided they weren’t happy with it, they shelved it, save for a few screenings in Boston for whatever reason. HBO and Showtime picked it up, and that’s where most people, including myself, discovered it. The wise video-store clerk who rented this to me recently, remarked “some people know what’s up.” It’s a tad obscure, but it’s a fun film that belongs in more homes.