Honky Tonk Blood A Macabrely Nice Surprise
Correction: The Honky Tonk Blood Troubador Tuesday date is Tuesday, March 8, not March 1.
See more photos from Thursday's premiere in our slideshow.
Rocks Off will admit we were skeptical going into Thursday night's premiere of Honky Tonk Blood at the River Oaks Theatre. It's not so much that we thought the idea of a black comedy set in the Houston music scene was dubious - hardly - more that we went into the screening wondering if there was going to be any there there.
Produced, written, shot and directed by Johnny Falstaff, John Evans, and the Southern Backtones' Hank Schyma, and starring the trio alongside a litany of local musicans and scenesters, Honky Tonk Blood is witty and entertaining. It's equal parts hyperbolic music-biz parody, sly noir homage (the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple is a major influence), and big-time valentine to Houston.
How much acting they're actually doing could be debated, but the three leads are all naturals on camera and suit their roles to a T: Falstaff as a Faustian record-label boss both bacon-grease slick and rattlesnake lethal; Evans as a good-ole-boy rock star who may be wiser than he lets on; and Schyma as a somewhat naïve unknown musician who has more trouble getting gigs than getting laid.
The supporting roles are equally well-cast, including Craig Kinsey as a stoner prophet; Myke Foster as the embodiment of all things sex, drugs and rock and roll; and Two Star Symphony's Jo Bird as the sci-fi porn star of a movie-within-a-movie that drew the biggest howl from Thursday's crowd and that Rocks Off is not going to spoil for you by describing. Kinsey's Sideshow Tramps bandmate Geoffrey Muller has the best line in the movie as a salty street musician, while Scattered Pages, Jaime Hellcat and the Hates pop up in hilarious cameos.
So anyway, when his flagship artist (Foster) dies in a mysterious fall and Evans' sales begin slipping, Falstaff and his partner (Pale's Calvin Stanley as a bottom-line A&R type) decide their label might have more luck with "Montrose Music" than rockabilly and sign the Southern Backtones on Evans' advice. When that doesn't pay off quite as quickly as Falstaff likes, he employs a Plan B that involves tequila and a mysterious redheaded femme fatale.
What really makes Honky Tonk Blood work as well as it does are the spot-on details, from Schyma's "rathole" of an apartment to a Japanese man warbling his way through "Home on the Range" (badly) at Cosmo's and Emily Bell's over-the-top turn as Schyma's coked-up girlfriend with an enormous bladder and faulty aim with a used tampon. And yes, that is Santa Claus on the bicycle.
As for the soundtrack, it's solid stuff, ranging from Falstaff's Latin-laced rockabilly and a chicken-pickin' guitar pull at the Proletariat (!) to star turns from Evans at the Continental Club and Sideshow Tramps at a Westheimer Block Party (we think), plus appropriately creepy avant-garde strangeness from Two Star Symphony and a couple of propulsive U2-ish cuts from the Backtones.
Half the fun, of course, is the laundry list of local landmarks such as La Carafe, Proletariat (RIP), Rudyard's, AvantGarden and the River Oaks itself, to name a very few. In fact, the movie is so Houston that Rocks Off couldn't help but wonder how it will play outside of Texas. No doubt Sundance-goers will be befuddled that a movie shot in Texas does not contain one horse in the entire film, although there are a couple of cows and you'll never look at a pair of spurs the same way again.
Rocks Off gives Honky Tonk Blood two severed thumbs up. We can foresee a healthy cult afterlife for the movie as a party favor, a fucked-up postcard/gag gift from a fucked-up town - Schyma says he's working on hammering out a DVD deal - and, hopefully, as a midnight flick two or three times a year back at the River Oaks.
Honky Tonk Blood screens next Saturday at Hugh & Jeff's in League City. Schyma, Evans and Falstaff play the next installment of Troubador Tuesday, March 8, downstairs at House of Blues.
We hope that's not the last of it, either. Unlike its actors, Honky Tonk Blood is going to be difficult to kill off.
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