Allen Kovac is obsessed with algorithms. The veteran Mötley Crüe manager and Better Noise label/Tenth Street Entertainment founder/chief believes in following the data.
The result is “The Retaliators,” an homage to ’80s splatter horror from his new Better Noise Films, with a cast and 18-song soundtrack comprised of the label’s roster, including members of Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach, From Ashes to New, Asking Alexandria, The Hu and Bad Wolves as well as the Crüe’s classic lineup.
Horror and metal have gone hand in fist since the days of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins through Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and KISS to White Zombie, Slipknot and GWAR. The roughly 60-40 male/female audience crosses over demo-wise, too, and Kovac’s Better Noise is in position to take advantage of the cross-promotion, hyping the movie’s Sept. 14 premiere at some of this summer’s higher visibility rock tours.
When it opens at 1,500-2,000 theaters, the film will have been previewed by posters with QR codes, merchandise and trailers featured at the Mötley Crüe/Def Leppard/Poison/Joan Jett stadium shows, as well as tours featuring Five Finger Death Punch/The Hu and Papa Roach/Bad Wolves.
In all, that will have covered 123 live dates from May through October, representing 2.6 million ticketholder impressions, with tactical support from promoter Live Nation and Ticketmaster, as well as iHeartRadio and Spotify.
“It’s about getting social media, music, video and film streams to trigger one another,” says Kovac, who was turned on to the project by Michael Lombardi, the former “Rescue Me” star. Lombardi produced and stars in the film as the conscience-stricken small-town preacher seeking revenge on the vicious drug dealer who killed his daughter. After working with Lombardi on “The Retaliators,” Kovac was so impressed he named him the first head of production for Better Noise Films.
“He puts so much belief and faith in you, that you don’t want to let him down,” says Lombardi. “He inspires you to walk through walls, turning nos into yesses. He gave me all the bands’ contact numbers, we hand-picked their parts and discussed it with all of them. Allen’s a legend in the music business whose relationships run deep. My goal was to make a great movie first, and have the music be the gravy. When I read the script, the music possibilities just jumped off the page, I heard something hard and edgy.”
The origin story has its own musical roots, as Lombardi once fronted a band, Apache Stone, who appeared on an episode of “Rescue Me,” while screenwriters the Geare brothers – Darren and Jeff Allen – were in the pop-rock group Hong Kong Six, receiving airplay on L.A.’s Indie 103.1 back in the day.
“We hit it off creatively as songwriters first,” says Lombardi about the Geares. “That’s how it all began. We performed one of the songs, ‘Magnetic Heart,’ on acoustic guitars for Allen, and he thought it was a hit, but we never released it.”
Five years passed when Lombardi and the Geare brothers reconnected and bonded over the script for “The Retaliators,” then interested Kovac, who was looking for a film property after Five Finger’s Ivan L. Moody expressed an interest in an acting project when he saw “The Dirt.”
“Revenge is the oldest tale in the books, like Shakespeare writing about love, a primal instinct,” says Lombardi. “And I just loved the lead role, who undergoes such a transformation in the third act. I wanted to take control of my own destiny as an actor and producer, much as I learned from working with Denis Leary on ‘Rescue Me.’”
The siblings acknowledge the influence of ‘80s horrorcore in “The Retaliators,” from low-budget cult flicks like “The Re-Animator” and “Basket Case” to classics like “Evil Dead” and “The Hills Have Eyes,” a nod to “Lost Boys” and “The Crow,” with their hard-rock soundtracks, as well as a dash of “The Goonies” and “Stand by Me” in its Spielbergian small town setting.
The Geares based the screenplay on the true story of their younger sister Jody, who was raped and beaten but fought off her attacker to eventually see the perpetrator caught and punished, leading to the screenplay’s blood-soaked, Grand Guignol, Tarantino-esque third act. The idea of the film arose when the Geare brothers imagined what kind of revenge they’d take if given a minute alone with the individual who did such a horrible thing to their loved one. Ironically, Jody turned out to be a huge fan of “Rescue Me” — she insisted the show helped her heal from PTSD — and is now the rare female captain of a firefighting unit in Northern California.
“I just loved the story,” says Kovac. “I thought it resonated. Because it had a moral, with this priest who turns the other cheek then is forced to fight for his own life. It cried out for a hard rock soundtrack.” The score was by “Stranger Things” composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, adding yet another layer of ‘80s-influenced pop culture relevance to its marketing outreach.
The Better Noise soundtrack album, available Sept. 14, the same day as the film’s theatrical release, opens with Papa Roach’s “The Ending” and closes with the Nikki Sixx co-penned (with Sixx A.M.’s James Michael) final credits song, “The Retaliators Theme (21 Bullets)” featuring members of Ice Nine Kills, Asking Alexandria and From Ashes to New. There are other Crüe contributions to the soundtrack from Tommy Lee (“Tops”), Mick Mars (Hyro the Hero’s “Who’s That Playing on the Radio?” with Asking Alexandria’s Danny Worshop) and Vince Neill (on Classless Act’s “Classless Act”). Other Better Noise acts on the soundtrack include Mongolian rockers The Hu (“This is Mongol”), Asking Alexandria (“Faded Out”), From Ashes to New (“Barely Breathing”), Cody Marks (“Burn It Up”) and Bad Wolves (“If Tomorrow Never Comes”). Mötley’s classic “Girls Girls Girls” is heard during a strip-club scene in the film with Tommy Lee as a garrulous MC.
“I found the individual songs that fit the scenes and put the artists in those scenes,” says Kovac, who was a music supervisor on Fox’s 1994 “The Miracle of 34th Street.”
Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix and Five Finger’s Ivan L. Moody are cast in the most prominent roles as a pair of gnarly bad guys, while members of Five Finger, Ice Nine Kills (Spener Charnas), Eva Under Fire (Amanda Lyberg), The Hu (Jaya Galsanjamts) and From Ashes to New (Matt Brandyberry, Mat Madiro, Lance Dowdle and Daniel Case) all have cameos. Throw in co-stars Joseph Gatt (“Game of Thrones”) and Marc Menchaca (“Ozark”) with cult recognition of their own alongside Lombardi’s “Rescue Me” credits and you have the perfect storm of Kovac’s overlapping algorithm cross-fertilizing pop culture strategy.
“The acting experience was epic,” enthuses Papa Roach’s Shaddix, who played the evil Quinn Brady. “I was a little nervous at first, but once I met everyone, it was just awesome. It was rewarding to challenge myself to do something outside my comfort zone. I’m typically a light-hearted guy, so it was a real departure playing someone so dark and twisted. It can be pretty intense.”
Better Noise has been releasing individual songs from the soundtrack since 2020, going to No. 1 on Active Rock radio with Papa Roach’s “The Ending.” The movie will go from theaters to VOD, then streaming and finally DVD, a two-year plan toward ultimate profitability. Made for $6 million of Kovac’s money, with another $2 million budgeted for promotion and marketing, some of it was shot on land around his home in Connecticut.
A month-long theatrical window will feature VIP showings including Q&As with the producers and the performers.
“We’re reaching out to the artists’ fans first through the soundtrack,” explains Kovac, who feels the music will encourage people to see it on a big screen. “The soundtrack has a major impact when you see the movie in a theater, and that’s what we want to make people aware of by cross-marketing through the bands’ websites and social media. That’s what we do. We’re an algorithmic marketing company.”
And while there are no Apache Stone or Hong Kong Six songs on the soundtrack album, Lombardi says Allen told him his new band will be called The Retaliators. Nice work for a guy who has his head squeezed in a vice in the film’s climax.
Next up for Better Noise Films is a suspense thriller, “Hiss,” which will also be cast with the label’s artists and their music. The approach is targeted yet expansive enough to cross over to a larger audience.
“There’s no magic to what we’re doing, no secret sauce” insists Kovac. “Everything we do is driven by data, reaching the right audience interested in our content. It’s a win-win. We’ve got the music, the publishing, the management and the film.”