Any list of great Canadian heavy metal strongmen MUST contain Jon Mikl Thor, the legendary rocker who has had a big influence on bands like Gwar. Dressed in a cape and little else, Thor has made a career of doing shows where he performs feats of strength like picking up audience members with his teeth, blowing up hot water bottles until they explode and breaking concrete blocks on his chest with a sledge hammer.
Mere rock couldn’t contain Thor, though, and in 1987 he unleashed upon us a movie called Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare (which he stars in, wrote and produced), a film that honestly has to be seen to be believed. From the puppet demon in the oven in the opening scene to the most jaw-droppingly bizarre final battle between Thor and a much bigger puppet at the end, Nightmare is the kind of movie that true connoisseurs of not-quite-B-movies love.
Connoisseurs like the folks at Synapse Video. If I had to choose a favorite small DVD label, I think it would be these guys, and their Special Edition DVD of Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare is packed with greatness. There’s a commentary by Thor and director John Fasano, there’s a featurette on the life of Thor, there’s rare behind the scenes footage and more. You have to buy Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare right now, and you can do it by clicking here. Also be sure to check out Synapse’s website – honestly, you can go through their catalogue and buy almost any movie at random and you’ll end up with one of the best DVDs in your collection.
Q: One of the great things about Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare is that it begins as one kind of movie and then at the end totally turns into a completely unexpected kind of film. Was that something you had in mind from the beginning, or did you guys find your way there when you were putting the film together?
Thor: I wanted it to have a Hitchcock style surprise ending. What I wanted to write, being into superheroes and science fiction and horror and rock, I wanted to have a movie that combined all these elements together. The surprise ending was intentional.
Q: You’re touring right now or you’re touring soon?
Thor: I start touring on June 30th, it’ll be the first concert of what’s going to be a hundred city tour in five months. I’ll be doing about twenty shows a month. And I have a new album coming out called Devastation of Musculation, so I’ll be promoting that as well as the film.
Q: You began as a body builder, then you moved into music and then into film. Was that always the plan, or did you stumble into these careers?
Thor: Music actually first because I started playing accordion when I was seven. Then I started lifting my brother’s weights in the basement at about the same age. At the time I was a Superman comic book fanatic, as well as Popeye, and watching Steve Reeves playing Hercules on TV, as well as George Reeves as Superman. I was a huge fan of all these superheroes and science fiction and horror right from when I was a little boy. It’s amazing that to this day I sort of have a career of being a superhero character, whether it’s on stage or in movies, and wearing capes and jumping around. To be able to make a living like that is pretty amazing.
Q: How long did it take to find the Thor character you play on stage?
Thor: It was a lot of trial and error. If you look at my first appearance on Merv Griffin, my hammer looked more like a meat mallet and my costume was like the Star Spangled Banner with glitter. I was developing the concept. Of course glitter rock was big in the early 70s, but later I made the transition into the costume being more streamlined and all black, with leather and studs and such. Through trial and error I developed the character over the years.
Q: You’re still performing with that same character, but are you still performing the same feats of strength you were doing in your heyday?
Thor: I’ve changed it. For example in Orlando I’m going to battle a giant monster. It’s going to be Thor vs Giant Robots, and a monster is being built for me to battle. I’m expanding the show. Rather than just bending steel bars with my mouth and crunching up my back molars or blowing up hot water bottles until blood vessels in my brain burst apart, I’m doing bigger than life kind of theatrics. I portray the Intercessor on stage – the character from The Intercessor: Another Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare – and I also change costumes and become these characters. It is Thor, but I become Thor as The Intercessor and Thor as the Dark Avenger. It’s a lot more theatrical. The show has taken on a whole new persona.
Q: A lot of your fans would probably be happy to settle for what you’ve always done, but you’re taking the show and making it bigger. Is that something you have to do to keep yourself interested?
Thor: I think you always have to reinvent yourself. I retired from showbiz completely in 1987 – I cut off all my locks and dyed my hair black and wanted to totally get away from show business, records and movies. I wanted a break from it all, and I didn’t think I would ever perform again. But all through those years it beckons you – you’re writing songs, you’re writing scripts. When you’re a creative person, it’s hard to just throw it away. So I started making a comeback around the year 2000 and it just kept growing and growing and growing. I’m finding there are a lot of new young fans who are singing “We Live to Rock” when I’m onstage, and it’s from the movie, and they love the song. It’s just a great feeling that hey, there’s something I wrote years ago and people are getting into it now who weren’t even born at that time.
Q: I’m assuming Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare was a very, very low budget picture.
Thor: Low budget but we tried to make it look as expensive as possible. We shot it on 35mm.
Q: What’s the experience of that like – when you’re trying to create such a big ending sequence and you have so little money?
Thor: It’s very stressful. I had done that before with many of my projects. I’m much like Roger Corman must have been – I’ve read that he was stressed out trying to make a picture and they run out of money and that sort of thing happens.
The post-production was very stressful as we tried to edit everything. Actually, we were the first at the time – it was the trades – my company Thunder Films was one of the first to ever edit on digital. Back in 1987. That helped us speed up the post-production.
Q: Last year The Intercessor came out, which was a sequel to Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare.
Thor: It’s a sequel/prequel. We’re doing a third one right now.
Q: That was going to be my question – is it a trilogy or could it continue beyond three films?
Thor: It could continue more, but I’m leaving it as a trilogy. John Fasano and I are working on All Hallow’s Eve, and that’s the ultimate ending. Intercessor: Another Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare deals with John Triton not knowing who he is. Through his battles he’s lost his energies and his memories and he has to wander the Earth to discover himself. In the third part he does discover himself again and it leads off from The Intercessor. In the third one he goes full bore again. There are a lot of battles.
Q: Is he going to go up against Satan?
Thor: Yes. Most definitely. The Evil One himself. An ultimate showdown.
Q: Excellent. Will that happen on Earth or will we see Hell?
Thor: We will see Hell. Hell will be there.
Q: You’re a big Superman fan – are you excited about the new movie?
Thor: You’re talking to a guy who, when I was a kid, had a Superman problem. I was so obsessed with Superman that at school I would draw the Superman insignia on the teacher’s chalkboard. I would draw Superman and the Superman insignia all over my textbooks, and I would change into Superman at recess. I had a Superman costume under my clothes. This caused great problems at my school between my teachers and my parents.
I was a huge fan of George Reeves. I would watch The Adventures of Superman religiously. I’m very anxious to see Superman Returns. As I said before, The Intercessor is sort of my Superman character. He comes from another world. And it’s the same idea as Hercules, you come from another world, you come to Earth, and you have to battle people.
Q: As a kid you wanted to be a superhero, and now you’re a superhero. Can you give advice to people on how they can achieve their dreams like you have?
Thor: We live in a tough world, and I say believe in yourself and never give up. There are many times I could have given up my dreams and I would always be wondering what could have happened. I think if you believe in something, whether it’s a product you developed, or something you’re doing, and you believe strongly enough in it – even if others deter you and say it’s no good or whatever – especially if you’re trying something new and different, believe in yourself.