Why Do So Many Rock Stars Die At 27? Argentine Film Explores One (Insane) Theory

Jan 26, 2018
Originally published on January 26, 2018 5:34 pm

January is not generally known for its prestige movie premieres. Audiences are usually still catching up on Oscar nominees, which means critics have to look further afield for interesting films. This year, I happened on a comedy that won't be opening in the U.S. for a while — but it struck a chord.

It's a comic detective-fantasy called 27: El Club De Los Malditos, or 27: The Club Of The Damned, and the film starts by explaining its title. "Much has been written," say words typed in Spanish, "of the accidental deaths of famous musicians at the age of 27." (The names cited are familiar but discreetly distant from the real world: "Janiz" Joplin, "Ami" Winehouse, Jim of the "Doorz.") "... But what if they weren't accidents?"

A moment later, a singer who's belting "yeah"s and expletives breaks a beer bottle over his own head and crashes through a window onto a car several stories below. He's also 27. Coincidence?

To figure that out, a hard-drinking detective (his beverage of choice is Tang crystals in rubbing alcohol) and a blue-haired music fan team up with an older guy whose mane of long gray hair looks familiar to the fan.

"I can't believe it," she says. "You're a little older, but you're just like him."

"I'm not just like him," the gray-haired man replies. "I am him."

"Jim? ... Jim Morrison"

Apparently the lead singer of the Doors didn't die — at least not in the film's alternate universe, which is, I should note, populated with persuasive sound- and look-alikes, all of whom fall victim to ... well, I shouldn't spoil surprises. But let me note that the film has disgruntled aging musicians who dress like Bond villains, a detective with decent comic timing and, happily, a cryogenic lab that keeps dead rock stars on ice.

I don't want to overstate the case for 27: The Club Of The Damned. It's more goofy than brilliant, and with my limited understanding of Spanish, it possibly gained something from not being subtitled. Even in Argentina, where it was made, it barely premiered in the top 10, just above the sixth week of Daddy's Home 2. But in a season when Hollywood mostly releases warmed-over sequels and third-tier horror flicks, 27 is remarkable in one sense: It's original, based on a real-world mystery that's sparked plenty of questions. Why do so many rock stars die at 27? And how has it not occurred to someone in Hollywood to make a movie about that?

Janis Joplin would've turned 75 on Jan. 19. Her story's there for the taking, and it's kind of cool that somebody thought to take it.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you've seen most of the Oscar nominees and you can't find anything else interesting at your local movie theater, you're not alone. Critic Bob Mondello says Hollywood has always used January as a dumping ground. And today he argues that doesn't have to be the case. To prove it, he found a black comedy in Argentina, and he's guessing that if people here could see it, the film would strike a chord with them, a musical chord at that.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's a comic detective fantasy called "27: El Club De Los Malditos" - "27: The Club Of The Damned." And the film starts by explaining that title. Much has been written, say words typed in Spanish, of the accidental deaths of famous musicians at the age of 27...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "27: EL CLUB DE LOS MALDITOS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Yeah.

MONDELLO: ...Janis, Jimi, Kurt, Amy, Jim of the Doors. But what if they weren't accidents? A moment later, a singer who's belting yeahs and expletives breaks a beer bottle over his own head and crashes through a window to pavement several stories below.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "27: EL CLUB DE LOS MALDITOS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, screaming).

(SOUNDBITE OF CRASH)

MONDELLO: He's also 27 - coincidence? To figure that out, a hard-drinking detective - his beverage of choices Tang crystals in rubbing alcohol - and a blue-haired music fan team up with an older guy whose mane of long, gray hair looks familiar to the fan.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "27: EL CLUB DE LOS MALDITOS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: Can't believe it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "27: EL CLUB DE LOS MALDITOS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: A little older but just like him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "27: EL CLUB DE LOS MALDITOS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: I'm not just like him. I'm him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "27: EL CLUB DE LOS MALDITOS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Jim?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Jim Morrison?

MONDELLO: Apparently the lead singer of the Doors didn't die, at least not in this film's alternate universe, which is, I should note, populated with persuasive sound- and look-alikes - Amy, Jimi, Janis scoring drugs on tour and all of them falling victim to - well, I shouldn't spoil surprises. But let me note that the film has disgruntled, aging musicians who dress like Bond villains, a detective with decent comic timing and, happily, a cryogenic lab that keeps dead rock stars on ice.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "27: EL CLUB DE LOS MALDITOS")

MONDELLO: Now, I don't want to overstate the case for "27: The Club Of The Damned." It's more goofy than brilliant. And with my limited understanding of Spanish, it possibly gained something from not being subtitled. Even in Argentina where it was made, it barely premiered in the top 10 just above the sixth week of "Daddy's Home 2." But it is in a season when Hollywood mostly releases warmed-over sequels and third-tier horror flicks.

Remarkable in one sense - it's original, based on a real-world mystery that's sparked plenty of questions. Why do so many rock stars die at 27, and how has it not occurred to someone in Hollywood to make a movie about that? Janis Joplin would have turned 75 last week. Her story's been there for the taking. And it's kind of cool that somebody thought to take it. Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PIECE OF MY HEART")

JANIS JOPLIN: (Singing) Take it. Take another little piece of my heart now, baby. Break another little piece of my heart, now darling, yeah. Have another little piece of my heart now, baby. Well, you know you got it. Shout if it makes you feel good. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.