MAY 4, 2012
Just when I thought I had my fill of WWII set horror movies involving supernatural entities, along comes The Devil's Rock, which plays with the formula enough to feel fresh, and ranking as one of the best in this sub-genre. Featuring a couple of great performances, an incredible makeup job for the demon, and the sort of low budget ingenuity that I always love, I highly recommend the film to intelligent horror fans.
And by intelligent I mean "patient", really, because this is a slow burn movie with a lot of talk; in fact it could probably be done as a stage play as at least 75% of it consists of nothing but our two main characters (an Allied soldier and a Nazi) chatting or arguing (or fighting) in one of two rooms, discussing not only their respective goals and why it is they hate each other, but also what to do about the demon from Hell that is chained up nearby. As we learn (spoiler, but no surprise to anyone who knows their history or even saw any other Nazi-tinged horror movies), the demon was conjured due to the Nazis dabbling in the occult, as Hitler was quite interested in this area as he believed it would help him win the war.
But the hook is that this Nazi seems to regret raising the thing after seeing how it killed all of his men (or led them to kill themselves), and he needs someone else to help him send it back to hell via an exorcism style spell. So they've gotta put aside their mutual desire to kill one another and figure out a way to do so without getting killed in the process (it's a two man job). Good hook, and the movie's 80 minute length is suited perfectly to such a rather simple story; it neither rushes through anything or gets too dull. Then again, I always love the "enemies team to fight a stronger enemy" type scenario, so your mileage may vary. The film's DVD art probably won't help much; showing the girl who plays the demon (and her human form) decked in Nazi attire and vamping out, which suggests something like the demonic version of an Ilsa movie, whereas in reality it's more like My Dinner With Göring.
However, that's what I liked about it. Our hero only had one guy with him, and he exits pretty early (but no so early that his exit doesn't work as a nice little shock), so we're spared the usual MO of these things, with the meek soldier trying to convince the others that something's wrong, while another guy sees things and another turns into a raging asshole, etc. I've seen that movie several times: Red Sands, Outpost, The Squad, Deathwatch... I don't need to see it again. It also avoids the ambiguity that some of these things are ultimately crippled by - I could spend my time enjoying the film and following the story instead of trying to figure out what's real and what's just in someone's head.
It's also impressively detailed, with many of the Nazi's comments referencing things that really happened, while set against the backdrop of a real WWII event that's not often covered in films (horror or not). The film is takes place in the Channel Islands, which were occupied by the Nazis throughout most of the war and ultimately cut off (the search for food is what led the soldiers to discover the Grimoire that raised the demon), and occurs the day before D-Day. And they have a little fun with the historical touches; amidst all the real actions mentioned, the Nazi mentions Hitler's near-possession of the Ark (Raiders) and attempt to raise the Old Ones (Hellboy). Pretty cool, and not distracting if you don't get the reference.
The demon makeup is also terrific, which shouldn't be much of a surprise since it was designed by WETA. Kudos to actress Gina Varela for committing to what is said to be a 4-5 hour job (and 2-3 to get off), and to the filmmakers for using her appearances carefully - it's a terrific jolt the first time we see her in full demon mode. Less is more! Also this helps keep Varela on-screen in human mode more often; perfectly OK by me because she's incredibly beautiful and thus most certainly NOT the type you'd think "Let's cover her in monster makeup". I was also impressed by the gore - lots of guts splattered around (the demon's a cannibal), blood all over the walls and floor... someone even gets their head eaten off!
So it's kind of funny that the first thing they say on the 1:05 minute making of piece (broken into 5 chapters) is that they wanted MORE blood but couldn't afford it. If you're a fan of behind the scenes docs, this is definitely one of the more entertaining ones if you can appreciate hard rock and ingenuity. As a lengthy time-lapse segment shows, the main two rooms were actually the same set, so once they were finished shooting all of the scenes in one room the crew had three days to overhaul it to make it into the other room while the production shot the few exteriors and tunnel scenes. Like Cube (which only had I think two rooms), finding out how well I'd been duped is always fun, and seeing real sets being built is infinitely more interesting than watching actors fuck around on green-screens and then see a bunch of techies show how they made crazy things like tables and walls in a computer.
The rest of the supplements aren't as necessary; there's an OK extended scene that's worth a look but I agree that it's not necessary, and a few "before and after" FX shots that you can probably just fast forward through in order to see how it was assembled. Then there's an outtake reel that isn't particularly funny (I swear some of these things are assembled for the crew's entertainment without taking into consideration that "you had to be there" when they're put on the DVD), and some multi-cam shots that just show different angles of certain scenes - zzzz. Finally there's a commentary by writer/director Paul Campion, which is OK but most of the highlights are covered in the making of, and also it's mixed poorly - if he's talking during a heated scene in the movie, he is drowned out by the shouting actors. He also goes silent a few times and is overly obsessed with minor continuity errors that no one would have noticed (like a knife being put in the right pocket appearing in the left over 40 minutes later - who would remember that?), so I'd say just stick with the making of and maybe take in his commentary over any scenes you particularly liked.
It won't be for everyone; it's talky and the body count is low, and the D-Day backdrop is mostly lip service, but otherwise I found it to be a terrific slow burn entry in the "Nazi demon" genre, and was quite impressed with the acting of Craig Hall (Allied) and Matthew Sunderland (Nazi). And it looked terrific, a nice showcase for the Red (even more impressive considering the wealth of supplements) and a good FU to anyone who claims that their low budget kept them from making their movie look good. This movie didn't cost much and a lot of it went to FX and set design, so why does your movie about a couple of hipsters in a Brooklyn apartment look like ass? I'm pro-film, but not anti-digital (for filmmaking anyway; I'm very much anti-digital projection for movies shot on film), and movies that can deliver quality images like this, regardless of the budget, can help make that distinction more clear. So kudos all around!
What say you?