Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Devil is not mocked; not in this review

This is such a nice review of THE DEVIL’S ROCK that I'm here reprinting it in full. I trust that Kyle Scott of HORROR HOTEL won't mind, but if he does, he can always give me a shout and I'll take it down.

Enjoy this one. I did

Hands up those of you who don't get giddy at the idea of a Horror movie dealing with Nazis and the occult. Anyone? Didn't think so. These two concepts are as endlessly fascinating today as they were when Micheal Mann directed THE KEEP, or when good old Indiana Jones was tackling the bastards back in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THE LAST CRUSADE. There is something inherently attractive about such a dark subject matter, even when it's handled lightly, as in the Indiana Jones films. It's widely known that Hitler had a compulsion towards the occult, and took the whole thing very seriously, adding an element of reality to any film that focuses on the subject. Sure it's all fanciful stuff, but viewers often find themselves asking that most eternal of all Horror fans internal questioning. What if?

'What if' the Nazis really managed to invoke the 'Old Gods' as they do is HELLBOY? 'What if' they managed to create immortal super soldiers like that crazy fucker in BLOOD CREEK? 'What if' they could create dimensional rifts and bring about the apocalypse with the help of demonic forces as in WOLFENSTIEN? It's rich food for thought. And it's fun to play these games in our heads. I'm sure we all do it. Has anyone ever watched Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD, and not placed themselves directly into the action, creating scenarios for themselves and daydreaming about all the mischief they'd get up to? Maybe there're people who haven't, but I don't trust those people, and neither should you.

Imagining a world run by occultist Nazis is pretty frightening stuff. It's dark fantasy that holds just the tiniest thread of credibility to it, making any novel or film that deals with the subject a very attractive way to spend a few hours, for most Horror fans at least. More often that not the results are mundane, or lacking a certain depth or darkness. Perhaps the film doesn't take itself too seriously, (see RAIDERS, DEAD SNOW and HELLBOY), and while still a great deal of fun, it doesn't explore the possibilities to any real extent. Or perhaps it's just sort of shit, like, well theres too many to mention really, but you get the idea.

THE DEVILS ROCK, thankfully, falls into the very sparse category inhabited by only a very few, (THE BUNKER, OUTPOST), choice films...the straight faced, no-nonsense look at occultism. By treating its subject with respect, and by remaining stoically serious about itself, it manages to pull off some pretty effective scares. The film has been described by some as 'Saw with Nazis' and other such shit, but those sort of cheap statements really don't do it any justice. Yes, it has a very small cast, (four characters in total), and it mostly takes place in one dank, dark and foreboding location; but this is far removed from any pretense towards 'torture porn'. Rather, it feels like a smaller, more graphic take on THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. There is plenty of devilish juiciness in here to keep satanic panic aficionados happy, and it runs a good race in terms of ritualism, occult symbolism and theological food for thought.

Fans of the original TWILIGHT ZONE series may well note some similarities to an episode, (one of my favorites), called THE HOWLING MAN, in which a traveller may or may not be faced with the presence of Lucifer himself. This has a similar feel, employing sound design and misdirection in the first half to keep the viewer guessing. It works well while it lasts, before giving way to full on devilish mayhem. You'll know from the start where this is going (mostly due to the seriously fucking awful DVD cover which gives the game away. Thanks for that, dickheads), but it's solid storytelling and it pulls you along for the ride nicely.

The three main characters are also played very well, and have a great chemistry. Essentially, these three are fascinating to watch and are very well written. The film would fall apart were the people we're sharing the experience with either one-note characters or acted poorly. I should add that the performances are all brilliant. The cast gives it their all and each vastly different personality compliments the others. Mathew Sunderland plays the bad guy Col Meyers, a high level Nazi sent by Hitler to experiment with the occult on the Channel islands, and is at times an almost sympathetic character. His accent is clearly not German, but it's easy to overlook this, given the strength and depth of his overall performance. Craig Hall is brilliant as always as the morally driven commando, Captain Grogan whose past has left him devastated, driving him to do as much good as he can for others. And last but not least, the beautiful Gina Verela plays, 'Helena' with a potent mix of cunning, burning sexuality, sadistic glee and lethal manipulation. These three are so good, and the story is so strong and well realised, that the film flies by. And leaves you wanting more.

The effects work is stellar, not surprising considering Paul Campion, this film's Director, is a veteran of Weta Digital. And we all know who those guys are, don't we? For any newcomers, think 'Smeagol'. Paul work here is simply brilliant, and while this is a low budget production, you won't notice it for a second. The exteriors are morbidly beautiful, the gore is plentiful and gut churning in its realism, and the makeup effects are startling, not to mention scary as hell. Take note, James Wan, this is what a demon should look and feel like, not Darth Maul.

Campion impresses just as much in the director's chair as he does in the effects department. The film maintains a high level of suspense and dread for the entire running time, and the cat and mouse play between the three characters is captured brilliantly. He wisely avoids moments of humour, and while constantly gore-filled, the film never falls into exploitation. There're very few shots in here where you won't be witness to some unrecognizable bloody pulp, whether in foreground, background or right up close, but it serves to heighten the atmosphere of hellish goings on, not undermine it or detract from it.

If you're in the mood for a dark, serious take on occult Nazism, plenty of weird ritualistic mayhem and some solid drama, gore and suspense, you could do a lot worse than THE DEVIL'S ROCK. I loved every minute of it. It's a real gem of a film that should find its audience over time and get the love it deserves. It's not gonna change lives or bust the horror world wide open, but its a damn fun and engaging ninety minutes. And any film that has the balls to emulate the work of the great Rod Serling and not only avoid embarrassment, but actually compliment his work, is alright by me. And most likely it'll be alright by you too. Check it out.

Well ... that was okay, wasn't it. I love those words:

It's a real gem of a film that should find its audience over time and get the love it deserves.

My thoughts too. At some point I may get the love I deserve, but as writer of THE DEVIL’S ROCK I'm quite happy to share any that may get directed at the movie.

Pictured above and below are a few more stills. Topside, a demonic feast gets underway - and this is only a minor devil, so imagine being at table with a major player. Below, in descending order: Matt Sunderland, who plays Meyer, starts to realise the depth of his mistake in summoning the forces of darkness; Luke Hawker, who plays Muller, has had just about as much as he can take; Jessica Smith is the fiendish Nicole; Kiwi commandoes, Craig Hall and Karlos Drinkwater, explore the cursed island; the bunker where everything happens; and lastly, back in the real world, director Paul Campion and star Gina Varela prepare to greet guests outside the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square, as part of the British Horror Film Festival.

For those interested, I'm pencilled in to do some kind of presentation on THE DEVIL’S ROCK at FANTASYCON 2011 in Brighton at the end of this month. As far as I'm aware, this means I introduce the movie and, afterwards, host a Q&A session. At least, this is my understanding. I haven't had any of this confirmed yet. Watch this space for more details.

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