More from the pile of English language horror stuffing my mailbox lately, this time out it’s “The Devil’s Rock”, a New Zealand Independent horror movie by first time director Paul Campion. With a plot filled with commandos, Nazis, and demonic evil, I knew I was going to want to see it for certain, so it didn’t take too much arm twisting to convince me to grab the Region 2 UK release as soon as it became available. (I’m just that kind of wacky movie collecting dweeb….)
Our plot? It’s a simple one and it goes like this: “The 5th of June, 1944, the Channel Islands on the eve of D-Day and two veteran Kiwi commandos are sent on a diversionary mission to sabotage German gun emplacements as part of the plan to distract Hitler’s forces away from Normandy only to discover a secret Nazi occult plot underway to unleash demonic forces in their last bid to win the war. But, in their arrogant madness, have the Nazis unleashed a force even more evil than themselves? And can it be somehow still be stopped by mere mortal men before it’s too late for all Mankind?”
Yep… Certainly looks like the sort of movie Neko likes to rot her wee brain watchin’… and probably many of my Gentle Visitors as well. So… let’s not waste any more time shall we?
To find out all about it, all you have to do is “Read On”.
Nazis…. Not to diminish the real historical horrors of WW2 but… if they hadn’t actually been real, sooner or later somebody would have had to invent them just for exploitation movies alone. My goodness…. they’re just so damn evil… and just look at their wardrobe…. to this day I still can’t figure out how in heck nobody in the time period figured out they were villains until it was too late. (Big hint…. if a big chunk of your military wears lots of black, jackboots, and uses too many skulls on it’s uniforms, it’s probably because you are the bad guys…. I’m just sayin’….) So, as an aspiring genre filmmaker, you say you want evil over-the-top villains for your movie that just about everybody can “boo” and agree need serious killing? Well then…. They’re definitely your ticket.
Luckily, Paul Campion seems to understand this simple idea… and even though his movie is a very small budget effort with a tiny cast, he makes as much use out of it as possible. We start right out as our Allied commando heroes, Captain Ben Grogan (played by Craig Hall) and his buddy Sergeant Joe Tane (played by Karlos Drinkwater) paddle ashore at Forau, one of the Channel Islands, under the cover of darkness to begin their mission. There’s the tense bit as they work their way across the beach with the prerequisite close call with one of the land mines booby-trapping the landing beach. You know the drill… lots of sweating and probing in the sand with your knife while your buddy stands perfectly still… really, really still…. until the danger is past. Can’t have a war movie without a moment like this…. Sure it’s cheesy and it’s been done a million times before in just about every war movie you’ve ever watched, but that’s because it’ suspenseful and it always works.
They reach the concrete bunkers and gun pits just in time to hear screams… and the sounds of automatic weapons fire… but despite this tantalizingly weirdness, Sergeant Tane reminds his friend they have a mission to accomplish… no time for any side heroics or personal business, just time to rig their explosives and make a quick getaway back to the waiting submarine lurking offshore. Naturally Captain Grogan can’t just let things be… not once he hears a woman’s scream echoing from within the tunnels of the fortress. He’s just that sort of rugged all around hero.
There’s another great lil’ commando bit as our two stalwart saboteurs take out a rather frightened Nazi with the ol’ knife to the back of the neck bit who, despite coming across them at their demolition work, seems awfully glad to have run into them. That alone should have let them know something was amiss…. Grogan decides to enter the fortress… just to take a quick peek, mind you, and that’s when things go all awry.
Once inside, our hero finds a captive woman, in chains, in a room out of a nightmare. There are the trappings of Satanic worship, and bodies…. lots and lots of mutilated Nazi soldiers killed in some of the most inexplicably brutal and freakish ways possible. Even more unbelievable is the apparent fact that the woman (played by Gina Varela) seems to be none other than Helene… Grogan’s beloved wife killed in the London Blitz some years before. Yep…. it’s not surprising his buddy Sergeant Tane follows him and gets killed while Grogan himself is easily captured by the only surviving German, SS officer Colonel Klaus Meyer (played by Matthew Sunderland)…. and witness to the apparent execution of the inexplicably impossible “Helene”.
No, no, no…. don’t worry, it’s not that easy to kill a demon, and even if Grogan has trouble accepting Meyer’s story of Nazi experimentation to use an ancient medieval Grimoire to summon demonic creatures in an effort to win the war, the freakish resurrection of “Helene” right before his eyes is enough to shake our stalwart hero’s world enough to at least listen to Meyer’s story… even if he knows in his heart he can’t trust the Nazi further than he can spit.
Unfortunately… this is also where our story gets a wee bit off track. You’d expect some sort of dramatic “triangle” to develop as Meyer tries to get Grogan to aid him in the banishment of the barely constrained demon and the demon, wearing Helene’s face, tries to tempt Grogan into freeing her. There’s a little of that, of course, but it’s all too…. forced…. to really work. I mean, Grogan knows his wife is really dead, he knows the demon isn’t her, and he has every bit of evidence to accept Meyer’s warning that if freed, she would waste no time in devouring them both. Ahhh…. and there’s no way he can believe Meyer’s promise of surrender once things are back under wraps either. He’s a Nazi…. they’re evil…. really, really evil…. and were willing to make a literal “Deal with the Devil” to destroy the Allies by unleashing Hell on Earth if need be.
Given this, it’s not really a stretch to know how things will turn out. You basically end up with Grogan trying to deal with Meyer long enough to do something about the monster while waiting for the inevitable double-cross. Luckily, he’s got some notion of how to save himself from that particular trap. But Neko’s not gonna spoil things by telling you exactly what that is.
Also… since we all still seem to still be here some 60 years or so later, it’s a safe guess to assume our hero prevails and saves humanity, but still…. you never know… do you? Hmmmm?
It’s not a bad plot… but it’s a bit hampered by both the short 82 minute running time as well as the small cast. That means there’s precious little screen time to lavish on back-story…. a bit of Meyer’s past, how he became involved in all this, perhaps some flashbacks to the demon’s summoning, showing off the idea of her being the vision of the person any viewer loves more then anyone else in the world. I’d have loved a scene in which two or three Nazi guards all find her cowering and are brutally killed while each of them sees a different woman, now that could have been nifty. And hey…. if she killed all those Nazis, how the heck did she end up chained back in the room before Grogan and Tane’s arrival anyway? A tantalizingly annoying question indeed and perhaps the one thing that keeps nagging at the back of my mind.
On the plus side…. the Nazi fortress looks really neat. The sets are dark and brooding with plenty of shadows and the bits of slaughtered Nazis everywhere. Seeing the included “Making of” feature reveals a lot about the talented work that went into these, along with the location work that made it look sooo darn real.
If I sound a bit conflicted here, it’s because “The Devil’s Rock” is a great idea…. that has been turned into a great looking and even a great acted film, that somehow…. just sort of misses ending up being a great film despite these things. It’s OK… and it’s definitely an enjoyable film, but just not a really stand out piece of work. It’s most assuredly worth a watch by horror fans, and I’d say Paul Campion is definitely a director to look out for in the future, but this one isn’t going to be the “breakthrough” hit he might have been hoping for to start him on the way.
Neko gives “The Devil’s Rock” a respectable if not outstanding 3 “Meows” out of 5, but somehow I can’t really articulate what about it all left me so darn underwhelmed by it all. The DVD? Well, the Region 2 UK release is pretty darn good… especially in the area of the “Making of” feature… which surprisingly I have to say, I enjoyed even more than the film itself. There’s a lot of good “behind the scenes” stuff here about budget filmaking which is truly interesting… Should you pick up the DVD, definitely give this stuff a look.
As always… there’s a Trailer available for your viewing pleasure, courtesy of Youtube!! Enjoy!