Devil's Den (US - DVD R1)
Stop Gabe if you heard this one before while he struggles to get to the point...
Quinn Taylor (Devon Sawa) and his buddy Nick are about to cross into the US from Mexico with a case of Brazilian made Spanish Fly to sell to gullible college kids. They stop at a strip club to settle a bet and test out their product on the unsuspecting working girls. When it appears the product is working, Quinn steps out back with one of the strippers who turns out to be a flesh-eating ghoul. He's saved by a mysterious and well-armed woman (Kelley Hu), but when they find their way back into the club, it appears that the ghoul was not alone. Only monster hunter (Ken Foree) can help them now.
Well, here we are again, in another Mexican strip club with more monstrous, man-eating strippers. If three From Dusk 'Till Dawn movies and Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood weren't enough for you, if you've already devoured Feast, two Demons movies, and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Night, and even sitting through every single Jesus Franco lesbian vampire and sexy succubi flick has left your appetite unvanquished, Devil's Den is the must see movie of the year. The rest of us might want to skip it.
Besides the fact that the plot is entirely played out, Devil's Den is pretty uninspired the whole way round, with only a solid batch of lead actors to keeping its heavy head afloat. Everything, from T&A, to violence, to the plot twists is played far too safe. The goal appears to be mere adequacy, and any time it threatens to go somewhere special the film reels itself back again, like a curious teenager afraid of ejaculation.
Sometimes it looks like the filmmakers are going to go the Peter Jackson route and amp up the gore, but after one or two strictly R rated shots they pull back. At one point they introduce a sort of post-modern, referential approach as characters recount the adventures of Zatoichi, but after one semi inspired sequence the thought is forgotten and left for dead. There are even a few sad attempts at creating some kind of mythology for these characters, but again, it falls short.
Devil's Den, which was written by a stunt man named Mitch Gould (no relation), is rhythmically very much like a radio friendly pop song, with a verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure. Characters talk about trivial stuff, characters fight ghouls, characters hide in a locked room to talk about trivial stuff, characters leave room to fight ghouls, characters lock themselves in another room, etc, etc. The character development is wholly dependant on the actors themselves, and is often entirely trivial and/or extraneous. When one of our heroes turns (and anyone whose seen Dog Soldiers or any other similar movie will know which character I'm talking about by the second reel), it feels like unneeded time padding.
Like I said, the only thing keeping Devil's Den from being only a well-executed student film with delusions of grandeur is the presence of our leads. Devon Sawa proves again to be a criminally underrated actor who really belongs on the A-list. Perhaps he has put on a little weight, but it's nothing a few sit-ups can't solve. Sawa has the uncanny ability of making lame jokes and trite dialogue honest. He's honestly funny, he's honestly dramatic, and he deals with the stupid situation in a very believable and entertaining manner. Ken Foree, an even more criminally underrated actor, is like some kind of ghetto Vincent Price, able to sell the worst horror-movie-black-guy and horror-movie-exposition-machine dialogue at the same time. Kelley Hu, whom I've never seen in a speaking role (and who I can't believe is turning forty next year), does her best, but is unfortunately only as good as her dialogue. Still, she adds a professional air to the film.
Artistically speaking, the set design, camera work, and lighting schemes are also unoriginal, but all competently achieved. The filmmaking is entirely adequate, and only makes a few attempts at raising the bar. Attaching a SnorriCam to the backs of some of the attacking ghouls is pretty cool, and adds some flair to an otherwise bland feeding frenzy. The makeup effects are similar to those of Bram Stoker's Dracula and (of course) From Dusk 'Till Dawn, but the overall design aesthetic is better than average for the budget size. Director Jeff Burr has been making the rounds in B-horror for more than two decades now, and even has some mini-classics up his sleeve, perhaps a bit more is to be expected—though maybe this one was for the payday all around.
The video quality is fine overall, but suffers from some icky blocking throughout. Grain is minimal in the well-lit scenes, and remains acceptable during darker scenes. Colours are very bright at times, which can add to the blocking problem, especially in louder warm colours, but basically the pallet is well represented. Details seem too soft quite often, which is most likely a reflection on the film's budget than the DVD's quality. The image is anamorphically enhanced. The occasional presence of the words 'Property of Starz Media' knocks the video quality down a peg.
Strangely enough, this 'for screening purposes only' disc has what appears to be a finished video transfer, but the audio is a temp 2.0 track. There's really nothing in the way of surround effects, but the dialogue is clear. Sound effects are slightly garbled throughout, and become entangled with the music at times. The music is, like the rest of the film, derivative, but competently put together and played. The ADR is often atrocious.
My screener had no extras.
Devil's Den is not a complete mess, but it is uninspired, and I really see no reason to recommend it. Perhaps if we wait ten years and revisit it it'll be more fun, an encapsulation of its particular STV era. Sometimes the best part of films like this is looking for flubs, and I caught quite a few. My favourite comes when Hu first draws her guns to open fire on the film's first ghoul the camera cuts back to the ghoul, with her back to Hu, before a shot is fired, revealing a series of pre-attached bullet hole appliances.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th February 2007
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English
Extras: Commentary, 'Belly of the Beast', Stills, Bloopers, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jeff Burr
Cast: Devon Sawa, Kelly Hu, Ken Foree
Length: 82 minutes
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