A mix of Nazi occult mythology and good, old fashioned Faustian temptation are part of what make this Kiwi import a cut above it’s low budget competition.
DIRECTOR: Paul Campion
CAST: Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela
MPAA RATING: Unrated
The Nazi’s experiments with the occult have inspired an entire sub-genre of horror films. It’s one of those weird facts out of history that lends itself well to fiction, especially horror. The grindhouse exploitation flicks of the late seventies and very early eighties turned the sub-genre into a cottage industry that still has a cult following. THE DEVIL’S ROCK doesn’t quite fit that mold, but it was definitely influenced by those films. Paul Campion and his co-writers Paul Finch, and Brett Ihaka take as many cues from the classic story of Faust as they do from those grindhouse splatter-fests.
The film begins with two soldiers from New Zealand landing their tiny watercraft on a tiny island’s beach with plans to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold. They don’t even make it through the back door before things start getting strange. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the Nazi’s were attempting to unleash demonic forces as the decisive weapon in the war.
One admirable aspect of this film is in the simplicity of it’s set up and the way that allows Campion to focus on taking a low budget and doing the most with it that he can. The effects work and the production design look surprisingly good for such a low budget movie. With very few sets and locations to worry about, he’s able to give all them the attention they need and “put every penny on the screen.” He also deserves credit for avoiding the kind of fast and cheap digital effects that can often ruin low budget horror films.
The cinematography also helps to give the film the feel that it’s something more than an attempt at empty shocks, shot by two yahoo’s in their backyard who’d been told that horror movies always make money. The exterior shots that bookend the film look like they belong in a much more expensive film. Campion and his cinematographer Rob Marsh obviously care about the quality of the image their presenting and understand that it’s going to effect how much the audience is able to allow themselves to be taken in by the story. They aren’t reinventing the wheel, by any means, but cinematography is often one of the weakest aspects in low budget films, and here the fact that it is somewhat conventional helps sell the story to the audience.
There are essentially four characters in the film. The two Kiwi’s who’ve landed on this island, a Nazi commander and the woman/demon the Nazi’s have summoned. Once everyone has been introduced, the story quickly gets down to drawing out it’s themes of trust, temptation, duty and the complexity of the way we judge degrees of right and wrong or good and evil. By keeping the cast small, and laying the story out in a straightforward manner that at some points feels a little bit like a play, the film succeeds in giving the characters room to breath and the actors a chance to actually make their characters a bit more than stereotypes and cardboard cut outs. None of the performances are likely to turn the cast into hotly sought after new movie stars, but they all do a competent enough job to not detract from the story. At no point was I shaking my head or rolling my eyes because I was distracted by just how bad the acting was, which has always been part of the charm, but also a hindrance to so many low budget horror films. It wouldn’t be completely shocking to see Gina Varela popping up in casting news for a slew of new horror films though. She was willing to jump into a role that many actors would have avoided because of how easily it could have come off as clownish, and is able to avoid becoming silly where she needs to and to revel enough in her characters inherently evil nature to keep it fun. She has all the makings of a Scream Queen if she wants to follow that path. It may not be the prestigious career of an “acclaimed” actor, but unlike more mainstream film, which tends to toss women to the sidelines as they age, the horror community loves it’s icons in a way that insures Scream Queens will always have work if they want it.
THE DEVIL’S ROCK is fairly standard, but it does definitely leave the impression that if he were given a decent budget and the right cast, Paul Campion could make horror films that are above average quality. Even though nothing in this film particularly sticks out as having been done incredibly well, it’s clear that nothing was given too little attention either and that the whole is equal to or better than it’s parts. By giving every aspect of the film enough attention, Campion succeeds in making what could have otherwise been an incredibly silly, colossal waste of time, into a fun but insubstantial and innocuous low budget morality tale.
THE DEVIL’S ROCK is available on Netflix Watch Instantly.
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