While the completely inappropriate cover art on this DVD featuring a sexed up Nazi chick looking all sultry and ready for a romp in the hay with blood running down her cleavage may get your attention, it doesn't accurately represent this clever and character driven horror film written and directed by Paul Campion. It's nothing like the Nazisploitaiton pictures the cover conjures up, though it is set in the Second World War, just before the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Hoping to take out a few strategic German fortifications and simultaneously cause a distraction before the big storming of the beach, Allied forces sent out commando teams to the smaller channel islands that lay between England and France. The film follows a pair of soldiers from New Zealand fighting for the British - Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and Sergeant Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) - as they make their way ashore of one such island. After navigating the beach laden with landmines, they come to a concrete bunker and after an SS soldier wanders out and promptly vomits, they stab him in the throat and head inside to investigate. Soon enough, Joe winds up dead at the hands and Ben knocked unconscious of the only remaining German inside, Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland), an officer in Hitler's special paranormal division of the SS.
Before Meyer got the best of them, however, Grogan distinctly heard the screaming of a female who he assumes is being held captive in the nearby room. When he awakes, he and Meyer engage in a battle of will until finally Meyer decides to prove to his prisoner that he didn't kill all of the dead soldiers surrounding them in an attempt to keep the woman for himself - in fact, he'll prove that she killed them herself and that she's not the innocent hostage he assumes she is. In fact, Meyer claims that this woman (Gina Varela) chained to the wall is actually not human at all but a demon he has used an ancient Grimoire to summon with the intention of using it to further the German war effort.
Shot on a modest budget and with limited resources, The Devil's Rock plays to the strengths of its script. Without the massive funds required for loads of onscreen gore, the likes of which wouldn't have helped the film anyway, most of the carnage we see is shown after the fact. Though there's no shortage of dismembered corpses littering the halls of the base where all of this plays out, those hoping for arterial spray and limb flying gore scenes might not necessarily find what they want here. Instead, what they're going to find is a character driven piece ripe with suspense and three great performances that absolutely make this a movie worth seeing. Rather than overreach, a fatal error made by more low budget films than you probably care to name, Campion is smart enough to place most of the film in two rooms (the beach scene being the primary exception). This lets the film focus on the story rather than the visuals and in this case that's definitely a plus.
As far as the acting goes, both Craig Hall and Matthew Sunderland are very good here. Both of their characters are intelligent men, each trying to outwit the other as they form a very tenuous alliance in an attempt to save the world, and the supporting effort from Karlos Drinkwater (who just simply doesn't get as much screen time as the other two actors) is also solid. The real star of the show, however, is Gina Varela who appears in the film in both human and demon form. Plenty sexy she certainly looks the part, thanks to her naturally exotic looks and also to some excellent makeup effects work from WETA, but not only that she vamps it up with complete conviction and plays the role to the hilt without ever going completely over the top (which would have been easy to do and which would have probably sunk this picture entirely).
Slick, suspenseful, smart and just generally really well made The Devil's Rock benefits from taking an interesting historical concept based at least partially in reality and running with it, presenting and interesting 'what if' scenario resulting in a tense and rewarding watch. Don't be fooled by the pseudo-trashy cover art and the film's direct to video status - this is a clever breath of fresh air and a surprisingly original horror film that's completely worth your time.
The Devil's Rock looks just fine here in 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot on digital video, there are no issues with print damage to note and the well encoded disc shows decent detail and strong color reproduction, particularly when it comes to reds. Black levels are strong, if not reference quality and there are no serious compression issues even if a couple of artifacts pop up here and there. Aside from a little bit of line shimmer, this is otherwise a very fine looking effort as far as the picture quality goes.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, with comes with optional subtitles in English only, gets the job done nicely. Even if it doesn't use the rear channels quite as often as you might want, there are some very clever directional effects used throughout the movie that help to keep you in the moment. Levels are well balanced, dialogue is crisp and clear and there are no issues with hiss or distortion to note. All in all, the movie sounds very good on DVD.
Extras kick off with a commentary track from writer/director Paul Campion who has got quite a bit to say about this project of his and who puts a lot of emphasis on the research and pre-production work that went into the script before then getting into more scene specific aspects of the production a the movie plays out. Here he discusses the locations used, the casting, the performances, the effects work and a few things that got changed along the way as he was working on the film. It's a pretty solid track that offers a lot of insight into his creative process.
If that weren't enough, there's a five party sixty-seven minute featurette here that covers pretty much every aspect of the movie in quite a bit of detail. Again, we start with the pre-production side of things as we see some of the videos that Campion shot on his travels through the Channel Islands as interviews explain who else chipped in with the script, where certain ideas came from and what went into making this one as interesting as it turned out to be. From there we get a look at WETA's practical make up effects, learn about the trials and tribulations of shooting in tunnels, and get a good look at what went into creating the two main room sets used in the film. It covers some of the same ground as the commentary but it's still definitely worth checking out if you've got an interesting in low budget filmmaking.
Aside from that, there's a four minute look at the effects work, a few minutes worth of extended and deleted scenes, a collection of outtakes, promos for a few EOne releases, menus and chapter stops.
The Devil's Rock deserves the attention of horror fans looking for something a little different. It's smart, it's interesting and it's unique, taking an already interesting concept and running with it, throwing in some good performances and more content to rely on character development and atmosphere than gore, though it offers ample amounts of that as well. EOne's DVD looks and sounds good and contains a lot more extras than you'd probably expect - highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.