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The late seventies and eighties were a special time for horror movies, perhaps especially in Europe. The French and Italians turned out some amazingly mind-bending material, from gialli films to zombie films to any number of indescribable gems. So, if someone tries to make an homage to that kind of film, it's a tough road they're going down. But James Sizemore mostly succeeds with his demon/zombie mashup The Demon's Rook.
Roscoe and Eva (James Sizemore and Ashleigh Jo Sizemore) were friends as children. But Roscoe's imaginary friend Dimwos (John Chatham) turns out to be quite real, and whisks him away to an otherworldly place to study magic under his tutelage. Years later, Roscoe returns, and unwittingly brings three demonic beings with him, who are intent on ruling the world. Roscoe and Eva team up to fight the ravenous horde of zombies the demons call forth and the insatiable evil that directs them.
The Demon's Rook is not a perfect movie. It was filmed over the course of years on a very low budget. Some of those rough edges show up from time to time, but it's clear that most of the funds they did have went into the makeup, which is excellent. The Dimwos makeup is the most extensive, and there's an extra feature included that shows just how involved the process of creating and applying it was. This is work that's on par with any big budget horror or sci-fi film. The mask doesn't look rubbery or fake, the coloring is subtle, and the eyes and mouth are free to move smoothly and naturally. Not all of the effects and makeup are of this quality, but all of it is exuberant and boisterous, and very much in the spirit of the schlocky seventies and eighties movies it's referencing. The blood spurts, the gore splatters, the guts tear, and the limbs are torn off with joyous abandon. For folks who like this kind of thing (and I count myself among that number) this is all very, very fun.
The story doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense, but for this kind of movie that's not a deal breaker. There's a truckload of backstory and context that's only briefly mentioned or hinted at, and it shows. The film (much like another favorite of mine, Dropping Evil) has a whole teleology, theology and eschatology of its own. There's a philosophy of life and conception of the world that's unique to this film, and it gives everything a depth and solidity that significantly aids suspension of disbelief. You don't find that often in low budget horror movies, but for my money, you should.
The acting is pretty good, but clearly these aren't professional actors with years of honing their craft. This is also fine, because even though they might over play their hand from time to time, they're all so enthusiastic and passionate and real that it doesn't detract from the experience. There aren't any wooden or stilted performances, just over broad ones. And they're all a joy to watch.
The pacing is a bit deliberate, so if you are looking for a breakneck pace and lots of action, you won't find it here. But you will find a thoughtful, interesting film, that's philosophical while still taking the time to have several zombie chase scenes, fabulous death gags, and a bloody slaughter at a rock concert at which half of the women are topless for no particular reason. Really, what else do you need? Highly recommended.
The image is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks pretty good. Sizemore uses a crazy color scheme, reminiscent of Argento or the wilder gialli. This gives the film an otherworldly look, which is also helped by the innovative visual style. The Demon's Rook looks much better than a lot of films made for similar budgets.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and sounds pretty good. There are a few moments where the dialogue is a bit muffled and hard to make out, but not very many. No hiss or other problem can be detected. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
A number of extras are included. They are:
Making of a Demon
At just over five minutes, this is a time lapse of the construction and application of the Dimwos makeup. It's very impressive.
Four short scenes that were cut, probably for tone. A kid plays the piano while a zombie kills his mother. A young man tries to kill himself by laying on train tracks. Nothing earth shattering.
Just under five minutes of flubbed lines, blood spit grossness, etc. Enjoyable.
This short film, also from Sizemore, runs to 13:48, and involves a young woman performing a pagan ritual to transcend this earthly realm. Very moody and cool, and with even more gratuitous nudity than the feature.
This is the most substantial extra included, and features commentary from director James Sizemore, writer Akom Tidwell and producer/cinematographer Tim Reis. These three have been friends for a long time, and it shows in the conversational, laid back approach. There are a lot of set anecdotes and discussion of the slog that filming became. The process took several years, mostly on weekends as they all had other jobs. This is quite interesting, and adds to the experience of watching the film.
The Demon's Rook isn't for everyone, but it is perfect for fans of schlocky horror films of days gone by, like myself. Sizemore hits the tone perfectly, even if the pace is lackadaisical at times. The gore and blood are explosive and jubilant, the imagery is cool, the story is intriguing without quite being comprehensible, and most of all, everything is fun. Check this one out.