Devon Sawa has already ingrained himself to genre audiences with a pair of neo-classics—the original FINAL DESTINATION with its cast of pretty boys and girls and its post Kevin Williamson pop culture awareness, and the sidesplitting IDLE HANDS a film that virtually created a sub-genre of stoner horror films. This time around Sawa procures a different drug of choice—Spanish Fly.
On a road trip back from Mexico, Quinn (Sawa) and his buddy Nick (Steven Schub) decide to stop off at the Devil’s Den strip club for a little R&R and to settle a debate about the effectiveness of the pills they’re smuggling back into the states. Once they arrive, they quickly discover that the Den is just a front for a band of undead ghouls who feast on the flesh of their unsuspecting patrons. Together with a pair of assassins (DAWN OF THE DEAD’S Ken Foree and X-MEN 2’S Kelly Hu) Quinn must battle the bloodlusting bitches from hell if he ever hopes to see the blessing of daylight again.
Yea…it’s exactly what you’re thinking—FROM DUSK TILL DAWN-lite. But despite the glaring liberties Director Jeff Burr (PUMPKINHEAD 2) and screenwriter Mitch Gould (DEMON HUNTER) take with the Tarantino/Rodriguez plotline, they still manage to pull off a pretty damn entertaining feature film, that breezes by on a bloodbath of severed limbs and sardonic banter. In the most “Tarantino-esque” scene, Foree and Sawa spend a slightly overlong sequence fantasizing how the blind swordsman Zatoichi would dispose of the demon dancers whilst sipping away on his sake.
Crippled by a small budget it seems that the filmmakers spent all the excess cash on the gore, which rates high in my book since the film’s tried and true scenarios are pretty stale. What makes the movie work is the interaction between the three leads. Burr scored a coup by casting the film with actors that gel naturally. Hu is believable in a sort of poor man’s Lucy Liu performance while Foree plays his world-weary killer with a lot of heart. Sawa is best when he’s not carrying the scenes and can interject exasperated quips and barbs at the other players.
It can’t be said enough that you’re going to need the right mindset to sit through DEVIL’S DEN. But it’s clear that the influence of Romero, Rami (specifically in the demon make-up department), Rodriguez and the aforementioned QT are prevalent. Fans of the first 2 EVIL DEAD films are gonna eat up some of the effects work and a little “shaky cam” action. But, for all it’s winks and nudges the one thing the filmmakers failed to do was set their project apart from the others. So what’s the big problem? There’s just no realization moment when I thought, “Wow, I’ve never seen that before” and that’s the tragedy. DEVIL’S DEN is good for a laugh. Better with friends. But, for hardcore fans the most enjoyment can only come from citing the other films it’s ripping off from.
With the cast Burr assembled, it’s a shame that they couldn’t work a bit more magic with the films underlying story. This is especially upsetting since Foree, Hu and Sawa work so well together. It’s been said that in many cases casting is 75% of the film’s success, the problem with that statement is that it lets filmmakers off the hook for abject laziness. DEVIL’S DEN is proof positive that you need a solid story if you plan on taking the project past the novelty factor.