Wednesday, July 18, 2007

DEVIL’S DEN

You know what’s great about this gig? It’s picking up something I’m sent to review and looking at the box art and thinking that it looks like crap or just isn’t my "thing," but upon viewing finding that I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but I’ve had a few good experiences along that line in the last few weeks.

The first of these was the Starz Media (formerly Anchor Bay) direct-to-DVD horror flick DEVIL’S DEN (2006). From the uninspired packaging and rote synopsis on the back, this looked like just another SciFi Channel hack job, with a derivative premise and some familiar faces in the cast just to make it saleable.

Well, I was half-right. The plot definitely is derivative, borrowing heavily from Richard Wenk’s 1986 favorite VAMP and Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino’s FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN. And there’s some familiar faces filling out the cast.

Witness: two young slacker types are on their way back from Mexico with a suitcase of alleged "Spanish Fly." They stop at an isolated tittie bar to try out the product, and discover that the strippers are all monsters when one of the guys is killed. The remaining slacker (Devon Sawa, IDLE HANDS) then teams up with a gun-toting hottie (Kelly Hu, THE SCORPION KING, X2) and a samurai sword-slinging monster hunter (Ken Foree, DAWN OF THE DEAD, FROM BEYOND) to battle the bodacious but bloodthirsty bitches.

Seen it before. But…

Here’s where I was wrong. It’s no hack job. Director Andrew Dunt and writer Mitch Gould weren’t content to just go through the paces. No, they chose to add some style, some wit, some depth of character to their chosen flick formula and shake up the recipe a bit. It’s still an oatmeal cookie, but it’s a really tasty oatmeal cookie.

Everyone in the main cast does an outstanding job. Sawa’s character starts out as a complete asshole, and slowly transforms into… well, still an asshole, but a likable one. Ken Foree’s still busting monster skulls… but he’s getting’ older, and his character is, too. Kelly Hu is not only gorgeous, but she handles the action scenes with sublime grace and convincing athleticism. Not only that, but she manages to give her comic book character a lot of depth and sympathy.

In fact, everyone involved in this seems to have put in just a little extra effort. Certainly more than they needed to on a film like this. The direction is taut and tense, the writing is witty and wry, the cinematography is excellent and the stuntwork top-notch. The monster make-ups and gore effects are completely professional and state of the art and deliver the requisite grue.

Starz presents DEVIL’S DEN in a rock-solid 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. There’s a fun and informative behind-the-scenes documentary, an interesting and engaging audio commentary track, an amusing blooper reel, and a photo gallery. There’s also the film’s screenplay on DVD-ROM, and trailers for additional Starz/Anchor Bay horror titles.

DEVIL’S DEN isn’t a classic. But there’s a lot of talent on display and it’s a lot of fun. Check it out, and see if you don’t agree.

BUY: The Devil's Den