What is the true face of evil? When one looks back across history, it’s clear that mankind has had some rather spotty moments; the Mongols under Genghis Khan were genocidal murderers, the Spanish Inquisition tortured and murdered in the name of God, and American colonists wiped out entire colonies of Native Americans — just to name a few — but when it comes to horror in the movies, one of the more “go-to” groups for exploring man’s darker side is, of course, the Nazi party. The area most explored by various media is the idea of Hitler being some dark collector of the occult as has been purveyed in literature, movies, and video games for decades — that this is mostly based on rumour and complete fiction is beside the point as he was an evil bastard and a complete nutter, which makes for a great antagonist in a horror film — which brings us to The Devil’s Rock, a horror film that uses the idea of Nazis dabbling with the occult to ensure victory.
The New Zealand film The Devil’s Rock is one of many movies dealing with Nazism and the occult. Most recently we had the fun Nazi-monster movie Overlord, where evil Nazi scientists were trying to create super soldiers with dark forces, and before that, we’ve had some solid gems like The Outpost (2008) and Dead Snow (2009), but with The Devil’s Rock, we get a film that works more as a stage play, what with its single location and small cast it could almost be considered David Mamet meets David Cronenberg. The basic premise of The Devil’s Rock is that two New Zealander commandos were sent to the Channel Islands as part of a series of sabotage and distraction raids to draw the German military’s attention away from the planned landings in Normandy.
Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and Sergeant Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) paddle ashore to Forau Island — where the Germans have constructed a massive long-range gun and observation tower — with the intention of meeting up with other members of the raid to destroy the gun and the fortifications. Unfortunately, no other Allied soldiers arrive and so it’s up to Grogan and Tane to pull off the job on their own, made more complicated when they hear horrific screams coming from within the fortification’s imposing structure. Grogan wants to investigate while Tane points out, “This is not a rescue mission. That’s not our war, that’s not our fight. The gun, that’s our mission.” But with the screams of a woman echoing in his ears, Grogan decides to enter the fortification, telling Tane to give him ten minutes. Now, if Grogan had known he was in a horror movie, he’d have thought twice before investigating strange noises, let alone horrifying screams.
Poor Sergeant Tane is shot dead by German SS officer Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland) because he’d stupidly entered the facility to look for his pal, while the heroic Captain Grogan is soon captured by Meyer. It’s at this point we get your standard Nazi interrogator stuff while slowly picking up all the occult trappings that seem to litter the place. Turns out, Colonel Meyer was brought to his island after soldiers discovered a “Dark Grimoire,” and the German High Command hoped to use the spells within the book to unleash demonic weapons against the allied forces, but the demon in question wasn’t too keen on playing nice with the Nazis — even creatures of Hell have standards, I guess — and now Meyer is the last remaining German.
We get a bunch of role reversals, with one or the other briefly getting the upper hand before Grogan finally makes his way to the source of those horrific screams, only to discover his wife Helena (Gina Varela) chained to a wall — that his wife died during a German air raid years ago makes this all the more strange. We learn from Meyer that she is a shape-shifting demon who takes on the form of loved ones so as to more easily lure her prey and that the German plan was to let her loose in London where “She would make Jack the Ripper look like a kindergarten tale.” Of course, the major flaw in this plan was in thinking that a bunch of idiot Nazis could make a deal with the Devil.
As horror films go, The Devil’s Rock is a decent little entry, and its small cast and claustrophobic location all work to great effect here, but where the film falters is in the delivery of actual chills or scares. The demonic visage is an example of excellent practical make-up effects, but the design itself is rather generic — all horns and sharp teeth and something we often saw on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — while also not quite rising to the level of being frightening. I never once considered her to be a threat, all the snarling and wheedling aside, she doesn’t come across as much of an opponent. Was this part of writer-director Paul Campion’s intent on illustrating that a creature from the bowels of Hell isn’t on par with the homegrown evil here on Earth? If so, Campion falters with this message as the third act turns into your generic supernatural confrontation, and if you don’t see the twist coming, you probably weren’t paying attention. Overall, The Devil’s Rock is a decent occult monster movie; the cast all provide credible performances — if we forgive Kiwi Mathew Sunderland’s somewhat dodgy German accent — and the premise is solid enough, if not all that original, making The Devil’s Rock a fine movie to catch on late-night television.
The Devil's Rock (2011)
Movie Rank - 6/10
With The Devil’s Rock Paul Campion gives us a fun little horror film that is sure to please most fans of the genre, it may not be breaking any new ground but the tight script and talented cast make it worth checking out.