Saturday, December 15, 2007

Vamp or Not? Devil’s Den


This 2006 movie, directed by Jeff Burr, was on the Sci-Fi Channel UK and, though it mentioned ghouls rather than vampires, it seemed like a perfect candidate for looking at. Indeed the brief write up sounded awfully like From Dusk till Dawn and, in actual fact, what we got was pretty much cloned from the Rodriguez/Tarantino vehicle.

Devon Sawa as QuinnIt begins with two friends, Quinn (Devon Sawa) and Nick (Steven Schub), driving through Mexico having gone to buy pills of Spanish Fly to sell to college kids. Quinn is actually convinced that the pills will work and a bet is made between the two on the validity of the drugs they have bought. To win the bet Quinn pulls up by a strip club, that just happens to be in the middle of nowhere, called Devil’s Den.

Karen Maxwell as CindyNow we have the mysterious strip club in the middle of the desert in Mexico filled with good looking girls and we cannot get much more From Dusk till Dawn that that, but the stylisation of the bar itself leaves a lot to be desired compared to the earlier film – obviously their budget and/or vision didn’t stretch that far. Having chatted to waitress Candy (Karen Maxwell), who is on her first day, Quinn slips a pill into a beer and sends it over to star dancer Jezebel (Dawn Oliveri).

Kelly Hu as CaitlinA mysterious woman, we later discover to be called Caitlin (Kelly Hu), comes into the bar and takes a seat. She is investigated by another patron Leonard (Ken Foree) and after some banter he leaves her be, muttering that she is human. The dancers leave the stage and an announcement is made that Jezebel is to take the stage.

Dawn Oliveri as JezebelShe comes onto the stage and motions for Quinn and Nick to come forward. Her dancing becomes a little fevered round Quinn and she suggests that he and her go somewhere more private for a free personal dance. Believing that the Spanish Fly has kicked in he goes with her. Caitlin follows as does Leonard, but he is intercepted by Candy who asks if he wants a beer.

Jezebel turnedQuinn and Jezebel end up outside and she comes on strong, despite the fact that he is made nervous by his surroundings and has heard something. He is worried that it is a squirrel (for some reason he has a real squirrel fixation). As she kisses him she bites and he pushes her off, saying that she should play nice. Her face morphs into something demonic and she attacks. Meanwhile Caitlin has been searching the back, guns drawn and bursts through the door. Seeing the creature she unloads her guns, but it seems to have no effect – worst, a second creature appears.

Ken Foree as LeonardThe two humans get away, baring the door, and go into the club to warn the patrons. The other dancers turn and all Hell breaks loose. Nick is killed and eventually Caitlin, Quinn, Leonard and Candy manage to hole up in a room. It is clear that Leonard, who was armed with shotgun and sword, knows more than he is letting on. During the fight we have seen him decapitate a dancer and her body continues to move.

So far, so vampire, in a From Dusk Till Dawn sort of way, but the film makers wanted to do something different and one wonders if the next dialogue was entered into the script because they had strayed into vampire territory too much. Leonard is a monster hunter and has been on the track of this nest. Quinn mentions vampires and Caitlin says no, they eat flesh as well as drinking blood. Not really good enough as we know that vampires also can eat flesh, depending on the type/lore. However Leonard states they are not vampires but ghouls.

a ghoulHe tells us that vampires would be harder to kill (Lord knows how, these things seem fairly indestructible). They are flesh eaters that can only be killed through starvation. Cutting the head off is a good way to induce it – so body and head continue but the head cannot ingest food as there is no digestive connection. They live in underground lairs but, there is no indication that sunlight is actually an issue.

They have a queen, and if she is killed her minion ghouls will die – killing the head creature to kill the rest is, of course, often used in vampire films. She became as she is when she sold her soul to Beelzebub, she takes those women who are already on the road to Hell and turns them. This is done through their sins and not with any form of bite and/or fluid transference – which is all new. When I heard this bit it did bring to mind Twins of Evil as in that there had to be an acceptance of evil to turn, but it still did demand a bite. Sometimes vampire movies use a ritual, but in this there was just an acceptance that the soul had been lost to sin. It was also gender specific, which (unless you are talking a gender specific, naturally born type of vampire) is again unusual.

leg in mouthThis is a very camp movie, the dialogue and acting are low grade, especially when compared to the genius that was From Dusk Till Dawn and the comparisons have to come as the baseline story is so familiar. That said it was a mildly amusing watch. As to whether it is vampire, well they specifically state it is not. They miss many of the standard vampire trappings, there is no staking, mirror, garlic, cross or sunlight aspects.

Whilst they borrow heavily from a vampire movie (and one might state that rather than capture the essence of the genre, as many border line films do, they simply rip off a premise) they do something unusual – to me the big tell was not in the continuing to move post decapitation as we do have vampires that can survive losing their heads, and it does, eventually, lead to the ghoul's death. The big tell was the way these things turn other women into ghouls, this uses a device that is really not within the vampire handbook. Of interest to genre fans but ultimately just off the radar - though I am not 100% convinced that it shouldn't be classed.

The imdb page is here.

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