Mitch Gould, the writer of “The Devil’s Den”, was clearly watching the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino 1996 collaboration “From Dusk Till Dawn” when he penned his script for “Den”. The two films are nearly identical in premise, with minor deviations to prevent (one presumes) a lawsuit by the producers of “Dawn”. The result of this cribbing is over familiarity (what with the “From Dusk Till Dawn” sequels having mined the same territory and plot narrative) and some tongue in cheek humor, most of it offered up by a game Devon Sawa. A nod, if you will, to the audience that they aren’t seeing anything new, and that the filmmakers are well aware of this fact.
“The Devil’s Den” opens somewhat poorly, with the kind of Two Guys in a Room excessive dialogue scene between two Gen-X characters that used to be so popular in the ’90s, back when credit card filmmaking was still possible, and every wannabe writer/director had visions of becoming the next Kevin Smith. Thankfully, this little exercise in Guerilla Screenwriting 101 is dispensed with when our two young wannabe drug dealers Nick (Steven Schub) and Quinn (Devon Sawa) stop at a wayside strip club that literally pops out in the middle of nowhere. The location of the strip club is quite the mystery, and at one point we see factory pipes in the background. Huh? It gets stranger, believe me.
But back to our story. Inside the strip club, the boys delight in the club’s offering, including the gyrating talents of uber stripper Jezebel (Dawn Olivieri). Things look up for Quinn when he’s selected to receive a private lap dance by Jezebel, but unfortunately for our lad, Jezebel turns out to be a flesh-eating ghoul (according to one character). Fortuitous for our smart-alecky road traveler, two-gun fisting assassin Caitlin (Kelly Hu) and demon hunter Leonard (Ken Foree) are around to save the day. Soon, Caitlin, Quinn, Leonard, and first-night-on-the-job waitress Candy (Karen Maxwell) are running from a strip club full of flesh-eating ghouls. And what of Nick? Well, he’s laying around here and there…
The first 30 minutes or so of “The Devil’s Den” is actually quite the serviceable horror-comedy-action movie. Then again, I’ve always been a fan of these types of movies — your Last Stand in a Haunted House stories, where multiple characters of varying persuasions are forced into an isolated location and surrounded by creatures of the night trying to get in at them. Alas, since the film was shot on a modest budget, and (one presumes) proper locations were not allocated or were unaffordable, the characters end up running between a couple of sets, which becomes rather silly after a while.
Speaking of stretching credulity, there’s no real reason for gunwoman Caitlin to remain at the Devil’s Den strip club after the initial volley of ghoul flesh-eating has been survived. We eventually learn why she has come to the strip club (to kill someone), as well as the identity of her would-be victim. But here’s where I must divert from the film and make this observation: I would have much rather the script left the explanations out of it, and allowed me, the viewer, to make up my own reasons for Caitlin’s presence. To wit:
The knowledge that Caitlin is an assassin, and had come to kill someone at the strip club, conjures up all sorts of possible groovy scenarios. My idea was this: Caitlin has come to the strip club to dispense of Jezebel, our fiery gunwoman having been hired by a rival strip club who does not like Jezebel’s theft of their customers. Unbeknownst to the people who hired Caitlin, Jezebel the gorgeous star stripper isn’t just stealing their customers, she’s actually eating them. Perhaps my mind was wandering as I came up with this little exterior to the movie, but I found it much more interesting and clever than what Mitch Gould came up with.
But I digress. The film does offer up some highlights, mostly whenever it decides to play things campy with tongue firmly planted in cheek. One such moment has Quinn, a connoisseur of Japanese Samurai movies, fantasizing about how his cinematic hero, the blind Samurai Zatoichi would deal with this particular situation. Leonard then chimes in with his own version, ending with Caitlin butting in with a pessimistic cap on the story-within-a-story. The rest of “The Devil’s Den” never comes close to that sort of creativity, which is a shame, as this had the potential to be something really fun ala “Feast” or “2001 Maniacs”.
There are other reasons to spend the 80 minutes necessary to watch “The Devil’s Den”, and one of them is Kelly Hu. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Kelly looks insanely good in a leather outfit, as her Caitlin character gets to do all those things action hero chicks do in these movies — shoot a lot of guns that never seem to run out of bullets, kick a lot of ass, and generally look good. The script tries to inject romance between Caitlin and Sawa’s smart-alecky Quinn, but the age difference between the two actors is just too great to ignore. And like fellow B-movie dweller Edward Furlong, Sawa has really let himself go and added a second chin, which is quite unbecoming of a leading man.
Genre vet Ken Foree, long removed from his glory days on George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”, still manages to cut the heroic pose despite having already pushed 60. The noticeable belly he’s currently sporting notwithstanding, who knew Foree still had it in him to bash in undead face so convincingly? Karen Maxwell’s ditzy waitress is mostly underused throughout the film, and as a result the continued presence of her character seems to stretch script logic. She never goes anywhere because, well, the script needs her to stay there.
“The Devil’s Den” is a silly, campy stab at genre horror. Kelly Hu and Ken Foree coolness can only carry a movie so far, and unfortunately for “Den”, it doesn’t have all that much going for it besides its initial premise, which wears itself out after a brief 10 minutes of wild bloodletting, pointless shooting, and some nifty sword slashing mayhem. Still, for a low-budget film, “Den” isn’t entirely bad. The soundtrack, especially the early song (which I think is “Nam Nam” by The DNC, but I could be wrong) was so good I immediately hopped onto the Internet looking for more information on the artist, and regrettably, found none. That is one good song, folks.
Where was I? Oh right, the film. It’s okay, if you like this sort of campy horror stuff.
Jeff Burr (director) / Mitch Gould (screenplay)
CAST: Steven Schub …. Nick
Ken Foree …. Leonard
Devon Sawa …. Quinn
Kelly Hu …. Caitlin
Karen Maxwell …. Candy
Ken Ohara …. Zatoichi
Dawn Olivieri …. Jezebel