When asked to review The Demon’s Rook, it was the description that sold me: “a loving ode to a wide range of movies, from creature features of the 80’s to zombie giallo films using tons of practical effects. It’s a very DIY production that feels epic in scope due to the elaborate creature designs and world-building from the filmmakers”. In a rare case of a movie living up to its hype, I can attest that these two sentences do actually describe The Demon’s Rook perfectly. Well, maybe the first more than the second.
For me, the “loving ode” to other movies is subtle. The nods to movies like Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th and The Beyond don’t necessarily come from the story or events; they come from bits and pieces of scenes that look and feel like they’ve been inspired by them. For example, there are no chainsaws in The Demon’s Rook; however, a scene where a potential victim is running down the road in slow motion, followed by a demon/zombie, very much resembles in its fluidity the finale of TCM where Leatherface “dances” on the road, holding his chainsaw above his head.
If scenes like this are intentional, then the filmmakers are quite savvy. They’re showing their appreciation for the movies that inspired them without robbing from their stories. There are a number of scenes like this where memories of classic horror films washed over me. That’s not to say the story itself isn’t influenced by other movies. But the components are mixed together in a way where the overall product feels quite original.
The Demon’s Rook is about a boy (Roscoe) kidnapped by a demon in the first eleven minutes of the movie. “Years later” he rises from the ground, looking like Jesus. Stumbling through the woods in tattered clothing, he’s fortunate enough to stumble upon a camper’s bag that contains a pair of jeans that are a perfect fit! Over the course of the roughly one hour and forty-five minute long movie, we learn what happened to Roscoe in the missing years and what his purpose is in coming back.
Roscoe wasn’t the only thing that crawled out of the ground. Three particularly nasty demons are unleashed to wreak havoc. They are able to, in general, do three things: turn their victims into demons themselves, possess their victims so that they tear apart their friends, or simply dig in to rip apart their victims themselves. Here is where the “DIY production” comes into play. Scenes of death and destruction are frequent, with varying degrees of giddy gore. You don’t know what to expect; however, a single arrow shot into a woman’s torso seems to cause more blood to flow than an entire beheading.
Even though there is no consistency in the bloodshed, it is created by filmmakers who obviously love the genre. (I wonder if they also love Monty Python; the blood often sprays in one solid stream instead of realistically spurting.) In fact, the entire movie utilizes creative camera angles and close-ups. At times, it hints at the gonzo filmmaking of Evil Dead, but doesn’t quite go there. It’s less showy.
Less effective is the lighting and smoke that accompanies a demon’s arrival. These scenes are a little out of place with bright, primary colors filling areas of the screen. They just don’t look as well made as other scenes. Also, some attention could have been paid in the editing room. The Demon’s Rook is too long; it could easily have been trimmed to 90 minutes and been more impactful. Even though the death and destruction scenes are fun, there is at least one too many of them.
The makeup and/or masks for the demons are pretty good. They don’t look terribly inflexible or fake. However, the hands of one demon are fat and rubbery. The creative camera work helps make the demons more realistic, as do the actions of the demons. One of them is particularly fond of that fast in-and-out tongue action usually reserved for the bedroom. And the filmmakers aren’t shy about showing their monsters during both the dark nights and the bright light of day.
There are detailed touches in The Demon’s Rook that I really liked. For example, when a potential victim races to a pickup truck to escape, the camera focuses on the ignition switch. You’d expect the engine to not turn over; that’s what normally happens in a horror movie. But not here, for a split second we’re fooled and our expectations dissolve. Also, when a victim runs into a house or another room and slams the door behind them, it usually detains the monster for a bit. Not here. In The Demon’s Rook, a monster can just open that door right up and continue its chase.
There’s not much more to the story than I described earlier. About 45 minutes into it, the mystery is revealed and The Demon’s Rook doesn’t waste any more time with it. The penultimate moment of the movie is terrific. Like many other elements, it is unexpected and original. For the best feeling of the filmmakers’ sense of humor, though, sit through the end credits as various kittens and puppies happen upon dead demons and monsters and lick up the gore.
Said filmmakers include director, co-writer James Sizemore and co-writer Akom Tidwell, whose names appear in many other roles during the credits. It’s obviously a friends-and-family effort, with Sizemore’s wife, Ashley Jo Sizemore appearing as the female protagonist. In fact, Sizemore and Tidwell both play parts onscreen, as well. Sizemore plays Roscoe. The less said about the acting, the better. The real talent is displayed behind the camera.
All in all, The Demon’s Rook was a lot of fun to watch. Fast moving, although a little bloated, it’s a great homage to the movies we all know and love, yet presented in a mostly original way. How could I not recommend a movie that includes this line: “In the dark womb, we ate hot slime.” Perhaps that statement sums up all you need to know about The Demon’s Rook.