Demon's Rook, The (2013)
Directed by James Sizemore
As a young boy, Roscoe does what just about any child his age ought to be doing: hanging around, playing in the woods near his home and getting into mischief with his best friend, Eva. At night, however, he is regularly visited by a seemingly benevolent demon named Dimwos (Chatham). One night in particular, Dimwos casually leads the boy to a glowing subterranean chamber located under a tree in the woods, and in doing so spirits him away from the mortal realm and into the ‘Dark Womb’.
After many years of spiritual and magical training at the hands of the demon, the now adult Roscoe’s yearning to return to the human world overcomes him, and he forcefully frees himself from Dimwos’ charge, causing the destruction of a number of ominous-looking vessels in the process. Emerging from the root of the tree he disappeared beneath as a boy, Roscoe (Sizemore) finds himself in a world very different from the one he left behind. A new family now resides in his childhood home; yet, some familiar faces remain, including a desperately talentless wannabe artist neighbour, who is plagued by visions of demons and, of course, Eva. Roscoe and Eva’s reunion is forcibly short, however, due to the arrival of a trio of malevolent demons – once kept in captivity by Dimwos – who have followed our hero back through the portal via which he escaped and have nothing but death and destruction on their minds.
And so the stage is set for an extremely low budget, but also extremely high ambition, 80s-style gorefest filled to the brim with lovingly old-school creature and gore effects. The Demon’s Rook is a consistently strange beast – tonally, it’s all over the place; quirky one minute, deadly serious the next, and while in most cases this would be a major problem, Sizemore’s consistently perplexing approach actually plays a large part in the enjoyment factor of his film.
One moment you’re dealing with an impending demonic invasion, and the next witnessing a hilariously over-long impromptu hoedown amongst a group of friends in celebration of an impending marriage proposal. Shortly after that, you’re sharing the soul-rending dismay of a mind-controlled victim who briefly glimpses what they are being forced to do or marveling at some ridiculously splattery gore.
Fans of old school horror theatrics will have a ball amidst the heavily filtered lighting and pushed-to-the-limit fog machine-enhanced environs, while the attention given to making each of the antagonistic demons an individual entity recalls similar low budget heyday fare such as Neon Maniacs. One of the demons has the power to enthrall humans and turn them into mutated slaves, another utilises mind control to goad party-going locals into massacring one another, and the final being wields the power to raise the dead from their graves – leading an army of zombies to stomp across the isolated community, devouring anyone unlucky enough to get in the way.
The star of the day here is most certainly the superb special effects, the likes of which are rarely on such confident display in a film of such obviously limited resources. Throats are torn out, heads popped, bodies decimated, gutted, and ripped asunder. When it gets going, things get seriously grisly. Carnage fans will eat The Demon’s Rook up for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and probably even manage a snack in there too.
Letting Sizemore’s effort down is the story itself. There’s plenty of mystery at play here with regards to just what Dimwos is hoping to achieve in his abduction and training of Roscoe, or indeed what it is that he sees in Roscoe in particular as a child. Unfortunately, once the wheels start spinning on the various violent set-pieces, this mystery falls to the wayside in favour of simply demonstrating a few of Roscoe’s new magical superpowers, to ultimately little substance. What appears rather convincingly on the surface to be a self-assuredly low-key epic gradually reveals itself to be a little more vacuous than the grandiose synopsis suggests. The resultant lack of a deeper, more engaging narrative to unfold means the rather slovenly second act begins to drag on much longer than necessary.
This is more than made up for, however, by the sheer joy displayed on screen by all involved, both behind and in front of the camera. Sure, the performances aren’t noteworthy for many positive aspects, and much of the cast are obviously friends, family and acquaintances of the Sizemores, but the sense of affection for the genre, and the will to have fun with it, is palpable. Backed up by the nostalgic synth score, The Demon’s Rook is a hugely bizarre yet fun home-grown trip down memory lane. Those looking for a poignant, well balanced story are likely to be left disappointed, but as a gut-flinging monster mash, you can certainly do much, much worse.
3 1/2 out of 5