First published by Grolsch FilmWorks
Little Roscoe, a ‘special’ kid with a fondness for sketching devils in crayon, is taken away one night by the good demon Dimwos (John Chatham) to the interdimensional ‘Dark Womb’, where he begins training in the Dark Arts to help maintain balance in the universe. Years later, like some errant Sorceror’s Apprentice, a now adult Roscoe (director/co-writer/everything James Sizemore) unleashes three malevolent demons who decapitate Dimwos and follow Roscoe – now looking half like Jesus, half like Charles Manson – out into his hometown of Moreland, Georgia. As the trio creates pandemonium amongst the local populace with their different powers of necromancy and possession, Roscoe reunites with his childhood playmate Eva (Ashleigh Jo Sizemore) and starts fighting back with starey freakout magick. Heads explode.
Returning to the womb, raising the dead and playing with a long lost childhood friend – these are all apt metaphors for the nostalgia in which, like a comfort blanket for Satanic slumberers, The Demon’s Rook wraps itself. There is no accounting for the magical power of nostalgia, which creeps up on you, feeds into your most ingrained desires and longings, makes you feel all warm and tingly in ways you cannot quite explain or articulate – and is incomprehensible to those who do not share your hankerings to relive the experiences of receding youth. So if you harbour deep-seated affection for the demonology of Clive Barker’s compromised Nightbreed (1990), for Fulci-style zombie weirdness, or for the evil iconography on the sleeve art of countless Eighties metal albums, then The Demon’s Rook is going to do something nice and fuzzy to you beyond all rationalisation – which is a fair reflection of the very positive response it received at FrightFest . There is definitely an audience for this film, and they will probably love it.
If, however, like me, you are not already fully invested in the particular nostalgia on offer here, you will more probably be at best bemused, if not slightly irritated, by the plodding plotting, the silly boy’s-own mythology, the perfunctory dialogue, the basic acting, and the complete absence of anything approaching characterisation in The Demon’s Rook – while even those who rail most loudly against the excessive, alienating CGI found in much contemporary horror are likely to grow weary eventually of this film’s deadening overuse of practical alternatives from the Eighties (here, chiefly smoke machines, coloured lighting and lots of latex). Visual effects of any kind are of course tools to help tell a story – but here, they are too prominent, and the story itself too simple and subdued, for their bludgeoning repetition not to be noticeable. 103 minutes is a long time to convey such flimsy ideas.
That said, no-one can be too hard on a film which is so obviously a labour of low-budget love, shot primarily on weekends over two years by first-time filmmaker Sizemore, who recruited friends and family to help. Amidst all the corn syrup and red-, blue- and green-hued fog, The Demon’s Rook boasts a fabulous synth-and-processed-guitar score and psychedelic sound design by Sizemore, Colin Lacativa and Christopher Ian Brooker – and its focus on outsider artists and barnyard musicians (Bovine Fantasy Invasion!) points to Sizemore’s own membership of the art-cultish secret society The Black Riders. Fans of psychobilly – and especially those under the influence of the demon weed – will certainly find welcome distraction here.