“THE DEMON’S ROOK” (Screamfest Movie Review)
THE DEMON’S ROOK is exactly the kind of psychotronic gem we search for in no-budget/backyard/DIY horror. Director James Sizemore—wearing a vast array of horns and hats on the film including writer, star, producer and special makeup FX—is positively charged with realizing his entirely warped vision (is that what’s missing from so many movies?) of demons, netherworlds, surf rock barn parties and a bearded savior at all, and despite no, costs. Which is to say, in the already niche world of genre film, THE DEMON’S ROOK will occupy a special place in the hearts of a select few.
Interested in pushing ahead instead of looking back, THE DEMON’S ROOK wears its heart on its sleeve, but thankfully not its influences. Rather, Sizemore sets out to, and does, capture a sort of “anything goes” atmosphere that makes the lunatic work of Fulci so beloved. Employing copious blood, copious fog, copious colors and copious creatures, the film carves out its own odd occult mythology about the mother earth and the ancient magick that resides within. That magick threatens to spill over into our world entirely throughout the picture’s fantastically gory proceedings, unless lead character Roscoe (Sizemore, pictured above), who came of age within the Earth, can stop it.
Roscoe was always divided. A sunny childhood of playing with his parents and best friend Eva by day was offset by nightly visits from ancient demon Dimwos. As Dimwos drew closer, he ultimately led the boy through a portal in the forest and into an underworld. It’s there that Dimwos trained Roscoe in ancient tongue and ancient ritual, acting as sort of a barrier between life above ground and the evil underneath it. As an adult, Roscoe finally recalls his past life and years of deception, and unable to contain the aggression and darkness within himself, unwittingly unleashes that which the Dark Mother’s womb houses. Like Dimwos led Roscoe beneath, so does Roscoe lead three demons above.
THE DEMON’S ROOK then follows both the trio of creatures and Roscoe, as he hunts them down. It’s no disservice to Sizemore’s committed performance to say the former aspect is more fun. More importantly however, Roscoe is where THE DEMON’S ROOK finds its tenderness. Reunited with Eva by happenstance, the two journey together and provide a beating heart underneath the massacres and growing legion of undead the demons amass. Additionally, it allows Roscoe to provide insight into where he’s been, giving the viewer more immersive, trance-y time in the netherworld and building a duality to THE DEMON’S ROOK. Sizemore plants the film’s feet firmly in both fantasist imagination and gory mayhem, just as he punctuates the admittedly modest look with ambitious pockets of style, such as the psychedelic reach of the netherworld, personality-laden bloody set pieces and some black mass luridness at a party that’s attacked.
At a certain point, those set pieces begin to follow a fairly clear pattern of the villains and their ghouls being drawn to gatherings of youth. Sizemore’s insistence on crafting something memorable wins out over any hint of redundancy, however. Even the demons resurrecting the dead is colored with infectious madness as the classical image of corpse arms pushing through the ground are met with the energetic hand of Sizemore and his demons actually reaching down to pull them up. One great major massacre finds a group of campers around a fire. The film’s villains are uninterested in easy prey though, refusing to chase after the friend sent off alone in the woods to pee. Instead, they take psychic hold over the crew, staging a splatter-heavy and delightfully nutso scene of in-fighting that leaves a buffet of guts to munch and throats to rip.
But as Sizemore’s approach overtook any familiar pattern, ultimately so does THE DEMON’S ROOK’s heart and earnest spirit override any limitation. Frankly rougher aspects like performance give away to imagination and positivity. While happy to gleefully revel in practical FX and gory spatter, the film will not wallow in it. As Roscoe chastises his last opponent for using such immense power for terror, the director focuses on Eva and Roscoe’s clasped hands, rather than the blood that surrounds them.
THE DEMON’S ROOK plays Los Angeles’ Screamfest Wednesday, October 9 at 9:45 p.m. and Sunday, October 13 at 3:00 p.m. For tickets and more info, visit Screamfest.