Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hu Dat Monster Fighter

I'd like to talk to you about a new film called DEVIL'S DEN starring horror favorites Devon Sawa (IDLE HANDS) and Ken Foree (DAWN OF THE DEAD), as well as mega-hottie Kelly Hu (X-MEN 2). But first off, when did Sawa become 40 years old? Winner of the Chris Penn What The Fuck Happened To This Teen Star Award, Sawa was 28 when he filmed DEVIL'S DEN, but he looks almost old enough to be Wilford Brimley's son. It looks like character acting, not leading man material, is in Sawa's future. To be fair, Sawa is a pretty good actor with some flair for physical comedy. I thought he was terrific mixing slapstick and gore in the comic horror film IDLE HANDS (1999) with a performance reminiscent of Bruce Campbell in EVIL DEAD 2. DEVIL'S DEN is in the same vein.

Filmed obviously quickly and cheaply near Los Angeles, DEVIL'S DEN was written by its producer and stunt coordinator, Mitch Gould, who obviously saw FROM DUSK TILL DAWN a few times. I wonder why it took someone a decade to rip it off so blatantly. An out-of-the-way strip joint in the Mexican desert called "Devil's Den" is the setting, as an importer of Spanish fly (Sawa), a monster hunter kinda like Jimmy Woods in VAMPIRES (Foree), a leather-clad two-gun-shooting kung-fu-fighting assassin (Hu) and a ditzy waitress (Karen Maxwell) are the only survivors after the sexy strippers transform into flesh-eating "ghouls" and chow down on the other patrons in a gore-spraying attack. Nearly the entire film takes place in Devil's Den, as the four survivors fight back against the ghouls, which can only be killed by starving them to death, preferably by separating their heads from their stomachs via decapitation.

Even more so than FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, the horror is played for laughs, much of it through regular guy Sawa's wisecracking as bizarre bloodletting splashes all around him. It's very cool to see DAWN OF THE DEAD's zombie-fighting Foree playing a major role here, dressed in black and laying smack with a shotgun and a samurai sword. Equally dangerous but much more fetching is top-billed Hu, whose character is actually kinda silly. About two-thirds of the way through, we're introduced to her backstory, which is ludicrous, in a scene that does little except help stretch the film to its 84-minute running time.

More ludicrous is the revelation that Sawa is some sort of gigolo who romances married women, including a senator's wife, which gets him into trouble with the government. Looking at this guy, I'd be surprised if he could seduce a Denny's waitress, much less a wealthy older woman.

Stranger than anything else in the movie is an oddball fantasy sequence where Foree and Sawa imagine what it would look like if Zatoichi (!) fought a roomful of stripper ghouls.

Horror fans may be surprised to learn that DEVIL'S DEN was directed by Jeff Burr, who also made PUMPKINHEAD, PUPPET MASTER and TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE sequels. His LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 is somewhat notorious for being eviscerated by New Line in order to head off ratings troubles with the MPAA. Burr was outspoken about his disappointment with New Line's meddling, and many fans feel his original cut would likely be an improvement over what was actually released, if New Line would ever find it in them to put it out.

The reason fans may be surprised to learn of Burr's involvement is that he isn't listed in the titles, as directing credit is given to the pseudonymous "Andrew Quint." I'm unsure why Burr took his name off the picture. It certainly isn't because DEVIL'S DEN is a bad movie, because it isn't. It lumbers in spots, but is an entertaining mixture of horror and humor with enough gore and nudity to keep fans amused.

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