ON DVD: 22 September
RUNNING TIME: 91 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A documentary about Erika Spawn [real name Angela Lee], a rock singer whose violent and sleazy lyrics and act made her very popular but also caused much controversy, with interviews from ex-band mates and others, plus live footage….
Horror and rock, or to put it more exact, Satan and heavy metal, have often gone hand in hand [though there haven’t been that many films to explore the subject, Trick Or Treat being, if not the best, probably the most entertaining one], and of course there have always been those who consider heavy metal to be “the Devil’s music”[though I would personally claim that the music in this film perpetuated by a certain ‘Robin Harris’ is more worthy of that title]. The Devil’s Music is definitely one of the most interesting films to combine the two, so much so that, watching it, I just could not believe that the 2008 film has not had a proper DVD release [it did come out in the US but for some reason was deleted shortly after it hit the shelves] until September of this year when it’s released on Region 2, nor could I believe that it isn’t better known, and this is despite it some getting some rave reviews when it first came out back in 2008 and even winning Best Independent Feature at the UK’s Festival of Fantastic Film of that year. The film, which is the fourth feature from Pat Higgins [and after viewing The Devil’s Music, I want to check out the others, which are Hellbride , Bordello Death Tales, and Nazi Zombie Death Tales], is an unusual beast without a doubt, but it’s definitely one that deserves to be seen by the discerning horror fan who is perhaps tiring a little of a genre which increasingly seems stuck on repeat.
The Devil’s Music is a mock documentary or ‘mockumentary’, and I know right away you’re thinking This Is Spinal Tap, though this isn’t really much like it and doesn’t try to be. In a way it’s not going to be too easy writing a detailed review on this film, because this really is one of those films where the less you know, the more rewarding it will be to watch. It gradually drip feeds you more and more information and you really won’t know where it’s going for much of the time, though perhaps the best thing about it is that after a while it may not even seem much like a documentary, because it gets so gripping, and that’s with at least two thirds of it consisting of talking heads. Trust me, even if you don’t have much interest in documentaries whether they are ‘real’ or ‘fake’, The Devil’s Music quickly becomes utterly riveting, more and more fascinating and, yes, increasingly frightening as it progresses. It doesn’t frighten with jump scares, or creeping around in the dark, or gruesome special effects, but it still frightens, often by just having somebody tell us about something, or by its extremely ominous atmosphere which seems effortlessly created without being too obvious.
The film begins with a man, who immediately carries a slight air of sleaziness about him, talking of how great Erika was. It seems that she may have died, but one can’t be sure. The man is Eddie Meacham, her former manager. We see some footage of Erika performing, enacting a warped stage act where she pretends to kill someone with a razor as well as singing, then we cut to another guy, this time a certain Melvin True of something called the Good Media Group. We’ve all seen guys like him on TV moaning about the negative impacts of this or that. The Devil’s Music proceeds in this vein as it incorporates TV interviews, photographs and P.O.V. tour footage. We meet more folk, including laid-back former drummer ZC, brassy former bassist Adele Black, marketing man Jason Benedict, and know-it-all occult expert Simon ‘Scud’ Duffy, though it’s Eddie who seems to tell most of the story and have the most clear-headed attitude about what went on. Erika releases albums with titles like Body Of A Whore and is reputed to have obtained a bunch of puppies, thrown them into the audience, then not played any music until the puppies were thrown back towards her dead, but is she the real danger to society?
She actually seems quite normal compared with Stephanie Regan, a somewhat creepy groupie who is allowed to join the tour and film it. The other major character is Robin Harris, a pop crooner of saccharine ballads who becomes Erika’s main chart rival. The story brings in more and more elements, which I won’t ruin by describing, but never loses its focus and drive while providing a few genuinely disturbing moments. A recording of a fearful person talking just before he is shot is rather upsetting and, like some other things in the film, seems to deliberately echo true events. Some very good acting, especially by Jess Louisa- Flynn who provides just a little bit of levity [in fact, she’s almost like comic relief] as the vulgar but sexy Adele, also helps in giving the impression of realism. These feel like real people, while the film generally avoids the usual shock tactics. This works for most of the running time, but Higgins seems overly squeamish towards the end which somewhat mutes one particular scene towards the end.
The Devil’s Music stumbles a little with its live footage. It’s not the filmmaker’s fault that they didn’t have enough money to stage large concert scenes, but it’s painfully obvious that the instruments being played are not the ones you here, and, while the songs by Phil Sheldon and Higgins are serviceable, Robin Harris just sounds like a really poor singer. Neither Erika’s songs nor what we see of her stage act seem extreme enough to cause a stir. There’s a clip from a video of one of her songs called Needle which will totally and utterly disturb all of you out there who have a fear of going to the dentist, but other than that we really don’t see much evidence of the devil woman who supposedly has the Moral Majority up in arms. You see more shocking stuff on MTV during the day every day. It’s a shame, because a great deal of effort has been made to make things good in most other areas, only to fall short in one of the most important ones. Nevertheless, after a while it’s easy to just accept it and appreciate the many other areas where things are done well. Especially notable is some Found Footage material which shows exaxtly how this sort of thing should be done and is amongst the most convincing stuff of its kind!
Higgins clearly has things to say about things such as music’s power and influence, the blaming of music for society’s ills, and the dangers of fandom, though he doesn’t preach and sometimes cleverly hedges his bets by not taking sides or making things ambiguous. As I type, I’m still somewhat baffled by the ending to his movie, but then these days you don’t often get an ending that can be interpreted several ways and is left for the viewer to make his or her mind up. Some won’t like what it suggests, but it’s a sign of the film’s quality that I reckon I’ll be trying to work it out for quite a while. One of the best Indie pictures I’ve seen in ages, The Devil’s Music is a unique and disturbing experience that will haunt you for weeks.