THE DEVIL'S MUSIC is the fourth feature film from independent British horror filmmakers Jinx Media Ltd. Their previous efforts were TRASHHOUSE, KILLERKILLER and HELLBRIDE.
I'm new to Jinx Media, so I was definitely up for a bit of education via their latest low budget offering.
The film begins with Eddie (Cy Henty, KILLERKILLER), former manager of controversial rock singer Erika Spawn (Victoria Hopkins, CLUBBING TO DEATH), offering us a little background into her. A variety of photographs charting her growth from an unremarkable childhood as Angela Lee are intercut with Eddie's candid comments to an offscreen interviewer.
He informs us that Erika found infamy in recent years as a shock rocker renowned for staging simulated acts of violence while performing onstage. Live footage shows Erika "stabbing" a woman onstage, mid-song.
Several other characters from Erika's world are introduced to the screen, each giving their own account of the tabloid's favourite hate figure and the bizarre story that is about to unfold. We meet Melvin (Geoffrey Sleight), a campaigner for more sanitised forms of entertainment; ZA (Alan Ronald, cinematographer on Jinx Media's earlier films), Erika's prankster drummer; Jason (Richard Collins, KILLERKILLER), the man behind marketing Erika's image; and feisty bassist Adele (Jess-Luisa Flynn).
Each character speaks to the camera, helping to create a picture of the tabloid furore that grew in recent times surrounding Erika's stage act and songs with titles like "Body of a Whore" and "Dying Bride". They also reveal how Erika became increasingly fixated with a horribly innocuous boyband reject-type, by the name of Robin Harris (Scott Thomas, NIGHT DRAGON). She perceived him as her main chart rival, and therefore grew to intensely loathe him …
The scene is further set at this stage with snippets of live performances, clips from music promo videos (including a hilariously tacky one from Robin) and TV "youth programme" footage, where Erika and Robin get to mug for the screen in different ways. All of this is accompanied by copious amounts of still images of Erika gurning in lingerie and leather.
It's only when Eddie suggests that the documentary makers cut to the band's handheld home video footage recorded during their final - uncompleted - tour, that we first get the notion that something major is about to unfold. We do indeed cut to the footage, filmed initially by ZC, where we meet the demure young Stephanie (Lucy Dunn), a teenaged fan who has snuck her way backstage. Erika encourages the girl to interview her on video, which she does - and a friendship develops between the two, which leads Erika to invite Stephanie on tour with the band.
As unassuming as Stephanie at first appears, we soon learn from retrospective comments how Adele was instantly suspicious of her, Eddie thought she had too many problems, and she quite simply freaked ZC out. Further indication that the band's handheld footage - shown to us in piecemeal fashion - is about to turn awry, is the arrival of Rita (Chandrika Chevli), who the documentary team introduce as Stephanie's psychiatric care worker …
THE DEVIL'S MUSIC is essentially a mockumentary taking a look, from several insider points of view, at events that led to an act of unsimulated onstage violence, a nightclub massacre and an obsession with the occult - not to mention the escalating contempt shared between Erika and Robin.
The documentary-style editing, shifting breathlessly from one interviewee to the next, intercutting with archive footage from various sources, ensures that THE DEVIL'S MUSIC is always interesting to watch. Although the first half is pure scene-setting, it's never dull as writer-director-editor Pat Higgins (KILLERKILLER; HELLBRIDE) uses his skills to keep the pace brisk.
Visually, the film is well staged with attractive compositions, good lighting and some amusing ideas - the annoying camera-work during footage of a youth programme apes "The Word" perfectly (Higgins appears as a nervous interviewer here), while the soft-focus photography lends to the cringey crassness of Robin's music video.
The acting and script are very good indeed, both of which help enormously when this is meant to resemble a documentary. Henty is a convincing snotbag as the unapologetic manager who gets most screentime, while Ronald delivers an especially natural performance. But the real acting kudos go to the girls: Hopkins adds a depth to what could have been an extremely two-dimensional character, showing a vulnerability beneath her outer ranting and tantrums; Dunn not only looks the part in her youth, but exudes the type of coy excitement that makes her character believable; and, most fun of all, is Flynn - irreverent, spunky and probably the best thing in the film.
THE DEVIL'S MUSIC doesn't really enter horror territory until late on in proceedings, but when it does it manages a fair degree of creepiness and a decent twist to boot. It's refreshing in these times to see an independent horror film that doesn't rely on lashings of gore to grab its audience's attention. The climax here is less of a blood-red money shot, more of a growing sense of dread that sneaks upon the viewer before leaving you with stuff to think about afterwards. And that's a good thing.
The music for the film is by Phil Sheldon (with help from Higgins). The incidental music has a watered-down Nine Inch Nails electro vibe to it, while the songs written for Erika Spawn are dark electronic pop (nowhere near as rocky as her fashion would suggest). The limp pop songs written for Robin are the best - sarcastic swipes at tepid crap like Boyzone. It's interesting to note that Thomas and Hopkins do actually sing their own songs (albeit, they mime in the film).
So, a nicely paced, keenly shot and very well acted film that builds steadily to a refreshingly eerie climax.
My main criticism is that Erika simply isn't shocking. The idea is that we have this female rocker vilified by the press for her outrageous stage act and lyrics … but we don't get to see any of this. Her songs are lightweight, their lyrics are tame and her backstage antics extend to little more than shouting. Presumably modelled upon the laughable Marilyn Manson, Erika is nowhere near as "shocking" as even that cartoon creation. The film doesn't ring true in this respect. Where was the sex? The drugs? The rock 'n' roll lifestyle?! Has Higgins not seen HATED: GG ALLIN AND THE MURDER JUNKIES??!
Still, it's a petty quibble. The filmmakers should be applauded for producing such a professional and entertaining film. An accomplished piece, with both Higgins and Flynn emerging as names to keep an eye out for in the future.
For more information on the very promising Jinx Media Ltd, go to www.jinxmedia.co.uk.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Jinx Media|
|Region 0 - PAL|
|see main review|