Review of “Studio 666” and More

I turned 60 years old on my last birthday. I’ve never been this old so I’m not sure how to behave. I enjoy playing video games, watching some cartoons, seeing gory, violent movies and listening to music that I’m at least 25 years too old for. For instance, my top three bands are Shinedown, Fall Out Boy (inside I’m a 15-year-old emo girl), and Foo Fighters. I was a youngster of 29 when Dave Grohl and his Nirvana bandmates released “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and my mind was opened to a new form of expression through music. There had always been angry, aggressive rock songs, but nothing like what I heard from that track. After Kurt Cobain’s suicide, I thought I’d never hear of Dave Grohl again (if I even knew his name before). Then Foo Fighters exploded on the scene. While not as grungy and raw as Nirvana, Foo Fighters radio singles were still straightforward rock that wouldn’t punch you in the face but would shove you a bit. My favorite song of theirs is “Learn to Fly.” Through various combinations of members, personality conflicts, artistic differences and at least one member’s trip to rehab, Foo Fighters have been consistently releasing great albums and Dave Grohl, at least from way outside, appears to be a quality guy. When I heard the band was making a horror movie, I knew it was, for me, a must see. But was it worth the trip across town to one of the few theaters showing “Studio 666” locally?

Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett and Rami Jaffee) are under pressure from their manager Jeremy Shill (Jeff Garlin) to quickly record their 10th studio album. Grohl says the album resides in all the band members’ heads and they just need a new and magical place to record it. Shill contacts real estate agent Barb Weems (Leslie Grossman) and she shows the band a rundown estate in Encino. While it looks like no one has been there in years, the house has the sound Grohl is looking for and he agrees to rent it for the duration of recording. As the band moves in and prepares to start recording, Grohl notices strange noises and a mysterious “groundskeeper” wandering the property. Next door neighbor Samantha (Whitney Cummings) welcomes the band and makes a nuisance of herself. Grohl can’t come up with new ideas and sounds for their album when he discovers a tape recording in the basement of an unfinished rock song. There’s also a raccoon sacrifice hanging on the wall with its blood dripping into a floor drain and black, smoky demons appearing from nowhere, but Grohl is obsessed with this song and a need to complete it. Grohl’s obsession with the never-ending song begins to tear Foo Fighters apart and may lead to the breakup of the band…permanently.

“Studio 666” is based on a story idea from Dave Grohl. While all the members of Foo Fighters have acted to some extent in music videos and cameo appearances, none is experienced, and it really shows in the movie. There are some very awkward line readings, reactions and attempts to look frightened. It is at times difficult to watch. All that said, “Studio 666” is fun to a point. After that point is passed (after the second “ending”), it is diminishing returns.

I’ll give Grohl and the rest of Foo Fighters credit: They don’t mind looking silly on a movie screen. Rami Jaffee comes closest to stealing the film. His hippie, New Age keyboardist character version is unafraid to show off his woowoo side, along with his chest hair trimmed into a heart shape and pouch-accentuating bikini briefs. Aside from Grohl, the rest of the band tries to act like adults in an unusual situation. Pat Smear is the most obvious fish out of water. He frequently has a goofy half-smile on his face and looks like he’d rather be anyplace but in this movie.

Grohl does most of the heavy lifting of the story and performance. He’s not great but I never felt sorry for him as he did his best to embody a musician possessed by an artistic desire to create and an evil, bloodthirsty demon. The Foo front man has been performing for decades in clubs, theaters, arenas and stadiums. Each of those venues requires a level of energy and Grohl is used to meeting and exceeding what the audience wants. Having a movie camera in your face requires a performance that is more controlled and nuanced. Grohl can do the big, screaming, bombastic parts well. It’s when he needs to bring the emotion and energy down to living room size that he often fails.

If you’re not interested in the quality of acting, perhaps the humor is what you’re coming for. The laughs are scattered and infrequent, largely coming from the side performers like Will Forte, Whitney Cummings and a cameo from Lionel Richie. There are a few funny moments between the band members, but otherwise the script from Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes is bereft of any noticeable humor.

If gore is more your desire, “Studio 666” provides that in concentrated chunks (figuratively and literally). The film starts with a flashback to 1993 and the bludgeoning death of a young woman with a hammer. There’s also the sacrificed raccoon, the cannibalism, projectile vomiting, double death via chainsaw and more. The gore effects at times look cheap and the geysers of blood from a couple of decapitations seemed overdone, but if you’re hoping to see death by cymbal, this is the movie for you.

“Studio 666” is rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, and sexual content. Aside from what I’ve mentioned above, the film contains a decapitated dead body posed with its intestines draped over the limbs, a character’s face jammed onto a hot barbeque grill, a wire poked into an eye, a knife jammed through a character’s head, a head crushed by a van, a character electrocuted and more. The sexual content is brief, comedic and interrupted by a grizzly death. Foul language is frequent.

The movie has three definitive endings. Following any one of them, the screen could have cut to the credits, but we must sit through all three before the curse of “Studio 666” is finally lifted. “Curse” might be a strong word as the film isn’t that bad, it just isn’t that good. If you’re paying your hard-earned money for a movie, you should get the best experience possible. On the other hand, if the participation of Foo Fighters is enough to get you to buy a ticket, hand over the cash and enjoy the ride. But be warned: Your enjoyment may be fleeting.

“Studio 666” gets two and a half bloody stars out of five.

Here are some quick thoughts about other recent films:

“The Cursed” is a variation of the werewolf story. After a group of gypsies is massacred by noblemen in the late 19th Century in a land dispute, the children of the nobles begin having the same nightmare of a scarecrow and some buried silver teeth. Then the disappearances and deaths begin.

“The Cursed” is pretty well executed in a “Hammer” horror way. The scares are more atmospheric, and characters are clearly delineated as either good or bad. It mostly works except for the horrible decisions characters make about leaving guns propped against open doors, not telling the nobleman at the center of the mystery about the blood-soaked sheets hanging on the wash line, and the incomprehensible need for everyone to investigate strange noises coming from upstairs or downstairs or the barn or the woods. The creature design is unique and horrifying.

“The Cursed” is rated R and gets four stars out of five.

“Death on the Nile” features pretty and rich people plotting against each other over money and love…or something. Only master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) can untangle the deception that leads to murder.

The scenery is lovely, and the production design is sumptuous, but all the costumes and sets and attractive people cannot make this retelling of Agatha Christie’s murder tale remotely interesting. It doesn’t help that one of the methods the murderer uses to throw off suspicion is given away early. I enjoy Poirot as a character and Branagh is a joy to watch as the somewhat OCD detective, but “Death on the Nile” is far from a killer.

“Death on the Nile” is rated PG-13 and gets two stars out of five.

“Moonfall” is insane. The moon is an artificial object made by aliens to protect developing life on Earth from a sentient artificial intelligence of the alien’s creation. The AI finds us and causes the moon to fall from its orbit, so it destroys all life on Earth. A fired astronaut, his former space shuttle crewmate and a conspiracy theorist must fly to the moon in a retired shuttle and stop our satellite from crashing upon us.

Almost all science gets ignored in “Moonfall” for sci-fi and CGI spectacle. There is so much so wrong about the film I don’t know where to begin, so I won’t. The best thing I can say about Roland Emmerich’s disaster flick is it’s completely stolen out from under stars Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson by John Bradley as the conspiracy theorist that happens to be correct. I want a whole movie just about Bradley’s K. C. Houseman and how he got to this point in his life just before the events of the film. Otherwise, this is a piece of mindless trash.

“Moonfall” is rated PG-13 and gets one star out of five.

“Nightmare Alley” (both color and black and white versions) stars Bradley Cooper as a man with no morals and unyielding ambition who finds both a purpose and love in a traveling carnival. After leaving the carnival with his lover and a mindreading act of his own, he soon finds his contempt for those he considers beneath him is misplaced and dangerous.

Guillermo del Toro’s remake of the 1947 film of the same name stays true to the story and finds new depths to plumb. Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe and more of an excellent cast, find both the humanity and depravity in a story set during the Great Depression and at the beginning of World War II. The visuals (especially in the black and white version) wring the warmth out of the viewer, and any brief moment of hope is crushed underfoot like just another cigarette butt. It’s a brilliant, beautiful and devastating character study in unbridled ambition.

“Nightmare Alley” is rated R and gets five stars out of five (both versions).

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