The Devil's Tomb
US DVD: 26 May 2009
A caveat: I write this review as an avowed and unabashed fan of the worst movies that the film community has to offer. Crappy movie nights are a common gathering for me and my friends, a worthwhile event even if most of the time you’re not getting anything more than a groan-inducing backdrop for the consumption of alcohol.
Real cinematic schlock, when executed just so, has an almost unmatched potential for brilliance. And only by wading through the knee deep muck produced by legions of nearly unwatchable direct-to-DVD train wrecks can you find that occasional diamond in the rough, that film that is so strange and stupid that it becomes beautiful.
The Devil’s Tomb is not that film. It belongs instead to the prior category of ‘near unwatchable muck’—insulting to even connoisseurs of crap cinema.
From a quick glance at the cast, including Cuba Gooding Jr. as the hard bitten commander of a team of elite mercenaries, Ron Perlman as the scientist he’s hired to extract from a long lost desert tomb, and Henry Rollins as a priest on a mysterious mission, The Devil’s Tomb looks every bit a perfect storm of unintentional brilliance. This is a trick.
You may even find yourself wondering, as I did “What could go wrong in a film starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Henry Rollins?” The answer, of course, is everything. Absolutely everything could go wrong.
While director Jason Connery makes an effort to combine elements of science fiction, horror and action, the screenwriter does his level best to incorporate some heavy handed philosophy on religion and the nature of god into The Devil’s Tomb. The result is a film that tries to do a lot, and does it all exceedingly poorly. From the cardboard sets to the terrible acting and worse writing, there’s nothing I can recommend about this movie, even for viewers with the lowest of expectations.
The crew of mercenaries under Mack’s command is straight out of central casting, consisting of The Idealistic Medic, The Sassy Ethnic Woman, The Goofball, The Nerdy Tech Guy and, of course, Hammer, The Hyper-Masculine Hispanic. Despite being described as the best of the best, these dolts routinely fire their weapons wildly into the air or down crowded hallways.
They also wander off at the first sight of a naked woman wandering around the hidden temple full of demons that they’re occupying. And while that’s understandable, it’s certainly got to be a breach of standard operating procedure.
Meanwhile, in the red corner, demons (who might also be aliens, I think. Maybe.) possess people by throwing up on them. The symptoms of this possession include oozing boils, super strength and sudden bouts of Showtime style lesbianism. The conflict between the two groups is so poorly rendered that The Devil’s Tomb doesn’t even afford viewers the small horror film catharsis of wanting to see the characters die. To do that, you’d have to like the monsters in the film, or at least be engaged by them.
Unfortunately, the dastardly denizens of The Devil’s Tomb are just as annoying as the human characters, spouting off religious philosophy more befitting an angsty goth kid than a character that is a threat to the human race. Instead of wanting anyone to die, or even to win, you just want them all to go away and never come back.
The special features include an unnecessary ‘Behind the Scenes’ short, as well as a commentary track that comes within spitting distance of redeeming quality, but ultimately falls down under the weight of it’s own self-satisfaction.
There are some golden moments in the commentary, mostly provided by Cuba Gooding Jr., who talks about how hard acting in an ensemble picture is. I don’t know if that’s true, but he certainly makes it seem that way. He also goes on record as really liking some of the props, which made him feel just like he was on a real movie set. “Working with those helicopters … it really just made you feel like you were part of something, a production. It was great.”
But Gooding Jr. tops himself when, after watching a mercenary get his arm broken by a demon, he opines “This scene right here is where brothers are going to be walking out of the theater.” By ‘the theater,’ he of course means your living room. And by ‘this scene right here,’ he of course means ’20-minutes ago.’ But as with the film itself, what little entertainment value there is to be gleaned from the commentary isn’t worth the headache-inducing travail of sitting through the entire thing.
Listening to director and star talk about their film for an hour and a half is an even crueler fate than the initial viewing of this train wreck of a motion picture. Talking about this movie for even an hour is a real stretch, and these guys know it, punctuating their commentary track with long periods of silence and insipid trivia. From the shiny white quality of director Jason Connery’s butt to the fact that Cuba Gooding Jr. can barely put a sentence together, you’ll learn all sorts of interesting facts you didn’t need to know about the people responsible for The Devil’s Tomb. And you will come to like them even less than you already did, which is really saying something.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article