Not even bullets can stop Satan when he wants to collect his due, as the unfortunate protagonists of THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS discover on Mondo Macabro's Blu-ray/DVD combo.
Veteran hit man Pinner (Billy Clarke, HUNGER) and eager novice Cully (Jack Gordon, PANIC BUTTON) break into the isolated home of their target, a man named Kist (Jonathan Hansler, AXED) who has somehow run afoul of their drug dealing boss Bruno (Harry Miller). While Pitman is content to bide his time until Kist is due to return after midnight, Cully is curious about the victim, the house, and Pinner's experiences (which he relates if only to shut his younger counterpart up). The account of his most "fucked-up experience" about a club dancer who drove her husband to jealousy and beyond seems to be shaping into a ghost story, but it is interrupted by a noise. As they search the house and the grounds, the two hit men discover a Satanic altar and a dead baby. Cully freaks out and Pinner is not far behind as he calls Bruno and demands to know who this Kist is and why Bruno wants him dead. Bruno explains that Kist has something that belongs to him, but will not specify what so as to retrieve it. When Kist returns early from the opera ("the ending of 'Faust' is such a bore…"), Pinner puts a bullet in his head, writing him off as Bruno described him (as having fancied himself the new Aleister Crowley). When the body disappears, however, Cully stops being freaked out and becomes angry as they search for the presence of another person they did not detect earlier; but they are about to discover that the "fucked up shit" Kist has been involved in has yielded some very deadly returns.
Low on incident, this moody, atmospheric, and chilly chamber piece benefits from gorgeous photography and lighting, the amusing yet tense dynamic between the two hit men (Pinner's constant exasperation and Cully's dawning realization that he does not have the balls for what the job entails even without additional mysterious goings-on), wry humor that is just this side of corny, as well as the filmmakers' faith in their ability to draw the viewer in, and that the viewer will not check out after twenty minutes as Pinner enthralls us with what might be a ghost story (the resolution of which is delivered several minutes later, but even still hints at something left unsaid). The film does stumble at the end with Pinner's decision to return to the house, but it sustains tension even as we know what is going to happen (with the payoff being the make-up effects highlight). THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS is more successful than not in evoking a sort of old school horror, not so much evocative of older films but of the sort of classic ghost stories more concerned with eliciting shudders and goosebumps than jump scares.
The second of Mondo Macabro's Blu-ray/DVD combos, following their limited edition of THE SLAVE (SCACCO ALLA REGINA), THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS looks gorgeous in its 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. Photographed with a Canon DSLR – which can be hacked to output raw video – the image is of course somewhat softish, and the filmmakers have worked with the reduced latitude (and some color grading) to give the film a distinctive look. The 5.1 track – lossless DTS-HD Master Audio, not Dolby Digital as stated on the back cover – shows restraint in its employment of the sound design with mainly the music, atmospheric sounds, and a few well-chosen effects in the surrounds (a 2.0 downmix is also offered in Dolby Digital). There are subtitle options, but the accents are all intelligible and – for those who are not hearing impaired – subtitles might even distract from the visuals (particularly the slow push in on Clarke as he tells his ghost story).
Extras start off with an audio commentary by director Sean Hogan and producer Jennifer Handorf. Handorf recalls driving up to Wales to look at a prospective location only to be turned away by the owners who believed them to be pornographers and devil worshippers (after having Googled her and found a producer's credit for non-pornographic TV series short PG PORN), only for her husband to then appeal to his parents to use their home while they were on vacation (of course, they thought the crew would only be staying there and shooting elsewhere). Hogan recalls having to rewrite the script in a day after arriving on the new location, and the influence of Italian horror on the lighting (although having more of a justification for the lighting sources, including a fish tank that cast a green tinge on one of the interiors as well as the colder tones of the lighting as the film progresses with the exception of the red lighting during Kist's scenes). Hogan recalls how Gordon came into the audition in-character and stayed that way for the production (in contrast to his actual middle-class background), and character actor Gordon being given the rare opportunity for a lead role (particularly the monologue). They recall the damage they did the location (fake blood stains brick) and being nervous about what else they might have done, the magic of Google for research into black magic, and the dead baby prop being sourced from filmmaker Harmony Korine (SPRING BREAKERS) who had it built for a film but did not use it. It's an amusing an informative track in which they mention many instances in which they might not have made the film if they had stopped to overthink things when obstacles cropped up.
Actor Billy Clarke (13:05) discusses his early days as a football hopeful before he broke his knee, at which point he entered an actor's workshop in Northern Ireland (where there were no drama schools). Of the film, he discusses exploring his own character and experimenting to discover what makes him tick, as well as his initial uncertainty about the script's long monologue. Writer/director Sean Hogan (26:21) recalls how he got into horror as a teenager, going to film school as a way to get access to equipment (falling out with his instructor who was an experimental filmmaker rather than a narrative one), and his gravitation back to horror (including a short for the anthology LITTLE DEATHS, a self-contained short THE THING: 27,000 HOURS with Clarke and Gordon, as well as the LIE STILL – released here as THE HAUNTING OF 24 – and a story in the forthcoming anthology IF WALLS WERE BLOOD). THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS was the reverse of his experience on his earlier feature, shooting the film on a shorter schedule and a smaller budget. Working with a lower budget also allowed more creative freedom, the rough edges and the more odd ideas tending to be compromised with more money and more producers. The idea came out of the need to do something in the wake of a bigger project waiting to be made (producer Handorf was in a similar position with a project that she and another director could not get off the ground), with the concept being essentially a horror version of Harold Pinter's short play "The Dumb Waiter" in which two hit men wait in a basement for their target to arrive.
Producer Jennifer Handorf (12:34) studied film criticism at Columbia University (under Andrew Sarris) and had been producing theater when a colleague asked her to produce his thesis film, which lead to her making a living producing films. She had moved to the UK only to return to Los Angeles when she was accepted into the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. She returned to London, having married effects technician Dan Martin (the Del Toro-produced remake of THE WOLFMAN) who introduced her to director Hogan. She discusses the differences between short films and feature films, with the latter being more likely to be sold internationally (while also enjoying the same festival life a short might), and that new prosumer equipment makes it easier to do a feature film cheaply. Like most filmmakers, she stresses the importance of sound and how low budget filmmakers tend to neglect it both in shooting and in post-production. Most of her remarks on the film itself are repeated from the commentary (including getting turned away from the prospective location).
Composer Justin Greaves (16:02) recalls how Hogan had used some of his music in LITTLE DEATHS, how being able to see the script early on (rather than waiting for the raw footage) helped him in composing, and being excited about composing music specifically for the film rather than supplying his existing songs. He lists John Carpenter, Claudio Simonetti, and Goblin among his filmic scoring inspirations, and the scoring challenge not to write songs or to get too complex with the compositions given the intimate nature of the scenario. Parts of songs from his band Crippled Black Phoenix were used in the film, since there was no point in trying to replicate the effect if the cue was suitable. He discusses attempting to be more minimal than minimalist – particularly during the monologue scene – as well as how certain more manic pieces that seemed appropriate did not end up suiting the film when laid over the visual. The "Electronic Press Kit" (9:21) features more remarks from Hogan, Clarke, Hansler, Gordon, and Handorf (whose job as producer encompasses everything from placating the actors to peeling potatoes).
Also included are three music video: "Laying Traps" by Crippled Black Phoenix (4:46), "Northern Comfort" by Crippled Black Phoenix (6:09), "Chasing Changes" by Se Delan (5:31). None of these are head in the film – the opening and end credits songs are by composer Greaves and performed by his band Crippled Black Phoenix – but the last one does feature actor Clark mouthing the words in three different looks (without make-up, with bloody cuts on his face, and in drag). It's filler for the disc, but they are not bad listens on their own. The very brief outtake footage (0:54) is Clarke's first reaction to a creature he asked to be hidden from him until shooting. It's amusing but dropped not only for the actor breaking up at the end, but because its lack of blocking sends both of them into the shadows and the focus puller cannot keep up with their movements. The discs close out with Mondo Macabro promo reel (9:37) which includes clips from virtually all of their releases up through Jess Franco's LORNA THE EXORCIST and HOW TO SEDUCE A VIRGIN. (Eric Cotenas)
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