Night of the Tentacles (2013)
The story of Faust and his pact with the Devil is a story that dates back into antiquity, but one which still has some measure of appeal even in the modern, cynical era. It is a classic, enduring legend: the scholar Faust, suffused with ennui and dissatisfaction, offers his soul to the Devil in return for arcane knowledge and magic powers. The Devil’s personal assistant Mephistopheles appears and agrees to assist Faust for 24 years, but at the end of the term Faust must return with him to Hell for an eternal spiritual root canal. The story had been told by several authors in several formats since the Sixteenth century, with slight variations: earlier works declared Faust a lost cause, and let the Devil claim his soul in the end, while others offered him redemption, as well as a love interest, increased timespan, and probably comic relief from one of Rob Schneider’s ancestors.
The story resonated across many cultures, and was adapted into many stories, one of my favourites being THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, a short story set in post-Colonial America and made into a superb (and I mean *superb*) 1941 movie of the same name (aka ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY) with Walter Huston as the Devil, and I fully recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it before as a fine example of non-gangster film noir. There are plenty of others, of varying faithfulness: BEDAZZLED, DAMN YANKEES, GHOST RIDER, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, WISHMASTER. Every third episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE had some variation of the Faust legend, usually with Burgess Meredith involved. Which was okay with me; I could watch Burgess Meredith play a stoned, incoherent hippie (and I have, in 1972′s BEWARE! THE BLOB). I liked Burgess.
The notion of a Deal With the Devil became firmly fixed as a classic trope of books, movies and television, sometimes done in a comic fashion, but usually played straight. But no matter what the hapless person asks for, no matter what their circumstances, the result will be pretty turn out the same way: the Devil (or whoever is doing the deal) is going to screw them. Ask for immortality? You’ll end up spending life in prison. Ask for wealth? Watch most of it go in taxes. Ask for eternal beauty? End up a statue. Ask to be a famous rock star? Watch as someone else takes your fame. Ask to have your father cured of cancer? It’ll be done, but Dad will be wiped out in a fiery accident anyway (and you’ll end up with a blazing skull and wearing sweaty leather).
And don’t even ask for a penis that can touch the floor.
The potency of the theme remains strong, whether it’s seen as a cautionary tale, a need to make one appreciate what they already have, or a bit of schadenfraude in seeing how the idiot making the deal gets his comeuppance. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter if the schlub making the deal gets away with his soul or not. It’s the fine print that we want to see, how they’re gonna be tricked, confident are we that we wouldn’t be so stupid.
(Bearing this in mind, remember that it’s estimated that perhaps over nine billion dollars has been taken from people who fell for Nigerian email scams and variants thereof. Nine billion dollars.)
Talented auteur filmmaker Dustin Mills (BATH SALT ZOMBIES, PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE, THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE) brings us another variation on the Faustian legend with NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES, whose cover grabbed me by the cojones and refused to let go until I purchased it (so Mom’s Xmas present will have to be that aftershave Uncle David gave me three years ago and I never used), coz I’m a sucker for tentacles (geddit?). His previous movies have proven to be among the most funny, crazy micro-budgeted movies you can find (See Scott’s reviews of PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE here and SKINLESS PETE here), and I’m glad to say that NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES delivers the goods, at least as much as its low budget (an astonishing $1,500, per IMDb!) can manage.
The movie was shot entirely in and around Mills’ own apartment, and centres on Dave (Brandon Salkil, BATH SALT ZOMBIES, THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE), a graphic design artist (specialising in fantasy erotica) who lives an isolated existence, alone except for his he’s waited cute dog Charlie. His sole human contacts seem to revolve around his sleazy landlord, one annoying neighbour (Jackie McKown) demanding he not flush his toilet any more or she’ll kill his dog(!), another two neighbours constantly rutting like monkeys in heat (their sex talk is hilarious), and then getting on the floor to listen to his downstairs neighbour, the lovely pregnant Esther (Nicole Gerity) masturbate noisily, while he does the same.
It’s after one of these last incidents that Dave has a heart attack (though his dog is helpful enough to lick up his, ah, issue. Yeah. After returning from hospital, having been told he has a weak, sickly heart (and an empty bank account too, after those bills) and that he is way down on the list for a replacement, he has an epiphany: he’s wasted his life, and hardly has any time left to make up for it.
Enter the Devil (Dustin Mills himself), looking like an extraterrestrial from an ’80s Roger Corman movie and speaking with a British accent. Here follows quite an insightful, amusing conversation, (such as when atheist Dave distracts Lucifer by pointing out that if he exists, then God must as well), until Lucifer makes the offer: a new heart that will keep Dave alive as long as he wants to, so long as he takes care of it. Rather quickly, Dave agrees to the Terms and Conditions which literally appear in the air before him (and is repeatedly ridiculed for it through the rest of the film).
The Devil pulls off some hocus pocus, removing Dave’s heart and replacing it with… something in a small wooden chest. Something that can talk to Dave, and tells him that to stay alive, he’ll need… GMO vegetables.
No, just yanking your chain – it’s blood. Flesh and blood. And animals won’t really do the job, it has to be healthy humans. Twice a week. But don’t worry, Dave, once you unlock the box your new heart is more than capable of getting out and taking care of its own nutritional needs.
Dustin Mills knows his horror movies. And loves them (along with his love of memorabilia, and I’m still green with envy over the Godzilla toys I saw in his apartment). And his love for them is obvious, and it shows. Dave and his Talking Heart’s story holds overt and covert nods to LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BASKET CASE, BRAIN DAMAGE and others (and yes, Dustin, I saw the warning sign on the wall for Trioxin, too!). Indeed, there are probably other tips of the cap to Frank Henenlotter’s other works, such as FRANKENHOOKER and BAD BIOLOGY. And Salkil is like a young Bruce Campbell in appearance and expression (Bet he hears that a lot).
I had to pay a little extra than usual for the DVD because it was an American import, but it was worth it. It was a well-acted, well-crafted movie, delivering a lot of humour (after the deal is struck, Dave is visited by Belial (Eugene Flynn), a minor demon wanting to conduct a customer satisfaction survey, while helpfully offering to fart on Dave while Dave masturbates) and gross-out moments, blood, boobs, tentacles, a charming unconventional romance, pathos, resolve… and more blood. This was better than some movies I’ve seen with six-, seven- and eight-figure budgets. Certainly more entertaining! If I have any criticism, it’d be that, after keeping the monstrous tendriled heart deliberately out of shot for most of the movie (and making some good self-aware jokes about this) we saw just a little too much of it at the climax.
But this is a minor quibble.
Scott and I welcome all independent filmmakers’ works, though we’ve seen more than our fair share of really bad productions by people who think having a camera, a half-assed script and some friends is enough to make a horror movie. It’s not. So it’s especially satisfying when one as talented as Dustin Mills is around. Someone throw him some big money, step back and let’s see what he could give us! In the meantime, rent or buy his movies and enjoy yourselves! The trailer is below.
Director: Dustin Mills
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. The D is silent. It’s rewinding the dirty bits in NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES. Dirty letter! You’ll go blind!