Dave Grohl & company play themselves (more or less) in a silly gorefest that rarely loses its sense of fun
Is Satanic panic even a thing anymore? When’s the last time we’ve heard anything about backmasking, or songs somehow influencing impressionable teenagers to kill themselves? It’s entirely possible that this is all still a thing, and I’m simply too old and out of touch to know anything about it. B.J. McDonnell’s Studio 666, the feature film debut of Foo Fighters, is a lovingly hokey homage to a time when “the Devil’s music” was such a grave concern for parents (and Tipper Gore) that Congressional hearings were held about it, and lawsuits were filed against heavy metal bands in an attempt to hold them responsible for what was more likely caused by untreated mental illness and drug abuse.
Perhaps the best gag in Studio 666 is that Foo Fighters has never been lumped in with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne or Judas Priest. Nevertheless, frontman Dave Grohl, who came up with the story, is a passionate metalhead, and well-versed in the lore of such bands as Led Zeppelin and Nine Inch Nails recording albums in allegedly haunted houses. Though meant to appeal to horror-comedy fans, it’s also a love letter to the last time rock music felt dangerous, when, to quote a line of dialogue, “no one gave a fuck about shit.”
Foo Fighters are struggling to complete their tenth album, largely due to Dave’s intense case of writer’s block. Their manager, Shill (to say the humor in this isn’t subtle would be an understatement), has lost his patience, and suggests that they temporarily move into an empty mansion to finish it. Back in the ‘90s, an up-and-coming band called Dreamwidow (fronted in flashback by Scream’s Jenna Ortega, who’s having quite a year) was slaughtered there, giving the whole house a “creepy death vibe,” according to one of the other Foos. Dave loves it, though, and even after one of their roadies is electrocuted to death (indeed, he looks like a barbecued chicken afterward), he’s determined to stay, believing that vibe is just what the band needs.
While exploring the house, Dave discovers a hidden stash of Dreamwidow’s music, and listening to it breaks through his writer’s block. He immediately comes up with not just a new rawer, darker sound for Foo Fighters, but an entirely new key he calls “L sharp,” which causes his guitar to emit an unholy shriek. Despite the rest of the band’s unease, they move ahead with the new direction Dave is taking them, and they’ve never sounded better. There’s always a give and take in these things, however, and here the trade-off is that Dave suddenly becomes more aggressive and demanding, not to mention he appears to be developing a taste for raw meat.
Here are the downsides of Studio 666: there’s only about 45 minutes worth of plot. The rest of it is padded with many scenes of the band bickering back and forth, performance footage, and cameo appearances by Lionel Richie, and one that I’ll not spoil as a pleasant surprise for horror fans. None of the Foos are natural actors, and even basically playing themselves come off as a bit stiff and uncomfortable (or, in the case of keyboardist Rami Jaffee, way too broad). The standout is guitarist (and punk mainstay) Pat Smear, who brings a delightfully quirky energy to his performance, though one gets the impression that he’s like that all the time.
Another standout is Dave Grohl himself, who is such a likable presence, and seems to be having such a good time playing an evil flipside of himself, that you can’t help but enjoy yourself. With its demonic curses, haunted books bound in human skin, projectile vomiting, and a couple who stops in the middle of all the chaos to go have sex (and, of course, are run through with a sharp object and killed), Studio 666 isn’t going out of its way to try anything new and original. But it’s not difficult to appreciate its playful spirit, and the clear love everyone involved has for occult horror, a genre that often suffers from self-seriousness.
The movie also works as an homage to over the top practical effects, which, while still amusingly cheesy, work far better than the shabby CGI demon effects that come later in the film. If you don’t get a laugh out of the intentionally obvious mannequin switch-outs in a few of the kills, then Studio 666 isn’t going to work for you overall. It’s important to remember that it’s all made with affection, however, a rare parody that genuinely loves and respects that which it’s parodying. Hail Satan!
Studio 666 opens in theaters February 25th.