The Devil’s Tomb was released straight to DVD and despite a smattering of star names in Cuba Gooding Junior, Ron Perlman and Ray Winstone; it’s easy to see why it didn’t gain a theatrical release. The plot sees a group of elite soldiers being sent to seemingly rescue a scientist who has become trapped in an ‘archaeological site’ in the Middle Eastern desert. They are accompanied by a CIA operative who also happens to be the scientists’ daughter. Once they enter the underground site, they soon realise they may have been misled as to the nature of their mission. What unfolds is essentially Event Horizon meets Residential Evil, shot on the budget of a single Hollyoaks episode. Demonic forces are at work and the group are soon in a bloody fight to survive.
The painfully predictable plot is one we’ve seen plenty of times before as the doomed platoon inevitably make a variety of questionable decisions and begins to rapidly dwindle in numbers. This band of soldiers really is plucked from the big book of movie clichés. There’s the gung-ho hard nut whose raison d’être is to kill things, the nervy rookie who has to earn the groups trust, the feisty female loner with a chequered past. There’s even an obligatory slime ball that the director ensures you see looking at porn at least once, just so you know he’s really slimy. The actors do the best with what they are given, but other than providing willing demon-fodder, they all have little to add to proceedings.
The clunky dialogue is particularly cringe worthy and in parts is so wooden it makes Commando’s script look like it was written by Aaron Sorkin, while the low-budget set looks like it was borrowed from an early Red Dwarf episode. Unfortunately none of the expected scary moments manage to hit their mark either and it becomes far too easy to predict when a possessed zombie-type character is about to poke their head around a corner.
This is by no means a sweeping criticism of all direct-to-video movies or low budget action or horror films at all. Handled well they can be hidden gems and the horror genre in particular has benefitted from the creative freedom often available to directors operating away from the big studio limelight. The Devil’s Tomb however is just plain bad, devoid of any originality or even well executed genre conventions. It dips its toes into angels vs. demons mythology, but fails to match the dizzy heights of End of Days. It takes a shot at the army vs. vicious killers’ tack, but fails to live up to Dog Soldiers. Finally it dabbles in the Zombie canon and……well, you get the picture.
Poor old Cuba mopes across the screen as the platoon’s brooding leader, seemingly bewildered as to how his career took such a sharp downwards trajectory. That Oscar must seem a long time ago now. If ever they needed a visual definition of ‘phoning it in’ they couldn’t do much better than his performance here. Winstone has nothing more than a cameo role, primarily in a fairly irrelevant flashback sequence which I’m still a little unsure as to its significance. Perlman at least brings a solid sense of menacing evil to his role as the highly suspect scientist and he is the sole redeeming feature of The Devil’s Tomb, and he at least tries to inject a bit of charisma and energy into the proceedings. Even Hellboy himself however can’t conjure up a shred of tension or excitement at the films climax however. Slightly worryingly, the distinctly overly-earnest finale sets up for a sequel, but one can only hope that the studio sees sense and saves Cuba and the rest of us the torment.
Director: Jason Connery
Stars:Cuba Gooding Jr., Ray Winstone, Ron Perlman
Runtime: 90 min