Dave Grohl has had plenty of flirtations with the movies over the years, mostly documentaries like last year’s We Are the Thousand and 2013’s Sound City, which he directed. Plus the Foo Fighters frontman has had countless cameos as himself, most recently Bill & Ted Face the Music. Perhaps he wanted to finally do some proper acting as a real character – even if that character is also himself. So he roped in his bandmates for a movie in which they’re recording their tenth album in a mansion in Encino, California, where the leader of another band went crazy 30 years ago, taking up devil worship and slaughtering his own band. Don’t worry, it’s also quite funny.
If Studio 666 sounds a bit like the Harlem Globetrotters on Scooby-Doo, it is that for sure – only with more gore. One mightn’t have guessed how capable the band is of really acting, and being pretty hilarious when they want to be. When Grohl has most of the dialogue in the film’s first five minutes, with everybody else mostly smiling and nodding due to the needs of that particular scene, it gives the impression this will just be a vanity project for Grohl, with everybody else on board for token support that doesn’t require much of them. The reality is, distinct characters emerge among these six bandmates over the course of the movie, with all showing an impressive ability to perform lightly fictionalised versions of themselves that play up something humorous about their role within the band.
The heavy lifting does fall to Grohl, though, and he complies. Like the lead singer of the fictionalised band Dream Widow 30 years before him, Grohl gets overtaken by an evil spirit in the house as the band starts tuning their instruments and grooving on the impressive acoustics. Things start out badly when a roadie is electrocuted – with no small assistance from an unseen mischievous demon – and the combination of this death haunting his nightmares and Grohl’s own writer’s block leaves him awakening every night.
On one late-night sojourn into the basement, he discovers an altar with a sacrificed raccoon, as well as an old recording from Dream Widow. The Foo Fighters don’t know the history of the house, since it was set up for them by their manager (Jeff Garlin), but the unfinished recording opens Dave’s eyes and ears to a possible new sound as the band tries to reinvent themselves for the landmark album.
It turns out, the demon possessing the house wants Dave to finish the abandoned Dream Widow demo, which has a very deep and rumbling metal quality, to open up a portal into this world for other fellow demons. Dave is more than ready to do the demon’s bidding once some suspicious-looking smoke flies up his nostrils and his eyes take on a new intensity. He’s still Dave to the naked eye, but that intensity start to manifest itself in increasingly murderous ways, as the band works on this mysterious new song that balloons out to dozens of minutes in length.
Unless you are a big fan of Foo Fighters, you probably don’t know any of the personalities outside Grohl and possibly Pat Smear. As Smear is the oldest in the group, now 62, he’s played as a bit of an eccentric fuddy duddy who prefers snacking to playing his instrument, and sleeps on the kitchen counter because he’s the only one who didn’t get a bedroom. The band’s newest member, Rami Jaffee, is a bit of a moronic but sweet horndog who takes an interest in their goofy neighbour (Whitney Cummings) and her cocaine-dusted lemon squares. The other three – longtime members Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett and Taylor Hawkins – are the least distinguishable from one another in terms of character traits, but each develops an essentially loyalist attitude of shaking their heads but carrying on with their band leader’s wishes despite the spiralling out of control of the situation.
And the guys have a lot of fun with this. It is evident they’ve been working together a long time, their natural chemistry and comic timing getting them over the hump of their non-professional acting skills. Taking the piss out of each other is an art form for these guys, as they prompt plenty of giggles and guffaws with their various profanity-laden insults and instances of telling each other to go get stuffed. They also work well together as a hapless team when it becomes clear they have a common enemy: their band’s most famous member, formerly of Nirvana, whose good-guy persona undergoes a rapid transformation into something far more sinister.
B.J. McDonnell is the director of a number of musical short films for the band Slayer, as well as the slasher sequel Hatchet III from 2013. He brings the goods from a blood and guts perspective, directing a story by Grohl that was penned by Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes. The film’s clear undercurrent of comedy doesn’t do anything to diminish the gore, which appears to be all of a practical nature and is frequently as hilarious as the comedy. In this case that’s a good thing. So while the film has something of the air of a parody to it, it’s got its horror bonafides down pat (smear) as well.
You don’t have to look too hard to find a message in the movie either. When a band has been together as long as the Foo Fighters and finds its wheels spinning, creatively, it isn’t long before it starts to eat itself from the inside – though perhaps never before this literally. Studio 666 also grapples with the notion of rock’s increasing irrelevance, which is one of the reasons Grohl is so desperate to reinvent the Foos’ sound. So as much as this is a goof by the band to have fun and see themselves splattered all over the inside (and outside, and nearby woods) of a house, there’s something more to it than that. The notion of selling your soul for rock and roll dates back to Ozzy Ozbourne’s band Black Sabbath, and perhaps it applies more to the Foo Fighters than they’d otherwise like to admit.
Studio 666 is currently playing in cinemas.