The Film: 4/5
Pinner (Billy Clarke) and Cully (Jack Gordon) work as hit men for crime boss Bruno (Harry Miller). For the laconic veteran Pinner calmly putting a bullet between the eyes of one of Bruno's enemies is just part of the job. The talkative and tempestuous Cully is new to this part of the business, and Pinner unfortunately has to be his guide and mentor. The latest assignment given to them by Bruno involves staking out the country home of the mysterious Kist (Jonathan Hansler) and then killing him once he returns from an evening at the opera. Cully wonders what this man did to get on their boss' bad side, but Pinner doesn't care for those details. As the evening wears on and Cully refuses to cease annoying his reluctant companion with his nervousness strange events begin to transpire. A loud noise draws the two men to a garage where they make the horrifying discovery of Satanic worship paraphernalia and an infant's decayed, mangled corpse. This understandably disturbs Cully but Pinner remains focused on the task at home. When Kist arrives home earlier than expected Pinner executes him without emotion, but when Cully is forces to return to the house to retrieve his watch they discover their target's dead body is gone. Before this night is over the superstitious Cully will have every one of his suspicions confirmed and the rational Pinner will face an evil far beyond his meager comprehension.
When you really think about it, organized crime and the supernatural belong together. If the criminal underworld is your chosen vocation then your business becomes the dead. You're either settling old scores, taking care of undesirable elements, or turning your murderous frustration on your own colleagues. It's not a business you can walk away from without a fight, and if you manage to do so your most likely future involves eating the barrel of a shotgun. The popular characterization of Satan in culture as the ultimate crime boss, spreading evil and violence to every corner of the known universe with hundreds of millions of servants prepared to do their dark lord's bidding, seems to go hand-in-hand with the working class gangsters of international cinema.
Sean Hogan, a filmmaker with a shaky track record in modern horror, has made his finest feature to date with The Devil's Business, which is just recently receiving its first U.S. home video release after playing abroad since 2011. Working with a minimum of resources (made easier by the script's compact scope and sizable ambitions) Hogan has crafted a chilling tale of the night when evil men met and realized that had much in common. The set-up is simple but effective for the story he chooses to tell, a Waiting for Godot scenario where two men reluctantly engage in a wide-ranging conversation while they prepare for the arrival of a third party whose very existence appears to be of the greatest importance to them at that moment in time. Hogan's screenplay generates tension right from the start thanks to the conflicting personalities of his main characters Pinner and Cully. Though it's hardly an original touch to make the partners-in-crime around whom the story revolves polar opposites in terms of personality, the writing and performances by Billy Clarke (as Pinner) and Jack Gordon (as Cully) make the latest incarnation of the old storytelling stand-by just plausible and fresh enough to work again.
Clarke (Hunger) absolutely nails the world-weary, emotionally distant professional Pinner in his rumpled appearance, rigid body language, and careful choice of words. Every line of dialogue is as vital to the character as the last and Clarke gives Pinner a mask of perpetual disbelief and exasperation that provides a great deal of humor in his interactions with the whiny, inexperienced newcomer Cully. There's a crucial moment in the film where Pinner decides to placate his pathetic colleague by telling him a story about the time when he had to kill an alluring exotic dancer who was causing Bruno's organization some unwelcome consternation. Hogan spares us any vintage flashbacks and distracting cutaways and instead keeps the camera mostly on Clarke as he spins his haunting yarn as if he were a father telling his son a harmless bedtime story, and the actor knows just how to hold the viewer's attention simply with his words. The younger Gordon (Fish Tank), while not as fascinating a screen presence as Clarke, is still given his moments to shine, expressing through the character of Cully his desire to enjoy his life and the overpowering fear of the unknown that leaves him struggling to make sense of what they discover in Kist's home.
Clarke and Gordon share the majority of screen time in The Devil's Business but the film also includes performances from Jonathan Hansler and Harry Miller that deserve special attention. Hansler in particular is an unnerving delight as the gangsters' target whose true nature becomes clear even after his character seemingly exits from the story. To say any more would be to spoil the twists and turns in Hogan's story, and though you may have seen your share of films that deal with the supernatural and the occult The Devil's Business has some interesting ideas and themes of its own to bring to the table. Miller's fleeting scenes as the big boss Bruno prove critical to the progression of the narrative as the character starts out as your typical blustering crime movie tough guy but slowly reveals himself to be just as terrified and confused as Pinner and Cully.
Hogan's film tips its hat to the horror classics of past decades by downplaying shocks and gore in favor of creating a mood of escalating dread and keeping most of the graphic material off-camera, but he still finds the time and money to give his audience some doses of the slick and thick red stuff. Jenna Wrage (The Human Centipede II) and Dan Martin (The Wolfman) team up to deliver some excellent creature effects and minimalist grue that add to the enveloping suspense rather than detract from the atmosphere generated by Hogan's direction and the performances from Clarke and Gordon. Those are the best kind of visual effects, the ones that improve the film slightly without calling attention to themselves, and The Devil's Business is a little bit better than before with their inclusion. But considering that the film was already pretty damn good to begin with, those effects are just more of a wonderful thing.
Mondo Macabro, the video label responsible for giving many lovably gonzo European and Asian exploitation movies their first DVD release, has recently joined the Blu-ray revolution with the release of The Slave and now The Devil's Business. The latter benefits greatly from being a recent production in the presentation department. Mondo's 16:9-enhanced, 1080p high-definition transfer of The Devil's Business is very pleasing to the eye with solid and artistic black levels, vibrant bright colors, crisp visual detail, and a refreshingly low amount of grain. The cinematography by Nicola Marsh (Twenty Feet from Stardom) looks absolutely stunning in its transfer to HD. Two English audio tracks have been provided with this release and both are more than adequate for enjoying the film on standard televisions, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is far better suited to home theater viewing as it gives great space and volume to the rich sound design and the chilling, Goblin-infused music score composed by Justin Greaves. Manual volume adjustment becomes a necessity during some of the hushed dialogue scenes since the U.K. accents and dialect make certain lines difficult to interpret. An English subtitle track would have came in handy but Mondo Macabro didn't see fit to include one.
Director Hogan and producer Jennifer Handorf take center stage for a moderated commentary track where they discuss the origins and production of The Devil's Business in excellent detail, with plenty of good anecdotes included to keep your interest. A short behind-the-scenes featurette (9 minutes) covers the filming of the low-budget project with a fair amount of B-roll and brief interviews with the cast and crew.
Next up is a quarter of longer interviews that allow the participants to address various topics of discussion surrounding the film with greater depth and clarity: Billy Clarke (13 minutes), Sean Hogan (26 minutes), Jennifer Handorf (12 minutes), and Justin Greaves (16 minutes). The extras also feature three music videos, two from Greaves' band Crippled Black Phoenix - "Laying Traps" (5 minutes) and "Northern Comfort" (6 minutes) - and one for "Chasing Changes" (5 minutes) by Se Delan, a duo that is also half made up by Greaves. A short outtake for a scene towards the end (1 minute) might give you a little laugh. Rounding out this set of supplements is a preview reel for titles also available from Mondo Macabro (10 minutes). A DVD copy with a standard-definition presentation of the film is also included.
The Devil's Business is a great slice of old school horror that relies on sustained tension and dread to provide its fright value. With strong performances, creepy atmosphere, and a terrific soundtrack this is one that true fans of the genre cannot afford to miss out on seeing. Mondo Macabro's Blu-ray is the way to go with its fantastic a/v quality and bonus features. Highly recommended.