There is a long, sometimes storied, tradition of music stars making movies. They usually come in one of a few forms: quasi-biopics like 8 Mile or Glitter, concept albums or specific songs brought to life as films like Jailhouse Rock, Purple Rain, or Tommy, and, rock back hangout movies that tell loose stories inspired by the artists like A Hard Day’s Night. After a wave of poorly received versions of these movies around the turn of the millennium (everything from Crossroads to Spice World to Get Rich or Die Tryin’), the genre fell largely dormant. A new wave of music biopics with actors playing the musicians took over: your Walk the Lines, Straight Outta Comptons, Rocketmans, and Bohemian Rhapsodies.
Leave it to Dave Grohl to arrive on the scene and attempt to single-handedly resurrect the genre. With a loving mixture of goofy band hangout movie and gorefest 80s horror, Studio 666 sees the Foo Fighters (playing themselves) venture to a house to work on composing their new album. The house was once the site of a brutal murder by the lead of the last band to attempt to use it to make a record. The story opens with the gleefully grotesque murder of rising star Jenna Ortega (Scream) in flashback – it’s a clear statement of intent for what sort of movie to the filmmakers want to make. As soon as the Foo Fighters move into the house, the comedic horror shenanigans begin. Grohl becomes possessed and slowly but surely begins murdering off the other Foo Fighters, and whatever other people come into the band’s orbit.
It’s apparent that director B.J. McDonnell has written a love letter to trashy 80s horror. The kills are unbelievably extreme but almost always tongue in cheek. When I watch movies, I take notes: little scribbles about scenes or things I want to remember later. I wrote some version of the words “hilarious stupid” about a dozen times. There’s immense intentionality to the goofiness here from big dumb jokes to wonderfully ironic kills.
Grohl, the band’s frontman, is a surprisingly effective performer. He’s a bit of a ham, but that’s exactly what the material requires. He channels his big natural charisma effectively and always sells the goofiness around him. The film also has a splendid group of cameo performers who show up to be horrifically dispensed from Will Forte (MacGruber) as a fanboy delivery guy to Whitney Cummings (How It Ends) as a flirty neighbor. It’s clear the rest of the band are not exactly classically trained performers but McDonnell protects them by keeping much of their “acting” to playing arch versions of themselves.
There’s deep affection for the horror genre here. From a John Carpenter cameo (who also wrote the film’s theme) to direct loving homages to Hooper, Raimi, Craven, and other greats. There’s an appreciation for practical gore effects that is particularly rewarding in an era that increasingly showcases CGI augmented grotesquery. As the film finds an audience, I suspect some of the kills here may enter the conversation for the pantheon of all time great horror kills.
I believe movies should be graded based on what their ambitions are, and how well they meet those goals. It’s abundantly clear to me that Studio 666 achieved precisely the ambitions the creators had. It’s easy to imagine this film as a dorm room classic 20 years from now, and I think that’s exactly how Dave Grohl would like it.
Studio 666 is in theaters now.
Please watch my interview with director B.J. McDonnell here: A Conversation with B.J. McDonnell on Studio 666