BJ McDonnell, Chris Shiflett, comedy, Dave Grohl, Encino, Foo Fighters, horror, Jeff Garlin, Jenna Ortega, Kerry King, Leslie Grossman, Lionel Richie, Marti Matulis, movies, music, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Rami Jaffee, reviews, Studio 666, Taylor Hawkins, Whitney Cummings
February 24, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by BJ McDonnell
Culture Representation: Taking place in Encino, California, the horror comedy “Studio 666” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: World-famous rock band Foo Fighters temporarily live in a run-down Encino mansion with a sordid history to record their 10th album, and they have many sinister and supernatural encounters.
Culture Audience: “Studio 666” will appeal mainly to people who are Foo Fighters fans and anyone who doesn’t mind watching campy horror flicks, no matter how derivative and disjointed they are.
“Studio 666” gets bogged down in too many dull horror stereotypes to be consistently campy fun. “Studio 666” will no doubt please people who automatically like anything from Foo Fighters, the Grammy-winning rock band whose members star as themselves in this misfire of a movie. There are Foo Fighters interviews that are funnier than what “Studio 666” fails to accomplish in being an original horror comedy for the band. There’s very little that’s original in “Studio 666,” which has silly jokes that come and go in spurts, just like all the blood and vomit that spew out in this gory movie.
Directed by BJ McDonnell, “Studio 666” was written by Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes, with the screenplay based on a story idea by Foo Fighters lead singer/guitarist Dave Grohl. The movie has a simple concept of the band temporarily living in an abandoned mansion to record Foo Fighters’ 10th album. It isn’t until after they’ve moved in that they find out that the mansion has some dark secrets and is apparently haunted.
It’s yet another haunted house/demon possession movie delivered with very little imagination and intrigue, because everything in the movie just rehashes what hundreds of similar horror movies have already done. “Studio 666” could have been an edgy spoof of the music industry and the process of recording of an album, but the movie just goes down a predictable route of people getting killed off, one by one, in ways that are neither scary nor funny. This movie has practically no jump scares, and the ending drags on for too long. Predictably, the visual effects often look cheap, sloppy and unconvincing.
The opening scene of “Studio 666” shows a murder taking place in a mansion in Encino, California, in 1993. A terrified woman is crawling on the floor with her left leg bloodied and a bone sticking out of the leg. There’s recording equipment and musical instruments in the room. Nearby, the mutilated corpse of a man is on some stairs. The woman screams, “Why? We did everything!” The killer (an unidentified man) then goes in the room and bashes her head in with a weapon.
“Studio 666” then fast-forwards to the present day. Seated at an office conference table are the Foo Fighters band members: frontman Dave Grohl (the band leader), drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Pat Smear, guitarist Chris “Shifty” Shiflett, bass player Nate Mendel and keyboardist Rami Jaffee. (For the purposes of this review, their characters in the movie will be referred to by their first names.)
Also in this meeting is the band’s manager Jeremy Shill (played by Jeff Garlin), who is grumpy and agitated. “Where’s my record?” he asks the band about the Foo Fighters’ 10th album. Dave points to his own head and replies, “It’s all up in here.”
Jeremy tells the band that this album can’t be delayed any longer because he’s heavily in debt and he’s tired of hearing excuses for why they haven’t done the album yet. He says to Dave about these excuses: “It all amounts to frozen shit.” This is what’s supposed to pass as an amusing joke in the movie.
Dave then says that for this album, he doesn’t want to do the same old thing and record at the same old studios. He wants to try something new. And so, Jeremy calls a real-estate colleague named Barb Weems (played by Leslie Grossman), who suggests what she says will be the perfect place for the band to record the album. It should come as no surprise that it’s the same Encino mansion where the murders happened from the movie’s opening scene. (“Studio 666” was filmed on location in Encino.)
When Barb shows the band around the mansion, the house is in a pathetic state, with a dirty swimming pool filled with leaves and other indications that the property has been neglected for a long time. Barb tries to make the house sound more attractive, when she tells the band, “This place has some serious rock and roll pedigree.” She mentions that a famous unnamed music producer used to have a recording studio there, and he used to throw wild parties in the 1970s and 1980s.
Barb then leads them to what she says is the “coolest room in the house.” Of course, it’s the room where the murders took place, but Barb doesn’t tell them this crucial fact. All she will say is that back in the 1990s, a famous band started to record an album in the house, but the group never finished the album because the band members didn’t get along with each other. Don’t expect a real explanation of what happened in that house in 1993, because the “Studio 666” filmmakers didn’t care about having intriguing story for this movie.
When the band and Barb gather in the room where the murders took place, Dave says that he senses a “weird energy” that makes him uncomfortable. He claps his hands together several times. Each time he claps, a grisly scene is shown taking place at the house that the audience can see, but that no one in the movie can see. Ultimately, Dave likes the way the acoustics sound in the room, so he and the rest of the band decide to rent the house to record the album.
Dave is so consumed with finishing the album as soon as possible that he immediately comes up with the idea that everyone in the band should move in the house to record the album. Most of the other band members gripe about it and say that Dave should be the one to tell their families about this decision. Rami, who’s depicted as the band’s oddball ladies’ man, lives with his grandmother. This leads to a not-very-funny joke where Chris tells Rami that he had sex with Rami’s grandmother. Some sex noises are edited in to conjure up this memory, and Rami blurts out: “Stay away from my bubbe!”
Soon after Foo Fighters settle in at the mansion and have their equipment set up, the band’s sound engineer/roadie Krug (played by Kerry King, former guitarist of Slayer) gets electrocuted and dies. It’s one of those “burned to a crisp” deaths—and an indication of more grisly scenes to come. This death was no accident because it was caused by an evil spirit that can shapeshift. Before this electrocution, an entity that looked like black smoke with hands lurks around the equipment, unbeknownst to the people in the house.
Dave then begins having nightmares in repetitive scenes where he seems to be in danger, but then he wakes up and finds out it’s all a dream. He’s also certain that there’s a mysterious man dressed as a house caretaker (played by Marti Matulis), who’s been lurking around the house. No one else seems to see this stranger, which makes it obvious that Dave is going to be the target of something evil. Dave’s nightmarish visions also happen during the day, such as when he’s barbecuing in the backyard, and he sees Krug’s head in the barbecue pit.
And to make matters worse for Dave, he has writer’s block and can’t seem to come up with any new songs. This is an example of the terrible dialogue in the film. Dave exclaims about his inability to concentrate: “My mind is flooded! Sometimes it’s like Prince. Sometimes it’s like Slayer. Sometimes it’s Lawrence fucking Welk.”
Not long after they arrive at the mansion, the band members meet next-door neighbor Samantha (played by Whitney Cummings), who is star-struck, flirtatious and nosy. Dave asks Samantha if she’s seen a man who’s the mansion’s caretaker. She replies, “No, Dave. This house has been empty for years.” Samantha and Rami seem to be attracted to each other, so you know where this is going, of course.
Samantha occasionally stops by for unannounced visits, but Dave thinks that she’s very annoying. As a gift, she brings some lemon bars that she says are frosted with cocaine. Dave says it’s all just a distraction, so he tells Rami to get rid of Samantha. Rami just uses it as an opportunity to let Samantha know that he’s interested in hooking up with her. These scenes could have been hilarious, but they’re just so dimwitted because the dialogue is so lackluster and boring.
Dave soon discovers an old recording studio in the house’s basement. When he plays the reel-to-reel tape, he hears heavy metal music that sounds like wannabe Black Sabbath from the 1970s. And suddenly, he doesn’t have writer’s block anymore and is inspired by what he hears.
Under Dave’s leadership, the band soon adopts this heavier and darker sound. (In real life, Foo Fighters recorded their “Studio 666” soundtrack songs under the name Dream Widow.) There’s no mystery over very what this music is supposed to represent. It isn’t long before Dave’s personality starts changing drastically, and the body count starts piling up.
One of the many ways that “Studio 666” disappoints is how it underuses the talents of the movie’s professional actors. Will Forte has a thankless and uninteresting role as a food delivery person. It’s essentially a cameo, because he’s in the movie for less than 10 minutes.
The character of Samantha is severely underdeveloped and could have been the source of some genuinely off-the-wall or cutting-edge comedy. Instead, Samantha utters mostly forgettable lines, while Cummings just mugs for the camera in this role. Lionel Richie has a brief cameo (less than two minutes) as himself, in one of the movie’s few scenes that can be considered laugh-out-loud funny. Jenna Ortega shows up in a small role toward the end of the movie. The character that she plays in the movie won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s worth mentioning that “Studio 666” is one of three 2022 horror movies that Ortega is in (“Scream” and “X” are the other two), making her quite the “scream queen” of the year.
No one is expecting the Foo Fighters members to be great actors. But for a band that is very charismatic in real life, “Studio 666” presents all of them as characters with cardboard personalities. Grohl and Jaffee are the only true standouts, because they have scenes where they get to show some wackiness that inject a little bit of spark in this tedious horror movie that waters everything down except for the gore. Grohl and Jaffee are also the two band members who look the most comfortable being actors on camera. The rest of the band members are really just bland supporting characters in their own movie and give performances that range from awkwardly stiff to trying too hard.
“Studio 666” is the type of niche horror movie that looks like it should have been released directly to video. Instead, the movie’s first release is in cinemas, but “Studio 666” is not worth seeing for the price of a movie ticket, unless people are die-hard Foo Fighters fans. People who want to see real Foo Fighters entertainment are better off watching a Foo Fighters concert to see what the band does best: Play music and not try to be movie stars in an embarrassing horror flick.
Open Road Films will release “Studio 666” in U.S. cinemas on February 25, 2022.
March 26, 2022 UPDATE: Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins has died at the age of 50. This obituary from the Associated Press has more details.