It’s often interesting to see how a band at the height of its powers uses its fame to make a full-on cinematic vanity project. Disastrous, sometimes, sure. But also: interesting.
For example, Metallica has managed to be both disastrous and interesting. Their documentary Some Kind of Monster presupposed that fans and casual audiences alike would be interested in seeing the therapy sessions the legendary metal artists went through in order to complete their 2003 album St. Anger. The resultant piece of filmmaking—coming on the heels of a nasty and public fight with the music-theft service Napster—can only be described as disastrous for the band.
I mean, I don’t know about you, but having my rocker heroes go on camera to talk about their massive art collection and sell $13 million or so worth of paintings at Christie’s feels like a PR nightmare. (Note: this is a thing that actually happens in the movie.) Especially in light of the Napster fight, which resulted in the band portrayed as greedy monsters trying to hurt common fans.*
A decade or so later, Metallica took another shot at the whole band movie thing: Through the Never is best described as part concert film, part post-apocalyptic thriller. (You can watch it right now on Netflix, if you’d like.) The two things I remember about the picture were that it was admirably insane as a piece of storytelling—it stars Dane DeHaan as a roadie for the band who takes a trip to a Metallica-ized Land of Oz as the band performs a show—and was the loudest I’ve ever heard an Imax theater sound. Like, loud to the extent that I kind of wished I had brought ear plugs, gear I generally only bring to … well, a Metallica concert.
Foo Fighters’ Studio 666 feels, in a way, like a combination of those projects, an examination of life in a band where the popularity of the frontman (in this case, Dave Grohl) has transcended the band as a whole plus an off-the-wall, modestly budgeted horror-comedy that calls to mind Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (a movie in which, it should be noted, Grohl played Satan).
The setup is fairly simple. Grohl and the rest of the Foos—drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, organist Rami Jaffee, and bassist Nate Mendel—decamp to record their tenth album in a house where, decades before, a band was murdered. They decide to live in the house for a few weeks, Grohl goes crazy when he’s overtaken by an evil spirit that wants Foo Fighters to finish a song that will unlock the gates of hell, and bodies start piling up.
For most of the film the band is on their own, though they’re occasionally joined by comedic veterans like Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Will Forte (MacGruber), and Whitney Cummings. This is a minor issue, since the Foos aren’t, you know, actors. There are really only so many times you can see Pat Smear—originally of the legendary punk band the Germs—squint and smile, as if wondering how, exactly, he has found himself in this predicament.
That would be fine if the film weren’t a.) so long (at 105 minutes it drags) and b.) largely devoid of music. This isn’t a concert film; it’s not a rock opera like Pink Floyd and Alan Parker’s 1982 adaptation of The Wall; and it’s not a rock comedy like that made by Tenacious D. Though a song without an end is at the heart of the picture, we don’t get much in the way of actual music. And the plotting and the acting don’t exactly fill the void. Studio 666 is perhaps most interesting as a window into Dave Grohl’s own feelings about his evolution into The Last Rock Star.
I grant that designation without sarcasm: I genuinely adore Grohl and can say that he is, without a doubt, the nicest big-name star I’ve ever interviewed. He puts on a hell of a live show. He’s an ever-present talking head on all matters music. He’s basically the last non-Boomer standing as far as broadly recognizable rock icons go. And while it’s often foolish to attempt to get all Freudian on such matters, the screenplay is based on a story developed by Grohl. I don’t think it’s too much to suggest a bit of inner turmoil as he plays himself murdering his bandmates in the pursuit of sonic perfection and supersized, demon-powered greatness. Fans of the band and the man will find interesting ground to dig around in here.
Still, Studio 666 doesn’t really work as a film. It’s too long, it’s neither scary nor funny enough, and it has a weird mixture of great, schlocky kills made with practical effects alongside terrible CGI effects. As a vanity project, it’s interesting. As a piece of filmmaking, I can’t quite recommend it.
*This portrayal is wrong and immoral; I cannot stress enough that Lars Ulrich was 100 percent right about Napster in particular and the theft of music it allowed in general. But perceptions are often more important than reality, and the optics here were all bad for Lars.