Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
This week February starts its slow ascent into the heights of DTV plenitude, and as with last month it’s a beginning that limps along with all the suppleness of Verbal Kint before it finally hits its stride in a couple of weeks with the swagger of Keyser Soze.
First up, we’re in Yorkshire with some zombies and a budget of £5k. Actually that figure may be an exaggeration of what writer / director Damian Morter and his wife producer Nicola spent on making BOOK OF THE DEAD: THE ESCHATRILOGY. Shot over fourteen months, Book of the Dead spawned from a zombie short which Morter made simply to test out some DSLR cameras to a full on 95 minute horror portmanteau. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story is told from the book of a mysterious stranger who passes out in a hilltop hideaway. Daniel (Clay Whitter), the sole survivor in this refuge begins to read this tome, and as he does so we learn of three tales of horror and destruction.
Shot nearly four years ago, then premiering at Grimmfest in October 2012 and finally appearing on DVD this week, it’s been a long wait for this homegrown feature to finally announce itself on the public stage. Collecting a plethora of plaudits along the way, the signs were good that this could be something special; and I have to say this is an impressive piece of filmmaking that deserves every accolade thrown its way.
From its gorgeously lit opening we enter into a practically dialogue free opening ten minutes which perfectly paints a picture of a desolate landscape in a world ravaged by… something. All three of the stories within the Morter starring wraparound are of immense quality, and all display an unwavering sense of melancholia. In saying that, the third chapter with its perfect use of the barren Yorkshire Moors may well have resonated with me the most. It’s the most ambitious part of the film, and also displays the most mature and well written narrative of the three – though that’s not to take anything away from the others which all blend seamlessly alongside a perfect score which oozes a blend of Carpenter and Goblin to create a first class feature. Morter has stated that a filmmaker he really admires is Richard Stanley; well let’s hope next up is Damian Morter’s Dust Devil, with a forward thinking memo to steer clear of Val Kilmer.
Next up, ROADKILL – and we’re in the much mocked realm of the SyFy Original Feature. Now, I’m what you may call a SyFy apologist, to me they’re akin to the classic creature features that littered the b-movies of the 1950s; Tarantula (1955), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958) – made cheap, with a target audience in mind, but providing a platform for creative souls to learn the trade of being a filmmaker or to get a break into something bigger. It happens today in SyFy features, people like Billy O’Brien who made the excellent Isolation (2005) went on to shoot Ferocious Planet (2011) for Syfy, and here the Cambridge born director Johannes Roberts has slotted Roadkill in between two cool indie Brit flicks; F aka The Expelled (2010) and Storage 24 (2012).
Granted, my notes for Roadkill DO have ‘what is Stephen Rea doing in a SyFy movie?’, but other than that head-scratcher this is a functional, well shot slice of Eire-lensed hokum as we find six friends on a road trip in Ireland falling foul of a gypsies curse and finding themselves pursued by a mythical Simuroc. It’s trashy fun punctuated with cringeworthy dialogue like “dude, we’re stuck in a foreign country with a giant bird chasing after us”, but thanks to some notable gore (usually absent from SyFy flicks) and some nice cinematography from Peter Robertson who lensed the excellent Wilderness (2006) and Garage (2007), and not to mention the great Ned Dennehy hamming it up, this certainly belongs at the top end of the SyFy cheese scale.
It was when Jurassic Park came out that eleven year old Jack Heller first got the film bug. By 26 he found himself producing a string of Steve Austin flicks like Damage (2009) and Hunt to Kill (2010) before assuming the director’s chair for ENTER NOWHERE – or as it’s woefully been retitled on these shores, THE HAUNTING OF BLACK WOOD.
With its pumping opening track and fast-cut opening title sequence, you’re wrong-footed initially as the DTV schlock-fest that you anticipated doesn’t materialise, and after an initial slice of exposition we find ourselves in a secluded cabin where three strangers find themselves sheltering from the bitter cold. Tom (Scott Eastwood), Jody (Sara Paxton) and Samantha (Katherine Waterston) all stumble upon this woodland shack for a variety of reasons, but the longer they’re there the more they realise that they may well be together for a reason.
Despite the horror-centric leanings of its new title and sleeve design, The Haunting of Black Wood is essentially a mystery with a tip of the hat in the direction of Rod Serling. It’s a three hander for the most part with a vast chunk of the running time taking place in the cabin, which in itself is a ploy that can either backfire with boredom or fizzle out with a laboured narrative; here though, Heller manages to brilliantly craft an engaging and surprising little feature on a really trim budget. Part way through, the moment comes when you realise just why these people are here, and in that split second revelation I recall thinking “please don’t blow this” – which in itself underlines the desire to see this cleverly plotted film succeed… and it does, magnificently.