Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Genre film distribution is a largely faceless operation in the UK, save for Fran Simeoni at Arrow, and also perhaps Rich and James of 88 Films who seem to tentatively be edging their heads above the parapet of social media, all the time sensing the path of bullets laced with perpetual disappointment whistling past their ears. It’s a tough world out there to get your film released, and if you dropped by Indiewire this week you’ll have read a great interview with Spencer Pollard of Kaleidoscope Film Distribution who gave the alarming statistic that for every five thousand films that get made, only three hundred find distribution.
To shrink that statistic down to the UK, and more specifically horror, then it’s worth keeping abreast of venerable writer MJ Simpson and his ever growing list of unreleased indie horror, which at the last count was two hundred and sixteen. One of them was SCAR TISSUE, which thankfully, despite shooting beginning in October 2010, gets a release this week courtesy of Warwick Films.
Twenty years ago, the sister of Detective Sam Cross (Charity Wakefield) became the final victim of serial killer Edward Jansen, moments before he was gunned down by a police SWAT team. Meanwhile, Luke Denham (Danny Horn), wakes up to discover the severely mutated body of a girl in his bathroom. DNA testing of the corpse reveals the presence of the long dead Jansen, so both Sam and Luke find themselves thrown together on a mission to uncover the truth behind this gruesome crime.
Scott Michell waited a decade and a half to return to the director’s chair following his debut with the crime-thriller The Innocent Sleep, featuring Michael Gambon, Rupert Graves and Franco Nero. Parallels can be drawn to some degree with the tone of Scar Tissue; albeit several shades darker. Despite knowing when Michell’s sophomore effort was shot, I felt myself re-checking just to be sure as the film has an overwhelming vibe of nineties urban grit. Films like this just don’t get made anymore; not because they’re consigned to another part of film history, just because the majority of British genre output of late has played it so safe, hopeful for the much vaunted reward of distribution. It brought to mind classic video store fodder like George Sluizer’s Crimetime and Albert Pyun’s Postmortem, two nineties gems that thought outside the generic genre template.
Scar Tissue’s success lies firmly at the feet of some excellent casting decisions; the naively endearing Luke is a great foil to the fiercely independent snarl of real ale drinking Sam, with Horn and Wakefield respectively having the charisma to make scenes peppered with jostling dialogue fly with aplomb. Also worthy of acclaim is the late Imogen Bain, who as Mo McQueen, the straight-talking coroner comes across as a kind of Miriam Margoyles with an attitude, and delivers some lush earthy dialogue (“you really are an odious little wanker”) which serves to make her one of the standout characters of the picture. The serial killer pursuit does slow somewhat as it segues into a slightly drawn out final third, but it’s impossible to deny that Scar Tissue is a dark, edgy, risk-taking endeavour that despite its imperfections, puts a par of paddles onto British crime-horror delivering a couple of hundred volts to a genre which was ripe for reanimation.
After such high praise for a British horror that’s finally made its way down from the dusty shelf of distribution purgatory, we get to NAZI VENGEANCE. No such marketing woes for this chappie, but then I’d wager a fiver that I could film my easily-led cousin Brian, goose-stepping in the garden before being covered in corn syrup, and within six months I’d get it in ASDA under the title Nazi Gnomes in the Garden of Doom. This film from father and son team Mick and Tom Sands originally began life as the more soberly titled Backtrack, complete with subtle but menacing artwork. It centres round Ralph (Mark Drake) who’s haunted by terrifying Nazi-themed nightmares, but with the aid of his three best friends he decides to head to the South Downs in order to confront such affecting visions of war based hell.
The expansive aerial shots of the lush English countryside that welcome you into this film, do for a second hint at a feature that offers more than what eventually materialises. My bone of contention, or rather bones, transcends a whole cornucopia of face-palm moments, to the eventual development of Tourette’s-style fury. Sands Jr hinted that he was drawn to casting unknowns in the four lead roles, but in doing so he’s ended up with three woefully cast performances. Ralph’s friend Lucas (Miles Jovian) is the only highlight, and though he’s an obnoxious character, his performance is a thirst-quenching Gatorade in a desert of inanity. Ralph’s delivery lacks any charisma at all, while when he’s paired with Claudia (Rosie Akerman), most notably at the campsite, the two come across as a contemporary Keith and Candice in Nuts in May – but without the funny.
The editing is laboured as scenes go on far past the point of where they should have ended; case in point “quick, let’s go and find them” (cue the meandering tidying of campsite and placing property back inside tents). Elsewhere, scenes of dialogue focus on people who aren’t involved in the conversation, which just comes across as maddeningly futile. Ed Wood tendencies run throughout; day suddenly becomes night, real time pacing suddenly advances in one parallel storyline, yet not in the other. There’s also the worst looking blood residue I’ve ever cast my eye upon; a kind of mango sorbet gone gooey. It’s really bad, and I’d hoped for so more, but hopefully a young director like Sands Jr will go on to realise the errors of a debutant, or more pertinently realise that directing is not for him at all.
“In my opinion, this is a genuine, no-holds-barred, world-class masterpiece which finally establishes Zuccon as a globally important director. In years to come, perhaps this will be seen as an iconic title in the history of Italian horror” noted a highly esteemed British horror critic during his analysis of CURSE OF THE CROWS. I read that about a year ago when the DVD release was first mooted, and with rabid enthusiasm I awaited its arrival. After watching it, I’m not exactly on the same page as the respected commentator, in fact, I’m a fair few chapters behind.
For the few inmates of a dank, grimy prison, the arrival of a new inmate brings both fear and apprehension. When Princess (Tiffany Shepis) arrives, dressed in a coat of crows feathers, she quickly establishes sinister aspects to her behaviour by displaying feats of supernatural strength. As Princess settles in, the other prisoners soon realise that in this penitentiary, reality and illusion are colliding to form an endless vortex of terror and madness.
Director Ivan Zuccon certainly seems to lead a loyal circle of fans with his films, but in the UK he’s not been treated all that kindly with Unknown Beyond and The Shunned House (both via Film 2000) being our only exposure. With his latest boasting the first celluloid pairing of Scream Queen’s Debbie Rochon and Tiffany Shepis since Tromeo & Juliet nearly twenty years ago, there was reason enough for the uninitiated to give this Italian auteur their first look.
Is it worth it? Well, yes, it is, but just don’t expect it to be the arrival of the new messiah. The narrative is an admirably complex piece of work; multi-faceted with a level of flair you don’t normally associate with this bottom shelf fare, but in saying that it offers little that stays with you once the credits have rolled. Similarly, with Zuccon in control of the cinematography and editing too, there’s a degree of consistency that benefits the picture, but conversely there’s little up on the screen that pops your eyeballs from their sockets in cartoon-style wonderment. Curse of the Crows (formerly Wrath) is a good film, and it’s certainly better than much of supermarket fodder that 4Digital Media have been putting out of late. Buy it, appreciate its ambition, marvel over performances from Shepis and Rochon – but let’s not pretend it’s a new dawn for Italian genre cinema.