Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…

Horror-comedy, that awkward genre that either pisses off the gore brigade for being too vanilla, or it royally freaks out the mainstream folk who go in expecting Beetlejuice. It’s a tough balance to strike, but recent years have been kind enough to give us more hits than misses; three that I hold dear to my heart are The Revenant, Tucker & Dale vs Evil and also Bad Milo.

Onur Tukel, a forty-two year old New Yorker shot his first feature, House of Pancakes, back in 1997, but it was his sophomore effort that first brought him onto our video store shelves. Drawing Blood, a wild vampire flick filmed in 1999 under the pseudonym Sergio Lapel, managed to secure distribution through Troma. Comparisons to his latest film, SUMMER OF BLOOD, seem unavoidable as both movies have a fiercely independent background to them, while they’re also vampiric tales with a double-scoop of comedy. As Tukel told Fangoria last year, Summer of Blood is more concerned with his life now; a forty-something neurotic, at a crossroads in life. Drawing Blood was more deliberately stylised, injected with a European artsy flavour to underpin its ambition.

This contemporary setting for Summer of Blood enables it to breathe more easily with a broader appeal as we’re introduced to Erik Sparrow (Tukel), an egocentric, racist, sexist, misogynistic, migraine of a man. After rejecting his girlfriends’ marriage proposal, he encounters a vampire in an alleyway who in turn bites him. Now stronger, more confident and experiencing a level of freedom that he never has before, he’s a free man, albeit with an insatiable craving for blood.

The first line of my notes for this film read “I do not like this man”. He really is a reprehensible character whose delivery is an unerring mash-up of Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino and Larry David, while his physical appearance is more akin to the love child of Jerry Garcia and George Lucas. Needless to say your love of the film will depend solely on how you deal with the character of Sparrow, and despite my initial reservations, I have to say he really grew on me. It may be Tukel’s own script, but his delivery of the dialogue is effortless and full of great lines; his boss gets to sack him by saying “you look like Godzilla used your shirt as a maxi-pad”. For a character to conjure the level of sympathy that he does for Sparrow, whose behaviour should only elicit disdain is some achievement. Add to that a number of scenes with the lush gore of vampire inflicted wounds, and we have a very bewildering blend of comedy and horror, yet one which works excellently.

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A career working largely in the parameters of television worked in Adam Wimpenny’s favour when it came to shooting his feature film debut. Much of the cast he’d worked with before, so the bonus of having a direct line to familiar faces such as Ed Stoppard, Russell Tovey and Paul Kaye ensured that BLACKWOOD came together with a little more pace than the average indie flick. Filmed in December 2013 over a five week period on the Surrey Hills, it’s a very worthy stab at a classic English ghost story, trading contemporary cattle-prod frights for a cloak of atmosphere.

Following a psychological breakdown, college professor Ben Marshall (Stoppard) has relocated to the countryside with his wife Rachel (Sophia Myles) and his son Harry (Isaac Andrews). With a new job lined up as well as a new pad to move in to, things are finally beginning to look on the upturn. After a short period inside his family’s new home however, strange visions begin to plague Ben, and some cursory investigations uncover the fact that the house holds a dark secret; something that could put the lives of his family in danger.

The first reel of Blackwood may tip its hat towards classic features such as Don’t Look Now and The Amityville Horror, but it doesn’t take long to establish itself in its own right and stride forward with a strut of originality. Part of the films’ success is in part due to the location; the focal point being an impressive aged property which oozes a troubled history. The fractious father / son relationship too is an element that burrows into the core of your psyche. It’s both disturbing and uneasy, with its portrayal etched into the core of the film, managing to sustain an unrelenting level of dread throughout the picture. It would perhaps border on nitpicking, but the boundaries of plausibility are stretched at times, especially when it comes to Ben’s quest to investigate the property’s murky history (DNA tests, blood samples etc). Minor gripes aside, this is a very worthy picture; one which successfully juggles a number of narratives, incorporates a handful of well written characters, and yet despite such ambitious spinning of plates, manages to remain a highly recommendable macabre tale.

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