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

Is Robert Hall one of the most underrated guys in horror? A make-up guy from the get-go, his early career in the late nineties was spent alongside people like Stan Winston on The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Robert Kurtzman on Wishmaster, before going on to form his own make-up studio called Almost Human. Directing was also on his agenda, and after Lightning Bug, his critically acclaimed 2006 drama, a character called Chromeskull beckoned. Laid to Rest in my opinion, sits at the top of the contemporary slasher tree alongside Adam Green’s Hatchet. In the post-Millennium world of horror they have no equal. Dripping with gorgeous practical effects, Laid to Rest is also blessed with a stellar cast that includes the smouldering Thomas Dekker, an intimidating Nick Principe as the masked Chromeskull, and a fine supporting cast in Lena Headey, Richard Lynch and Johnathan Schaech. The fact that the sequel, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2, managed to equal the menacing original in terms of shock and gore is testament to the ability of Hall.

In the midst of such shiny-masked mayhem, FEAR CLINIC started off life in 2009 as a five-part web series starring such horror luminaries as Robert Englund, Danielle Harris and Kane Hodder. Directed by Robert Hall, and distributed via FEARnet it was a notable success, garnering a few nods in the Streamy Awards in 2010. With that reception in mind, the notion of a feature film was always prominent in Hall’s mind, and with a seventy thousand dollar Indiegogo campaign it became a reality; but could this new fright-flick be comparable to the genius that had gone before?

Each with crippling phobias, five people decide to seek treatment through Dr. Andover (Robert Englund) and his Fear Chamber. In this device, the patients are put into complete isolation and must face their nightmares through violent hallucinations. The patient’s eventually leave Andover’s care, only to return when they discover their phobias are still present. However, as they all ready themselves to re-enter the Fear Chamber. The doctor begins to wonder if there’s something more sinister working through his creation, as their worst fears begin to manifest themselves and intrude into reality.

Fear Clinic is a flawed film. I’ve seen it twice now, and although there are issues aplenty with regard to its fragmented and jarring narrative, there is just – JUST – enough to raise this above your standard DTV schlock. It’s without doubt Hall’s weakest film, however, the guy knows how to shoot a movie, and the look of the film is very easy on the eye. The cast is the undoubted highlight of the flick, as along with Englund and regular Hall collaborator Dekker, there’s also Fiona Dourif, Kevin Gage and Slipnot’s Corey Taylor. These five folk lift the film from the doldrums that it frequently teeters on the brink of, and with the usual standard of F/X that we’ve come to expect from Robert Kurtzman, all is far from lost. File Fear Clinic under ‘begrudged disappointment’, but don’t discard it, there’s a lot to like here.

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When I started working in video rental as a teenager in the late nineties, the humble zombie was a figure of sneering dismissal by most moviegoers; seemingly forever cast aside as an obsession of adolescent boys and degenerates. I’m still in the same trade, and it’s staggering how the shuffling undead have gradually broken into the mainstream, be it through TV with The Walking Dead or film with Shaun of the Dead and World War Z. This zombie evolution is certainly something that director of DOC OF THE DEAD, Alexandre O. Philippe, had noticed as he told Flickering Myth recently. “I was at San Diego Comic-Con in 2009, and I go every year, but this particular year I noticed a lot more zombies. I made that conscious decision that I had to make a film; a documentary to ask: how did zombies get into the mainstream?”

Philippe’s question is an interesting one, and with the participants it boasts, the documentary it inspired certainly comes with a degree of expectation; something which, for the most part, it meets with a deft ease. With a seventy-eight minute running time (not ninety as indicated on the sleeve), it’s a documentary that skips along at a breezy pace. Initially I was a little miffed at the speed in which it tackled the chronology of the zombie movie; twenty minutes to go from White Zombie right through to Shaun of the Dead. However, the introduction of a variety of zombie related subjects, not to mention Philippe’s willingness to backtrack and focus on key eras meant that any apprehension was swiftly curtailed.

With a horror aficionado’s wet dream of talking heads; Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon, Tom Savini, Sid Haig, George A. Romero and many, many more, Philippe has assembled quite the line-up of contributors. Fascinating segways into the history and the mythology of zombies are a noted highlight, and succeed in masking the weakness of the comedic interludes which just don’t seem to fit. It’s a minor gripe though on what’s generally a really well-made documentary – and if you’re the marrying type, catch the clip of the zombie wedding officiated by Bruce Campbell; it’s genius – you’ll be inspired!

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EXISTS is the new film from Eduardo Sanchez. You may not actually be familiar with the name of the director though, as for every single film he’s released in the sixteen years since his ground-breaking found footage opus, he’s only ever been referred to as ‘the director of The Blair Witch Project’. The same banner adorns every single UK DVD release of his work since BWP, in exactly the same position on every box! I wonder if Sanchez finds it to be a mill stone around his neck? I’m tired of it, especially considering he’s actually done some really decent work since; for example, the sci-fi tinged Abduction, the Chinese mythology based Seventh Moon, or the deeply unsettling Lovely Molly. All very worthy, well-made scare-flicks that come highly recommended.

His newbie sees a group of friends set out on an adventure to a remote wood in Texas, planning a weekend of fun and partying. But visions of a carefree retreat are shattered with an accident on a dark and desolate country road. In the wake of the accident they are witness to a bloodcurdling noise. They soon find themselves hunted by something not exactly human, but not completely animal – a terrifying urban legend comes to life, and seeks murderous revenge.

Running at a trim hour and a quarter, Sanchez paces this movie with enough punches to keep you hooked right off the bat. In fact there’s a great sleight of hand really early on when the group first catch sight of the beast that reassures you this won’t just be a by-the-numbers found footage film. The creature itself IS a dude in a suit – thankfully – as there have been enough ropey CGI sasquatches to know the secret is to use your filmmaking technique to make a costumed Bigfoot as threatening as you can. Exists gives you plenty of bang for your buck, and there’s rarely a let up in tension; it’s certainly not guilty of the tiresome padding that seems a requisite feature of many a found footage flick. Most pleasing of all was its dawn-set denouement, a direct contradiction on its dimly lit contemporaries, which succeeds in delivering some genuine thrills prior to the credits rolling, and ensures another success for Eduardo Sanchez; director of far more than just The Blair Witch Project.

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Produced by Adam Green, Paul Solet’s 2009 scare-fest Grace certainly announced him as a talent to keep an eye on. Based on his 2006 short of the same name, it picked up a couple of gongs at Fangoria’s Chainsaw Awards as well as bagging a nomination for best film over at Sitges. Solet is currently in post-production on the ensemble piece Tales of Halloween alongside Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee and Mike Mendez, but in the meantime we have his sophomore effort DARK SUMMER, which hits the UK this week courtesy of High Fliers.

Seventeen year old Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) is always getting himself into trouble, and after one particular incident he finds himself under house arrest for the summer. When his mother goes away for a few days on business, a horrifying incident occurs in the house, after which he notices that the house seems haunted by a terrifying presence.

A kid, in a house, with an electronic tag on his ankle? Stop me if you’ve heard this before. But wait! Before we naysayers can dismiss this indie horror with a swift push of the eject button, we hear the winking dialogue of “hey, you’re like Shia LaBeouf in that movie”, and we all stroke our chins in wonderment at this self-aware moment of genius. It’s the first of many things to like about Dark Summer, a film set in one location, and as with the previous film this week the director utilises a shortened running time with a well-structured narrative. It’s a difficult film to pigeonhole; part spiritual, part possession based, with elements of spells, witchcraft and hieroglyphics added to the mix. Dark Summer demands your patience with a slow build-up of tension, but the pay-offs are always worth it, and despite some minor flaws, it’s a low key horror that’s worth seeking out.

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Slight segway to lead into the next movie, but when are 101 Films going to master the art of social media? If you want to survive in this industry, becoming au fait with orchestrating your presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is essential. Take the boys at 88 Films; granted their step up with drool-inducing product has contributed massively to their success, but their daily interactions and self-promotion has seen a Facebook surge to four thousand. 101 Films meanwhile sit a fair few steps behind; Twitter posts are confined to retweets which are echoed on their Facebook page, and it remains a slightly anonymous company with a faceless public persona. With a bold new wave of cult classics coming to Blu-ray from May onwards, they could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of 88’s book.

All of which attention seeking strategies take us to SILVERHIDE, an indie horror shot on the Black Mountains in Wales. A group of conspiracy theorists are secretly watching a covert military base in the search for highly classified test aircraft, with the attention of reporting it back to their Fortean-style magazine. In the midst of their vigil, they discover evidence of a top secret and lethal creature that the military are testing for its weapons potential. The group quickly become the hunter’s prey, while the military will stop at nothing to keep their specimen a secret.

Sigh… I hate to dropkick some home-grown filmmaking, but this was a poor effort, and largely the architect of its own downfall. I will never castigate a film for a lack of budget, however, an absence of funds means that the simple things have to be done to a high standard, and this is where Silverhide falls down. Much of the early dialogue is done between locations via a walkie talkie, and at times it’s so muffled it verges on being unintelligible. That said, with cringey conversation starters such as “do you know what the meaning of life is?”, then that may have worked in my favour.

Such misplaced theological discussions give way to some ham-fisted exposition; when Sinead (Kelly Wines) comes looking for Laura (Lucy Clarvis), she notices a glossy pregnancy magazine in her tent. You do wonder if such plot devices might be a little less obvious if the actors stood with cue cards pointed to camera? Other aspects that found me scratching my head in bewilderment included why Marty (Jordan Murphy) was in the middle of a mountainous weather-beaten part of Wales, at night, in a thin cotton jumper! Meanwhile, with the escalating horror that surrounded the surviving few was greeted with an expression of fear more akin to forgetting to get milk, and having to go back out in the pouring rain. Still, credit must go to the crew for the creature design and the practical effects. If only everything that surrounded it was as well crafted.

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