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

When reviewing THE SAMURAI, the Hollywood Reporter raised the question whether it’s a ‘schlocky queer thriller, or a German-language neo-giallo about desire, dreams and doppelgangers’. Either of those fanciful descriptions conjures up an eye-widening frenzy of anticipation, something which Till Kleinert’s film doesn’t struggle to fulfil. Perhaps it lies in the inspirations that influenced the young German director; Kleinert cites the Final Fantasy VII video game, Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves as well as the early films of Guillermo del Toro. All of these nods are apparent, but with a bold, gender bending undercurrent to the film, it stands alone as a remarkable and original piece of film-making.

On the edge of a dark forest, where the fear of wolves prevents locals from straying too far from home, a young police officer, Jakob (Michel Diercks), receives a package addressed to the ‘Lone Wolf’. As the night shift starts, a mysterious caller claims the package belongs to him. Venturing out alone, Jakob unknowingly delivers a samurai sword to a wild-eyed man in a wedding dress (Pit Bukowski), who entices him to participate in a bloody crusade through the village.

The Samurai is like a whiff of smelling salts, jolting you out of a semi-conscious daze, possessing that rare quality of truly astounding filmmaking. It takes us on a drive to parts of the psyche that so few English language directors – save for Lynch and Cronenberg – seem willing to delve into. It’s not perfect, but its willingness to offer something audacious is reminiscent of catching your first Kim Ki-duk film, or Shinya Tsukamoto, albeit with a little Almodovar sprinkled into the mix with its latent sexuality. Bukowski is undoubtedly the star here, with his brash grandstanding and lipstick-covered sneering at society, but credit to Diercks for the solitary demeanour of his subtle performance; all the time hinting at what lies beneath his telling eyes, frustrated at not being able to be who he wants to be. Two moments stand out; the dance, charged with a blood-soaked eroticism, and the final scene, which will horrify, excite and mesmerise in equal measure. Released in the UK by renowned LGBT distributor Peccadillo Pictures, their superb marketing strategies should hopefully guide The Samurai into a few homes that may not ordinarily give it a second glance. It’s deserving of such exposure.

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A multi-million dollar budget, a twenty-nine day shoot, and the experience of Alexandre Aja as producer; it’s difficult to ascertain just how THE PYRAMID went so wrong for first time director Gregory Levasseur. The Frenchman started in the film business working as Aja’s right hand man, scripting his debut flick Furia, before going on to continue penning screenplay’s for the acclaimed director with the excellent High Tension and P2 among others. Aja’s movies have provided Levasseur with apprenticeship that fellow film folk would kill for, as along with his screenwriting he also had the opportunity to act as second unit director on The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D and the guiltily enjoyable Mirrors. Indeed, as he admitted himself to Horror Talk, “It’s been a pleasure working with Alex, and it helps a lot. I’m not sure many other first time directors get this experience.”

In The Pyramid, a team of archaeologists get more than they bargained for when they discover a lost pyramid unlike any other in the Egyptian desert. As they begin to uncover its horrifying secrets, they realise they’re being relentlessly hunted by an ancient evil more nightmarish than anything they could have imagined.

Beginning by alluding to the fact that these archaeologists are here in the midst of the Arab Spring (yet barely mentioning it again), and giving us some very easy on the eye desert landscapes, The Pyramid begins with noble intentions but soon descends into mediocre darkness. Taking just over one million dollars on just shy of seven hundred screens in America, it received savage criticism; Kim Newman actually stated that it was “worse than being buried alive in an actual pyramid”. I’d stop short of that analogy, but when at the twenty-five minute mark, expansive sandy vistas give way to an hour of dimly lit nocturnal fumblings, any potential it had evaporates and we’re left with a generously budgeted creature feature. In fact if you were to wander in halfway through, you’d find your eyes wandering to the corner of the screen with the expectation of finding the SyFy channel ident there. With Levasseur’s resume, you’d expect better, but sadly his first effort in the director’s chair is formulaic at best; absent of excitement, tension, or characters to give a damn about.

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