Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
“Adrián Garciá Bogliano is a director who has firmly planted himself on my radar, and I await his next work with great anticipation”. If there’s ever a closing statement in a film review primed to bite me in the ass, it’s usually ones that round things off with a bold proclamation such as [that]. After watching Here Comes the Devil though, I really felt such a clichéd pronouncement was justified; it was an awesome film – subtle yet startling – given short shrift in the publicity stakes by Metrodome and left to fend for itself. It needed exposure.
And, here we are, two years later, in a similar situation. It’s release week for NIGHT OF THE WOLF: LATE PHASES, and Metrodome’s twitter feed is full of promo activity for The Town That Dreaded Sundown, with the only clue to Bogliano’s film taking its UK bow being a lone retweet nearly two weeks ago. It’s disappointing, not least because it’s been it’s been the same all year with such notable releases as Starry Eyes and American Ghost Story and it will no doubt be the same next week when they release the hotly anticipated Rigor Mortis. Can they not focus on more than a couple of films at once? I know cinema releases carry a far greater risk, but don’t forsake us DTV hordes, and don’t let great art slip under the radar into obscurity.
If the notion of Bogliano’s English language feature debut wasn’t exciting enough, the fact that he’s collaborating with Glass Eye Pix brings on a barely containable shudder of anticipation. Glass Eye is of course the thirty year old production house lead by genre great Larry Fessenden, and of late they’ve had a hand in Stake Land, Satan Hates You, The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil. An impressive slate of pictures, and one which Late Phases can easily bed in alongside, as it’s a doozy of a werewolf film helped immeasurably by a simple narrative. Ambrose (Nick Damici – who didn’t write the script as the sleeve states), is a war veteran who discovers the retirement home that he’s just moved into is beset by a bloodthirsty werewolf. Steeling himself for the next full moon, he prepares for the deadliest night of his life, and one final battle against the odds.
Ordinarily, just the confirmation that Tom Noonan is in a movie would suffice for a review.
“Is The Roost any good, Dave?”
“Ah sweet – I’ll pick it up…”
In Late Phases, while Noonan as usual puts in another memorable performance, most of the credit must go to Nick Damici who owns the film as Ambrose. A blind, grizzled war veteran with a deep rooted love for his dog, his character is brilliantly written by Eric Stolze who also penned the underrated Under the Bed a couple of years back. With an absence of photogenic airhead teens, screen time is devoted solely to a cast that has a steely old-school credibility and that oozes gravitas. Bogliano retains his regular DP, and in doing so the film keeps the same Latin glow that served Here Comes the Devil so well; shrugging off the generic artlessness of most contemporary horror in favour of a low contrast and a muted colour scheme. The make-up and special effects are near perfect, all under the stewardship of Robert Kurtzman, Brian Spears and Peter Gerner, they laugh in the face of recent additions to the werewolf canon. With forty two minutes of featurettes, this is a neat little package – albeit with no Blu-ray release – and will undoubtedly reappear on the year end ‘best of’.
JUDAS GHOST is the sophomore film from twenty-something Bristol based director Simon Pearce. His first film Shank – not the Adam Deacon one – demands your attention also; an urban British indie dealing with a closeted teenage street punk. It was a bold film which also spawned a less powerful sequel, Cal – minus Pearce, who now brings us his first foray into the horror genre. Shot over eighteen days on a soundstage in Bristol, it marks the first screen adaptation of Simon R. Green’s Ghost Finders novels; indeed Green adapted his work for the film himself.
The Carnacki Institute is a top secret organisation set up to combat the dead. When reports of supernatural activity from an old village hall point to an apparently standard haunting, an elite team of ghost finders is dispatched to investigate. Things though go from bad to worse when it becomes clear that the team are facing something far more sinister than they first anticipated. The hall harbours a dark secret and the team must use every trick they know to try and get out of there alive.
As much of the film is shot in one location, it’ll come as no surprise to hear Green say that he wrote the script with a stage play in mind. That won’t do much to entice those of an ADHD disposition, but it should, as this is a fine independent British horror. It’s the charisma of Jerry (Martin Delaney) that stands out among the cast; at first coming across as an arrogant douchebag, he develops along with the film, exhibiting a little John Constantine with the requisite dry wit and cavalier approach. Despite its trim running time, it is a slow build, but it rewards your patience with some butt-clenching moments of terror, helped in no small part with the cleverness of its supernatural manifestations. In the main, director Pearce keeps things simple with plenty of practical effects – and some lush vermilion blood, but when digital effects are needed they blend in effectively, and contribute to making this a highly recommended homegrown scare-fest.
Dead Mine, Mine Games, Abandoned Mine; in the sewer of the DTV Junkyard lie the remnants of a wealth of mediocre mine based films that now line the bottom shelf of your local charity shop. BENEATH comes from the pen of Patrick Doody and Chris Valenziano whose only other feature is the woeful – even for SyFy standards – Antonio Sabato schlocker Bugs, while in the director’s chair sits Ben Ketai, who shot 30 Days of Night: Dark Days. Such trivia didn’t exactly propel this title to must see status, but with its acquisition for the UK coming from Arrow Films, that at least offered hope. As Brian Stimpson said though – “It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand”.
‘Schlocky mine-based film in plausible narrative controversy’. I can see the headline now as connoisseurs of the b-movie huddle in packs, fretting over this insane development. Well, when I say ‘plausible’, I mean up until the undead hordes stalk the dimly lit tunnels bit – however – credit to Stimpson and his writers, as by beginning this feature with some finely crafted characterisation, they’ve produced a solid DTV release that most of us would be happy to pay a rental fee for. It’s nicely shot too; the tunnels harbour a relentless claustrophobia as torchlight beams struggle to penetrate the soot. In direct contrast, the survival chamber in which they bide their time waiting to be rescued has a sterile spaceship-like vibe – bright white and overly lit, it’s a startling shift in tone, yet one that enhances the tension nicely. The film does sag a little at the halfway point as underground exploration becomes a wee bit meandering, but with an ever decreasing oxygen supply, the pace soon regains its momentum.