Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Oh good, another war-themed zombie movie. I can sense the universal rolling-of-eyes as I type this, but hold your horses there, Freddie Hutton-Mills and Bart Ruspoli’s WORLD WAR DEAD shows more life than many of its undead counterparts. I spoke to Bart this week, and he told me how the film came to being; “We were approached by Anchor Bay at the Berlin Film Festival last year. They were after a World War One themed zombie film and wanted to hear a few ideas”. While Nazi-themed fare has been done to death of late, The Great War seemed overlooked, at least since Michael J. Bassett’s excellent Deathwatch. The problem for the directors though, was always going to be injecting some ingenuity into it. “Where do you go with the zombie film when you have The Walking Dead on TV?” Ruspoli tells me. “We came up with the multiple format idea. We used an Arri Alexa for the main camera, a Red Epic with some different lenses and eventually a Go Pro as well”.
Irrespective of any cynicism, you have to hand it to Hutton-Mills and Ruspoli for at least attempting to re-invent the wheel. Their film centres around a documentary team led by filmmaker Marcus Singh (Ray Panthanki) and Emma Washington (Wendy Glenn), who have travelled to the site of The Battle of the Somme to film what they hope to be a TV smash hit. What they unearth, however, is far worse than they could have imagined.
Keep it simple. I sound like a stuck record, but this year in particular has seemed to see a wealth of low budget filmmakers with ideas above their station, attempting – and failing – to create something that their respective funding just can’t support. World War Dead doesn’t reach the heights of films like Outpost, but, in keeping their ambitions achievable, they’ve produced something worth seeking out. The first third is where it finds most success, establishing some great characters – most notably tweedy professor Brian (Robert Bladen) – and taking its time familiarising us with them. There’s some nice shots too; a mist-laden forest, a lone helmet propped up in the middle of nowhere, and the interiors of Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker, all working to offer that bit of quality. The film’s descent into a rather generic stalk n’slash orientated final third is one area that disappoints, but in general this is one zombie flick that converts your initial groan of reluctance into a harrumph of re-evaluation.
‘From the director of Friday 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ boasts the cover, but before we get all misty-eyed at the prospect of a Sean S. Cunningham / Tobe Hooper collaboration, we’re brought crashing down to earth with the realisation that it’s a Marcus Nispel project. Aside from shooting the video for Faith No More’s A Small Victory single, a chunk of his career was spent under the wing of Michael Bay, dishing out remakes of the aforementioned Cunningham and Hooper films before delivering a further ‘re-imagination’ with Robert E. Howard’s character of Conan.
For THE ASYLUM, his first original work, he goes for the staggeringly unoriginal ‘six teens yada yada yada’ concept. Here, our ubiquitous half dozen are hosting the sex and drug-fuelled party of a lifetime in an old, abandoned asylum, ignoring rumours that this once brutal and controversial home for the criminally insane still houses the spirits of its tormented victims. After a series of increasingly daring games, they raise the stakes and attempt to summon the spirits that haunt the building. However, they soon find themselves fighting for their lives as a vengeful spirit infiltrates the room, wreaking havoc as it moves from one body to the next.
IT’S JUST SO LOUD. Holy cow, it made me retreat to my bedroom to curl up in the foetal position for an hour just to relieve myself of its incessant noise. By working in Bay’s shadow, it seems that Nispel has acquired his sledgehammer mentality, with almost everything shot without subtlety or grace. Along with this is that relentless, dizzying fast cutting, coupled with a camera that never holds its position; it should come with a warning for motion sickness sufferers. As well as the style, the substance is severely flawed too. The teenagers featured are the epitome of generic, while the narrative contains the usual face-palm inducing moment s of them ‘accidentally’ releasing a spirit, while Googling a solution; “I’ve found a DIY exorcism website. Let’s just do it!”. Eric Treml’s nicely lit cinematography offers something positive, with effective use of shadows amidst the daylight to craft a look such dross doesn’t deserve, but such finesse won’t prevent it from being one of the worst of the year.
101 Films, what am I going to do with you, you cheeky rapscallion! Purveyors of superlative independent horror films these last few years, a seismic 2015 shaped brain-fart led them to purchase such stinkers as Exorcism and Silverhide, while their new line of Cult Movie Collection Blu-ray’s have all be Krekel-ed and are referred to by one visitor to 101’s Facebook page as a “DNR massacre”. So, as I handed my dwindling, yet hard-earned disposable income over to purchase their newbie, the fact that it began life as Hansel & Gretel Get Baked didn’t exactly fill me with the same level of excitement as Banshee Chapter or All Hallow’s Eve.
With a title change to the somewhat less off-putting GRIMM TALES, we learn about a new drug called ‘Black Forest’; the sensation it induces is unique and potent and it’s supplied by a harmless old lady called Agnes (Lara Flynn Boyle) who grows it in her basement. Behind Agnes’ kind façade though, is the dark secret that she’s an evil and twisted Black Witch, desperate to regain her long lost beauty by any means possible. Her new drug holds the key top that, and by casting spells over hapless teenagers, she intends on extracting their souls to reverse the aging process.
Hmm… this weed-based horror-comedy with a hash-centric Urban-tinged opening number certainly had a familiar feel to it. With its goofy first few scenes it does seem a little like the bastard child of Charles Band, amidst the repetitive utterance of “Dude!”. Grimm Tales is one of those films you walk away from thinking that it had no right to be as enjoyable as it was. Less of a comedy and way more of a horror, it benefits from regular journey’s into gore-soaked madness, offering some nicely gruesome set-pieces. The story injects enough of the original Grimm fairytale to warrant the use of the Hansel and Gretel characters, and its pot theme surprisingly fits pretty well alongside it. At the helm is Duane Journey who cut his teeth as a key grip on such awesomeness as Waxwork, I Madman, Necronomicon and Leprechaun 3. He has a good casting eye too with appearances from Carly Elwes, Lochlyn Munro and Yancy Butler – whose excellent nineties psycho ex-wife flick The Ex is maddeningly still only available on VHS. It’s Lara Flynn Boyle though who stands out here as the mad witch, and despite an appearance which may raise a few eyebrows – or struggle to as the case may be – she’s a big part of this assemblage that makes Grimm Tales a surprisingly gratifying purchase.