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

Regular readers will know by my alluding to it mercilessly, that I have a video store. Within which, one of my favourite sections is undoubtedly the ‘hide the sharp knives’ shelf of doom, wherein lies a cornucopia of depressing fare such as Requiem for a Dream, The Road and Blue Valentine. I’m sensing a level of unease amongst you with regard to such morose subject matter. Do we not feel that such bleakness offers a unifying fist pump in the direction of saccharine–laden, happy ending, studio fluff? Hollywood could give the Holocaust a happy ending, so I really enjoy seeing independent filmmakers go balls to the wall in crafting unrelenting melancholia.

AFTERMATH certainly warrants extending this collection by one! When a hush descends across the remnants of the United States following a brutal nuclear war, a young doctor named Hunter (CJ Thomason) finds himself trapped with a group on nine strangers in a farmhouse cellar in rural Texas. Frightened and unaware of what is happening around them, they attempt to endure the aftermath of a devastating holocaust. With hope continuing to fade, Hunter and his companions can only wait for news while fending off hunger, radiation sickness, and a horde of frighteningly savage and violent refugees.

With mournful opening credits leading to a barren Midwestern landscape drained of all colour, the tone is set early on for this endurance test of sheer desperation. Admirably, it seeks to make no concessions towards the audience; an aspect that it should be proud of. Day one alone utilises a third of the running time of the picture, and although the days begin to gather pace eventually, it’s a method which draws maximum empathy. A cast of recognisable faces fit perfectly, with Thomason at the helm, ably supported by Edward Furlong, Monica Keena and Andre Royo (The Wire), whose appearance days into the crisis complicates the dynamic drastically, with his morbid tales of the destruction outside. Bereft of any humour, I’m tempted to place Aftermath in the bracket of the great BBC production Threads (1984), but naturally it comes nowhere near the greatness of such a work. It is though worthy of a mention in the same sentence, simply because such apocalyptic scenarios are rarely portrayed with such stark desolation.

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Equity crowdfunding, not a term we’re exactly au fait with in the dust-laden lower reaches of the video store; it’s a process whereby people invest into an unlisted company in exchange for shares. It’s something director John Shackleton is now fully versed in following a few less than successful ventures into crowdfunding. As he wrote on Directors UK, “I don’t think in all honesty that we were fully prepared for the amount of sheer effort and energy that a crowdfunding campaign demands”. Barely managing a third of his projected total, it was a valuable lesson learned, so when THE SLEEPING ROOM was in the can, a campaign on Seedrs – the aforementioned equity based platform – saw them smash a ten thousand pound target, and hit twenty-five thousand pounds to cope with post-production costs.

But what of the project itself? Shot in Brighton, the story revolves around nineteen year-old call girl Blue (Leila Mimmack)who is sent to meet a new punter in Brighton, unaware of the horrifying impact this rendezvous will have on her life. As she begins to fall for the charms of client Bill (Joseph Beattie), she becomes intrigued by the grand Regency  house that he’s renovating – a once infamous Victorian brothel. Together they uncover a secret room that harbours a shocking history of events relating to Blue’s murky family past.

‘One of the most acclaimed British horror films of recent years’, boasts Second Sight’s blurb on the back cover of the DVD. That may well be true, but is it one of the BEST British horror films of recent years? The answer to that is a categorical no, though that’s not to say there’s no merit to it. Director John Shackleton had some success with the relatively well received Panic Button a couple of years back, and with Alex Chandon (Inbred, Cradle of Fear) co-scripting there’s some experienced hands on deck. The casting is a great success with Mimmack strong in her role of Blue, while David Sibley as her pimp Freddie gives a menacingly intimidating performance, and the town of Brighton really fits the vibe of the picture.

Plausibility is my issue with the film which pulls it from the heights of unabashed acclaim; Blue, for example, has to be the most wholesome hooker imaginable, while her client, Bill, is similarly clean cut, which means this seemingly debauched couple have the misguided air of a middle class couple on a first date. The script sticks a bit too with key moments of exposition delivered in a muddled and cluttered way, which at time left me feeling a bit bewildered as to what was going on. The Sleeping Room IS a good film, with many good attributes that keep its head well above water on the choppy sea of mediocrity, but it fails to earn a place in the pantheon of GREAT British horror.

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An experienced cast and crew gives you hope for THE HAUNTING OF RADCLIFFE HOUSE aka ALTAR, but the film sadly struggles to get out of second gear. Director Nick Willing is at the helm, a man who seems to have had a torrid time getting his work released in his native country. Photographing Fairies (1997) and Close Your Eyes (2002) are both excellent films, but their lack of availability in the UK is criminal. Indeed, it seems this films path to the marketplace saw it play on (free to air) Channel 5 just after Christmas – thanks to MJ Simpson for highlighting that, before debuting on DVD this week. For its American release the filmmakers took the unusual step of launching a Kickstarter campaign to ‘place Altar in the best possible venues to reach the most devoted horror fans’.

Alec Hamilton (Matthew Modine) and his wife Meg (Olivia Williams) have moved with their children to the desolated Radcliffe House in the depths of the Yorkshire Moors. The discovery of a secret attic room, a Rosicrucian mosaic, a bricked up root cellar and some unexplainable events lead the family to believe that something quite sinister is at play in this grand old house.

Another spin on the classic English haunted house ghost story, The Haunting of Radcliffe House finds itself up against tough competition following such superb releases as Mark Ezra’s House Swap, Adam Wimpenny’s Blackwood, and Andrew Spencer’s The Casebook of Eddie Brewer. It’s hard to dislike anything with a backdrop as lush at the Moors, but a lack of atmosphere and a predilection towards contrivance – “this room doesn’t seem to be on any of the plans” – see it get frequently bogged down. Two strong leads, particularly Williams, do their best to give the project some class, but it’s hard not to get distracted by Modine doing a relentless Jack Torrance impersonation that just appears more ham-fisted as the film drags on.

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