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

As I’m sure you all do – in fact it may be the very reason you’re reading this – whenever you ponder over picking up a horror movie, you gauge the general consensus over at the IMDb external reviews page. With everyone who has the ability to punch a keyboard in a relatively coherent way, there’s the opportunity to get your opinion heard, or at least get it to exist. There is always though, a group of sites who demand that first click, whose opinion you trust for being independent, and free from the predatory influence of film companies who expect a certain grade for supplying a screener. For me – after Zombie Hamster of course – it’s Dread Central. Resolutely independent, and with a relatively consistent gang of writers, in my pre-writing days it gave me everything I wanted from a horror site.

This year sees a big step in the life of the site, with their first Dread Central Presents title – ZOMBIEWORLD. As Steve Barton aka Uncle Creepy, DC’s editor, explained a few months back, “we get sent a lot of indie flicks, especially short films. Some of them have blown us away, and it was a crying shame that hardly anyone would ever get to see these little gems”. He’s right, there are oodles of these critters. They may make a fleeting appearance at a film festival, or crop up (rarely) on a streaming site, but with regard to home entertainment, there’s precious few avenues for them to thrive. Having said that, props to Monster Pictures who a few years back released the awesome Ultimate Zombie Feast; sixteen short films with a running time of over five hours.

Zombieworld consists of ONLY pre-existing shorts, so there’s none of this ABCs of Death scenario where they’ve been made specifically for this venture. As Barton himself admits, it is a wildly uneven finished product, with features crossing continents, styles, and competency. One aspect which acts as the glue that holds it together is the weaving in of Bill Oberst to proceedings. Obserst plays the wonderfully Partridge-esque Marvin Gloatt, a news anchor reporting on a worldwide zombie pandemic, who introduces each short as a news report coming from across the globe. Tenuous? Perhaps, but cast a little cynicism aside and you’ll find it works brilliantly; it’s like an apocalyptic version of The Onion News Network.

I thought all of the shorts here were deserving of praise, but some naturally stand out. Adrian Cardona’s Fist of Jesus manages to harness Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste era for a blood-drenched ass-kicking time with our Lord and saviour. Meanwhile, Cameron McCulloch’s Home is the complete antithesis of such brashness, and comes across as subtle and also a little poignant. Such diversity highlights the idiosyncratic jigsaw of carnage at play in Zombieworld, and I think it works quite superbly.

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Would The Strangers make a list of the best twenty horror films in the last ten years? Not for me, but considering its weighty box office tally, along with its status as a perennial renter, its managed to carve out a place in the mainstream psyche at least, that would see it rank among many a person’s favourites. Success may have translated into dollars, but for Bryan Bertino, the writer-director, it just seemed to signal years of development hell in trying to make his follow up feature. The film in question, MOCKINGBIRD, wrapped in May 2012, but seems to have been a victim of producer Jason Blum’s fractious relationship with Universal. Blum has certainly had massive success with films like Paranormal Activity, Insidious and The Purge, but lately with titles like Not Safe for Work creeping out largely unnoticed, as well as delays for Peter Cornwell’s Mercy(reviewed here next week) too, something seems a little off.

Perhaps Universal’s hesitancy is justified. After watching Mockingbird you can’t help but feel a little short changed. In the film, three individuals each receive an anonymous, unmarked video camera and a horrific ultimatum to continue filming or die. I should emphasise the word ‘video’ there, as it really IS a video camera, for this is 1995. No, I don’t know either. It doesn’t seem to bear any specific relevance of any kind, nor does it appear to be crucial to the narrative. It just is. What makes the mediocrity of Mockingbird more frustrating, is the early signs of ingenuity fall so short. The first third of the movie really hooks you in as the cameras are distributed; Barak Hardley as Leonard is the stand out with his impish excitement over having to wear a clown suit. But the longer the film goes on, the more you come to realise it’s treading water; highlighted by an ending that elicits an audible “WTF?” moment, and makes you think of a far superior French horror that ended rather similarly.

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…and finally, speaking of endings that tip their hat towards other films, HUNTING SEASON certainly has a nod towards an iconic seventies picture that will remain nameless for fear of spoilers. A quick glance at the artwork for Abe Levy and Silver Tree’s film conjures a preconceived notion of backwoods stalk and shoot. In actual fact, this film is a lush portrait of small town Americana that’s both thoughtful and sensitive. Formerly known as Deep Dark Canyon, Nate (Spencer Treat Clark) and Skylar (Nick Eversman) are the sons of local sheriff Bloom Towne (Ted Levine), who accidentally cause the death of the town Mayor in a hunting accident. The Mayor’s wealthy family – the Cavanaugh’s – are hell bent on revenge and determined to use their influence to get a murder one conviction. In desperation, the boys go on the run, out into the unforgiving wilderness.

Ted Levine! One of those “Argh, I know that guy – what was he in?” type people, who seems to have been around forever in films like The Silence of the Lambs and Heat, not to mention the chilling voice of Rusty Nail in Joy Ride aka Roadkill. He’s a great actor, and here he gets to show it in a really impressive little indie that comes to the UK courtesy of Safecracker Pictures. With a supporting cast that includes Michael Bowen and Matthew Lillard, there’s a gripping narrative here that holds a lot of trump cards, not to mention shades of The Defiant Ones with the two brothers handcuffed together for much of the film. It’ll sink in the UK sadly, despite some good promo from Safecracker, and that’s a shame as it’s a really recommendable film. I do prefer the original title and artwork though!

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