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

FEARnet, the American digital cable television network, probably won’t signal a light bulb of recognition for the majority of our UK readers, but this horror-themed venture which enjoyed an eight year lifespan between 2006 and 2014 did come up with the goods on several occasions. Perhaps the most notable was Adam Green’s Holliston, an original series that successfully blended horror, comedy and a dash of romance into twenty-one episodes of briskly paced perfection.

Another original is Tom Holland’s TWISTED TALES, a web series that appeared on FEARnet during late 2013, which hits UK DVD this week courtesy of Bulldog Distribution. Holland of course needs little introduction – although I’ll give him one anyway, being the director of such wondrous fare as Fright Night and Child’s Play, and also Stephen King’s Thinner – an underrated creep-fest if ever there was one. He originally envisioned Twisted Tales as a thirteen episode series, but had to cut four due to budgetary and time constraints. The remaining nine, which range from eight minutes to thirty five are therefore all present here on this one hundred and forty-two minute DVD.

Most anthologies have to contend with a variety of creative forces, often resulting in wildly uneven results. Here, with Holland on both scripting and directing duty, I was expecting a little more consistency in both tone and quality; consistent is right, albeit consistently average. Although there’s little here that should be avoided, there’s also precious few tales that really capture the imagination; this is after all the guy who wrote Class of 1984, The Beast Within and Psycho II.

Matters aren’t helped by a mediocre beginning, with AJ Bowen featuring in the instantly forgettable Fred and his GPS; an eight minute car-based slice of mediocrity. It picks up in To Hell with You, thanks largely to the presence of the excellent Danielle Harris and William Forsythe, but by the time we see Ray Wise in Mongo’s Magic Mirror, this schizophrenic portmanteau has taken another dip. Bite with Brianne Howey picks it back up, as does Shockwave with Angela Bettis and Holland’s son, Josh. Pizza Guy outstays its welcome, while the final segment, Vampire’s Dance, is the worst of the bunch. As individual webisodes, they may well stand a little better; compiled into one anthology however it simply struggles to work. At just shy of two and a half hours, and marketed as one feature, it will test the patience of most that watch it. With a little condensing, and some stripping of the weaker segments it would be a far more recommendable proposition; as it stands though it’s for Holland completists only, for the sole purpose of keeping your copy of The Temp company.

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In last week’s review of Mockingbird I happened to mention the strange lack of enthusiasm for a couple of films that producer Jason Blum had made over at Universal. Mockingbird, for example, had sat on the shelf since mid-2012, and it’s a similar tale for MERCY; first announced in October 2012, it was shot only a couple of months after that. Here we are though, almost two and a half years later, and Mercy is only just shuffling onto DVD.

For those who don’t know, this is of course an adaptation of the Stephen King short story Gramma, which was first published in Weirdbook Magazine in 1984, before going on to find a place in his 1985 collection Skeleton Crew. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time it’s been adapted for the screen either; that was done by the great Harlan Ellison for season one of the Twilight Zone reboot which aired in 1986. The story is simple, two mischievous young brothers – George (Chandler Riggs) and Buddy (Joel Courtney) – accompany their single mother (Frances O’Connor), to take care of their grandmother (Shirley Knight), in her remote and lonely house. What begins as an innocent gesture, leads to the discovery of terrifying secrets about Gramma’s true nature.

If you’re a King fan, and intend on rushing out to pick up this newest adaptation of his work, then hold your horses. The original short story was played out largely by George himself, left alone in his Gramma’s house while his mother went off to tend to his brother Buddy, who had just been injured playing sports. The bulk of Mercy is a newly crafted backstory, and much of what King crafted is left alone until the fifty minute mark. Even then, what happens during the final twenty minutes of the film (yes, it’s seventy minutes minus credits) only vaguely resembles King’s chilling tale of Lovecraftian fantasy.

To remove the King aspect altogether, and to just judge it purely on its worth as a contemporary horror, then it’s a drearily formulaic film. Screenwriter Matt Greenberg is no slouch either, having delivered a fine screenplay for another King adaptation 1408, as well as Halloween: H20 and William Malone’s excellent episode of Masters of Horror – Fair Haired Girl. The same could be said too for director Peter Cornwell, who shot the box-office favourite The Haunting in Connecticut. Together though, they fall short, and Jason Blum’s production slate of top-end horror films shows signs of stuttering, with Mercy being added to the mediocrity of Mockingbird, Ouija, Jessabelle and Area 51.

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