Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Another week, another Andrew Jones film – but get used to it people, because before the end of the August we’ll see another two shoehorned in to the barely coherent ramblings of DTV Junkyard. I took a look at Haunting at the Rectory a couple of weeks ago, and in a typical two-fingered salute to the masses, I actually liked it. I’m used to Jones’ style now, and I’ve seen him grow as a filmmaker over the course of half a dozen features into an efficient, well-oiled auteur, capable of turning in a very neat micro-budget slice of the macabre, after barely a week long shoot.
Needless to say I’m in the minority! While Jones’ distribution deal with 4Digitial guarantees a very good return on investment, it also means that his titles get picked up by folk like supermarket shoppers who are prone to purchases based on cover artwork alone; people whose wrath he incurs as soon as they get home and slip the disc into their player. When I spoke to Jones a few weeks back, he seemed pretty resigned to any criticism, saying that “It seems to be par for the course for independent filmmakers. Anyone who has had a low budget genre film released into the marketplace has experienced negative message board comments or user reviews”.
That may be the case, but then such negativity ordinarily tends to dovetail in with the positivity; an aspect that seems to rarely grace the comments section of an Andrew Jones film. I’ve been watching them stack up on Amazon since I saw A Haunting at the Rectory; ten reviews, all of one star. Granted, based on the appearance of some of them, they’re not the thoughts of a conclave of Mark Kermode clones – “Rubbish. More like a pawn (sic) film”, was the clinical insight of one. “Have only watched 15 mins”, was the measured and fully informed opinion of another. I even got a tweet from a ZH reader who stated “worst film I’ve ever seen”, to which my first thought would be that you’ve obviously not seen very many films.
Why do I care? I shouldn’t really. I don’t know Andrew Jones, I’ve never met him, and as he said a few weeks back via email, he really doesn’t care what people say about his work. All he wants is for each film to sell a certain number of units to facilitate the production of his next feature. I think the reason it bugs me, is these films are actually pretty good. If they were trash, then fine, I’d join the queue to assemble in front of the stocks and throw rotten apples at this canon of low budget horror. I just have an issue with this universal condemnation of someone working independently, creating a production line of unique micro-budget genre films. It’s ignorance based on ridiculously high expectations for highly polished multi-million dollar generic trash.
Rant over, and let’s take a look at POLTERGEIST ACTIVITY! With an opening shot that looks over the lush views from the A487 as you approach Aberaeron, you know from the get-go you’re in Jones territory with his frequent utilisation of South and West Wales locations. Here, we meet David Prescott (Lee Bane), who along with his teenage daughter Katherine (Natalie Martins) move into a secluded farmhouse in the hope of making a fresh start. After a bewildering introduction to their neighbour, Mrs. Blankenship (Judith Haley), it’s obvious that the house contains some ghostly secrets, and soon enough events begin to occur that set about making the lives of the new occupants a living hell.
So a few weeks ago I tell Jones he’s like a Welsh Charles Band, and his new film then goes and has a murderous doll in it! Poltergeist Activity once more shows evidence of Jones’ growing confidence behind the camera, and comes across as a nicely plotted, and well-paced spook-fest. The title conjures up an expectation of tiresome found footage, but there’s none of that, as it’s a well-shot little horror. For the most part it’s actually a two-hander between Bane and Martins, but aside from a slightly overlong monologue from Bane, it rarely drags. That may be down to the running time; pitched as eighty-four minutes on the cover, it’s actually only eighty, albeit ten of those are taken up by a Band-esque slow-crawl of an end credits sequence!
This may be Jones’ best script to date too, as far from being a shallow exercise in ghostly goings-on, there’s some really well written parts of the narrative that look at the effects of grief, and how they can damage relationships within the family unit. A welcome bonus in Poltergeist Activity is the appearance of Jones regular Jared Morgan who you may also remember from the John Eyres eighties schlocker Lucifer. He’s a great actor, and his experience certainly nudges the film up a notch – not that it needed it, as it’s a decent home-grown picture with an original story that belies that generic impression of its ten a penny sleeve.
Shot in Montenegro and Serbia, Milan Todorovic’s film has gone from the intriguing Mamula, to the delicately subtle Nymph, to the “argh, screw it” KILLER MERMAIDS. Beginning with a soundtrack that sounds like it’s been culled from a sweaty heap of Eurovision rejects, we get fed some tourist brochure style vistas of this agreeable Balkan region, before being exposed to some unexpected high quality gore with an anchor piercing the neck of a young nymphet. Not the opening you’d expect from a title that you’d put money on being a yawn-inducing SyFy channel clone.
We find that Kelly (Kristina Klebe) and Lucy (Natalie Burn) are in this region to visit an old friend. While there, they decide to explore an abandoned military fortress located on a remote island – that’s just on everyone’s ‘to do’ list isn’t it! As the summer sun quickly sets, the dark mystery of the night envelopes the girls as they realise they’re not alone. There are secrets which must be protected; secrets which lay in the evil darkness, hidden beneath the island.
Franco Nero is in this, do you need to read any further? Indeed, the original Django (he’s actually filming a new Django right now too) is here as a somewhat sinister fisherman who elicits the cheese-tastic line from one of the girls – “I bet you he knows what you did last summer”. He plays a fairly prominent role too, which puts the kibosh on the assertion that it would be a fleeting cameo. Killer Mermaids does sag a little in the final third as the perpetrator staggers around, hook in hand, but considering it’s ridiculous hokum that’s likely to have been eradicated from your memory by the time you’ve ejected it from your player, you could do far worse than take a punt at a rental.