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

I really enjoyed Jon Knautz’ first two feature films; Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer was simply all kinds of fun, a throwback to a different era of horror movies where comedy could be seamlessly integrated into the mix. As TV Guide said at the time, “a tongue-in-cheek homage to the kind of genre movies Charles Band and Roger Corman’s companies turned out in the 1980s”. He followed that with The Shrine, which debuted in the UK through Arrow in early 2012, and though it lacked the pizazz of Jack Brooks, it managed to stand out from the glut of bottom shelf fodder with its style and originality.

Knautz’ latest sees him share the directors’ chair with his friend Trevor Matthews, who co-wrote and starred as Jack Brooks, while he also penned The Shrine alongside his buddy. Speaking to Jerry Smith over at Icons of Fright earlier this year, Matthews explained that when he heard the pitch, he instantly thought it was a great concept; “This idea of threat of identity in the internet today and the world of pornography, I had never seen it explored in the horror genre like this before”. I guess Matthews is right, as the theory of GIRL HOUSE is certainly an intriguing one, although for me it fell rather short of its potential.

Kylie Atkins (Ali Cobrin) is a beautiful young student with cover girl looks, and a desperate need for money to pay her expensive college tuition fees. Convincing herself that live webcam porn may be the answer to her financial problems, Kylie is recruited to join Girl House, a live web-feed broadcasting the salacious antics of a group of sultry young women living in a secluded, and highly-guarded, wooden mansion. Before she can get comfy in her new job though, she attracts the attention of a customer who goes under the name ‘Loverboy’ (Slaine). At first, he’s friendly, if a little overbearing, although his obsession with Kylie is about to spiral into something malevolent.

“I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence just like me. And without exception, without question, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography.“ An ominous Ted Bundy quote if ever there was one. It pulls us into GirlHouse with a degree of intrigue and promise, and swiftly follows it with an awesome flashback set in Alabama in 1988, which succeeds in creating a brutally efficient revenge sequence that will have you wincing in sympathy. Despite a beginning laced with potential, GirlHouse sadly ventures down the well-worn path of a generic stalk n’slash yawn-fest.

From its initial intimation at descending into the dark underbelly at our obsession with pornography, to see a stocky guy in a mask wandering round a mansion, utilising a variety of implements to butcher people, feels like a wasted opportunity. The link between the opening Bundy quote and Loverboy’s actions are tenuous at best, and while the pre-credits sequence is the undoubted highlight of the movie, it does little to explain just why this big-boned individual is so disturbed. Buried in a plethora of computers in his basement, alongside a mannequin he seems very affectionate towards, with picture postcards from around the world adorning the wall – his face superimposed on them all, as well as his special lady – he’s a total caricature, lacking in depth and far-removed from eliciting any empathy from the audience.

GirlHouse really seems to lose sight of the direction it started off in. Knautz and Matthews collaborations have shown that predictability is not in their remit, so this entry onto their resume is a frustrating misstep, but hopefully it’s a one-off as they simply have too much ability to wander down this cul-de-sac again.

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I must admit when I read Matt Lofgren’s bio on his WordPress site I was a little bewildered. He wrote about deciding to give up his day job in the plastic industry – at the age of fifty no less – with the intention of “producing ‘good’ Christian and family friendly films”. So, I look at DVD case in my hand, read that sentence once more, then look back at the case; GHOST BOAT, with its eighteen certificate and blood-dripping skull adorning the case, doesn’t exactly seem like Left Behind 4. In saying that however, nor does it seem anything like the somewhat misleading cover art. Touted by British distributor Lightning Pictures as a gore-soaked DTV horror flick, it comes across more like a woman’s redemptive journey to confront her past.

Samantha (Jennifer Stuckert) is introduced to us in Jackson Psychiatric Hospital, where she’s being detained for the suspected murder of her parents and sister. Yet to be tried, she’s evaluated by Dr. Hollister (Kari Wishingrad), who deems her fit to stand trial for first degree murder in what’s being touted by the media as the trial of the year. When the jury pass their decision of not guilty, we skip forward five years to discover that Samantha seems pretty content with her life, as she invites friends on board her family yacht to share a day of conviviality. All is going well until one of her friends is taken ill after a fall; with two of the guests utilising a dinghy and rushing her shore for medical attention, it leaves only Samantha and her former beau Mark (Brian Rife) on board, when a seemingly insignificant incident leads to a psychological nightmare.

Forgive me, but after writing the above synopsis, I seem to have made the film sound incalculably more interesting than it happens to be. With ham-fisted exposition, clumsy flashbacks and lingering shots of things that we should pay attention to, it’s not the most subtle of debut features. It’s far from the worst film to grace the pages of DTV Junkyard this year, but sold as a horror film, it’s really anything but. Then again, Ghost Boat struggles to carve an identity for itself, instead drifting – pun intended – in a sea of indecision. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what Lofgren intends us to take away from his film, aside from the need for a sharp expresso to revitalise those eyelids. File this one under total confounded bemusement.

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