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

As they did with Unhallowed Ground a few weeks back, Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment once again release another title with ridiculous artwork that bears no resemblance to the events that occur within. On the plus side, by doing so, it lowered my expectations to such a degree that when it came time to watch John K.D. Graham’s HOME SWEET HOME, it was a welcome surprise to see just how decent this low budget DTV flick was.

Gwen Stevens (Alexandra Boylan, wife of the director) has just been evicted. With little in the way of options, she moves back to her parent’s house, now vacant, in a sparsely populated part of Albuquerque. Before she can settle in to her new abode, it transpires that the familial home has been used as a dwelling for some local crooks – Van (Chris Dempsey) and Kristi (Raquel Cantu) – who are both very reluctant to vacate their new found abode. Gwen, alone and far away from any help, must now fight to stay alive, as the threat from the two squatters becomes more and more deadly.

Graham, with his impressive C.V as a lighting technician and electrician on films such as True Grit and The Avengers, certainly draws upon his experience behind the camera to craft a visually pleasing film here, despite obvious budget restrictions. The New Mexico landscape is shot with a lush vibrancy, while the canny usage of his own parents’ house is a good fit for the film; such a vast an open space, it seems initially at odds with the usual claustrophobia of films of this ilk, but as the film progresses Graham proves he’s clever enough to use this to his advantage.

As with Echoes last week, if you pick an original place to shoot your movie, and have a degree of technical experience behind the camera, then these factors will almost always combine to elevate any bottom-shelfer out of the quagmire of mediocrity. Home Sweet Home is by no means a classic, but it is a remarkably well executed slice of DTV fare, and a tense and engaging seventy-five minutes of your life.

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This weeks’ other Junkyard entry fares slightly less favourably, and although it’s far from the disaster of the reprehensible Haunting at Cypress Creek from the last edition, it should undoubtedly filed under lost opportunity. AGE OF THE DEAD has evolved from the intriguing union of persistent schlock merchant Uwe Boll, and Italian producer / director Luca Boni, whose work you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever seen the passable Eaters or the decidedly second-rate Apocalypse Z. Both of these guys have producer roles here, while megaphone duties have fallen to Francesco Picone. It’s his first feature, and one in which he chooses to expand his well-received short film from 2013, Anger of the Dead.

After a rabid virus has led to a near apocalypse of humankind, three survivors battle the encroaching zombie hordes to find safety on an unaffected island. But Alice (Roberta Sparta), a pregnant survivor and her two fellow travellers soon discover that the zombies are not the only thing threatening their survival when a dangerous man appears, on the hunt for a mysterious girl. Not knowing who to trust, the three must pick their battles wisely if they are ever to make it to safety.

When Boni spoke to DeviDead.com around the release of his first movie, he expressed a degree of disdain towards the zombie heritage of his native country; “We prefer to look ahead. In our opinion one of the reasons for the decay of our genre cinema is that too many Italian directors take too much from the seventies and eighties. We prefer to follow the rules of American zombie movies. We love these and European zombie movies more than Italian ones”.

Pardon me while I straighten my rose-tinted glasses, but while I understand the desire to embrace a more cosmopolitan style, I just see this more as a rejection of people like Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, and to a degree Bruno Mattei, in favour of a bland, generic endorsement of wanting to replicate The Walking Dead. I’m not saying that because they’re Italian filmmakers they’re automatically duty-bound to tip their hats to the greats, I’m just voicing the opinion that this aspiration to be bland just confounds me.

Despite the director’s chair being handed over to Picone, little changes between any of the Boni-produced zombie films, although having said that, Age of the Dead undoubtedly succeeds with a well-written female lead in Alice. Her plight during the opening third is the best part of the film, but then it’s descent into plodding dreariness takes it down a route from which it never returns. Couple this with the make-up design of the undead, which I just couldn’t embrace at all, and it makes for another largely forgettable direct to video zombie flick.

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