Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
There’s something exciting about feasting your eyes over a virginal IMDb page, untouched by public or critical opinion. As I sat researching THE HAUNTING OF ELLIE ROSE I got that wide-eyed buzz of enthusiasm at the thought of stumbling across something overlooked and buried beneath the over-exposed and over-hyped glut of October fare. Well, I could dream I suppose.
Torn by years in an abusive marriage, an emotional Ellie Rose (Lucy Benjamin) arrives alone at the family cabin, somewhere along the Eastern American coastline. Plagued by her childhood and nightmares of her murdered family, Ellie anxiously prepares for an unwelcome visitor. Before long her nightmares turn real, and those horrors that stalk her mind transform into the reality of everyday life.
As I mentioned last week, there is a degree of selective purchasing when it comes to DTV Junkyard, but I must emphasise that every British film gets a free pass into this column. I know the vast majority of our readership is American based, but I like to use this as an opportunity to shout about some of the amazing home-grown horrors that we have over here. Sadly, The Haunting of Ellie Rose is not one of them.
As I gesticulating wildly from my sofa at 2am this morning, I was ready to launch into a tirade of condemnation at the variety of issue I found with this film. However, after speaking to the esteemed author MJ Simpson a few hours ago, it seems that there’s more than meets the eye with this release. On paper, it all seems so good. In the director’s chair we have Tristan Versluis; a guy with an impressive resume of make-up work, ranging from Ex Machina to Game of Thrones to Hot Fuzz, while in front of the camera there’s a healthy portion of small screen talent in Lucy Benjamin, Bill Ward and Alexandra Moen.
Shot way back in 2009, MJ tells me that it was originally filmed as Not Alone before a disagreement with the producers occurred, and it was retitled to Ellie Rose and then the wearily generic The Haunting of Ellie Rose. As he sensibly pointed out as well, the cut of the film that hit retailers this week may not be the version that the director intended, but as he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to speak to Tris, this is as yet unconfirmed. One things for sure, I really hope it isn’t.
During a first half an hour that features barely any dialogue, we sit stone-faced though Ellie’s journey out to the East Coast and her reacquaintance with the cabin. It’s a stupefyingly uninteresting introduction to the film that does little to create any empathy with a character who has obviously endured such a torrid past. Weaved into the picture are moments of artistic posturing that seem misjudged and out of place; it seems like desperate attempt to inject the artistry of Jodorowsky or Tarkovsky into a DTV title, but it falls way short. The introduction of flashbacks as the film enters its second half, go some way towards clarifying a muddled narrative, but it’s a very hard slog indeed. I should also mention my bemusement at the insistence of filming in the UK with British actors yet setting it in fifties America; granted, not the biggest crime against cinema, but it just added to my long list of things that detracted from the viewing experience.
Speaking of UK shot films with an American setting, we have another one this week! BLOOD MOON is a Colorado-set werewolf-infused western…. shot in Kent. You’re eyeballs are currently in the midst of rolling too, right? Well, don’t be too cynical here. After killing a bank teller in cold blood, two notorious outlaws (Corey Johnson and Raffaello Degruttola) take a stagecoach full of passenger’s hostage in a bid to aid their getaway. Little do they realise that amongst the passengers is enigmatic gunslinger Calhoun (Shaun Dooley). However, it soon becomes apparent that a bigger menace lurks in waiting; one to be feared by civilian and outlaw alike, a beast that only appears on the night of a blood red moon.
Credit has to go to the creators of Blood Moon for delivering something ambitious and a little different from the usual array of haunting-orientated fodder. I’m a sucker for a good werewolf film, and after the superb Late Phases: Night of the Wolf this year, my thirst has been well and truly quenched for now, which is why I’m not too disappointed that Jeremy Woodling’s film is only average at best. There’s a lot to like about it, with its technical proficiency being one; it’s really well shot and its lit with a delightful degree of ability and style. Wardrobe should be credited too, and despite being in the middle of Kent, there’s little to complain about with regard to the accents. It does have a sluggish pace though, which struggles to engage you in that all important first reel, while the werewolf action – though good – isn’t the core of the film, which I feel is what most people will be looking for when they pick this feature up.
Harbinger Down is an awesome title for a movie. INANIMATE on the other hand is dull, uninspired and limp. Why change? I’ll stop myself from ranting here, as I’m sure I’ve talked relentlessly about ridiculous title changes over the last thirty-nine weeks to bore you stupid. Instead, how about talking a little Lance Henriksen? After years of sub-DTV clunkers, the presence of the seventy-five year old New Yorker somehow still manages to get me excited for a new movie.
Here he plays Graff, who welcomes aboard a group of students onto his crabbing vessel, hoping to research the effects of global warming on whales in the Bering Sea. When the crew dredges up a creepy ice block left over from a piece of old Russian space wreckage, they realise they have stumbled across strange new life forms that are not of this world. With the ice thawing fast, everyone realises that they’ve stumbled across a supernatural horror that should have been left in the deep.
Director Alec Gillis started his career working for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, before going on gain experience with Stan Winston. After this he co-founded the FX studio Amalgamated Dynamics, where he crafted jaw-dropping effects for films such as Tremors, Alien 3 and Starship Troopers. Yes, Junkyard followers, we’re in good hands here. Don’t misunderstand me, Inanimate is not even close to having a budget to boast about, and at times it does skirt a little around the realm of a SyFy movie. Having said that though, there’s much to enjoy in what is essentially an old fashioned creature-feature with some awesome practical effects. There are nod’s aplenty to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and it does exhibit a similar level of skin-crawling claustrophobia that serves it well. Keep your expectations in check, and embrace some cheese-tastic monster mayhem.
The American Scream, that gripping documentary by Michael Stephenson from a few years back, perfectly encapsulated the attraction of Halloween, none more so than in the ordinary lives of folk who were determined to bring their passion from this frightful festivity to a wider audience through their home-made haunted houses. It’s an obsession for these folks, which requires year round planning, and the finished article seems to be a quite electrifying experience. Bobby Roe also set out to make a similarly themed documentary around the same time; titled The Houses October Built, it was a wandering travel log through Texas deep into the heart of some genuinely amazing creations.
A couple of years later, Roe morphed fact into fiction, adapting his documentary into a feature film that hints at an underground circuit of Halloween Haunts with quite sinister goings on. In it, five friends set off on a road trip in an RV to track down such nefarious activities. Just when their search seems to reach a dead end , strange and disturbing things start happening and it soon becomes clear that the Haunt has come to them.
I was really excited for THE HOUSES OF HALLOWEEN (yes, another title change), especially the way in which Roe’s film hinted at such an seamless blend between fact and fiction. I have to say then that I was a little disappointed with the end result. As I mentioned earlier in this column, that first reel is so important to provide the hook to hypnotise you as to what’s on-screen. Here though it just tended to meander along, taking a good thirty minutes before the first genuinely unsettling experience; and I must emphasise, it was unsettling. If only there was more of that. It’s so inconsistent. Just as it hints at moments of heightened terror and distress, it gives way to either an anti-climax or periods of mediocrity. By no means is that a bad film, it just gets filed in that well-populated drop file of unfulfilled potential.