Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
“I can’t believe this is a series that people pay to watch” moans one of the detractors, and the V/H/S franchise is certainly not short of them, especially with regard to its third outing, V/H/S: VIRAL. The last we saw of it, we were left in the foetal position having endured Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s Safe Haven segment; quite possibly the most gloriously vomit-inducing anthology segment in recent memory. The third chapter of this gonzo freakshow never hits the heights of what went before, but it’s still a thoroughly whacked-out ride.
Shorter than the previous films by some distance, most likely due to Todd Lincoln’s Gorgeous Vortex not being included (though that’s headed for a feature film debut next year), it feels a little bit more easily digestible than the others. It’s not without its problems though, as sadly Marcel Sarmiento’s Vicious Circles wraparound just simply doesn’t work. Fragmented, disjoined and just a little dull, it’s a shame for this to be the weak point, as Sarmiento’s film Deadgirl, based on Trent Haaga’s script was excellent.
The three primary shorts though are all first class. Gregg (Dance of the Dead) Bishop’s Dante the Great is old school in its approach – something you’d expect The Cryptkeeper to be introducing on TV in 1992 – which is a compliment in its strongest form. Meanwhile Nacho Vigalondo dips his toe into the territory of his best film, Timecrimes, for an incredibly surreal tale of parallel universes which swiftly develops into a deeply trippy experience. My favourite of this compendious threesome comes from genre-darling’s Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (Spring, Resolution). If I pitched Bonestorm to you as Larry Clark meets Tombs of the Blind Dead, you’d find it hard to resist, right? Well, this sixteen minute story of a group of skaters heading into Mexico is just that. Shot in blinding daylight, it’s hardly the environment that you’d think would create the requisite shivers down your spine. Perhaps though, it’s this unerringly normal scenario that heightens that tension, making it all the more freakish. Hater’s gonna hate, but for me, V/H/S always delivers, and part three maintains an impressively consistent high standard.
I’ve taken to drawing smiley faces on my notes when I watch a film. Perhaps I’m regressing back to my teenage years? In any case, the prevalent doodle that accompanied WE ARE STILL HERE was ‘hype [frowny face]’. I’ll admit, it’s pleasing to see Ted Geoghegen’s surfing on the crest of a wave of almost universal love and admiration; it is a VERY good film. Having said that, I find the horror hype machine to be a double-edged sword, slicing away the equally brilliant competition dependant on the size of their marketing budget; and with backing from Dark Sky Films and UK distribution from Studio Canal, it’s in a great position to do that. The fawning from the horror press is the obvious downside, and does leave a somewhat icky taste in the mouth. I just wish at times they’d put a similar amount of effort in with a film that doesn’t receive the backing of one of the big boys… but then you don’t get the freebies, so…
On with the film, and it’s a very simple seventies-based tale of Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig), settling into a new house in a remote location following the tragic death of their son. Their new abode however, has a murky past; one that the residents of this small town know all too well. We Are Still Here is a glorious, mature work of art. Gorgeously shot, with a lush property with oak-panelled walls, it fits the era just fine. Support from the superb Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie adds to the already pitch perfect performances from Crampton and Sensenig, and the chill of the icy wind in this isolated setting really makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The downside? Well, while praise is deserving, originality is lacking. Nods to other movies are welcomed, but this is more of a head-butt in the direction of The House By the Cemetery and The Changeling. No harm in that, but I think such a blatant tip of the hat narrowly prevents it from earning the status its fans want it to have.
Normally on DTV Junkyard we’ve had a clunker by now, but alas I’ll have to disappoint you all with yet another recommendation. HAUNT is the debut feature from Mac Carter, and it keeps us in that trusted area of a house with a secret. After moving into a new home with his parents, the introverted Evan (Harrison Gilbertson) forms a bond with his neighbour Sam (Liana Liberato). After finding a radio in the attic that can be used to communicate with the dead, an innocent adventure unleashes sinister events.
As with We Are Still Here, there’s little about Haunt that’s likely to knock your socks off, but sometimes there’s great comfort to be found in the simple things; a horror movie that just does its job. There’s nothing wrong with that, and at the risk of damning it with faint praise, that’s what Carter’s film does with ease. Credit must go to Andrew Barrer’s script, who succeeds in getting the basics right, and makes Evan and Sam two multi-dimensional characters for whom you have a vested interest in their welfare. The scary aspects are chilling enough to raise your heartbeat, with the designs of the ghosts themselves being genuinely impressive. Haunt ticks along at a welcome pace, ensuring you rarely check the counter on your DVD player, all the way to an ending that will either confound or delight, but it will get you talking.
Here at DTV Junkyard, I do try my best to make this a cliché-free zone. There’s nothing worse is there? It’s just bait for cover quotes – one thing that DTV-J has never kowtowed to. So, you’ll never catch me calling William Brent Bell’s WER an intriguing spin on the werewolf genre. It kind of is though! Kate Moore (A.J Cook) is a defence attorney who has to represent a client – Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor) – charged with the murders of a vacationing family. Gwynek is an odd sort, furrier than Robin Williams in a bear suit, he’s both a recluse and an intimidating individual. Kate is initially keen to defend him without question, but the more she learns about him, the more her concern grows.
Shot in Bucharest, the Romanian setting adds a cosmopolitan dimension to the film, edging away from that generic small town USA vibe that would undoubtedly lessen the likability of a film like Wer. A.J Cook is excellent, and receives great support from Vik Sahay and Simon Quarterman who play her colleagues Eric and Gavin; there’s great dynamism between them, not to mention a few sparks. Bell does have a habit of mixing regularly shot footage, with that from security cameras and such like. I’m not sure that added anything to the film other than being an annoyance, albeit a rare one at that, in what is a tense horror movie with some excellent VFX from Robert Hall and his team at Almost Human. Without doubt, it’s an intriguing twist on the genre. Doh!
Finally for this week we have THE DIABOLICAL, and yes, I liked this too. I’m so easily pleased! A single mother, Madison (Ali Larter), is woken up nightly, along with her children, by a strange presence in her house. With paranormal experts reluctant to take on this odd manifestation, she draws upon the help of her science teacher boyfriend Nikolai (Arjun Gupta), to help rid her home of such a terrifying and destructive force.
As with Wer, Alistair Legrand’s feature benefits from the sensible casting of an excellent female lead, and Larter is superb here. Its sci-fi leanings threaten to destabilize the film during the final reel, while during the middle third it veers into Poltergeist territory a little too blatantly. Such concerns though are largely trivial as they rarely diminish what’s a tense, exciting and generally fine direct to video horror film. It’s released by High Fliers too, in the same week they’ve released Joe Dante’s Burying the Ex; a return to form at last for this British home entertainment institution?