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

Born in 1968, the legendary Alan Smithee is highly revered in Zombie Hamster circles, so when his latest film, DEATH CALL aka OLD 37, was announced for UK release, there was an audible gasp of excitement in the Zombie Hamster offices. It’s been a fallow few years for the iconic name, seemingly unable to equal his career defining high of Hellraiser: Bloodline, nor such venerable works as Catchfire with Jodie Foster, or the pilloried Birds II: Land’s End.

Beginning production under the directorial stewardship of Christian Winters, Death Call revolves around two brothers, Darryl (Bill Moseley) and Jon Roy (Kane Hodder), who haunt the forgotten stretches of road where the cool kids race their cars, intercepting 911 calls in their father’s battered old ambulance in order to exact medical atrocities on whomever they happen to cast in their net.

Mr. Smithee of course rarely has his name attached to a quality piece of filmmaking, and Death Call is certainly far removed that. It’s a woefully bad picture, with a tone that schizophrenically veers from a trash-tastic Grindhouse vibe to teeny melodrama; it’s Dawson’s Creek by way of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. With a Lloyd Kaufman cameo, as well as some sound make-up from regular Glass Eye Pix collaborators, Pete Gerner and Brian Spears, there are redeeming features to cling on to. For me though, the sight of a maniacal Hodder and Moseley emerging from the back of an ambulance is too compelling to resist, irrespective of the quality of the feature that surrounds it.

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As I sat compiling some last minute notes for LAST STOP aka DON’T BLINK, Fire at the Pageant from Catskill Mountain rockers The Felice Brothers belted out repeatedly from the menu screen, which as it turned out, was to be pretty much the most contented I’d be during the ensuing ninety minutes. Ten friends are on a break from college as they take a road trip into the mountains of New Mexico to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival they find the place completely deserted, and with their cars out of fuel (rolls eyes), and no cell phone signal (rolls eyes again) they’re left stranded as events take a turn for the weird.

I LOVE horror films. I’m not one of these gimpy bloggers who pretends to like the genre in an effort to deflect some attention onto themselves, as their lives are devoid of any kind of meaningful social interaction. I can embrace any level of cheese and corny exposition if there’s genuine artistic ingenuity there to be appreciated. For Last Stop though, I just found myself gesticulating wildly at my flat screen in frustration at the cliché ridden narrative before me. It seems to be a film trapped in the wrong decade, suited more to that late nineties post-Scream glut of moreish yet shallow DTV horror – albeit without the quality. If, by the final reel, there was anything of substance to cling onto, it soon dissipates, veering wildly across the intersection like a driver in the midst of an epileptic fit. There’s ambiguity, and then there’s just poorly written vagueness. This feels firmly the latter.

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UK indie outfit Sharp Teeth Films continue their impressive release schedule, following Shopping Tour and Septic Man, with the very recommendable YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Made for small change, well, twenty thousand dollars, this first person slasher movie succeeds were the majority fail – it’s scary. With school finally over, college graduate Natalie Wilner (Krista Dzialoszynski) returns to her hometown to celebrate fourth of July weekend. But beneath the flags and fireworks lurks a dark, malevolent figure. After a night of drunken parties, she stumbles home and drifts off to sleep, only to be woken moments later by a loud knock on the door…

If the main weakness of Last Stop was its tiresome artificiality, then the strength of You Are Not Alone lies in its voyeuristic reality; we’re in small town America, as real footage of an Independence Day weekend is merged seamlessly with the killer on the loose storyline. What strikes you about Derek Mungor’s film is the hardcore indie vibe that permeates it, with few concessions given over to any predictable genre tropes. The result of that will likely split the audience, with the ADHD-afflicted growing impatient at a perceived lack of knife-wielding shenanigans, as the first half meanders quite impressively through some laid-back exposition. I implore you to stock up on your Ritalin though, because what transpires is butt-clenching tension of the highest order that will hopefully find the success and reputation it warrants.

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It’s been a bit of a quiet couple of years for Yume Pictures, a Brit-based distro who I was pretty fond of, not least for giving us the opportunity to catch the superb Spanish thriller The Night of the Sunflowers. If their new dawn is to begin with OVER YOUR DEAD BODY, then I can think of far worse films to make a comeback with. I’d say this was the latest from Takashi Miike, but in the time it’s taken me to write this, I’m sure he’ll have wrapped another picture. This renegade filmmaker from Japan pumps out films with the same frequency Eric Roberts takes acting gigs, and while aside from 13 Assassins he may not have recently hit the heights of his creative peak that saw such iconic films like Audition, Dead or Alive and Ichi the Killer, every work of art he creates still demands your attention.

Miyuki Goto (Ko Shibaski) plays Oiwa, the protagonist in a new play based on the ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan. She pulls some strings to get her lover, Kosuke Hasegawa  (Ebizo Ichikawa) cast in the play, even though he’s a relatively unknown actor, which sparks a little jealousy with the other male performers. Trapped between the play and reality, the cast’s feelings for each other are amplified. When it becomes clear that love is not meant to be – both on stage and off – it morphs into a grudge and crossed the blurred line between reality and fantasy.

While Miike exhibits a slightly more restrained style here that’s been on display in films like Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, he still retains that unerring ability to craft a stomach-churningly grim sequence from nowhere. That said, the overriding air here is that of a lushly crafted atmosphere, with gorgeously lit, lovingly crafted sets being central to the picture. Admittedly, a little bit of familiarity with the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time may stand you in good stead to truly appreciate the film, but it’s not essential, as this ninety-minute creep-fest is still a visual treat.

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