Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Are Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins the Scorsese and De Niro of the B-movie action world? Chuckle you may, but thirteen years of collaboration has yielded seven features of impressive consistency. Beginning back in 2003 with the criminally underseen Special Forces, their working relationship has taken in one of the best Van Damme films from the past decade, 2008’s The Shepherd, as well as the franchise friendly Ninja, and Ninja: Shadow of a Tear. The pinnacle of their partnership is undoubtedly the stupendous Undisputed II: Last Man Standing and its sequel Undisputed III: Redemption – two DTV’ers whose godawful, and in the case of number three non-existant, UK distribution has starved my fellow Brits of some top level fight-fodder.
Their latest pairing, CLOSE RANGE, may not quite reach the heights of their previous work, but it’s certainly one of the best actioners to grace our low-lying shelving this year. It finds Colton MacReady (Adkins), having rescued his niece from a dangerous drug cartel, unwittingly obtains a flash drive from the nefarious narcotics peddlers which they’re determined to retrieve. MacReady finds himself thrust into a relentless fight to save his family, as the cartel descend on his sister’s home with a corrupt sheriff and a crew of deputies in tow, all of whom have only one objective!
Florentine’s success with these cautiously budgeted action spectaculars has always been to take the ubiquitous clichéd narrative, and sprinkle it with a little bit of magic. There are similarities here with his pre-Millennium outing for Nu Image, Cold Harvest, which while having a similarly Spaghetti Western tinged vibe to it, also boasted a Brit – Gary Daniels – in the lead role. Here, Adkins is really on point, with Sutton Coldfield’s finest displaying the versatility that he’s become renowned for, although having such first class fight choreography helps immeasurably, and underlines how starved we’ve been of such finely tuned ambidexterity in the DTV world of late. Clocking in at just over an hour and a quarter minus end credits, it’s an impeccably paced picture that succeeds in leaving you pining for a time when this kind of schtick was a weekly occurrence in the direct-to-video universe.
Oh 88 Films, we love you dearly but your marketing and self-promotion does tend to leave us Hamsters holed up in a darkened room, slowly banging our respective heads against a concrete surface. When I chatted with John Lechago last year for the forthcoming Full Moon book, he made a really pertinent point about the film industry that was pure gold. Not being one to blow his own trumpet, he conceded that sometimes he just has to set aside his reserved sensibilities, put on his hooker boots and go out and shake that tush.
This week, 88 have released the new film by Richard W. Haines, director of Splatter University and Class of Nuke ‘Em High, something that ZH would class as quite a big deal, but alas it’s been accompanied by zero promo. While the boys from 88 are busily announcing a ridiculous number of forthcoming attractions, there seems the propensity to overlook what’s happening right now. With Haines’ newbie, WHAT REALLY FRIGHTENS YOU, it did of course get picked up by the supermarkets, so I’m guessing they consider it futile to devote a little exposure to a title that will shift several thousand copies in its first week just for sitting alongside Spectre or something. It’s a shame nonetheless, as I guarantee there are a healthy portion of 88’s Facebook and Twitter followers who don’t even know this baby is out.
Two paragraphs of pre-amble seem to hint at me now declaring What Really Frightens You to be an unheralded piece of cinematic genius, which alas it isn’t. It IS though a really enjoyable piece of retro schlock which succeeds in throwing a little Don Dohler, some Troma, and a dash of EC Comics goodness into a blender to result in an uneven horror movie which finds a mysterious fanzine writer asking three New Yorkers to tell him what really scares them for a forthcoming article he’s writing. Once it’s published however, the fears of these three interviewees seem to develop into all too real scenarios.
Shot a whopping seven years ago, Haines’ film smacks of something you’d see on a 42nd Street trailer compilation, with its exteriors seemingly filmed on the sidewalks of downtown Manhattan. Its dated appearance will either endear or annoy, but filmed on 35mm it has a texture to it that really impressed me. With CGI deemed too costly, Haines procured the services of regular Glass Eye Pix FX guys, Pete Gerner and Brian Spears, whose work impresses as always with some gloriously icky fabrications, albeit on a budget. Sadly 88’s edition of this film is missing the commentary track from the Stateside release, but I’ll refrain from grumbling too much about that. Needless to say your average supermarket shopper who throws this into their cart alongside their spaghetti hoops and anusol this week will likely despise it, which makes some targeted awareness for this feature all the more important, as this little fella needs some love.
RATTER falls into that unwanted category of being this weeks’ third film, and you just know when you scroll this low down you’re not going to be reading about the reinvention of the genre – and you’d be right, as Branden Kramer’s film is somewhat of a disappointment. In it, we met Emma (Ashley Benson), a young grad student who has just moved from the Midwest to New York, and is excited to be on her own in the big city. But when a stalker hacks into her devices, he destroys Emma’s illusions of privacy and she discovers just how fragile out sense of security can be.
We’ve been blessed with some really high end horror recently that’s been centred round the world of portable devices, like Leo Gabriadze’s Unfriended and Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows. Ratter falls way short of these primarily due to its ponderous pacing. It’s a shame too, as Emma is genuinely likable, really naturalistic, and the complete antithesis to the clichéd character that usually fills this kind of role. The general lack of suspense during the first fifty minutes is really hard to look past though, and leaves Kramer such a tiny window of opportunity to inject some buttock-clenching thrills. Ironically though, that last reel and a half is almost perfection; shoulder-stiffening tension of the highest order. The thing is, will there be anyone left watching by the time this happens?