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

When you’re browsing horror movies on IMDb, you can always spot a film that played at FrightFest as the critic reviews usually outnumber the user ones by about ten to one. It’s a familiar tale, and despite Zombie Hamster being an advocate of the London-based genre appreciation, you can’t help but feel the process from screen to living room is a little flawed.

Granted, a small percentage of the films that play the autumnal event do get immediate distribution and manage to harness that buzz of publicity – take The Diabolical, Howl and Hellions as examples that hit DVD soon after their festival appearance in 2015. There is though a sizeable portion that end up in pre-DTV purgatory. They’ve been reviewed by every attendee with a blog, and even those that haven’t with online screeners made available to the ones that grease up the relevant PR companies, but then there’s a worrying black hole of limbo at play.

When they do finally make that long awaited retail bow, it’s all too often met with total silence and a lack of awareness. It’s as if they’ve already had their allocation of hype back in October, so no-one has anything left to say – I give you the spring releases of Julia and Honeymoon last year as prime examples. The genre sites have covered them, so don’t seem inclined to do so again, and their release comes with little more than a whimper.

I genuinely thought that with the arrival of FrightFest’s partnership with Icon Home Entertainment to create the FrightFest Presents banner, that it would in part eradicate this short-term memory loss, and be the driving force behind a perennial awareness of the festivals content, but alas so far it’s been a disappointment. I’ll concede that Icon and FF were keen to draw attention to these movies when they hit VOD a few months back, where they’re available to rent for, on average, just under a fiver, but as far as DVD is concerned the silence is deafening.

There are six movies hitting disc over the course of the next six weeks from Icon, and with ESTRANGED being the debut title to adorn the new livery this week, some cursory ZH digging has spotted zero social media pimping from either FrightFest or Icon to mark the launch. Even more frustrating is the lack of supermarket presence, which – like it or not – is vital to giving a title some healthy sales numbers. It’s without a listing on UK e-retail heavy-hitters, Zavvi and HMV, while Amazon are out of stock.

Is this some kind of misguided attempt by Icon to circumnavigate physical media? They do realise that horror fans are quite possibly the most rabidly obsessive people in existence about the importance of owning a tangible copy of something they love! Speaking of which, such elongated ramblings would surely teeter on irrelevance if Adam Levins film was positioned squarely in the realm of the mediocre, but fear not as Estranged is a quite excellent piece of British macabre.

After six years abroad, January (Amy Manson) is forced to return home after a road accident while holidaying in Brazil left her wheelchair-bound with amnesia. Her childhood is an inaccessible memory, as too are her family, who just seem to want their old daughter back. The trouble is, she cannot remember the details of her relationships with anyone, or why she fled in the first place.

Shot in County Durham with lush stately home exteriors, Estranged dazzles you with a bewitching opening fifteen minutes that has you daring the picture to be this good for the entire duration. It’s an initial set up that should entice even the most jaded genre aficionado, as the uneasy introductions to January’s family make for spectacularly uneasy viewing. “Only married couples can share beds” she’s informed, as her boyfriend is forced to spend the night away from her, and it’s such eccentricities – led spectacularly by the brilliant James Cosmo – that at first captivate, but ultimately give way to a resounding pathological undertone.

Simon Fantauzzo’s script deftly weaves a beguiling tale of acutely fascinating characters, but it’s perhaps the foreboding confines of Lambton Castle that contains the defining sprinkle of stardust. Its dated interiors ooze unease as it’s in such a direct contrast to January’s free-spirited existence in South America. This distorted reality brings atmosphere and a palpable anxiety to a highly recommendable home-grown chiller.

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Ah… an environmentally aware disaster movie about the perils of fracking.

Oh… from the director of Avalanche Sharks.

We all love a trier in this world, and there’s no doubt that Scott Wheeler has put his heart and soul into his latest directorial outing. With a lengthy resume of VFX work that ranges from the sublime (Frailty) to the ridiculous (The Day the Earth Stopped), his working relationship with screenwriter Keith Shaw, under his usual Lindsay James pseudonym, often bears some quite crazy-looking fruit, and SINKHOLE is certainly no exception.

After a massive sinkhole swallows a nearby town, a school bus filled with students is dropped deep underground, and hangs precariously against the side of this cavernous void, held in place by a broken pipe. Alone and with all the adults injured, the teens struggle for survival and try their best to stay calm, but mutinous factions seem determined to control the situation. Their only hope is small-town paramedic Joan Conroy (Gina Holden – who also co-produces), who must overcome a tragic past to rescue the students, including her own daughter.

With Lake Fear, House on the Hill and Haunting at Cypress Creek, New Horizon Films have rightly bore the brunt of my most acidic disdain for their quite spectacularly poor acquisitions. Is Sinkhole any better? Well, not really, but with my misguided affection for anything Asylum related – even from its alumni – I have an automatic affinity with such grot, but I’d implore anyone devoid of a sense of humour to steer well clear. It’s unrelentingly stupid, with dialogue that you’d think was handed to the cast on the morning of the shoot after the screenwriter had been on an all-night bender, only to return home in the wee hours and jot some lines down on the back of a fag packet.

[panicking] “Abe’s not breathing!”

[confused] “He needs air. Blow into his mouth or something?”

[horrified] “Ewwwwwww…. No way!”

Josh Fox’s GasLand this ain’t, as pressing matters of ecology are shoehorned in with all the finesse of a jogging camel. With a cast that could prompt a game a SyFy Channel bingo – Eric Roberts, Jeremy London – it’s a ninety minute game of hoping that each one of these annoying one-dimensional morons will fall to their death in the bottomless crust-piercing fissure. That’s the thing though with such fare. That’s the hook. It’s the mesmerizing awfulness that catches my eye like a swinging pocket watch.

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