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

I’ll say it before you do. I’m a mug.

I’ve been on all fours this month, crawling through a barely populated desert of direct-to-video titles, with the final Monday in May glaring at me like some bountiful oasis that never seems to get any closer. My resolve was broken this week, as I headed to my local supermarket in the desperate hope that there might be something, anything…

And there he was, Dominic Purcell. Our eyes met longingly across a sterile supermarket aisle. You can always rely on one of your own to dig you out of the mire, and born just a few miles from this Wirral-based den of DTV inequity, who better to turn to in order to sugar my schlocky sweet tooth.

ASYLUM ESCAPE screams direct-to-video heaven, firstly owing to Purcell dressed nattily in an orange jumpsuit, backed by a prison-styled building, helicopters and cops with torches hunting woodland. A cynic among us may suggest it’s designed to con hard-of-thinking Prison Break fans, but despite this ruse, my gaze was primarily captured by the cover quote “Gives the audience what it wants”. At the time I was feeling partial to a shot of tequila and a Turkish bath, but failing that perhaps Asylum Escape would do.

I don’t know about you, but I like to watch such loveable grot with some hard liquor and a plentiful supply of M&M’s, so with accoutrements assembled I began this sweaty-palmed journey into DTV hell. But wait. The menu screen is for Escapee? What kind of tortuous trick is this?

Yeah, you’re three steps ahead of me aren’t you? I’d fallen for a repackage. What a fool I felt. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s an occurrence that’s been happening for a few decades now, but these days it’s certainly considered not a particularly cool thing to do. It’s the simple thing of a film company releasing a title, then after a short period of time, re-releasing it with a new title and sleeve design. I mentioned it in last weeks’ Junkyard with the company Three Wolves, but the UK’s High Fliers Plc have become particularly renowned for it in recent years.

Back in the nineties and early noughties, this independent bastion of UK home entertainment were pretty much the folks whose releases I looked forward to with the greatest anticipation. In a pre-boutique world, their acquisitions were always ambitious and canny, plucking little seen non-studio movies and presenting them to a hungry British Isles; Animal Factory, Bone Daddy, Freeway II and Idiot Box were just a handful of amazing pick-ups.

Now though, they’re resorting to this. They released Escapee back in 2012, and while I could perhaps overlook a repackage four years later, there are a few things that just don’t sit well with me. Firstly, the price on Amazon stood at £12.99 throughout the entirety of its pre-order and the first couple of days of release (it has since been reduced in the last 48 hours), while Escapee is in stock at less than four quid. Secondly, nowhere on the Amazon listing for Asylum Escape does it state that it was previously released under a different title, while on the box art itself – in the tiniest writing imaginable – it mentions that is was ‘previously known’ as Escapee. Previously known? What a joke of a vague term.

I did watch the film. Again. But I’m not reviewing it in DTV Junkyard. Writing about it would feel to me like I’m endorsing its existence under a new title, and I’m not. Vote with your wallets and purses people. Let’s put an end to this relentless regurgitation of releases that take you and I for moronic uninformed consumers.

004

Want to look at some movies now?! How about PANDEMIC! I liked the film, but whoever wrote the synopsis on the cover has to be shot at dawn for exceeding ten on the bullshit-o-meter. Excuse me for quoting this verbatim, but Pandemic is like nothing you have ever witnessed before. Shot in a completely revolutionary ‘First Person Perspective’, Pandemic makes YOU the star of the movie. YOU fire every shot and YOU throw every punch. In the near future, a virus of epic proportions has overtaken the planet. There are more infected than uninfected, and humanity is losing its grip on survival. The only hope for a cure is YOU to lead a team into the field to rescue survivors, but the infected are not only deadly, they’re organized. A non-stop, adrenaline fuelled rollercoaster of intense first-person-action, Pandemic must be seen to be believed. Prepare yourself for combat.

Did YOU get that? Do YOU believe the hype? For a start, YOU don’t do anything as the first-person perspective is purely focused on the character whose head-top camera is shooting the footage, so where this YOU malarkey comes in is beyond me. As for the ‘revolutionary first person perspective’, erm, House of the Dead? Maniac? Gripes aside, once you shrug off the nonsense, John Suits film is a tight little picture. Rachel Nichols in the lead role is able to elicit a degree of empathy and displays a fragility that is easy to connect with, which gives this film a human edge too frequently overlooked within the genre. The first person aspect does teeter on the brink of annoyance early on, but twenty minutes in it fades into the background as the narrative steps out into the foreground.

Despite its regular forays into generic virus tropes that we’ve dipped our collective toes into all too frequently, Dustin Benson’s script manages to rescue this from mediocrity and position it firmly into recommendable territory with a storyline that come the end credits, will have kept you gripped for the duration.

005

In THE CALL UP, a group of elite online gamers receive a mysterious invitation to trial a state-of-the-art virtual reality video game. Arriving at the test site, the group step into hi-tech gear and prepare for a revolutionary gaming environment that brings modern warfare to life with frightening realism. At first it’s a unique and exhilarating experience, but it quickly takes a turn towards the sinister, and when they’re attacked by enemy combatants, they soon realise that this is no game after all.

Beginning with a Carpenter-esque piece of synth magic as we’re pulled swiftly into a mysterious game-based scenario, The Call Up should certainly draw an attentive pose from anyone taking a punt on this low budget British sci-fi. Writer / director Charles Barker found a couple of great locations to utilise that seem both economical and also lend themselves to an authentic gaming environment, all of which gives this picture a vibe that belies the pocket change total spend.

It did go through a mid-movie phase of treading water somewhat, and I had a hard time emotionally investing in any of the participants as we’re given little or no background on the majority of them. Having said that, The Call Up is still worth a tentative recommendation. It has a startlingly original premise, and on a shoe-string budget it’s a great example of what you can aspire to for your debut feature, without treading the well-worn path of found footage.

006