Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Admittedly there’s hardly a burgeoning sub-genre for radio station based horror movies, but I have to say it’s an attractive proposition. The eerie solitude of a lone voice whispering in your ear during the twilight hours lends itself perfectly to spine-tingling suspense, and with such high quality fare over the last decade in the shape of Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool, and Corbin Bernsen’s underrated Dead Air, the arrival of North Wales-lensed DARK SIGNAL certainly made the eyes widen with anticipation.
Forever a proponent of home-grown horror, it’s particularly cool to use that term in its more literal sense, as Ed Evers-Swindell’s film takes place a mere twenty minutes from the sleaze-infested putridity of the DTV Junkyard office, where deep in the isolated Welsh valleys, a hush spreads throughout the deserted wilds. Stranded and terrified, single mother Kate (Joanna Ignaczewska) finds herself entangled in a badly planned midnight robbery. Alone in a secluded forest, she begins to suspect that she’s in the presence of another being, hell-bent on seeking revenge.
Meanwhile, a few miles away at the local radio station, Ben (Gareth David-Lloyd) and Laurie (Siwan Morris) are midway through their last ever radio show. With the arrival of medium, Carla (Cinzia Monreale), they soon realize that this swansong may well lead to an incident packed evening, as ghostly sounds begin to emanate across the airwaves.
With two tentatively connected storylines in Dark Signal that spend much of the film running separately, the success of the picture is dependent on the ability of Evers-Swindell to weave these together in a satisfying manner before it simply becomes a disjointed exercise in low-budget filmmaking. For the most part, he’s achieved this with great success, and for a film that’s bold enough to throw out many of those faded genre movie tropes in return for some genuine originality, it’s to be applauded. Having said that though, there’s still a nice little tip of the hat to its obvious J-Horror influence, as well as a Ray Cameron inspired dryly-delivered “Thrill me”.
The radio station itself is a cool location, and the fact that the gorgeously laconic Laurie refers to recording the show on tape and insists on playing vinyl is a nice little allegory for the good old days of radio. There are times in the second half of the film where Kate’s situation stretches the boundaries of plausibility, and occasionally tips your head back in a resigned motion of disbelief, but don’t let such minutiae dissuade you from splashing your dough on this. By the time of its gratuitously violent and well-choreographed finale, the few shortcomings that Dark Signal possesses are swiftly forgotten.
Assisted suicide will always be a contentious issue, both ethically and morally, albeit it’s something I believe should be available to every human being. It was with great interest then when the new Tony Burgess movie dropped on the flea-infested Junkyard doormat this week, as he takes this delicate subject matter and places it in a horror movie environment with his usual learned panache.
Setting the scene with the declaration that three years ago Proposition 177 was passed, a law that permitted private medical firms to conduct assisted suicide procedures, we join two employees of the company Life Closures. Malison (Liv Collins), who’s just experienced a disastrous first assignment, and the cocksure Olivia (Sarah Power) are dispatched to a remote estate to perform a gruesome and ritualised euthanasia request. Once a member of an evil death cult, their client now suffers crippling pain from the demons of his past. When the pair learn that this ritual suicide is the only way to free him from his torture, they reluctantly agree, but in doing so, they unwittingly unearth spirits led by the very man they have been hired to kill.
We’re big admirers of Burgess here at Zombie Hamster, having really liked his last two UK releases, Septic Man and Ejecta, and I have to say that a little familiarity with the Canuck scribe’s work does make for an easier first watch with any of his films. THE HEXECUTIONERS is a winding script that demands your full attention as it veers in unexpected directions, with an unapologetic inclination to lose the casual viewer with its intensity.
This is director Jesse Thomas Cook’s second feature with Burgess, and he really hits his stride here. Some early exposition transcends into an awesome set up in the looming estate, as they’re welcomed in by the skeletal Edgar (Timothy Burd – Obi Tate from the Saw franchise). It’s thick with atmosphere with candlelit rooms cloaked in mystery, and Steph Copeland’s score veering from bombastic to subtle. As it builds to a momentous climax, the final reel is almost completely drained of colour in a few breathtaking scenes which serve to highlight both the artistic flair at play here, and the sheer darkness of the content within.
A couple of hundred words on JUST BEFORE DAWN is actually an attractive proposition… if it was Jeff Lieberman’s early eighties classic of the same name. Alas it’s not, as exhibit three today is the title more commonly known as 23 Minutes to Sunrise, where four couples find themselves in unusual circumstances at an out-of-the-way diner. Intertwined throughout the night are a middle aged couple who are at a crisis in their lives, a cook who thinks he is finally finding his way forward, a waitress in a bad relationship and a young punk and his girlfriend. The strangest of all though, are the dark stranger and a young girl, who arouse suspicion with the chef and the waitress almost as soon as they take their seats.
With its one location Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt vibe, Just Before Dawn may have been better served with a running time more in tune with the television anthology shows that it aspires to. Its interesting premise never really takes hold in a film which after the removal of an elongated six minute opening credit sequence, lasts just over an hour, and it’s a long sixty-five minutes or so at that. Admittedly there’s the occasional interesting character, like Eddie (Dingani Beza) the head chef who’s partial to an internal monologue, or Daniel (Eric Roberts) who has that bewitching glint in his eye, all too often hidden behind some masking Ray-Ban’s, but otherwise it limps along with little inspiration, heading to its all-too-telegraphed pay off that’s only good for a roll of the eyes and a resigned sigh.