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

If you had to evaluate the first six months of Signature Entertainment’s new offshoot, Precision Pictures, then you’d most likely be leaning towards the unflattering description of mediocre. From cyber-slasher Hacked to the disappointing Xmoor, there’s been precious little to hail the arrival of a new king on the supermarket shelves. Having said that, the perpetual trailering of a film called The Joker hinted at something a little more intriguing.

Great DTV crime thrillers with a dash of horror seemed to be at their peak towards the end of the nineties with classy fare like Bone Daddy and Eye of the Killer, and although something like Greg Francis’ picture is never going to crack the top horror headliners of 2016, it’s still a welcome sight to see this fleeting return to a genre we Hamsters hold so dear.

Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) is a new detective that gets invited to play a regular game of poker with several veteran police officers and detectives. Each one tells Stan about various insights they gained from different murder cases that they’ve been assigned to over the years. This detail turns out to be invaluable when Stan is captured and imprisoned by a vicious, anonymous assailant, who having also kidnapped Amy (Halston Sage), the daughter of a police officer, it’s left to Stan to use the stories of his fellow poker players to find a way to get them out of this pending danger.

The reason for most of us for snatching THE JOKER off the shelves this week is undoubtedly the allure of an awesome supporting cast of Ron Perlman, Ron Eldard, Giancarlo Esposito and Titus Welliver. They certain bring a gravitas to this twisting picture which was released in most territories worldwide under its original title of Poker Night. Admittedly this gaggle of fine screen actors take a back seat to the triumvirate of Stan, Amy and the aggressor, but regardless, it’s still a great blend of on-screen aptitude.

I have to say there were a few aspects of Francis’ film that really didn’t sit well with me; the comedic flights of fancy were one which only served to undermine the sinister tone of the film, while its meandering opening reel lacks a real punch to hook you in immediately. Navigating your way around the winding script of which flashbacks are a central part is a different challenge altogether, but once it hooks you in as it invariably will do, then between it’s tight-knit small town setting, and the general air of mystery, there is a great deal to like about this film.

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Sometime towards the end of last year, Matty raided his memory bank to present a collage of alarmingly similar DTV horror sleeves, all of which had a girl seemingly in the throes of possession, raised a few feet in the air. There was four or five of them, and needless to say there’s been more since. Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s now a rival to the ‘floaty girl’ crown – the ‘floaty house’. Cabin in the Woods kicked it off, while Housebound continued it, and now there’s INTRUDERS which features among the plethora of others that are cribbing this design.

Anna (Beth Riesgraf) is afflicted with severe agoraphobia, and her crippling fear of the outside world confines her to the safety of her home. When three mean break in and invade her house on the outskirts of town, she is physically unable to flee, frozen by her phobia. But, the intruders soon discover that looks can be deceiving…

Looks can indeed be deceiving, as on the face of it I expected Intruders to be a bit of a barrel-scraper of a DTV title, but in actual fact it’s quite the sleeper with plenty of surprises hidden beneath its bottom-shelf façade. Shot largely within the confines of Anna’s house, there’s an immediate challenge to make the eighty-minute running time pacy and involving – something director Adam Schindler does with aplomb. Early on it’s quite obvious that hidden within these four walls is something that goes beyond Anna’s mental fragility, and as this slowly unravels, the plausibility of it will ultimately decide how you regard the film. Admittedly I was torn, feeling both a sense of admiration for the direction it travels but at the same time a degree of bewilderment at the ridiculousness of it all. Far from perfect, Intruders is worth further investigation, but just don’t expect much more than a furrowed brow of bemusement come the end credits.

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Finally this week there’s a brief look at two new titles that don’t justify more than a begrudged mumble over their availability owing to their imminent arrival in my video store’s bargain bin. CLASSROOM 6 is released by Left Films, who really need to have a sit down chat with their buyer, as whoever is procuring their releases lately is undoubtedly doing so by lining up a set of acquisitions and firing a dart at random at them. Here, a TV reporter and her crew go into a school that is alleged to be haunted by a terrifying past, and spend the night locked inside the building.

The most damning thing you can say about a movie that only just exceeds an hour long running time is that it’s boring, and Classroom 6 is certainly that. It’s so rough around the edges too. I get the notion that found footage has to retain a degree of reality, but this is just amateurish; the sound is erratic, background noise is distracting and the dialogue swings from muffled to mumbled and back again. It’s so cool for the UK to have small distros like Left Films, but if they continue releasing such awful product, so dramatically removed from heyday fare like Blood Car, Umbrage and 7th Hunt, then there’s no hope for them.

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The next title for the scrapheap is the dire FRESHWATER, which comes out via 101 Films. I’m pretty much bored with talking about this company, especially their buyers, as it’s pretty much all I’ve spoken about privately with people all week. However, with the people who run the label having long since blocked Zombie Hamster on Twitter for daring to give their films a bad review, that I don’t suppose another with antagonise them too much.

A creature-feature with Zoe Bell? Dang, I really thought the DTV Gods had smiled on me this week, but when a glimpse at the synopsis on the DVD case revealed the grammatical dexterity of a two year old, then my anticipation was curtailed swiftly. If you really have to know, there’s a big croc on the loose and it’s eating people, but chances are you’ll not make it past the ten minute mark, which makes any description of the narrative largely redundant.

This is shockingly awful to the point in which it doesn’t even lend itself to comedy value. Take an Asylum movie, then go ten levels lower into the pit of mediocrity, and then you may just reach the nightmarish level of Freshwater. Everything about it screams ineptitude, both in front of, and behind the camera, and it takes its place among the worst to have graced this weekly column.

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