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

I really love the arrival of films like CLOWN TOWN, with its virginal IMDb page, untouched by spin, blogger or over-expectant horror folk distraught at how they spent thirty minutes downloading it illegally only to switch it off “’cos it was shit”.  Tom Nagel’s film has an enticing line of credits beginning with Nagel himself, who spent much of his early career acting in some grade-A Asylum produced schlock in the form of The Beast of Bray Road, Hillside Cannibals and Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter’s Cove, the latter being not only a Gary Jones movie (Mosquito, Spiders), but also Nagel’s introduction to FX-wiz Robert Kurtzman. After crossing paths a few years later on the impressive Dead Matter, Clown Town sees Nagel ascend into the director’s chair with Kurtzman producing.

With such exciting low-budget ties, the inclusion of writer Jeff Miller only adds to the impressive background of this DTV’er, having scripted a segment in the Gunnar Hansen led anthology Hellblock 13, as well as writing AND directing the perennial charity shop fixture Head Cheerleader, Dead Cheerleader. Such misty-eyed movie references can only take us so far though, but fear not as I found Clown Town to be quite a fearsome little micro-budgeter, right from the tidy opening sequence with tips of the hat aplenty to slasher fare of years gone by, which segues into a deftly constructed opening credits sequence.

The notion of four friends becoming stranded in a seemingly abandoned town hardly elicits a chorus of ooh’s based on its originality, but the sight of a modern-day municipality devoid of a population, especially considering the budget at play here, is quite the eerie setting. Clown films are still a huge attraction to people, and in recent years the good, All Hallows’ Eve, Stitches and Clown, have been punctuated by the mediocre with Mockingbird, Gingerclown and the unforgivable Camp Blood franchise. Clown Town firmly belongs in the former, with its pasty-faced perpetrators oozing a psychopathic menace. Coupled with their impressive make-up is the frugal yet artistically lit way these bozo’s are shot, which really serves to heighten the macabre tone of the movie. Is it ground-breaking? No. Is it top ten of the year material? No. But, as an under-the-radar doozy of a horror movie, it’s a treat.

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When WORRY DOLLS dropped on the spleen-soaked Zombie Hamster doormat this week, I couldn’t help but indulge in a flight of fancy that it was actually a spruced-up reissue of Charles Band’s Dangerous Worry Dolls from 2008, which thanks to its snappy script from Brian Muir, is one of the jewels in the post-millennial Full Moon world. Alas, it’s not, and before I digress into a rant about the worthiness of Band’s output in the last fifteen years, opposing the general consensus that “he’s done nothing good since Puppet Master…”, I’ll reign it in a little and get onto what this tiny terror themed newbie actually is.

There’s been a five-year gap since Padraig Reynolds’ last movie, the excellent Rites of Spring, which with its artistically appealing poster and well-constructed narrative really impressed me when 101 Films released it back in 2013. Worry Dolls takes place in the aftermath of the hunt for notorious serial killer, Henry Leonard Bale, where a peaceful town erupts in a chain of random and brutal murders. Detective Matt Williams (Christopher Wiehl – who also co-wrote the script) soon discovers that these killings are linked to an ancient set of Worry Dolls that were gifted to Bale when he was a boy. Now, with the curse unleashed into the town and his young daughter’s life hanging in the balance, Williams is pitted against the clock to find the dolls and break their curse in order to save her life.

What really appeals to me about both of Reynolds’ features is the maturity of the filmmaking. Often in the DTV world it seems all too easy to descend into the territory of the lowest common denominator, but here he once again manages to blend a far-fetched backdrop with a believably straight-faced narrative which explodes repeatedly into moments of gloriously sickening violence and gore. It’s a police procedural playing alongside a greatest hits LP of all our favourite straight-to-video horror tropes, as we witness acts of insane brutality like a drill through a skull that would make even Abel Ferrara wince. Such a litany of plaudits will always be lost on the curmudgeonly so-called genre aficionado who stumbles at the irrationality of Reynolds’ picture, but look, it’s a horror movie; embrace the idiocy and dig this kooky slice of carnage. You’ll feel better for it.

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I have to say it concerns me when I actually like all three Junkyard entries in a specific week. It makes me question the begrudging, petulant and ever-so-bitchy nature of my personality. Hey ho, and it is with some head-scratching bewilderment that I give the new Luke Goss film, CROSS THE LINE, any semblance of praise.

Originally called Operator, The Brothers Olsen’s sophomore film seems to underline a fetish for phone-based thrillers of menace considering their debut picture, Unknown Caller, centred on an anonymous individual causing mayhem by phone. In Cross the Line, Pamela (Mischa Barton) mans the switchboard of a 911 call centre when she and her estranged husband Jeremy (Luke Goss), a police officer, a roped into a dangerous game of cat and mouse by a sadistic criminal who orders them to dispatch emergency service teams into booby trapped locations. With the kidnapper holding their daughter hostage, they are left desperate and with no choice but to follow the madman’s rules.

I’ll happily admit that the flaws in this movie are lit in six foot neon signage, while most of the plot developments are telegraphed well in advance. Having said that, by lifting elements of The Call, Saw and a degree of Larry Cohen-esque B-movie ingenuity, such weaknesses are rendered forgivable given the unapologetic schlockiness of the whole affair. Besides, when you check the clock for the first time in the movie and there’s only ten minutes left, you know that amid all the far-fetched insanity, this direct-to-video piece of cheese has served you well.

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