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

I must admit that I’ve looked forward to every one of this wave of Frightfest Presents titles. The dozen or so movies that began to be released in the UK back in March have been defined by an impressively broad palette that’s succeeded in moving from the creature-feature led hijinks of The Sand to the zom-com zaniness of Night of the Living Deb. What I really admire though is the ambition to issue films that really don’t fit into the conventional predictability that so many horror films fall into. Some Kind of Hate certainly ticked that box, while AfterDeath did too – a film I personally didn’t take to, but it’s certainly picked up a loyal band of devotee’s, so power to it.

One film that certainly belongs in that latter category is Ruth Platt’s THE LESSON. Handed the overtly simplistic synopsis that it’s about two schoolboy delinquents who fall foul of a teacher who decides to abduct them, it’s a film that certainly has more facets than that condensed description.

Rooted in social commentary, its heart lies initially in the kitchen sink realism of Shane Meadows or Andrea Arnold as we meet Fin, played with subtle brilliance by first-timer Evan Bendall, who’s under the guardianship of his older brother Jake (Tom Cox), and prone to falling into the feral traps of a disillusioned adolescence. Despite his hard exterior, Platt’s use of dialogue free scenes of observation hint at Fin’s inner vulnerability, mixed with near monochrome flashbacks of a better life with his mother, he’s a tough character not to feel a degree of compassion for.

The shift from the daily grind of school life to the power tool laden den of his English teacher, Mr. Gale (Robert Hands), where Fin finds himself kidnapped, bound and gagged is a stark change in tone, and it’s also a place where we’ll spend over half of the feature, something that will no doubt leave the ADHD among you twisting impatiently in your seats.

With Platt’s dialogue so rich in literary references delivered so well by Hands, and with a deep-rooted empathy for Fin already established, the torture section never drags. Instead it plays out like a gripping game of cat and mouse; a cathartic necessity for Mr. Gale, but a journey of self-discovery for Fin. I’ll admit, The Lesson is a hard sell owing to its straddling of genres that have rarely been pitched together, but if you’re feeling ambitious with your choice of horror movie this week, this Frighfest Presents title is an impressive leftfield pick-up.

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If I tell you that SHARKTOPUS vs PTEROCUDA sucked, you’ll likely come back at me with a retort such as “…and the Pope is Catholic”. Thing is, long-time readers will be fully aware of my shameless passion for all things SyFy, Asylum and Creature-Feature orientated, so my disdain of this newbie undoubtedly qualifies as a Junkyard mic-drop moment!

A scientist embarks on creating a creature that is half pterodactyl and half barracuda, a Pterocuda. However, just as he achieves his goal, the creature escapes. As it runs rampant, destroying everything and everyone in its path, the scientists realize there is only one thing that can stop it – Sharktopus!

Produced by Roger Corman’s New Horizons Pictures, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with a bad word to say about this legend of the film industry, although I think there would be a polite consensus to the fact that the majority of his output destined for the SyFy Channel falls even below their low standards.

Worse than that is the fact that it pretty much dips below the never-ending conveyor belt of Asylum films. There’s a different tone to New Horizons grot that veers wide of David Michael Latt’s campy schlock; worse acting, bargain basement CGI rendering, and buckets full of woeful digital blood too. They miss the regulation B-movie trash insanity, opting instead for a more pedestrian show of predictability under the pretence of a so-called wacky aquatic face off.

Sharktopus vs Pterocuda is director Kevin O’Neill’s fifth film for New Horizons, with his debut stretching back to 2004’s Dinocroc, and therein lies the issue really. Over the course of the last decade, this much maligned, critically lambasted genre has in fact evolved. Like it or not, it’s a post-Sharknado world, and O’Neill’s latest just seems very much outdated.

On the plus side though, if you do feel the compulsion for an evening of Pterodactyl and Barracuda themed mayhem, then I heartily recommend indulging in the awesomeness of Mark L. Lester, and his 2005 movie Pterodactyl, followed swiftly by Barracuda, Harry Kerwin’s Jaws-tastic rip-off from 1978. You’ll thank me.

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