Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
A shout for New Zealand horror movies among friends usually elicits a fervent cry from the Jackson-ites for Bad Taste and Braindead, though more recently there’s an increasingly loud shout towards Housebound, Deathgasm and What We Do in the Shadows. All five of these southern hemisphere movies sit deservedly in the left atrium of every genre lovers heart, although with this critic being a consistent champion of the undervalued, I’d insist on a shout for Greg Page’s The Locals, Scott Reynolds’ The Ugly, and Tim Boxell’s awesome creature-feature Aberration. Where THE DEAD ROOM will find itself among such awesomeness is still early to call, but I have a distinct feeling that it will.
When a horrific incident causes a family to flee a desolate New Zealand farmhouse, two cynical scientists, Scott (Jeffrey Thomas) and Liam (Jed Brophy) as well as a young psychic, Holly (Laura Petersen), are sent to investigate their claims of a haunting. The perilous situation that affected the previous tenants is only alluded to, as when Jason Stutter’s impressive feature opens, we’re enveloped by lush aerials across the mountainous Kiwi landscape which finds are eyebrow-raising threesome on the drive into isolated territory.
They’re such a strange mix of people. Scott is perhaps the most forthright of the three; sixty plus and somewhat curmudgeonly, his cynicism is apparent with every laconically delivered observation. Liam meanwhile is more of a straight-laced, optimistic nice guy, while Holly seems your archetypal Goth girl, but such a stark contrast to her cohorts. What IS a common factor amongst them is their sheer likability, which makes the leisurely early pace fly and you’re so taken with such well written characters.
As the film progresses and the powerful spirit within the house begins to come to the fore, The Dead Room enters the rare territory that so few horror movies seem capable of occupying – it’s actually scary. It seems ironic how I write this weekly column, yet the ‘s’ word seems to be such a sparsely used adjective. The whole movie thrives on its simplicity; the tiny cast, the one location and the austere fights, and I have to admit, had it not already been the hottest day of the year in the UK, chances are Stutter’s film would still have had me wiping the sweat from my brow, such was the intensity of the terror unleashed.
I have to say I certainly derive the most satisfaction from weeks like this on DTV Junkyard, where Zombie Hamster has the opportunity to shed the light on some new releases that so few other websites are covering. Next up, and although it doesn’t reach the same heights as our first feature, Ivan Kraljevic’s THE HARVESTING does however belie its rather generic artwork to sit quite comfortably as a satisfying DTV’er.
To escape their marital problems, a family decides to have a change of pace and travels from their home in Philadelphia to spend the summer embraced in the rolling hills of the countryside. But, on the eve of the summer solstice, a malevolent evil presence exposes their darkest secrets and threatens to turn them against each other with murderous intent, leaving them desperately trying to find a way to break free before the demonic hold consumes them all.
The Montenegro-born Kraljevic boasts an impressive list of credits under the guise of a 2nd assistant director, with time spent on the set of such goodness as Midnight Meat Train and John Carpenter’s The Ward. Therefore, it’s no real surprise that his debut feature looks the real deal, capturing the rolling hills and captivating traditions of Amish Country, which in this case is Lancaster, PA.
Amish-themed scare tales probably don’t come much better that Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing, but with a couple of direct-to-video titles skirting around the subject of the Christian church fellowships, notably Kaw and Where the Devil Hides, it’s a subject that lends itself to the genre really well. The Harvesting does occasionally get a little bogged down in a slow burn of an opening half, but in the midst of this Kraljevic succeeds in putting in place all the relevant chess piece of Ben Everhart’s tight script, as characters are given time to grow and a clear backstory is then able to emerge.
The gradual erosion of the patriarch’s mental stability supplies the feature with a delicate increase in tension, and although it seems like I’m damning it with faint praise, this was simply a maturely directed, subtle-natured horror movie. Admittedly, it’s unlikely to give you nightmares, nor will it do lasting damage to your fingernails, but, as a well-constructed journey into a sinister solstice, it’s another top pick-up from Matchbox Films, and I’d say it’s worth the seven pounds you’re likely to pay for it.
Finally this week, a quick note on CURTAIN, which is out now as part of Icon Home Entertainment’s FrightFest Presents range of releases. Jaron Henrie-McCrea’s film sees burnt out nurse Danni move into a new apartment in search of a simpler life. Charged with canvassing a litany of unreceptive people on the streets of New York as part of her new job with ‘Whale Savers’, her environmentalist buddy Tim – “I don’t know what you did before, but this is life and death”, is pretty much her only confidant.
Though hardly enamoured by her new found surroundings, Danni does seem to have an air of satisfaction now that she’s out from under the feet of her Uncle Gus. However, when her shower curtains begin disappearing through a mysterious portal in her bathroom wall, things take a turn for the worst, and it’s a conundrum she’s desperate to get to the bottom of, irrespective of the increasingly precarious situation that encompasses such strange events.
I wrote last week about how each FrightFest Presents title has been a joy to peel the shrink-wrap off, irrespective of quality, just for the unbridled variation of what’s contained within. Curtain may well be the peak of this, as it’s certainly my favourite film to date in their Class of 2016. I love the scale of it; just a handful of actors, all going by their real first name, which in itself lends the movie an intimacy that’s hard to match.
The storyline is blissfully ridiculous, but in its largely straight-faced delivery, you find yourself drawn in to the absurdity of it all, helped largely by the vulnerability of Danni in a new apartment buried deep within the city. With its permit-free location shooting in New York and the ambitious script, it’s hard not to be reminded of Larry Cohen, which is the highest compliment I think you can pay a little indie like this.