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

I called out 101 Films for their use of bogus cover quotes just over two years ago now, and with this weeks’ release of LAIR OF THE BEAST it looks like they’re up to their old tricks again:

“Truly Terrifying” (four stars)

“An original action-packed creature feature”

“A fast-paced chiller with a horrifically scary monster… superb!”

All unattributed quotes, although the fact that no other reviews for this movie seem to exist is a bit of a giveaway that they come from non-existent sources. Why do it though? It’s so demeaning to the art contained within, and smacks of desperation.

The irony is of course that Matt McWilliams’ film doesn’t actually need any spurious endorsements as it’s actually a decent little feature. Despite it belonging to the found footage stable – the genre it seems increasingly cool to be bored of, it’s an incredibly well shot movie. As we join the ubiquitous group of friends heading into the woodland to check out the fabled legend, Bryant Jansen’s photography eclipses pretty much every other FF film released this year with the lush, sun-soaked barren isolation of the Californian landscape captured with unexpected elegance.

Such moments of aesthetic grace lift it way above the tottering instability of the norm, to the degree that it almost becomes a hybrid of regular and handheld footage, which is gratifyingly easy on the motion sickness.

The one flaw it has is undoubtedly in the tone. Horror and comedy is notoriously difficult to align, and McWilliams’ insistence on mixing the two simply doesn’t work. It just proves to be an irritant, as the lack of cohesiveness in the humour has the knock-on effect of diminishing the increasing levels of tension. Played straight, it would be dynamite, but the insistence on certain characters goofing about to the point of annoyance is a slight let down. Having said that, the refusal of Lair of the Beast to follow the typical woods-based narrative is commendable, and when the blood, guts and grue do arrive, there’s plenty to be impressed with, and enough to convince me it’s a recommended purchase.

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My Grandad lived alone for the last year of his life, and in the wake of the passing of my Grandma, he befriended an elderly female neighbour seemingly for the sole reason that “We just phone each other every morning to make sure we’re still alive”. Such morbid reality seems to epitomise the UK DTV industry since the collapse of Metrodome last week. If someone that big can fall, how can the others survive? One whose pulse was a little weak of late was the British arm of Monster Pictures. Prior to the release of The Editor last month, they’d only put out one title since last October – certainly grounds for concern, but with this weeks’ arrival of THE SUBJECTS, I must admit it’s good to have their keen eye for cool indie horror still active in this country.

SunSkye, a global technology and pharmaceutical corporation, have created an all-new revolutionary drug that’s now ready for human testing. They recruit a group of eight strangers for the trial, offering them a large sum of money to participate. The conditions are simple; they are locked in an observation room, required to take a pill, and be observed for eight hours. It’s not long before the subjects begin to feel their bodies change. The effects are unlike anything any of them have ever experienced; they are developing superpowers. As their corporate captors motives become more suspect, can the subjects learn to control their newfound abilities and work together to escape the room?

Shot in sequence over the course of thirteen days in Australia, The Subjects is perfect fodder if, like me, you’re partial to a cleverly executed concept played out within the confines of one location. Despite the rather straight-laced synopsis, Robert Mond’s film is incredibly entertaining, peppered with a cool acerbic wit during the opening third; “Have you done trials like this before? Do you have any advice?” asks one newbie, while “Yeah, don’t be a dickhead” comes the deadpan reply.

Needless to say such banter doesn’t last forever, as when an early shift in the status quo occurs, it propels the movie into another gear. With momentum building, so does the level of intrigue as to how this mind-bending puzzle will reach a resolution, which when it comes, underlines an impressive sleight of hand by Mond to grasp his movie by the lapels and uproot it seamlessly to another dimension. An impressive achievement. Kudos also for the cutesy end credits song which is adorably infectious.

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Finally this week, it’s a big bear hug of a welcome back for Jim Gillespie. Etched into the annals of horror folklore after directing firm Zombie Hamster favourite I Know What You Did Last Summer, he then teamed up with Sly for D-Tox, before returning to the genre for the unfairly maligned Venom. Since ’05 though, aside from a TV movie, it’s been a quiet period for the helmsman, which makes his return behind the camera for TAKE DOWN all the more exciting, not least because it’s a pretty good movie too!

A group of spoilt and rebellious rich kids are sent by their parents to a tough-love boot camp on a remote island, where they are given one last chance to take responsibility for themselves. But, when a ruthless mercenary and his right-hand man hold the group hostage for a billion-dollar ransom, the young captives are suddenly forced to work together using their newly acquired survival skills.

With a script from Alexander Ignon who wrote Mel Gibson’s box office cash cow Ransom, as well as the aforementioned Gillespie and his on / off director of photography Denis Crossan, the pedigree is here for a very serviceable DTV’er – a demand it fills with aplomb. Using the Isle of Man for a location fits very snugly with the structure of the movie, and helps take a great idea and execute it to a satisfying level.

Using adjectives like satisfying and serviceable may be classed as damning it with faint praise, but Take Down simply a decent feature. Technically sound, it belies the budget it (presumably) was shot for, so as a supermarket impulse buy for around seven pounds, it comes in as a great bit of Saturday night escapism, and an excellent excuse to become reacquainted with some old friends.

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All of this week’s discs were released in the UK on the 22nd August 2016


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