Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
A cursory glance at the IMDb page for THE HAUNTING OF ANNIE DYER, or Nocturnal Activity as it was previously known, boasts little to persuade you to invest in a purchase of 88 Films’ latest acquisition from director Steve Lawson. A 1.6 score based on a handful of votes, coupled with an absence of user reviews should ensure you pay it little attention, but, if you’re fastidious enough to read the thoughts of British author MJ Simpson who resides as the only critic to offer his opinion, then his immediate post-screening comments to Lawson may well initiate an inkling of curiosity about this picture.
“What you’ve got here, is a Fred Olen Ray film”.
Intrigued? I thought so. Now, before you all rush to your nearest e-tailer to snag yourself a copy, I must emphasise the fact that this movie was made for the small change sum of just over a thousand pounds, with the crew being a sum total of one person – Lawson. In his film we discover that Annie (Raven Lee) is having issues with her new apartment. Not only does she have to contend with the lecherous landlord and his hidden spy cameras designed to capture her most intimate moments, but that her apartment is also home to a malevolent supernatural entity which takes the form of a beautiful young woman.
The Haunting of Annie Dyer is several shades away from perfect, heck it’s even a fair distance from recommendable, but there is a nucleus of something there that makes it worth picking up for the micro-budget aficionados out there. Lawson has gone on to produce some better quality DTV fare in the shape of Killer/Saurus and Survival Instinct, so Annie Dyer with its mediocre American dubbing and prolonged DeCoteau-esque shower sequences just underlines the distance that the Leicester-born filmmaker has travelled since 2014. Besides, if you don’t like the film all that much then the director’s commentary is worth the price of admission alone, as Lawson gives a seventy minute lecture which acts as a fascinating low budget film school for anyone with even the faintest interest in putting together a movie.
I’ve made reference in recent weeks to both the rise to prominence of newbie British distro Gilt Edge Media, as well as their plundering of the ITN Distribution catalogue. This partnership pumps out a pair of schlockers this week that despite their meagre budgets, set a really good standard of independent horror. First up is BEAST OF PREY, clumsily retitled from the far more appropriate Solitude (which came with a cool poster image too), this Minnesota shot movie had its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Festival back in 2014.
It’s an ambitious little number which contains five vignettes set between 1939 and 1999 with a wraparound that tells of James Erickson, who following the death of his mother discovers an old storage locker filled with journals and newspapers that detail his family’s history. As he researches it, he finds out about the evil that his family has tried to contain for several generations on a mysterious piece of property in a small town called Solitude.
Not all of the segments work, although a round of applause coupled with a meaningful nod is deserved for shooting them in the filmmaking style of the day. The ’39 section for example comes across as a little bit Larry Blamire, which if it was a pastiche it would be on point, but alas here it jars with the tone of the picture, although the look and sound of the grainy, crackling black and white footage is superb. Taylor Scott Olsen and Livingston Oden’s film really comes into its own for the final two chapters set in ’86 an ’99, the former being rooted in slasher territory, while the latter almost out-witches Blair Witch, while the boys script throws up the occasional curveball which weaves neatly through the intriguing narrative. A challenging watch for the causal genre fan, but this is a level of creative ingenuity we need more of.
The other title this week that Gilt Edge have procured from the American sales and distribution behemoth is THE EVANGELIST. It brings together the trifecta of Billy and Joseph Pepitone as well as Keith Collins, a forty year old native of New York who came up with the story, produces, and plays Billy, an oddball of a man who displays classic Asperger’s symptoms along with a little agoraphobia. It’s a bizarre tale of the Bible Killer, who once stalked the streets back when Billy was a child, but now a copycat is on the loose it’s up to Detective’s Vance (Doug Bollinger) and Legros (Michael Billy) to end this cycle of terror.
For those expecting a nail-biting exercise in terror, The Evangelist’s horror tropes fall some distance short, but as a tightly shot low-budgeter with a script that stand out from the pack, it’s a very cool little movie, helped immeasurably by the deadpan wit of Vance. He’s a pop culture quoting machine; a wise-cracking, perfectly written slice of genius, the type of who you so rarely see in micro-budget fare. “Y’know Delaney, the only people who wear sunglasses inside are Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and douchebags”, he bemoans to a colleague, while his partner Legros struggles to get a handle on his barbed utterances, “Seriously, I do not get your sixties references”.
Joseph Pepitone’s film doesn’t fit neatly into any specific bracket or pigeon-hole, and it would be easy to find the two parallel threads in the movie a little abrasive given their differing tones. In fact, the chances are that you will cock your head in bewilderment at the uneven nature of this East Coast endeavour, however, irrespective of its issues, I couldn’t help but feel a little love towards this oddity.
Finally this week we have THE WINDMILL MASSACRE, two words that I’m sure have rarely been cast together, and that initially predict an eighty minute bloodbath set in backwoods America, made for chump change and free catering. Well, put your Arkansas jokes on ice for another week as we’re in Holland for this one as Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont), an Australian girl on the run, washes up in Amsterdam. To stay one step ahead of the authorities, she joins a coach load of tourists on a rural tour of the Netherlands’ world-famous windmills. When the bus breaks down, she and the other tourists are forced to seek shelter in a disused shed beside a sinister windmill where, legend has it, a Devil-worshipping miller once ground the bones of locals.
Under the astute direction of Nick Jongerius, who recently produced the wholly impressive Frankenstein’s Army for countryman Richard Raaphorst, The Windmill Massacre has an eye-catchingly polished look to it. With some thoughtful character development for the talented ensemble of mainly British actors to tackle, the finished product belies the rather scuzzy artwork and Scream: The Horror Magazine rent-a-quote that accompanies its home entertainment release.
There’s a similar vibe to Paul Hyett’s Howl here, both in terms of scenario and also practical effects, which are handled with blood-soaked delight by The Hillenbrink brothers, Erik and Rob. On the down side, despite its Amsterdam-based opening and European flavour, the windmill location does seem to mark a slight loss of identity, and against the nocturnal backdrop it veers occasionally into generic territory. Meanwhile, the bulky supporting cast may ensure the kills come thick and fast, but this seems to be at the expense of any sustained threat or palpable tension. It’s just not scary. Irrespective of that fact, I still urge you to check it out, because despite the absence of pant-wetting frights, there’s plenty to appreciate in this neatly crafted film.
All of this week’s discs were released in the UK on the 3rd October 2016
Follow Dave on Twitter