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

Pretty exciting huh! LEATHERFACE; a Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise entry that has the potential to sit snugly alongside the heady insanity of Tobe Hooper’s 1986 sequel. Why? Well, when you have the creative team behind such Gallic wonders as Inside (2007), Livid (2011) and Among the Living (2014) attached, you can’t help but get a little bit moist at the prospect of the ‘ol chainsaw wielding maniac being dusted down and fired up once more.

When we’ll get to see this though, I do not know, as the Leatherface that made its way onto the retail shelves of the United Kingdom this week, is certainly nothing to do with the fabled monster of the 1974 original and the six chapters that followed. Instead it’s a slice of low budget crud from the prolific schlockmeister Rene Perez, who in the last seven years has churned out somewhere in the region of fourteen pictures.

Originally titled Playing with Dolls in the US, the quick-witted among you will be right in saying that a similarly-named DTV’er was released in the UK last March. That was actually the sequel, Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust albeit without its subtitle, thus meaning the original is making its debut on these shores as Leatherface.

Now, as if things weren’t already ass-backwards, I’ll add to the mix that the dopey UK distributor, Lightning Pictures, has also managed to put the wrong synopsis on the back of the box – they’ve given an overview of the sequel. So, in case you picked this up expecting to watch the journey of poor single mother Stina, let me correct that by saying that you’ll actually be introduced to Cindy (Natasha Blasick), who having fallen on hard times, accepts a job offer that comes out of the blue. Needless to say, her excitement at this newfound career is abruptly curtailed with the pending rampage of an escaped, deformed serial killer, purposefully released from a local asylum with the intention of continuing his path of carnage.

In DTV Junkyard 51, I called Bloodlust, “Spectacularly awful, but a total hoot from start to finish”. I’d be happy to retain that analysis for Perez’s first movie in the series, but I think I’d only keep the first two words of the sentence. Having finally seen the original, they’re chalk and cheese in terms of enjoyment, with Bloodlust managing to out-perform its distinctly flat predecessor in every department. Leatherface, as it’s now called, is simply devoid of the hedonistically cheap and trashy vibe that the superior sequel possesses, not to mention its brisk pace.

Prepare to hold your head in your hands at the levels of Ed Woodian continuity as we switch from snow-caked landscapes to leafy autumnal scenes and back again, during an interminable wait for anything remotely interesting to happen. The sequel worked so much better thanks to its increased cast and tighter narrative, but here with Blassick pretty much carrying the movie, it only serves to expose her flaws in the way the follow-up could mask such frailties. It’s a similar scenario for our ingeniously cribbed serial killer too; an amalgam of Jason, Freddy, Michael and, well, Leatherface, he’s given so little to do here that his lack of history, backstory and personality makes for a pretty wearisome viewing experience.

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On a brighter note, where did A ROOM TO DIE FOR sneak out of? As we plough on through January, every week seems to throw out a finely-crafted curveball, and now it’s the turn of Dev Shanmugam’s picture to warm my direct-to-video loving heart. Shanmugam, an Indian-born filmmaker who now resides in Oxford, shot this feature in mid-2015, and in a similar venture to The Suffering from a few weeks back, decided to launch a Kickstarter under the films previous title, Rancour, in order to raise a little dough for some post-production fine tuning.

It’s a superbly written film with a chillingly disturbing core of the like I haven’t seen in a British horror movie since Steven Sheil’s Mum & Dad (2008). At the centre of it we find Marcus (Michael Lieber), a stand-up comedian finding it hard to establish his name, while his girlfriend Jill (Loren Peta) is keen for him to pursue a more stable career. Desperate for a break and low on finances, the couple find a room to rent in a charming country house owned by an old couple, Henry (Christopher Craig) and Josephine Baker (Antonia Davis). After moving in though, things become a little unsettling, with their landlords taking an unhealthy interest in their personal lives, as well as the sound of a newborn baby emanating through the house…

There’s just something about Henry and Josephine right from the get-go that makes you fear for the wellbeing of their new lodgers; be it Henry’s idea of dinner table conversation “So, you let your woman go out and work?”, or just the archetypal British middle-class mundanity of their lifestyle that hints at a dark underbelly of perversity. I have to say it’s Christopher Craig’s film, with the veteran actor delivering a performance of finely-nuanced insanity, complete with emotionless monotone voice – “I think we might need to get some more plastic sheeting”.

Shanmugam was bold enough to list a number of highbrow influences in the text of his crowdfunding campaign such as Paul Schrader, and at the heart of A Room to Die For lies a morbid glimpse behind the velour curtain of suburbia that the cinematic titan would be proud of. Fine touches like the operatic score that accompanies the movies most heinous moments serve to heighten the impact of the abominable goings on, while the claustrophobia of a movie set largely within the confines of one property only adds to the uncomfortable vibe.

A Room to Die For has crept unnoticed onto UK retail shelves with week without reviews, without fanfare, and without notice. We have an unambitious culture among most horror bloggers and writers right now, whereby so few will seek films out unless their palms are graced with a screener or a press release. For your own sake, Junkyard readers, don’t let films like this pass you by.

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All of this week’s discs were released in the UK on 16th January 2017


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