Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Monday morning in your local supermarket is perfect for a game of DTV roulette. With most box office fare being over-saturated with opinion and analysis, it’s amazing how many movies continue to sneak out onto disc with little fanfare and an absence of online reviews. Having said that, there’s a level of empowerment here, harking back to the days when we could venture out and discover things for ourselves, a rite of passage replaced now by the verbal diarrhea of a legion of influential horror bloggers with an agenda, an attitude and an army of sycophants, all kowtowing to what’s hot and what’s not.
This is why The Schlock Pit exists. Free from the daily bell-ringing of PR companies, we pride ourselves on looking out for the bastard children of genre filmmaking, hence why DTV Junkyard primarily covers the movies released in the UK that have been shrugged off by the ‘cool kids’ like a bad case of fleas. It’s with these films though that you find stories that deserve more than the bottom shelf of a sterile supermarket aisle, and THE RIFT is the epitome of that. A cursory glance at the credits may rightly hint at some Balkans-based bedlam, but buried within the Zecevic’s, Konjevic’s and Todorovic’s there’s an Irishman by the name of Barry Keating.
“I think it all comes down to Brian taking a chance on me”. The Brian in question is the God-like figure of Brian Yuzna, who screenwriter Keating revealed to me this week was a central figure in his path into the film business. “I met with him years ago to pitch a book on the Re-Animator series. He was into it, so we developed it, but in the end we couldn’t get a publisher on board. Years later I came back to him with the idea of fleshing out the world of Herbert West in comic form, and again that failed to get off the ground. It did though lead directly to a gig writing one-shot comics for Arrow Video’s boutique Blu-ray releases with my friend Stefan Hutchinson.”
“Our book that was included in the Day of the Dead set was nominated for an award at a horror festival in Italy, which is where I met [Serbian filmmakers] Milan Konjevic and Milan Todorovic. I wound up working on a sequel to their movie Zone of the Dead (2009), before landing the gig writing Killer Mermaid (2014). From there we just kept working together, and it’s been great.”
The Rift begins by introducing us to Liz Waid (Katarina Cas), who after a two year break following the loss of her child is tasked with a mission to secure the remains of a downed military satellite deep in the mountains of Eastern Serbia. Paired with soon-to-be-retired agent John Smith (Ken Foree) and his unconventional techniques, the two discover the body of a long-dead astronaut enshrined in the basement of a secluded woodland property, which leads them to suspect that things are far from what they seem.
Although The Rift isn’t likely to be etched into the annals of DTV folklore any time soon, it is imbued with a quality and an originality that makes it stand high above the majority of its contemporaries. Oozing atmosphere and a palpable sense of menace, our venerable twosome are joined by the great Monte Markham (now in his eighties) as Professor Dysart, which turns the bulk of the movie into a taught three-hander. The concept of the astronaut discovery may make for some really chilling imagery, as well as tip of the hat to The Ninth Configuration (1980), but more importantly it’s just really cool to see Ken Foree sink his teeth into such a well-written part.
If there’s a downside to The Rift, then it’s perhaps the budget that limits just how well some aspects of the storyline could be expanded upon, but it’s an inconvenience that Keating was all too aware of. “Yeah, there were things that didn’t make it in there that got cut for timing reasons and such like. They were cool ideas that could improve the experience for people, but that’s low budget filmmaking for you.” One thing for us eagle-eyed genre fans to spot though is a cameo from the ever-awesome Mick Garris, creator of Master of Horror. “Mick is a gentleman of the genre” Keating enthuses, “The guys get on really well with him, and by chance he was in Serbia for a film festival so they managed to rope him in for a cameo”.
Ambitious to its core, The Rift is certainly a DTV’er to seek out, even if its pacing may leave the ADHD among you twitching with impatience. It’s certainly deserving of some love and attention, which with this being the first English language review, I sincerely hope plenty more follow. As for Barry Keating, is this his favourite screenplay to date? “Oh I can’t single out one! For all of them I think there are things I’d do differently. I’m fond of them all, although Downhill may just perhaps sneak it. It’s just so bat-shit crazy! I had so much fun working on that movie with Patricio [Valladares]. He’s a mad genius!”
Sometimes an actors name is all you need to pick up a movie. I’m thinking of your Tom Noonan, your Harry Dean Stanton, your M. Emmett Walsh; performers of a certain stature that elevate even the most mediocre of pictures. I’d put Kevin Gage in that bracket too, after such memorable performances in films like Heat (1995), May (2002) and Laid to Rest (2009). The fact that MISFORTUNE also happens to feature both Nick Mancuso and the magnificent Steve Earle, is just a welcome bonus.
Misfortune is very much the brainchild of Desmond Devenish, who writes, directs and stars as Boyd, a down on his luck guy who learns about the early parole of Malick (Gage), his father’s killer. When Boyd discovers that the bounty from a jewel heist that his father committed is buried somewhere in the desert, and that that’s where Malick is intent on heading after he gets out of jail, it becomes a race to the death against a man who will stop at nothing to get what he feels is owed to him.
There is something very welcome about a well-shot, simply constructed slice of direct-to-video crime movie. We were saturated with them in that immediate post-Reservoir Dogs (1992) era, but a quarter of a century later, their prevalence is sorely missed. Devenish gets the tone just right here, utilising Gage and his effortlessly intimidating ways to perfection, while it’s important to note how well Devenish performs in this as well. His first feature film role since his teenage years, he’s crafted a cool character in Boyd, and an excellent trio to fit him into alongside girlfriend Sloan (Jenna Kanell) and best friend Russell (Xander Bailey, who co-wrote the script). At times it may teeter on the brink of being predictably perfunctory with a handful of lapses into narrative convenience, but its easily forgivable thanks to a light and zippy storyline and a handful of surprises to ensure that it’s certainly a keeper.
All of this week’s discs were released in the UK on the 27th March 2017
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