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

I fear for them, I really do. I’m talking about the impulse buyer. The person who casually mooches down the DVD aisle in their local supermarket at the weekend and snags a handful of chart movies because of their eye-catching artwork, then berates the films mercilessly on Amazon once they’ve watched them. What else are they to do though? The barrier to their disappointment has gone, as the video store counter jockey (aside from myself) is no more. Where in days gone by there would be a note of caution, followed by a suitable alternative provided by a sarcastic skinny dude who doesn’t look like he’s seen daylight in months, there’s now no safety net. They’re on their own!

It’s all about expectations. People see JURASSIC PREY sat snugly alongside the latest Nicolas Cage movie, and they presume they’ll be treated to a multi-million dollar blockbuster, not a Mark Polonia flick shot for chump change in a couple of days in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. It’s such a double-edged sword. While it’s pretty cool, if a little trippy, to see ten thousand copies (truth) of a Polonia Brothers Entertainment film being manufactured and given pride of place in supermarkets across the UK, I can’t help but feel a pang of concern as to the reaction of the masses!

For the uninitiated, Mark Polonia is the king of SOV. Starting out with his late twin brother John, he made the shot-on-video classic Splatter Farm (1987) at just nineteen years old, and has since followed it with over forty micro-budget schlockers like Saurians (1994) and Feeders (1996). These days his riffs on creature features are something to behold, rooted in his love for the Godzilla movies of old and the seminal era of fifties sci-fi, it’s an influence that Jurassic Prey wears with pride.

As with any Mark Polonia film, we’re treated to a reunion of his usual repertory company of players as three out of work B-movie actors, Andy (Jeff Kirkendall), Sparks (Bob Dennis) and Ed (James Carolus) conspire to steal a wedge of money from the bank account of a film company. Kirkendall is superb here, with his character trading on a career defining role as Kid Crackshot on the lame-o TV show Crack Commandos twenty-five years ago, Andy gives his wife the ruse that they’re off to a fan convention, while moments later he turns up for the robbery wearing the rubber mask of his legendary character as a disguise; “But you WERE Kid Crackshot!” questions Sparks in weary desperation, “Yeah, but it’ll be ironic!” Andy replies.

Meanwhile, Jackie (Danielle Donaghue) is two-timing her shady husband and is desperate to siphon some of his cash off in a similar manner. With both money-making schemes successful, this mismatched quartet find themselves holed up in the same remote cabin, not just on the run from the law, but also a ravenous prehistoric creature that’s on the loose and desperate for human flesh.

With an IMDb rating of 1.7 and comments that range from “unwatchable” to “degrading”, it’s obvious that even after thirty years, Polonia’s style still has the power to offend the majority, yet wildly entertain a select few. I’m certainly in the camp of the latter, and having cooed about Sharkenstein a few months back, I’ll have to restrain myself from an overdose of doe-eyed eulogizing here.

At just over an hour, Jurassic Prey is a brisk and enjoyable venture into modern-day regional filmmaking. Its flaws are obvious for all to see, but we could sit and debate the shortcomings of low budget filmmaking for an eternity. What IS important is the need to remove ourselves from the sterility and blandness of the majority of the movies that get placed before us, and return to embracing the diversity of film as an opportunity for all kinds of artistically minded people to get their visions on screen. This sneering attitude of “I could do better with my iPhone” is both duplicitous and arrogant, and tarnishes the work of bona fide auteurs such as Mark Polonia. Long may his career continue.

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I must admit that any mention of the company Three Wolves or Brightspark tends to elicit a deep sigh and a misty-eyed moment of reminiscence back to such cringe-inducing moments like when Disney threatened a lawsuit against them, or they continually put out half-arsed DTV’ers with an incorrect synopsis or misleading cover. They’ve even been granted the dubious privilege of having a page devoted to them over at the Awful Movies Wiki such is their erroneous reputation.

Their latest release, STRANGERS WITHIN, comes under the Brightspark banner which also appears in the opening credits of this East Sussex partnership between filmmaker and distributor. It’s good to see distros supporting local talent, just as 88 Films have done with their Leicestershire compatriot Steve Lawson. However, while KillerSaurus (2015) and Survival Instinct (2016) demonstrated the ingenuity of a talented auteur, Strangers Within is somewhat of a disappointment for the young director Liam Hooper, irrespective of the unvalidated quotes from Cinema Slasher and Influx Magazine might suggest – “Disturbingly believeable” [sic].

Hooper’s film doesn’t get off to the best of starts; an early sequence that has little bearing on the rest of the film involves the unintentional hilarity of death by expanding cement, and it’s all downhill from here. Sam (Elana Di Troya – credited as Elana De Bleach (!) on the DVD case) is the daughter of a world famous artist, who along with her father live in the splendour of an isolated mansion in the Sussex countryside. Left home alone for the weekend, the innocent notion of inviting a handful of girlfriends around soon turns a little more sinister with the addition of some boys with criminal intentions in mind.

There’s no phone signal in this part of Sussex apparently. I gleaned that nugget of information from the movie as it was emphasised at any given opportunity. Are we really that stupid? It seems a little overzealous to wail so aggressively on a low-budget home-grown picture, but this is one of a multitude of issues that irritate to the point of disbelief, particularly a script that has its overly frequent moments of staggering banality. “What’s in these two doors here?” asks one of the boys, “One’s a shoe cupboard, and so is the other one” replies Sam, “They’re not very big, but they do have a connecting door which is kind of cool”. Add to this some lame film references squeezed in with as much subtlety as a cinder block (“It’s the last house on the left. You can’t miss it”), and you have a screenplay as wearisome as a snap election.

Where did they all get their swimwear from when they arrived with nothing? Why is the room that they’re pretending to be dark, fully illuminated? I don’t always expect explainable continuity in a horror movie, case in point being Jurassic Prey, but, for a movie that obviously wants to be taken very seriously, this falls short in almost every department – and I still don’t have signal.

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All of this week’s discs were released in the UK on the 24th April 2017


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