Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Luca Boni and Marco Ristori have been knee-deep in the murky world of low-rent zombie schlock for the best part of their career, pumping out a glut of Italian-lensed z-grade ode’s to the undead like Eaters (2011), Apocalypse Z (2013) and Zombie Massacre 2: Reich of the Dead (2015). For their latest, HOUSE OF EVIL, they’ve (thankfully) escaped the flesh-rotting grasp of the coffin dodgers to move into the frugal charm of Andrew Jones territory, and they’ve very nearly pulled it off.
With an IMDb synopsis that hardly fills you with enthusiasm (‘Couple is moving on the countryside in old mansion’), Boni and Ristori’s film takes the bold step of uprooting its two leads, Andrew Harwood and Lucy Drive, and placing them deep in the Italian countryside at some point during the seventies. Thanks to the sparsity of the sets and the isolated location this works pretty well, even if there’s an undeniable Ed Warren riff to Harwood’s character, with a dash of The Amityville Horror (1979) to the film in general.
One aspect that can’t be understated though is the property: an archetypal Tuscan villa with its soft yellow render and crumbling façade, it could well be the star of the movie. Both Harwood and Drive are good as John and Kate, the married couple with issues bubbling beneath the surface, but I’m lost as to the reason for their faux-American accents. It’s a minor quibble, and largely forgettable, as by the time Boni and Ristori finally harness the spirit of the iconic filmmakers that share their nationality, it builds to a satisfying climax that wraps itself contentedly in its Italian roots.
At last! A sequel to 7 Nights of Darkness (2011). Nope, me neither, and alas with it being on the verge of going out-of-print, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll ever catch up with Allen Kellogg’s first movie, but judging by his second, OUT OF THE DARKNESS, I don’t think I’m too concerned about that.
Thanks to a handy recap, we’re reminded that in 2010 six reality TV contestants entered an abandoned asylum known as the Madison seminary, and all but one of the contestants disappeared. Today, Cynthia O’Neil (Brooke Morrison) has enlisted the help of a television producer to revisit the asylum to find out what happened to her missing father. So, with the only survivor, Carter Osbourne (Kellogg) in tow, they venture back into the sinister confines of this seemingly haunted building.
While reality TV can foot the blame for a percentage of society’s ills, credit must be given for its influence on horror. Since the turn of the millennium a host of very cool films have adapted its well-worn tropes, with Slashers (2001), Hell Asylum (2002) and Grave Encounters (2011) being three that you should hold in the highest regard.
More condemned than commended, it’s a sub-genre that in recent years needs a shot in the arm, though Out of the Darkness does little to achieve this despite a wise-cracking, snappy set-up that offers a glimmer of hope towards something promising. Its main fault lies in Kellogg’s failure to make Cynthia’s quest for her father the central point of the story. You can see that’s where he wants it to be, and had he harnessed it you feel it would have given the film a real human edge, but it just gets lost amid an oversized ensemble cast, and a narrative that struggles to gain momentum.
Granted, as the final reel edges to a conclusion that’s shrouded in darkness and lit by the green tint of night vision, it does at least attempt to satisfy a fun-sized portion of our horror urges, even if it means blocking out the cacophony of wails and screams to make it to the end credits.
I make no apologies for being a total label whore, and Gilt Edge Media are one that confound and delight in equal measure with their never-ending cascade of supermarket friendly discs. I find myself wondering if the suits that run the company ever actually watch the films that they license, such is the staggering variance in quality. Having said that, with a price point that’s regularly in the ballpark of just five English pounds, their catalogue makes for an entertaining game of DTV roulette.
Landing a straight-up bet then is INITIATION, an impressively constructed low-budgeter that doesn’t waste a second of its seventy-eight minute runtime with messy exposition or futile conversation. It’s a back-of-a-beermat sized storyline where five hostages are forced to fight for their freedom against the members of a mysterious brotherhood. Teasing snippets are revealed about the characters as the film goes on, although we are granted a little more of a window into the life of Simon (Adam Ryan Rennie), a former marine who’s battled adversity in his military career and immediately gets the nod to be the potential survivor from this grim situation.
The hope of victory for the hostages in their impending one-on-one’s is a distant one, with the fraternity of six-packs comprising of a highly-trained quintet of inductees that are ready for battle. Shades of David DeCoteau’s Brotherhood franchise come to mind, most notably in the buff bodies and strict uniform, although it’s a little more middle-aged and markedly less homoerotic! One film that it is reminiscent of is the Zoe Bell starring Raze (2013), and that’s not an overly generous comparison.
There aren’t many surprises in Oren Benamor’s film, and as it heads to its inevitable final fight I honestly don’t think I can level that as a criticism. Along with his cousin Dan who he co-wrote the script with, they’ve taken a simple premise and executed it with lean efficiency to produce a wincingly violent slice of direct-to-video goodness.
Sticking with Gilt Edge Media, here’s a shout out for Patrick Rea’s excellent woods-based nightmare, ENCLOSURE. Having accrued the kind of publicity that typically rules a movie out of DTV Junkyard inclusion thanks to its appearance at FrightFest last year, I was such an admirer of his previous movie, Nailbiter (2013), that I thought it was worth mentioning that this cool little movie is only three quid in your local ASDA right now.
If you didn’t catch its wave of press awareness last summer, Rea’s movie sees Dana (Fiona Dourif) and Charles (Kevin Ryan) deep in the awkwardness of a relationship crisis. They’re an artistic, convention-defying couple, with Charles a musician and Dana a photographer, but right from the outset we know that she’s keeping something from him. With both parties keen to heal their union in any way possible, they head out on a camping trip into a secluded utopia, but it’s not long before hidden secrets come to light and they find themselves facing threats from both inside and outside their enclosure.
I’ll admit that the notion of couples counselling wrapped in the luminous glow of yellow canvas doesn’t make for the most compelling of horror concepts. With a handful of features and dozens of shorts to his name though, Rea is an experienced filmmaker, and along with co-writer Michelle Davidson has somehow managed to craft something startlingly original with superbly written characters that have been cast to perfection with Dourif and Ryan.
Anyone with a low tolerance threshold for one location based movies will likely find Enclosure a slog, which is a pity, as it’s an atmospheric slice of backwoods folklore that has many more facets to it than simply ‘two people in a tent’. The last ten minutes may yield a cocked-head of slack-jawed bewilderment, but that in itself emphasises the fact that Patrick Rea has taken us down to the woods and delivered big surprise.
House of Evil, Out of the Shadows and Enclosure were released to UK DVD on the 29th May, with Initiation on 12th June. The latter two are exclusive to the supermarket chain ASDA.
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