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

After last weeks’ Andrew Jones / Steve Lawson love-in, I thought I’d turn my attention towards Steven M. Smith, another British indie filmmaker who has a similarly prolific output. I must be honest though, I’ve not yet enjoyed anything that the Essex-bred filmmaker has put out so far. His glut of hooligan-based films is about as appealing to me as deep-frying my nuts, while Haunted (2013) which was later retitled Ghosts I called “Bland, forgettable and interminably dull”, while accusing 101 Films of being “A dumb distro that’s fast losing their eye for a good film.”

However, being a critic is all about giving artists a second chance. We all evolve in our chosen career path – at least that’s the intention, so with a double header of Smith-lensed fare hitting retailers in the run up to Halloween, I figured I’d flip a coin on The Doll Master (2017) and THE HOWLING (2017) and take in the victor.

I’m long over the outrage of crafty ploys by distributors to sell a few extra units, such as giving them eye-catching titles that seep into classic film territory (An Amazon reviewer lambasted Hellriser this week for not featuring Pinhead), or artwork that promises something that it’s unable deliver. With DTV’ers frequently selling short of two-hundred units, you have to do what you have to do. I will though draw the line at bogus quotes, and those that adorn the rear copy of The Howling rankle somewhat, while the fake ‘18’ certification is more cause for head-shaking disapproval.

Having said that, my confidence in the competence of all concerned wasn’t exactly elevated by the nonsensical synopsis on the box. To wit: ‘The mystery of Rathbone and all his ungodly creatures of hell is well known on the internet. In fact, his elusive presence even brings out fanboys.” Say what?

What it’s really about is Kirsty (Tiffany-Ellen Robinson) and her boyfriend Jason (Eirik Knutsvik) who along with their bookish friend Sophia (Maria Austin) head into the wilds of Essex in search of the legend of Dr. Rathbone (Jon-Paul Gates), a notorious medical madman who’s regarded as a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein. At the behest of Jason they have their cameras at the ready with the intention of creating the next big YouTube sensation, but alas they couldn’t begin to prepare themselves for the horrors that are about to be unleashed (predominantly from a technical point-of-view obviously).

There will always be bad movies, but the consistency with which Smith’s movies are snapped up by 101 Films (and occasionally High Fliers) defies belief. I spoke with the esteemed author MJ Simpson recently and asked him what the hardest film was to locate, but in turn the most rewarding. He replied with Harmony’s Requiem (2010), a film by Mark McDermott that true to Mike’s word is a stunning British genre movie. Alas, it remains unreleased and all but forgotten, while films like The Haunting enjoy a print run of around four thousand units and pride of place at supermarkets and retailers across the land.

The Howling is at best described as Ed Woodian, while at its worst technically inept. Filmed in black and white to presumably create an air of the classic Universal monster movies, it aims for James Whale but ends up being closer to something his Surrey-born shock jock namesake might create instead.

With two dozen credits to his name, I’m aghast at how some of the sequences in the movie made it into the final cut of Smith’s feature. Two specific scenes stand out, with the first being when our threesome of adventurers encounter the ancient lair of Dr. Rathbone (fitted with fire doors and a fully operational sprinkler system just in case) and are introduced to Shelley (Hans Hernke). The lighting appears to have been done by Stevie Wonder, as the figure of Rathbone’s henchman drifts from total darkness to partial lumination and back again. The second moment that’s etched into my brain is during a quite tender moment between Rathbone and his wife, which is ruined by possibly the worst framing I’ve seen a movie this year by a camera operator who seems to have indulged in a few too many sherbets during their lunch break.

Rounded off by a plot twist that’s explained with the aid of flashbacks, which are presumably included for the benefit of people with an IQ under six, or for the lucky few who drifted off after the first ten minutes, The Howling only solidified my self-imposed avoidance of anything bearing the name Steven M. Smith. Even a cameo from the superb Clive Jackson of Doctor and the Medics along with two new tunes on the soundtrack does little to break the air of discontent. On the plus side though, at least they didn’t release a promo video of the cast and the Medics dancing to Sprit in the Sky. Oh wait…

2004

The Howling was released to UK DVD on Monday 9th October


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