d./w. Tony Newton, Sam Mason Bell; p. Tony Newton, Sam Mason Bell; cast: Martin W Payne, Cindy Valentine, Simon Berry, Chris Mills, Rebecca Rolph, Sam Mason-Bell
A very, very, very strange film, Toxic Schlock
promises zombies but they only appear (pretty much out of nowhere) in the last 20 minutes. Three eco-terrorists hole up in an isolated beach-front guest-house owned by an unconvincing transvestite and a squeaky-voiced child-woman (with a Scooby-Doo gimp chained up downstairs). The Seaside Strangler – a naked, clown-faced serial killer – is at large. Too much time is spent on long, talkie scenes that play like comedy sketches without actually being funny. Every so often a new character enters and announces their identity like a bad stage thriller. Eventually the zombies appear and the child-woman turns, without explanation, into a cross between Harley Quinn and The Bride, leading to a largely wordless, stylish, chambara-influenced last five minutes – vastly different to (and better than) anything that has gone before. Distributed by Troma, with Uncle Lloyd and former Michael J Murphy associate Phil Lyndon providing radio announcer voices. Filmed in Clacton and Southsea in 2017.
- Available to watch on TromaNow
d./w./p. Ian Lewis; cast: Abigail McKern, Eleanor Howell, Ben Cartwright, Charlotte Ammerlaan, Anita Elias, Kevin Analuwa, Yvonne Riley
Intriguing and original ghost story bolstered by some strong acting which more than makes up for a few cut-price visual effects. Joanne and Nick are small-time crooks running a fake psychic/burglary racket who need to hide somewhere when a victim’s son rumbles them. Abandoning their car, they find an isolated house beside a lake. This is home to young, confident Naiad and Queenie, who is convinced that Joanne is her long-lost daughter. The complex story involves a portal to another realm, with Joanne an intrinsic part of the tale and Nick the sceptical mortal caught up in it all. Two ghostly children pop up occasionally. The gradual build-up of spookiness is well-handled in Lewis’ script and direction, with all three leads taking the material seriously. Rumpole offspring McKern is particularly good as the enigmatic Queenie. Lewis’ only other feature was the equally obscure Enchantress. Originally released on the now defunct Indiereign website in June 2008, this has been unavailable for some years and deserves another chance.
d./w. Ian Lewis; p. Ian Lewis, Melloney Rolfe; cast: Nicholas Ball, Olivia Llewellyn, Sam Hudson, Julian Shaw, Johanne Murdock, Cark Kirshner, Alexandra Legouix, James Simmons, Nika Khitrova, Abigail McKern
Curious second feature from the director of Children of the Lake
. Ball (Hazell to viewers of a certain age) plays stage magician Merlin who may be the real thing. For the first hour this is a local politics drama about plans for a new estate involving a corrupt councillor, a dodgy builder and a juvenile delinquent trying to save his gran’s house – all of whom want Merlin’s magical help. The titular enchantress is Merlin’s stepson’s girlfriend Vivianne (Llewlleyn: Mina Harker in Penny Dreadful
) who returns from India, announcing that her boyfriend Davie died in a bus crash. In the final act this takes a turn into Monkey’s Paw
territory with Viviane persuading Merlin to bring back Davie, plus assorted deaths and two characters turned into gerbils! Technically fine with a decent cast of TV actors, the film’s main problem is that it just takes too long to become interesting. Shot in 2010 as The Death of Merlin
, this premiered in Houston in April 2013.
d./w. Mark Stirton; p. Michael G Clark; cast: Junichi Kajioka, Steve Campbell, Fraser Napier, Aria Morrison-Blyth, Barry Thackrey, Alistair Richie, Lucy Philip, Mark Wyness, Mike Mitchell
Largely devoid of dialogue, this impressive game of cat and mouse plays out against the stunning vistas of the Cairngorms and offers something more than just a psycho stalker. UK-based Japanese actor Kajioka plays an unnamed artist who hikes into the Scottish wilds to camp and paint the landscape. He is targeted by ‘the Gamekeeper’, a masked and bekilted nemesis armed with a range of firearms, an RC drone and an unseen (for reasons which become clear but are, to be honest, fairly obvious) dog. Though never explained, a splash panel prologue suggests there is some supernatural element to the Gamekeeper who pursues his quarry at one inexplicable remove, taking him down each night with a tranquiliser dart and even erecting his tent. There’s all sorts of weirdness going on here, lifting what could easily have been a formulaic thriller into gripping, scary, mind-scrambling horror territory. Brian Cox provides brief name-value narration. Stirton and producer/DP Clark previously made ambitious sci-fi epic The Planet
and black comedy One Day Removals
d./w./p. Richard Driscoll; cast: Steven Craine, Michael Madsen, Patrick Bergin, Bai Ling, Eileen Daly, Rebecca Lynley
Released less than a year after Grindhouse Nightmares
, Driscoll’s seventh feature is a rambling, crime-action-noir-horror-superhero-vigilante hodgepodge with all the narrative coherence of a trailer compilation. Madsen (seen only in stock driving footage and one scene with Bergin) is an ex-cop hunting down millionaire psycho William Bard (Driscoll/Craine) who becomes Joker rip-off ‘The Comedian’ after his face is slashed. Bergin is a corrupt New York Mayor; Ling is an exotic dancer who springs Bard from jail; Lynley is Bard’s mother in a Batman
rip-off flashback – and Daly is Elizabeth Bathory (or ‘Bathroy’ – inconsistent character names abound). Her irrelevant extended cameo – bathing in either milk or virgin’s blood – is bizarre, even by the standards of a film which seems to change style and plot every five minutes. Some scenes consist almost entirely of badly drawn comic panels with misspelled captions. Stealing ideas/imagery from Kick-Ass
, Suicide Squad
and especially Sin City
, this was filmed (as The Black Knight
) in Cornwall and Sheffield in January 2017 with a few green-screen days in LA. With Steve Munroe as a pimp, a teacher named Mary Shelley, a random raven death and Driscoll reciting the opening monologue from Richard III
. But no assassins. Sequel The Kamikaze Squad
is threatened at the end.
d./w./p. Richard Mansfield; cast: Matthew Hunt, Kathryn Redwood, Daniel Mansfield
When Richard Mansfield upped sticks from London to Nottingham, he incorporated the move into this zero-budget found footager which is vastly better than most comparable films. Hunt is believable and likeable as Nick, a video maker who keeps his hand in with a documentary about his new house in the couple of weeks before starting his new day-job. The Victorian terraced cottage, which is Mansfield’s own (actually on Mansfield Street) has the curious bumps and creaks one might expect from any vintage house, but the weirdness on show gradually increases to moved furniture and eventually actual figures, caught on Nick’s motion-capture security camera. Editing the footage together, he looks for a rational explanation but can’t find one. A pleasant but slightly creepy tarot-reading neighbour doesn’t help. With excellent use of split screen and some nice location work around Nottingham city centre and on the city’s trams, this is another fine slice of James-ian horror from the Mansfield Dark label that will leave you genuinely creeped out.
d./w. Matthew Holness; p. Wayne Marc Godfrey, James Harris, Robert Jones, Mark Lane; cast: Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong, Simon Bubb, Charlie Eales
The writer/star of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, the funniest British horror TV series ever made, makes his feature debut with an unremittingly grim and bleak tale of mental health problems and child abuse. Philip returns to the run-down house where he grew up with his uncle. Awkward, socially uncomfortable and probably with learning difficulties, Philip carries everywhere a leather bag containing Possum, a large, weird puppet combining a replica of Philip’s own head with long spider legs. Recurring attempts to destroy Possum come to nought, suggesting it might not be real (as may other aspects of the film). Short on dialogue and action, with long, semi-static sequences on featureless Norfolk beaches, this challenging feature is the unholy offspring of David Lynch and MR James. Holness adapted his own short story, written for an anthology of tales inspired by Freud’s essay on the uncanny. Shot in November 2017, this debuted in Edinburgh in June 2018. If you enjoy movies that no-one else you know likes, this could be for you. Music by the Radiophonic Workshop!
d./w. various; p. Tony Newton; cast: Mhairi Calvey, Nathan Head and many, many more
Virus of the Dead could very well be the ultimate found footage zombie film. The 102 minutes is split into 30-odd fragments telling 22 nihilistic stories, all of which start out unhappy and conclude not much later bleakly and/or suddenly. There’s no first act of scene-setting normality, no strained “let’s film everything” justification. Everyone is either vainly filming their life when the undead attack or making a video message for posterity as ghoulish hordes scratch at the door. As a representation of a global society suddenly splintering into chaos and the immediate, arbitrary destruction of people’s lives, this is bang on the money. Though most of the segments are American, the project was conceived, curated, edited and produced by prolific anthologiser Newton, creator of Troma’s Grindsploitation series and co-creator of much of Trash Arts’ output. British contributors are Christopher Jolley (Whisper), Keiron Hollett (director of the unreleased Blood Curse), Dan Brownlie (Serial Kaller) and Newton himself. Return of the Living Dead 3 scripter John Penney and German trash legend Timo Rose also contribute segments.