Every year in the run up to Halloween, the good people at Poundland cram their shelves with horror DVDs that nobody else wants and wait for the gullible to come along and buy them under the impression they’re getting a bargain.
Here’s three I bought and watched over the weekend just gone.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988)
Horror hostest with the mostest Elvira is off to a boonies town for the reading of her great aunt’s will, and finds herself in a magical fight with Evil Uncle Vinnie on the one hand and on the other helping liberate the local kids from the edicts of the puritannical town council led by Chastity Pariah, so that they can pursue their constitutional right to watch horror movies and check out each other’s butts. Basically it’s Footloose: The Horror Remix. Usually I’m into kooky women who dress entirely in black and flaunt their looks, but in the case of Elvira actress Cassandra Peterson, with her big hair and bigger cleavage, I think I’ll pass. The film is about as unsubtle as Elvira’s dress sense, with endless boob jokes and sad attempts at parody of other films and game shows, and yet for all of that there did come a moment when I found myself having a good time. Idiotic as it all seems, at least the cast have the sense not to take themselves seriously, and that redeems it slightly. The film’s heart is in the right place and the bad guy of the piece is entertainingly over the top, while Peterson brings her ‘A’ game to the Las Vegas finale with a passable attempt at Cher karaoke. One of those films that probably go better with beer.
13th Child (2002)
Assistant DA Kathryn Tatum is sent off to the Jersey Pine Barrens, where an escaped convict is supposed to have been torn apart by the Jersey Devil. Sceptical at first, a night spent in the house of local weirdo Mr Shroud is enough to convince Kathryn that something is seriously awry, though nothing can prepare her for the secret of the Jersey Devil. With its opening shots of television reportage, initially this made me think of The Last Broadcast and later of The Blair Witch, with close ups on Tatum’s scared face. And, to be fair, once you get past the hokum of the old Indian legend and the cliche of the madman who knows the truth, there’s a decent story here, with a neat twist at the end. Where it falls down is on the budget, most of which seems to have been spent on a monster that’s a cross between the demon from Legend and Giger’s Alien. As to the rest, it appears to have been shot on a shoestring, with the statewide manhunt consisting of a park ranger and somebody seconded from NYPD, while the coroner works out of a room only slightly larger than a broom closet and little effective use is made of the Jersey Pine Barrens setting (most of the time it could just as easily be Shipdham Plantation). There’s a totally gratuitous nude scene, another shot with somebody sacrificing a deer to the Devil which is never explained, and calling the bad guy Shroud is just too obvious (might as well have hung a sign on the guy with the word MONSTER). Sad to see the likes of Cliff Robertson, Lesley-Anne Down and Robert Guillaume reduced to this.
Campfire Stories (2001)
A portmanteau film, the opening sequence of which, with the pages of a comic book being flipped, suggests that they’re going for a Creepshow vibe, the obnoxious Ranger Bill standing in for The Crypt Keeper. The framing sequence has two guys in a car stopping for a girl by the side of an isolated road and heading off into the forest with her in search of something like a rave, but instead they end up lost and seated by a fire while the menacing Ranger Bill tells them campfire stories. The first of three is a by the numbers piece of nonsense in which four college jocks end up tormenting the wrong person, an escapee from a lunatic asylum. To call it naff would be to do the word a disservice. Contrarily I enjoyed the second segment, in which three teen killers try to rob an Indian chief and end up biting off more than they can chew. There’s some sparkly effects as the three smoke the chief’s weed, and the end twist is gratifying, neatly tying it all back into the opening scene. We’re back in the land of naff for the third sequence, with two young ladies luring their would be lovers to a possibly haunted house for some payback. All the cliches are exploited, with a killer stalking the young bloods and some nifty camerawork to prevent us seeing who it is, while just about everyone is a suspect. The allusions to Scream were obvious, not least in the presence of an inept deputy who made Officer Doofey look like a sophisticate. About the only thing it had going for it was that the young ladies looked rather nice in their party outfits. And then there was the conclusion to the framing sequence, which was just as naff as the rest, though it had never been particularly convincing to begin with (teens wander off into the woods at night with a girl they’ve just met – I used to think with my dick at that age, but I was never so stupid), and made even less enjoyable thanks to the crass Ranger Bill.
I didn’t buy the last one at Poundland, picked it up at a ‘fly by night’ store down the Regent Road in Yarmouth last summer. I have got some (hopefully) decent DVDs from Poundland though, including a couple of Hellraisers, but we’ll discuss those another time.