30 Days of Fright: January 2012 horror DVD roundup

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So, you made it through Christmas and now, a few weeks into January, the memory of your bleak festive family gatherings still dominate your psyche.

The annual party pieces invariably revolve around the staples of murder, incest and stitching the skins of your victims together to fashion a crude mask to wear for your next rampage, right? Or is that just in this neck of the woods? Anyway, whatever your family traditions, they’re probably not going to be quite as unpleasant as those witnessed in Jordan McClure’s Rogue River.

Treading familiar territory, this nasty little film (literally; it only runs at 77 minutes long) follows Mara (Michelle Page), a devout Christian who has driven to a remote part of Oregon’s picturesque Rogue River to scatter the ashes of her recently deceased father.

Or, at least, that was the plan until she finds her car has been towed away by a jobsworth local traffic cop, leaving her stranded in the woods and having to rely on the charity of seemingly lovely middle-aged couple Jon (The Devil’s Rejects’ Bill Moseley) and Lucinda (Lucinda Jenney). Of course, said couple really aren’t that nice at all as they decide to lock Mara up and do all sorts of unpleasant things to her.

So far, then, you get the picture. Nice family turn nasty, revenge follows. Though pretty unoriginal, what Rogue River does have going for it is that it is executed extremely efficiently, without an ounce of fat. The tension and spiralling of events is handled with a skill so often lacking in similar films, and this saves the movie from the skip.

A tight, watchable journey into isolation and terror, Rogue River won’t shake up the industry, though might encourage the odd shudder, unlike The Dead, which really should have been soil-yourself-scary, though falls short.

The premise for this low-budget zombie flick set in war-torn Burkina Faso is promising: an American soldier, separated from his troop, teams up with an African counterpart who is trying to cross the vast savannah to reach his son. Both are trying to return to their kin in this road movie of sorts.

With sporadic onslaughts from undead-disease-ravaged locals to contend with, the Ford brothers’ film feels unique in the zombie canon due to its brilliant choice of location, though with some very badly-acted, far too easily beaten biters, it just isn’t anywhere near as scary as its troubled shoot apparently was.

Speaking of ineffectual zombies, at least zom-rom-com Dead Heads doesn’t really try to frighten the audience, finding the funny bone a far more satisfying target to chow down on.

Starring Michael McKiddy and Ross Kidder as a pair of slackers who wake up as the sentient wise-ass undead (victims of a government experiment) alongside the more traditional grunters, Dead Heads looks at the genre from a highly original slant, with the usual maneaters as the heroes and the traditional band of living survivors the film’s OTT villains.

With a distinct frat-house/stoner feel, the chances are you either lap up this sort of thing or can’t bear it. With this reviewer normally sat firmly in the gross-out nerd-laugh corner (and fun genre references such as the traditional Romero strong African-American alpha male can’t harm), it’s frustrating that the film isn’t quite as funny as it thinks it is.

This is something Norwegian director Andre Ovredal’s sleeper hit Troll Hunter clearly doesn’t suffer from, with its assured tone deftly balancing tongue-in-cheek humour with quality action scenes and convincing attention to detail.

Firmly rooted in the found-footage genre of Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project, Ovredal’s film tells the story of a group of student film-makers who choose to follow a state-sanctioned professional paid to keep the country’s dangerous population of trolls both a) under control and b) a secret and still regarded as just a fairy tale by the public.

Essentially an introduction to a made-up lore of trolls, the grizzled veteran Hans recounts the different species, ways to kill them, attract them and survive their attacks as he takes the team on a breathtaking tour of Norway’s beautifully isolated Fjordland and northern territories.

Though all this is good fun, the undoubted stars of the show are the enjoyably ridiculous-but-lethal trolls themselves and Norway’s stunning natural beauty. This romp gallops along, thoroughly engaging the viewer with its charming idiosyncrasies and leaving Troll Hunter a curious, very welcome combination of thrilling monster movie, dry comedy and tourist video.

What’s the best horror movie you’ve seen recently? Let us know below…