January 2013 horror movie DVD round-up

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The New Year brings with it many optimistic resolutions; three weeks in, we’re heading for the official Most Depressing Day Of The Year and all those hopeful plans have surely turned to dust.

Well, never fear, for your faithful horror movie blog offers a resolution even the flakiest should be able to stick to: watch Manborg. It isn’t every day that a genuine modern cult classic is thrown our way, but this literally thousand dollar (you read that right-this was made on just that budget and a few freebies!) love-letter to slightly wonky eighties sci-fi is just that.

From the singular talent that is the Astron 6 production team (you may remember their Troma-distributed silly slasher curio Fathers Day), Manborg is a very familiar-feeling micro-budget action romp blending elements of Robocop, The Running Man, Terminator and, of course, Cyborg with some inventive digital and stop-motion effects, the result a hugely entertaining movie.

To set the scene, a mutant race of futuristic demons is led by the evil vampire Count Draculon (yes!) as humanity is mostly crushed in the ‘Hell Wars’. We see a young human soldier left for dead by Draculon whilst trying to avenge his brother’s death. You still follow? Well, turns out a scientist has the means to bring him back to life, Murphy-style, albeit with a few more rocket launchers and the odd laser eye attached.

Held captive with the live action anime hero Number One Man (who steals many of the film’s major laughs), stereotypically angry badass Justice and his similarly tough sister Mina, Manborg and his allies must fight their way out of their cells for all humanity’s sake. Tough as they are, the gang’s real weapons are a ridiculous storyline, eminently quotable one-liners and a distinctively realized visual style.

If you read the above and your heart didn’t miss a beat, you probably won’t like Manborg, or, for that matter, the equally silly Irish alien horror-comedy Grabbers, which is just as clearly aiming for a certain cult status. A kind of alcoholic Tremors set in the remote Erin Island, Grabbers has a decent cast, headed by Coupling’s Richard Coyle as a boozy Garda, Primeval star Ruth Bradley as his straight-laced colleague and Being Human’s Russell Tovey as a geeky scientist.

When locals start disappearing, with only the odd dismembered body part to be found, our heroes’ investigations lead to the discovery of some big, be-tentacled beastie from another world causing all sorts of problems. Playing on the old cliché of the drunken Irishman, an ingenious and hilarious plot twist calls for much booze-fuelled alien tomfoolery as man takes on monster with a somewhat wry grin.

By no means quite as successful as director Jon Wright and writer Kevin Lehane would hope (some of the oddball humour comes across as slightly contrived; Shaun of the Dead comparisons will inevitably be unfavourable), Grabbers is still great fun, particularly after several units of alcohol, as the cast reportedly had whilst the cameras rolled!

Less fun, though sticking with this blog’s apparent theme of utterly ludicrous film-making, we have the SyFy-produced Ghostquake up next. Also very cheap and with the tongue so far in cheek it’s practically coming out the ear, you can tell a lot about Ghostquake’s tone from its alternative title, Haunted High. A group of anonymous twenty/thirty-somethings playing high school kids stumble upon a portal in the school’s basement that frees the ghost of a former head-teacher, who just so happened to love black magic and killing people.

As the body-count rises, so too, does the number of inventive death scenes and deliberately cheesy one-liners the evil head-teacher, Danforth (Lost’s M.C Gainey), gleefully delivers as smaller roles from Buffy’s Charisma Carpenter and that old stalwart Danny Trejo do nothing to harm Ghostquake’s enjoyment factor. Almost your quintessential SyFy movie (that would be Ghostquake Vs, erm, Arachnoshark), as solid, no-brain (blood-flecked) fluff, you could do far worse than this.

Finishing this batch on a somewhat classier note, we ditch the muffled guffaws and gurning faces and go with Kidulthood director Menhaj Huda’s urban British take on the traditional slasher flick, Comedown. At first glance, this glossy look at London’s tough estates, and particularly one abandoned high-rise, looks like just another grim vision of inner-city gangs, though once these aimless twenty-somethings’ DIY party starts to go wrong, you realise Comedown owes more to Hollywood.

With your standard “pick ‘em off one by one as I slink around in darkness” tactics, Huda’s killer isn’t your invincible Jason Vorhees/Michael Myers type, though some creative uses of a derelict building setting lead to frankly cool death scenes. With skillfully-woven tension, well-rounded characters and strong performances from the young leads, particularly the likeable Jacob Anderson as ex-con protagonist Lloyd, this makes for compulsive viewing.

Comedown doesn’t necessarily offer anything that new (how many times have we seen youngsters die in elaborate ways as the hands of a lone psycho?), though the intelligent choice of location and general quality control lends a feeling of real freshness, with some political commentary thrown in for good measure. Just like Manborg.

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