Join Anton van Beek on a journey into the mysterious world of straight-to-DVD/BD movies...
What do zero-budget fright flicks, British gangster films and Nic Cage all have in common? Give up? Well, at the time of writing they can all be found clogging up the DVD/Blu-ray charts of your local supermarket. And they aren’t just filling the lower rungs of the charts either, they’re occupying prime positions between mountaineering dramas and Tom Cruise’s latest action epic.
Don’t go thinking that this has only happened due to a lack of high-profile blockbuster releases post-Christmas. Month in, month out, even the most dedicated film fan will find themselves confronted with myriad direct-to-DVD (or as near) movies they’ve never heard of before during their weekly shop. Few of these titles have ever made it into the pages of HCC, because we figure there are other releases you'd rather read about. But in an attempt at redressing the balance I decided to take the plunge and watch three such films. Call it suffering for my art.
First up was Rise of the Footsoldier Part 2. This is part of the movie-related cottage industry that has grown up around the 1995 Rettendon murders (other examples being Essex Boys, Bonded by Blood and The Fall of the Essex Boys), and purports to continue the true story of football hooligan-turned-gangster Carlton Leach. From what I could gather from this sequel, the original ended with Leach being elsewhere while his best mate was off becoming a victim in the notorious murder case.
Rise of the Footsoldier Part 2 (pictured above) finds him wallowing in guilt for not having been present when his friend was killed (at one point he even visits the scene of the crime and stares wistfully at a rainbow). He's then not present when his new best mate is knifed in a fight in a strip club. Unless you’ve got a thing for bad acting, gangster clichés and obligatory cameos by Steven Berkoff, there’s really not much here to get excited about. However, the climax leaves things open for yet another sequel, and I must admit to being genuinely intrigued to learn which dramatic event Leach won't be present for next time around.
On to The Vatican Tapes, a horror that, despite the title, turned out not to be yet another ‘found footage’ film. It also stars some actors you may remember, including Dougray Scott, Michael Peña and Djimon Hounsou. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s directed by Mark Neveldine of Neveldine/Taylor fame (the brains behind Crank and its sequel). Sadly, it's another run-through of exorcism and possession clichés that can’t even scare up some decent chills, let alone new ideas. I can only assume that Taylor was the one who brought the energy and ideas to that directing partnership.
Finally, we have The Runner, the latest in a growing list of Nic Cage movies that have gone straight to a supermarket shelf near you (see also Cage as a 12th Century bandit in Outcast and Cage dealing with the rapture in Left Behind). So, what zany delights did The Runner have to offer? In a word: none. Despite the explosion that features prominently on the sleeve, it's actually a dull political drama about a Louisiana congressman (Cage) who finds his private life coming under intense scrutiny after he speaks out about an oil catastrophe. Casting Nic Cage in a serious role? No wonder he looks so bemused on the cover.
What to learn from this tedious triple-bill? Next time you're in Tesco, stick to buying potatoes...
This article first appeared in HCC #257 in February 2016.
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