The Bottom Shelf: Goal Of The Dead, Cellar Dwellar and more

It's another of Nick's monthly horror disc round-ups, this time including the delights of football-rom-zom-com Goal Of The Dead...

With World Cup fever now dissipated to a mild temperature and headache, easily cured with a bit of bed-rest and some Anadin, how best, you might ask, to prolong the football-themed festivities? Well, your luck’s in, it seems, as we have the French rom-zom-footy-com Goal Of The Dead on DVD this month to drag the whole relentless debacle out a little longer.

Alban Lenoir plays our past-it hero Lorit, an aging star despised when he returns to his hometown after selling out for a bigger club. His younger teammate, the hot-shot Idriss (Ahmed Sylla), regularly shows him up and, to boot, Lorit’s embittered old friend that didn’t make the big-time is spreading a deadly virus amongst the crowd that makes for a slathering army of Gallic Ray Winstones.

Some casual racism (three Asian players ‘hilariously’ share the surname Park) and plain unfunny jokes render Thierry Poiraud and Benjamin Rocher’s movie more than a little clunky. That aside, though Goal Of The Dead sadly fails to make the pertinent link between opponent-biting professional athletes and body-chomping undead soccer fans (hopefully more Luis Suarez jokes shoehorned in later), this entertaining tale of modern money-making versus old-school morals makes for a decent blunt satire of the beautiful game.

Sticking with the lazy football references and ever-more tenuous links, elsewhere this month, we see a tribute to England’s World Cup performance with the timely DVD re-release of Oculus writer/director Mike Flanagan’s 2011 debut, Absentia. Ostensibly nothing to do with football, let’s just leave it, ok?

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Flanagan’s film gained much indie hype and award-magnet acclaim and rightly so: this somber study of grief and recovery is more slow-burn character piece than your standard bloody horror. Courtney Bell plays the heavily pregnant wife of a man long-missing, who is about to go through the legal process of declaring him dead. When her sister, played by Katie Parker, starts seeing terrifying visions in a dodgy-looking underpass anyone with any sense would avoid, things take a turn for the worse.

With some strong performances from Oculus’ Bell, Parker and Dave Levine as the investigating detective/love interest, alongside Flanagan’s creepy direction and subtly malignant score from Ryan David Leack, Absentia’s emotional core is driven home elegantly.

If character-driven subtlety is your thing then you’re in luck: also out on DVD this month is the little-known 1987 study of a 20-something group of friends’ slow demise, John Buechler’s Cellar Dweller. Alright, I’m joshing you: this Charles Band-style creature feature involves the great Jeffrey Combs as a mad cartoonist who summons an animatronic bastard from below to kill ‘em all. 

So, Combs’ artist Colin Childress raises this beastie only to see things go to hell. Twenty years later and a fan of his work (Debrah Mullowney) decides to update his comic, unaware that actions depicted on the page will undoubtedly have real-life implications. With a tasty bad film pedigree in the form of Child’s Play writer Don Mancini and Buechler, the director of Troll, on board, as well as Lily Munster herself, Yvonne De Carlo in a small role and a gloriously ridiculous bad guy to contend with, Cellar Dweller is a massively enjoyable monster romp.

Less enjoyable, and sadly a little less silly (though not much) is The Blood On Satan’s Claw director Piers Haggard’s early 80s snake-versus kidnapper peculiarity Venom. Out now on Full Moon’s Grindhouse streaming service, Haggard’s film should have been out-and-out bonkers, though instead comes across as too serious by far.

Think of the ingredients: famed lunatic Klaus Kinski as the bug-eyed (was he ever not?) leader of a group of criminals; Sterling Hayden as a retired big game hunter; the low-budget grittiness of George Harrison’s HandMade Films; our reptilian anti-hero taking out the baddies during a siege; and, of course, special guest star Oliver Reed as “Dave”, the loose cannon of the group. All of this scored by Hollywood favourite Michael Kamen, with a smattering of ‘posh-totty’ Susan George in her undercrackers. How could this fail? 

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Despite the hilarious innovation of the ‘snake’s eye view’ and some nice poisoning make-up effects, both Kinski and Reed are too restrained (surely this could have done with more ridiculous over-acting?) and the whole movie is treated too much like a straightforward crime thriller with a killer snake just kind of along for the ride. Still, the daft premise and strong cast do make for enjoyable if slightly disappointing viewing.

Another silly premise comes up in Chad Crawford Kinkle’s (nothing like Chazz Michael Michaels) redneck jaunt The Pit, otherwise known by its better US title Jug Face. Sean Young hams it up with her best (ie not good) OTT backwoods accent as the matriarch of a deeply religious community devoted to making offerings to a mysterious haunted pit.

Like all of us, Young only wants the best for her family, so the pit must be satisfied with sacrifices, determined by the token psychic simpleton who makes clay jugs with the faces of village folk on them (every village has one). When teenager Lauren Ashley Carter selfishly reaffirms negative hillbilly stereotypes (ahem) by falling pregnant with her brother’s child, there’ll be hell to pay.

Carter is great as the wide-eyed and terror-stricken Ada, and decent if somewhat clichéd performances (particularly from the William Sanderson-esque Larry Fessenden), alongside top Cajun music from Sean Spillane, elevate this relatively standard genre DVD. 

We earlier lamented the lack of overacting in this month’s selection of releases. Thank the lord, then, that our last few films of this round-up star none other than one Vincent Price. Perhaps his greatest role (and this is out of a whole career of great performances), this month’s Blu-ray steelbook release of The Complete Dr Phibes includes both Phibes films alongside some nice extras and a 100-page collectors’ booklet featuring exclusive artwork and the like.

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In The Abominable Dr Phibes, Price plays a disfigured surgical genius who rises from his apparent doom in a car crash to wreak bloody vengeance on the medical team who failed (again?) to save his wife’s life. As with other Price classics, this killing spree is carried out in a series of ever-more theatrical sequences, this time with a biblical plague theme. As more and more top character actors are bumped off, the stoic Joseph Cotton, as Phibes’ nemesis Dr Vesalius, is, well, stoic, as usual, despite the growing shit-your-pants body of evidence.

A great in-film organ soundtrack performed by Phibes and his band of Frank Sidebottom-alikes provides wonderful psychedelic pause between slayings as we build to the spectacular conclusion and are left to wonder whether he’ll rise again.

This question is immediately answered on the second disc, erm, Dr Phibes Rises Again, offering more of the same, albeit with the action transported to Egypt, with Phibes and company gallivanting across the globe in search of a Pharaoh’s tomb and presumably a chance to catch some rays by the pool. This vaguely unnecessary sequel surprisingly retains much of the black humour this time round, the Egyptian setting making for great high camp desert horror and more ridiculously fun brutality. They genuinely don’t make them like this anymore, so it’s always worth re-examining the Price back-catalogue. Go do it, now.

You can read Nick’s previous column here.