07th Jan2021

Top 10: DTV Horror Films of 2020

by Phil Wheat

As is obligatory for the start of a new year, it’s time to look back at the sh*t-show that was last year and pick out our highlights of the year… This time round it’s Phil’s Top 10 DTV Horror Movies of 2020. Which are, in no particular order:

AFRICAN KUNG-FU NAZIS

Sometimes a film comes along and all you can say is what the actual f*ck?! African Kung-Fu Nazis is one such film… The plot of which goes something like this:

Unlike history books tell us, Adolf Hitler did not commit suicide in his bunker, but instead fled to the African continent in his submarine. Teaming up with his new right hand, infamous Japanese military leader Hideki Tojo and the brutal Horse-Man Göring, he plans on conquering the world once again – starting in Ghana. With the might of his loyal (although brainwashed) Ghan-Aryans and his superhuman Karate-Powers, Hitler destroys the African Kung-Fu school of the shadow snake, killing its leader. Grieving for his master, Kung-Fu disciple Addae seeks revenge by participating in Hitler’s martial arts tournament. Will he find the strength of body and mind to defeat the evil dictator?

So… sounds like we’ve essentially got the plot of Enter the Dragon set in Ghana, with the evil Mr. Han replaced by the even more evil Adolf Hitler! Filmed entirely in Africa, with the involvement of well-known Ghanian director Samuel K. Nkansah aka Ninja-Man and 23-year-old producer Danny Boy aka Producer-Man and – apart from a few roles – and entirely Ghanian and Nigerian cast, African Kung-Fu Nazis is a surprisingly fantastic slice of satirical exploitation and one I had a great time with.

RETURN TO SPLATTER FARM

Thirty years after the infamous ‘Death Farm’ murders in rural Pennsylvania, serial killing is in season once more. A young woman and her friends descend upon the farm to party after discovering that she has inherited the land. But soon after, the strange occurrences and brutal murders begin again… Who would have thought that over thirty years after the shot-on-video original debuted – made by a group of teenagers out to totally shock and gross out the audience – that we’d be seeing a direct sequel, made with the involvement of one of Splatter Farm‘s original directors? I didn’t. But I’m certainly glad we have!

A superb sequel to the 1987 original, Return to Splatter Farm is a fitting tribute to a beloved SOV classic and a damn fine movie in its own right. Best of all, you don’t really have to have seen the original to enjoy this slice of slasher terror!

BIG FREAKING RAT

How the can you not watch a horror film called Big Freaking Rat? Give your film a title that involves a oversized creatures and I’m there. Though after the disappointment of last years Dead Ant I’m approaching these kinds of films with a bit more trepidation these days… Big Freaking Rat tells the story of Ranger Brody who, with the help of his nephew Dylan and niece Naomi, is preparing to open the brand-new campground for the season. Everything is in order and the camp seems peaceful until a giant rat, mutated by dumped toxic waste, begins killing the campers and rangers.

Whilst it tells the story of an ACTUAL Big Freaking Rat, the film also features a nice nod to the fear and paranoia of today’s society, the “every man for themselves” attitudes that still divides us. And the film has quite a bit to say about inter-generational differences: Brody believes in hard work and seeing that hard work in action; whilst his nephew Dylan is a streamer and Youtuber, which of course means he’s treated like a slacker and chastised for not “working” by the older generation… including his uncle.

Thankfully this films Big Freaking Rat is just that – big! And it’s wonderfully rendered in good-old practical effects work, giant rubber rat hands and all. It’s cheesy yes, but the aesthetic matches the overall tone of the film perfectly. A tone which walks a very fine line between comedy and horror, ultimately delivering 85 minutes of pure monster-movie fun!

DON’T LET THEM IN

Shot over 14 days in South Wales last March, on a meagre budget of £35k, Don’t Let Them In is a home invasion come mystery set fifteen years after the brutal murder of a pretty young girl. The culprit, David Pierce, is declared reformed and is finally released from the asylum where he has been held for over a decade; returning to his family home – The Twelve Bells Inn, a long abandoned hotel. When two social workers – Jenna and Karl – pay a routine visit, things are clearly not what they seem. Sinister masked intruders spark a savage confrontation, which leads to an all-out assault. Torn between their own safety and a duty to their client, the courageous heroes must outwit and fight relentlessly to survive the night…

This is a rural horror film that harkens back to the age-old British tradition of ‘country folk versus city folk’ – as seen in a myriad of British genre fare since as far back as I can remember. In fact, with its dilapidated setting and madman with a shotgun, I couldn’t help but think of Peckinpah’s Cornish-set Straw Dogs, probably the ultimate example of this (sub) genre. Though Don’t Let Them In is not just your typical ‘country folk versus city folk’ story, no… This film also taps into the true terror of rural horror movies, weaving the supernatural slowly but assuredly into its plot as the film plays out.

With a few surprises up its sleeve Don’t Let Them In is a great example of how to do a first film right: a tight script, small locale and great performances all add up to another win for British horror.

EXORCISM AT 60,000 FEET

Taking the idea that flights can be hell to its literal extreme, Exorcism at 60,0000 Feet takes place on the last flight of a transatlantic passenger airliner, where things turn positively demonic after a swarm of infernal possessions breaks out, spreading from passenger to passenger and eventually to the pilot! In order to land safely and survive, a priest (called Father Romero no-less!), a rabbi, and the surviving crew must band together against the most ungodly turbulence imaginable…

Exorcism at 60,0000 Feet grabs you from the get-go, with an prologue that plays on the familiar tropes of exorcism movies before turning them on their head in a way the forces you to reconsider what you’re about to watch. Then there’s the opening credits and THAT score – both a complete throwback to 80s horror cinema, really setting the stage for what is to come. Though the intro belies the fact that this tale of terror is actually played for a LOT of laughs!

In fact this is the modern-day equivalent of the Zucker Brothers’ spoofs and Bob Logan’s Repossessed, Exorcism at 60,0000 Feet is a superb slice of silly scares.

THE HOUSE OF VIOLENT DESIRE

The House of Violent Desire is director Charlie Steeds love-letter to gothic Hammer-style horror rather than his adoration of the exploitation fare you’d find in your local video shop back in the 80s/90s – which is clearly what inspired other films in his oeuvre. Though after watching The House of Violent Desire it seems that Steeds may also be a fan of the films of Pete Walker, Norman J. Warren and David McGillivray – and the kind of sleazy British horror that the trio were responsible for in the 70s.

The film tells the story of the Whipley family – three young adults ruled by their strict religious mother, and their troubled father – who live in a remote hill top mansion (actually a wonderfully gothic French chateau) with their new maid Cordetta. One night, following young Evelyn Whipley found drenched in blood and mysteriously bound to the bed and the families patriarch having gone missing, a mysterious stranger emerges from a thunderstorm, seeking refuge. But this ‘stranger’ is more connected to this family and to the dark unknown history of the house than they suspect, and as the visitor begins to cultivate sexual tensions and paranoia within the house, the devilishly erotic history of the Whipley family threatens to lure them deep into its lustful, violent madness once again.

A psycho-sexual, S&M-fuelled nightmare about the perverse secrets swept under the rug of the British upper-class, The House of Violent Desire recalls the Vestron years of Ken Russell and his films Gothic and Lair of the White Worm; and the overtly sexual Euro horror of Jess Franco; all wrapped up in the colourful hue of Dario Argento’s gialli. And I don’t think there’s any higher praise I can give it than that.

GETAWAY

At first glance Getaway sounds like your typical backwoods hillbilly slasher clone; with a woman, Tamara (Jaclyn Betham), who gets kidnapped by a backwoods cult during a planned a weekend lake getaway with her lifelong two best friends. So far, so cliched right? On paper yes, but in reality Getaway veers sharply from the typical nut-job killer family trope almost as soon as Tamara is in the hands of her captors. In an attempt to throw off the religious trio that are raping and killing in the “name of the lord”, Tamara curses the men, claiming to be a witch, then eerie and unexplained occurrences actually start to arise… Shades of the occult horrors of the 70s right there.

Getaway‘s biggest success is that it keeps you guessing all the way. From start to almost finish director Lane Toran and co. play their proverbial cards close to their chest, never confirming if there’s evil – that not the human kind – afoot or not. When the truth is revealed you can’t help but have a huge grin on your face as the script, penned Toran and star Betham, takes all too familiar cliches and turns them on their head, ultimately revealing that the duo know exactly what makes these genre films tick and how to subvert an audiences expectation – even if that audience is all-too-familiar with the films your paying homage too.

One of the best directorial debuts in the genre in some time (and a great debut for the husband and wife writing duo of Toran and Betham), Getaway deserves more than the straight to market release it’s received. Genre fans should seek this one out and [hopefully] sings its praises as loud as they can. Then we might see more decent horror fare like this in cinemas rather than the watered-down or “elevated” dross we’re currently subjected to!

ALIEN OUTBREAK

Set in a small rural community which is quarantined by an alien presence, Alien Outbreak follows local police officers Zoe and Patrick as they battle through the night to take control after being cut off from the outside world. Residents begin to behave strangely and mass panic spreads throughout. With the help of others, Zoe and Patrick begin unraveling the mystery and soon discover it is not all as it seems.

A taut, tightly-paced film that blends horror and action tropes to perfection. Horror insomuch that the effects of the alien invasion are terrifying and theres plenty of blood-filled FX scenes. Action in that Alien Outbreak, for a lot of its running time, takes place in one location – in a similar style to “under siege” films like Assault of Precinct 13 or Fort Apache: The Bronx- with our heroes Zoe and Patrick trying to keep people alive whilst pending off an alien attack. Hell, even the soundtrack, with its pulsating tomes and throbbing baseline, remind me of Carpenter’s Precinct 13!

With a fantastic Twilight Zone-esque denouement that says a LOT about the self-centred, arrogant nature of man, Alien Outbreak is a stunning film that proves you don’t need big budgets to tell a tremendous sci-fi tale. Definitely seek this one out as soon as you can!

DEAD SOUND

Dead Sound tells the story of four best friends who decide to attend a massive blow-out high school graduation party on Block Island. After missing the last ferry they decide to hire a fishing boat to take them on what should be a simple journey. What they get is the trip from hell, with a captain and his first mate that have no intention of taking the kids to Block Island, putting them into a fight to survive and to simply make it back to land… any land.

Here we have what is essentially kids vs killer pirates, but cranked up to tense, suspenseful levels. The kind of knife-edge thriller that uses moments of quiet as terrifyingly as it does violence, keeping the audience on tenterhooks, just waiting for the next thing to happen – thankfully, despite their unlikable characteristics at first, willing the kids to survive. Yes, we have – once again – a film that is filled with unlikeable characters: the bad guys are just that, bad; whilst the teens in this tale are pretentious rich-kid types that deserve a good slapping. Though they certainly get more than that her; which is probably why the audience will root for them in the end.

AMERICAN HUNT

American Hunt tells the story of two brothers, Levi and Memphis, who lure people to their rural farm in the middle of nowhere and proceed to hunt them to their death. Hunting them for not only their own deranged pleasure but also to sell their body parts to rich paying clients eager to get their hands on organs and – at least according to Memphis – teeth. However Levi and Memphis’ latest quarry are not the types to go down without a fight…

OK, OK. The hunting humans theme is a long standing tradition in cinema, not only used by the horror genre but also appearing in action movies such as Hard Target and The Condemned; as well as sci-fi movies like the recent Jurassic Galaxy and The Running Man; which means filmmakers need to bring something special to the table when it comes to making their film. After all, without something that makes your film stand out, you’re just remaking The Most Dangerous Game badly right? Well writer/director Aaron Mirtes does bring something different to the table with American Hunt. Namely the twisted, competitive, interaction between Levi and Memphis, and the seemingly unending pleasure the pair take in one-upping each other when it comes to the hunt. It’s that dark, oftentimes humorous, behaviour that keeps you watching – you want to see how far the duo can push each other, annoy each other and out-do each other rather than what pain and suffering they inflict on those they’re hunting. THAT is the edge Mirtes’ film has over others of its ilk.
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What do you think of Phil’s choices? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below… or let us know your picks for the films of 2020 too!

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