Sub-zero infections, deadly challenges and Haitian voodoo – this week’s creepiest DVDs go under the microscope.
Helix – The Complete First Season (Sony) is an intense thriller about a team of scientists from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, who travel to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak. The team is led by Dr Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell, The Killing US), the head of the CDC’s Special Pathogens Branch, whose estranged brother Peter is one of the first victims of the mystery virus. Farragut’s position is complicated even further by the reappearance of his ex-wife Dr Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), whose no-nonsense approach threatens to put a few noses out a joint. Meanwhile, presiding over the ravaged base is Dr Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada, The Railway Man), whose true motivations are shrouded in mystery.
Executive produced by Ronald D. Moore – the man behind the triumphant Battlestar Galactica reboot – expectations for Helix were arguably tempered by the fact that it aired on SyFy, the home of dubious delights such as Dinoshark, Sharknado, Sharktopus and Frankenfish, to name but a few. Suffice to say, Helix eschews the cartoonish monster mash-up vibe popularised by the cable channel in favour of a creeping atmosphere of dread and fear.
Well-made, consistently jumpy and often disturbing, Helix is a well-worked thriller that remixes a number of well-worn genre tropes to largely compelling effect. The drip-feed of clues helps to increase the tension, while the first batch of episodes also hint at a deeper mythology, which is likely to be explored in the recently commissioned second season (due in 2015). The quality can be fairly uneven from episode to episode, but Helix is well worth checking out if you are looking for an enigmatic leftfield TV show to sink your teeth into.
Jobless and drowning in debt, with a pregnant fiancé in tow, Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World) receives an unexpected lifeline in the form of a phone call from a hidden camera gameshow, which offers him the chance to win a staggering $6 million cash prize. So begins 13 Sins (eOne)… All the hapless Elliot has to do is complete 13 challenges, as instructed by the enigmatic voice over the phone. The first seems harmless enough: swat the fly buzzing around him. The second challenge? Eat the fly. Sceptical, yet delighted to discover thousands of dollars suddenly appearing in his bank account as promised, Elliot decides to press ahead with the game. However, to Elliot’s dismay, the challenges start to take on a demented quality and quickly spiral out of control.
Directed by Daniel Stamm – whose previous movie was the grisly but effective The Last Exorcism in 2010 – 13 Sins (also known as Angry Little God) is actually a remake of the obscure 2006 Thai film 13: Game of Death, which was released in the UK in September 2009. Driven by a well-judged performance from Mark Webber – although supporting actor Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) is preferred for the DVD artwork – 13 Sins is a dark, quirky horror-thriller that could well tap into an appreciative audience on DVD. That said, it isn’t a patch on the original, lacking the madcap dark comedy that underpinned the Thai movie’s more unpleasant moments. 13 Sins is a decent enough effort, but I would urge curious fans to track down a copy of the original instead.
A Voodoo Possession (Signature) follows what happens when tenacious reporter Bree Nelson (Kerry Knuppe, Skills Like This) and boyfriend Aiden Chase (Ryan Caltagirone, The Last Harbour) head to Haiti in search of Aiden’s missing brother Cody (David Thomas Jenkins, Legendary: Tomb of the Dragon), who dropped off the grid five years earlier to work at a clinic specialising in voodoo possession. Keen to explore the demons that prompted Cody to abandon the US for a Haitian hell-hole, Aiden inevitably gets more than her bargained for, in the form of a mysterious being known as the Tormentor, who infiltrates his headspace…
Writer/director Walter Boholst displays little or no imagination in his cheesy, weirdly cheerful voodoo-themed thriller. On paper the Haitian asylum sounds promising, but in practice the film looks like it has been filmed in a suburban warehouse, with little in the way of local colour. With a mind-numbingly bad script, and clumsy, rudimentary direction A Voodoo Possession is desperately half-baked.
Despite dominating the DVD artwork, B-movie icon Danny Trejo has merely been parachuted in for a glorified cameo, and he has very little to work with, sleepwalking his way through a thankless, exposition-heavy supporting role. Depressingly, Trejo’s involvement takes place entirely in flashback, and he has zero interaction with his fellow cast members! All in all: a wretched excuse for a horror movie. Coming soon to a branch of Poundland near you…