REVIEW: DAY OF THE STRANGER (2019, Darkside Releasing)

Billed as the UK’s first ever acid-western; Tom Lee Rutter’s Day of the Stranger is an ultra low budget indie film which aims to shoot straight from the hip. Starring Dale Sheppard and Gary Baxter (Beyond Fury) and loosely adapted from Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger, Day of the Stranger is an ambitious stab at the acid-western genre with a beating indie heart.

A bounty killer (Caine) is chasing down two fugitives, pissed off at the death of his horse, he proceeds to carry one of the men’s dead bodies through an unforgiving and endless sand desert for miles while battling dehydration and exhaustion. Eventually Caine collapses and starts to hallucinate, seeing a dreamy figure of a woman. Upon returning to his boss to return one of the men’s dead bodies he has a new business proposition on the table. Everyone dreams of one more pay day, a job to make all your troubles go away. Well, chasing a good life has its risks…

For any western to hit the mark, the aesthetics need to be right. Filmed in the Midlands and Wales, this film doesn’t have the luxury of sun scorched deserts and mountain hills, but impressively it makes use of what is available and plugs the gaps. Visually the film has an artificial grain effect and a slightly dark lighting and filters which mimic the visuals of El Topo (1970). There are sand beaches, forests and wooden housing which give the locations an authentic look. We also have voice dubbing and over-acting which gives the film a spaghetti western style but never forces it more than it needs to. For a film on a micro budget, it is impressive that each of the small details of what is expected in a western film are addressed meticulously.

Despite it’s strong attention to detail and the length at which the production has gone to replicate a western environment, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Day of the Stranger has a barrel full of jokes and light comedy in its arsenal and it slides humour in occasionally to keep things fun and interesting. You can tell a lot of heart went into the production and you have to take your hat off to its delivery. The acting is actually pretty decent for the most part and the fake American accents are never taken seriously enough to be judged. The actors clearly gave their all to try to be fitting to the story and it works very well.

At times Day of the Stranger is violent, over the top and gung-ho but there are times where it became heavy on dialogue and took the foot off the gas. The writing is solid but it’s a shame that the gun fights were few and far between because they were so damn good. The film starts with a hail of gunfire with glorious practical and CGI blood squirts and kills, I wish there were more of this as it was executed perfectly. My favourite character in the film was Loomweather. Portrayed excellently by Gary Shail (Shock Treatment, Quadrophenia) , he added a new dimension to the film with his standout performance.

As the film moved into its final third it really pushed towards psychedelic territory and this is when it really took strides towards greatness. Without giving anything away, the final scenes are worth more than just your time and money. The film looked incredible during these scenes and it left me in a state of euphoria.

When Day of the Stranger pushes itself out of its western shell, it finds a niche which is both eye catching and bonkers. Tom Lee Rutter hasn’t set out to copy what has been done already, he has delivered a very entertaining acid-western which will leave fans of the genre drooling at the mouth.

As the saying goes, sometimes less is more. Day of the Stranger does the best it can with location and budget constraints and is a fine example of the DIY attitude in the indie community.

Score: 4/5

REVIEW: HATE CRIME (2012, TetroVideo)

Hate Crime is a found footage shocker made by James Cullen Bressack back in 2012. Long out of print and still dividing opinion among the underground extreme horror community, the film is returning with a shiny new release by TetroVideo.

A close-knit Jewish family are celebrating their youngest sons birthday at their home when they they receive an unexpected and frightening visit from a group of masked neo-nazi scumbags off their face on crystal meth. The family endure horrific torment, humiliation and torture by the men who are intent on going as far as they possibly can to inflict pain and suffering on their victims.

The film gives no warning and gives viewers no opportunity to settle in or process what is going on before it starts firing shots. Within a mere 4 minutes we go from watching family happiness to unimaginable heartbreak. It is savage, there is nothing that can prepare you for what you are about to witness but it isn’t meant to be a fun watch. It is very likely that the opening 10 minutes of the film will mentally scar most viewers and leave an irreversible sense of dread in their thoughts for many days and nights ; be ready for it.

For a found footage film, Hate Crime is hyper realistic. It looks and sounds incredibly real and it is extremely disturbing because of it. Found footage films are a hit and miss genre but this one really gets the basics right and is really impressive in most departments. The acting is tremendous across its small cast, the performances of both the victims and the perpetrators are tremendous. You really feel for the victims, and really quickly build up hate towards those hurting them. The cinematography is right on the money too, it is shot like a one-take with barely any noticeable breaks as it runs seamlessly with the actors going through the motions.

Nothing ever feels forced plot-wise, it sets up some very hard to watch scenes but it never exploits the situation more than it needs to. In fact, clever use of angles and cut-aways makes us think the worst in our heads when things are done fairly tastefully on screen. There is no nudity, and the practical effects used are mostly pulled into shot using a whip pan technique. From a technical aspect, this isn’t a high school project, clearly the filmmakers knew what they were doing.

The film pushes a lot of buttons and tests a lot of boundaries. It highlights the dangers of racism and hatred and is still relevant to the world we live in today. The film makes a statement in the most violent way possible, it reminds us that hatred drives bad people to do unforgivable crimes against humanity. The films title is a perfect fit and while it will never be used for educational purposes, it is an eye opener for those who think they have seen it all.

This is a movie, it isn’t real but this type of stuff does happen in real life and it is disturbing because of that. Very early on there is a line where one of the evil men reminds the family “it’s not going to be ok”, and that stayed with me for the whole movie. I think my only small gripe with the film is it felt too one sided at times and the victims didn’t really have much opportunity to change the course of the film, they seemed doomed from the start but maybe that was the intention. Some of the torture scenes went on too long at times and this drained a lot of the 71 minutes run time but the realism was on-point and it didn’t exploit the situations for cheap frights.

Hate Crime is wrong on so many levels in terms of its content but the finesse of the filmmaking should be admired. The film hit me harder than most and left me in deep thought about how evil the world we live in really is; it served its purpose well. Hate Crime is a true hammer blow to the skull.

Score: 4/5

Hate Crime is available to pre-order from TetroVideo on 2nd November 2021.