Monday, 30 December 2013

Kiltro

Director: Ernesto Diaz Espinoza
Writer: Ernesto Diaz Espinoza
Producer: Derek Rundell
Cast: Marco Zaror, Miguel Angel de Luca, Caterina Jadresic
Country: Chile/USA
Year of release: 2006
Reviewed from: UK DVD (Revolver)


Around this time of year I like to kick back and relax with a Chilean martial arts movie. Most years I end up frustrated and disappointed on account of there being no such thing, but not this year, not 2008. Two years after it was released domestically, Kiltro is available in the UK. At last I can satisfy my craving for Santiago-style action!

And let me assure you, Kiltro is fab.

Twenty-eight year-old man-mountain Marko Zaror stars as Zamir (‘Zami’), a bored youth with a rudimentary sense of morality but a naive view of the world, who lives with his mum in one of the less salubrious parts of town. Late one night he saves a young oriental women from an attempted rape and carries her home where she gives him a thank-you kiss. Zami is smitten but knows not the ways of women and, being a bit of a lunk, thinks that the way to make the girl (half-Korean Kim: Caterina Jadresic) fall for him is to beat up anyone who talks to her.

Kim’s father Teran (Man Soo Yoon) teaches Tae Kwon Do but pours scorn on Zami for only knowing street-fighting. Zami never knew his own father but has a pendant that means something to certain people.

Enter our bad guy, Max Kalba, played to debonaire perfection by Miguel Angel De Luca. Broad of shoulder, trim of facial hair, he’s a pig-tailed, badger-bearded bastard who wears an immaculate three-quarter-length coat and carries a swordstick topped with a vicious silver claw with which he easily rips out throat and stomachs. Kalba is on a mission to kill all the members of a sect which included Teran, Zami’s missing father and Yun (Pablo Chuyin), a draper who employs Kim in his shop.

After despatching Yun, Kalba comes looking for Teran, fighting off all the Korean’s students. Zami stands up to Kalba and, although he is soundly beaten, that enables Kim to escape.

Kim and Zami end up in a shoreline shack, home of a dwarf named Nik Nak (Roberto Avendano) who was also a member of the sect. Without mentioning him by name, there is a brilliant gag about Yoda in this sequence. And in fact there are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in Kiltro which, while far from being an actual comedy, has great fun playing with the conventions of the martial arts saga.

Nik Nak sends Zami on a quest to find a master named Soto (Alejandro Castillo), another member of the sect who is now a drunken bum. But Soto takes Zami under his wing, take him out to his desert camp and gives him a drug that clears his memory. Unencumbered by any thoughts of Kim, Teran or his father, Zami trains, learning to react instinctively. Eventually, Soto judges that he is ready to return to the city and face Max Kalba.

The climactic fight starts with Zami - bare-chested for the first time, revealing his rippling pecs - fighting a whole gang of Kalba’s acolytes. Zami wears the face-paint that distinguishes members of the sect and also has some vicious spurs on his heels - and the blood flies. Finally, Zami faces off against Kalba. Kalba who has found and kidnapped Kim, Kalba who has a history with Teran from their younger days, involving a woman, and who now keeps the Korean barely alive.

It’s a terrific fight; heck, all the fights in Kiltro are terrific. Short and brutal, the influence seems to be more from samurai movies than chop-socky flicks. Blood spurts, bodies crumple, victors stand still. The final image in the Zami-vs-Kalba fight is a real punch-the-air moment, sheer action cinema brilliance.

Part of Kiltro’s appeal is undoubtedly the unusual setting, helped by a score by ‘Rocco’ which is pure western, complete with wailing Mexican trumpets (well, Chilean trumpets I suppose). The cinematography by Victor J Atkin is magnificent, especially in the desert training scenes. But this isn’t just an oddity, trading purely on its novelty value. Writer-director-editor Ernesto Diaz Espinoza understands the martial arts action genre perfectly and directs with a light touch that leaves audiences grinning at both the dialogue (despite some slightly iffy subtitles) and the action.

A former Chilean national Tae Kwon Do champion, Marko Zaror started his film career in Mexico where he was working as a model. In 2001, after moving to LA, he had a bit-part in Hard as Nails as a bodyguard, then starred in Chinango and Into the Flames before landing a role as stunt double for The Rock in The Rundown, an action thriller also starring Christopher Walken and Rosario Dawson, for which he won the 2004 ‘Stuntman of the Year’ award. While it’s a bit of a shock to discover that The Rock uses a stunt double, you can see a definite facial similarity between the two men, not to mention their physique, so it makes perfect sense.

Kiltro and the follow-up from Espinoza and Zaror, Mirageman (a non-fantasy superhero picture) were big hits at the Fant-Asia festival in Montreal in 2007. A proper English-language release for both films should see Zaror getting some decent offers for DTV action films. It’s a shame that the KCM subgenre seems to have faded away as he would make a great kick-boxing cyborg!

Both films were produced by Derek Rundell, a US entrepreneur who co-founded Mandrill Films with Zaror and Espinoza, who both take a co-producer credit on Kiltro. The cast also includes Francisco Castro (Angel Negro) and Luis Alarcon who was in Chilean Gothic, a 2000 adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s 'Pickman’s Model'.

I enjoyed Kiltro enormously and now desperately want to view Mirageman. I look forward to following Marko Zaror’s career because he’s a great fighter and a good actor.

MJS rating: A-
review originally posted 12th April 2008

Any Minute Now

Director: Peter Goddard
Writers: Peter Goddard, Darren Barber, Ruaidhri O’Mahony
Producer: Daniel Coffey
Cast: Mhairi Calvey, Ryan Spong, Zammo!
Country: UK
Year of release: 2013
Reviewed from: screener
Website:
http://anyminutenowmovie.com

There is some irony that it has taken me several months to get round to watching a screener for a film called Any Minute Now, but things happen and stuff gets in the way. Anyway, here it is, the second feature from Peter Goddard, director of The Season of the Witch. And it turns out to be a spookily effective ghost story which is let down by some curious plot inconsistencies, although not so much as to render the film unenjoyable.

As with Season, a teenage girl comes to a new location and uncovers insular conspiracy among the locals. In this case it’s Anna (Mhairi Calvey, who was the young Catherine McCormack in Braveheart, aged five) who is dumped with her aunt and uncle for a couple of weeks because her parents are going through a rough patch and on the verge of separation. According to the blurb, she’s 16 which is pushing it a bit to be honest because Calvey was 22/23 when this was shot in Dorset in 2011. She settles into her new school where she initially befriends Abi Hartford (Alexandra Hansler aka Alexandra Kelly, who had a bit-part in Kill Keith and looks like a young Olivia Colman).

Now here’s our first problem. Anna is studying for her A-levels but you can’t just switch temporarily to a different sixth form in a different school in a different town midway through your A-levels, and certainly not just for a couple of weeks, just because your parents are having a barney. That’s not how the education system works. I couldn’t help wondering whether the part had originally been written younger, especially as there’s a rogue bit of dialogue where Anna’s aunt, walking her to school on her first day, talks about how much trouble they went to in getting her a school uniform. But Anna and her classmates, like most A-level students, don’t wear uniforms.

The childless aunt Jennifer (Philippa Tozer, who mostly does stage musicals) and uncle David (Darren Matthews, who played Peter Sutcliffe on the Discovery Channel) are exactly the wrong people to temporarily house a teenage relative, strict and disciplined. “We don’t normally eat away from the table,” says Jennifer, telling us pretty much all we need to know about these two.

At school, Anna also meets ditzy pink-haired gothette Lydia (Tallulah Webb) and floppy-haired nice-guy Josh (Ryan Spong). There’s some really good characterisation among these ‘teenagers’ with taciturn Anna unsure who to trust between Josh and Abi, whose families have history. Josh lives with his stepfather (Rob Talbot: Jack Says, Call Me a Psycho and a bunch of zombie/vampire shorts) who runs a shop that is described (in a note which Aunt Jennifer leaves for Anna) as “the convenience store in town” but which is clearly some sort of delicatessen.

There is also a problem with the ‘town’ itself which, according to Josh, is a shitty little town that has been depressed since the local steelworks closed down. For a post-industrial town it’s remarkably rural: all we ever see are 18th/19th century cottages (Jennifer and David live in a huge, thatched farmhouse) surrounded by fields and moors. Everyone keeps calling it a town - and it’s clearly big enough to have its own sixth form college - but every location we see looks like a village. There is a pebbly beach, but again the dialogue diverges from the location with Josh arranging to meet Anna “by the main steps” when this beach is backed by dunes and there are no steps to be seen. This sort of thing spoils the ship for a hap’orth of tar.

Anyway, Anna is narcoleptic and unsure if her new medication is working as she is having hallucinations - or is she? A small boy with bleeding facial wounds (Josh Toop, suitably unnerving in a role originally lined up for Rohan Gotobed) at the foot of her bed, a strange man underneath the tree in her aunt’s garden. She also sees the boy floating in the sea and dives in to save him but he disappears.

Clearly something is going on in this never-named town/village, which has to do with a little-talked-of, shameful historical situation that Josh knows about. I liked the way that this and another scene introduced, without explanation, a layer of unmentioned (but narratively relevant) snow to a story set during the summer. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people scoff at that as an extreme continuity error but it is clearly a deliberate decision by Goddard. And, crucially, it makes sense. Having just re-read my review of the awful, pretentious, over-hyped Kill List, a film where random spooky things happen for no narrative purpose whatsoever, it’s nice to watch a movie where a whole bunch of mysterious shit happens which all makes some kind of sense at the end. If Peter Goddard can manage this, why can’t Ben Wheatley?

Any Minute Now builds its spookiness and mystery effectively while also developing the teen romance between Josh and Anna. The back-story which Josh reveals is original and horrific, and the film’s satisfying climax achieves the tricky balance of being both gory and supernatural.

On a technical level the video photography is generally good (Goddard shares the DP credit with Tim Parsons) although some wobbly shots could have benefited from either a tripod or being handed to Steadicam operator John E Fry (The Harsh Light of Day, Jack the Last Victim). Producer Daniel Coffey handled the sound mix which suffers unfortunately from Calvey’s underplaying of her character. Everyone else is clear as a bell but Anna’s lines throughout the film are quiet and sometimes get lost in the mix. She’s a taciturn, introspective teen but she’s just a little too taciturn to hear a lot of the time.

Nevertheless, Calvey leads a fine cast which also includes Kevin Hallett (Kill Keith, The Scar Crow), Carl Wilkins (The Harsh Light of Day) and ‘name value’ Lee Macdonald - Zammo McGuire himself! - as the teens’ teacher. Macdonald is one of several cast members to have also appeared in Kevin Hallett’s short The Sharpest Knife. Not unexpectedly, many were also in Season of the Witch and/or Goddard’s various shorts.

Despite running for the best part of two hours, which would normally be a no-no, Any Minute Now kept me engrossed and by the end I was really digging the film. Goddard set out to make a distinctly British ghost story, tapping into that whole British Horror Revival thing by setting it very much in the domestic, realistic hear-and-now. The result, which premiered at the 2013 Festival of Fantastic Films alongside Season of the Witch, can be judged a success.

MJS rating: B

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Kill List

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Producers: Claire Jones, Andrew Starke
Cast: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley
Country: UK
Year of release: 2011
Reviewed from: UK theatrical release
Website:
www.kill-list.com

Some critics have suggested that the best way to approach Kill List is with as little foreknowledge as possible. This is absolutely not the case and frankly unfair to the film’s audience. There are some things which you really should know before taking the time to watch this film.

First, despite early indications, this is a horror movie. Not quite supernatural horror but more than just excessive violence. The third act involves some sort of Wicker Man-style pagan/wiccan cult, positioning Kill List on the very edge of fantasy, depending on whether or not their magick is real (that’s not made clear). This is important to know because the first act, which introduces us to ex-squaddie Jay (Neil Maskell: Doghouse, Tony), his Swedish wife Shel (MyAnna Buring: The Descent, Devil’s Playground), his son Sam (Harry Simpson - no relation) and his oppo Gal (Michael Smiley: Burke and Hare, Outpost), goes on far too long.

We see the outward normality of these people’s lives. We learn that Jay and Gal were together in the army, then worked for a private security firm, then became freelance hitmen. Jay hasn’t worked in eight months and his savings are drying up, further cracking his strained marriage. Gal has been offered a job and wants Jay in on it.

While the quality of the writing, the direction and the performances ensure that this first part of the film doesn’t drag, the fact remains that it’s not what we’ve paid to see and the same ideas and information could have been conveyed in half the time. This would bring forward the start of the second act when the film turns into a thriller and hence hasten the arrival of the third act that we’re all waiting for.

The other thing which you really should know in advance is that you will be sorely disappointed if you expect any sort of explanation or resolution - and this is the film’s biggest failing. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that everything should be wrapped up with some pat explanation. I’m not even saying that all the questions raised should be answered. But at least some of them should be answered, otherwise what’s the point?

I’m all for films that leave unanswered questions. The Descent, for example, never explained what the crawlers were or whether they were even real. The ending of the film (in the British cut) was clearly in the main character’s head, but when did the narrative pass from reality to fantasy? Was it getting stuck in the narrow gap? Was it the accidental killing of a friend? My personal theory is that it was the car crash in the prologue and that everything after that is fantasy (an idea born out by the often overlooked scene of the hospital lights mysteriously switching off). The point is that the lack of a definite answer makes the debate all the more fascinating.

In a similar vein, Vampire Diary refuses to confirm or deny whether the central character is a real vampire or just a disturbed young woman with a taste for blood. There are plenty of other examples. In fact, there are legions of horror films which leave an audience wondering what happens next, especially those with a Carrie-style sting at the end.

But Kill List isn’t a film open to different interpretations, it’s a film which raises a whole bunch of unconnected questions and leaves them all hanging at the end - including what actually happens at the end. Without wanting to give away any spoilers, the climax of the movie is genuinely disturbing and shocking. For a brief moment I was in awe at the audacity of the film-makers, amazed at what they had revealed, but this was immediately muddied by confusion over character reactions which completely contradicted everything we had been told and shown so far - and then the whole thing just suddenly stopped. In an instant, ‘Wow!’ turned to ‘What?’. It is possibly the most disappointing, arbitrary cop-out of a non-ending since The Blair Witch Project.

However, while Blair Witch was 70-odd minutes of nothing happening to people we didn’t care about, so the crap ending came as something of a relief and the main disappointment was at the waste of an evening and the cost of two cinema tickets, with Kill List the opposite is true. This is a terrific film (or rather, this is 98% of a terrific film). Everything up to that ending is great because up to that ending we are impressed at the originality and the diverse range of weirdness happening on screen. We are impressed - as we would be with any finely wrought, complex, convoluted narrative - that a writer has crafted a tale which weaves all these ideas together and will make sense of them at the end.

But implicit in this adulation is the assumption that the writer will make sense of things at the end. And this, Ben Wheatley and his wife/co-writer Amy Jump singularly fail to do. Watching Kill List is like seeing all the theatrical preamble to a large-scale magic trick and then just as the magician raises his magic wand - the curtains close and the house lights come up. In other words, it’s a con, a swizz and a rip-off.

Here, we venture unavoidably into the realm of spoilers, so beware:

Gal’s new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) carves a symbol in a hidden spot in Jay’s house. Why? Along with several other later actions by Fiona, no explanation is offered except that she is part of the pagan cult/conspiracy.

We never find out who Jay and Gal’s employer is, nor why he wants these people dead. That’s not such a problem; it’s not the driving force of the film or the character’s motivations. These are two men doing a job - nothing more, nothing less. The second kill is of a man involved in some sort of violent underground pornography ring (possibly kiddie porn) although it is unclear whether the others on the ‘kill list’ are also involved or whether this is coincidental.

The first victim, a priest, accepts his fate and says ‘Thank you’ before being shot. Ooh, that’s mysterious. Will we ever find out why? No.

The second victim goes further, enthusiastically thanking Jay with every agonising crunch during a violent - but far from exploitative - prolonged torture scene. Some reviewers have been shocked by this but it doesn’t linger, it’s technically clever, it’s not gleeful in any way, and it is frankly a lot less disturbing than similar stuff shot for a fraction of the budget eight years ago for The Last Horror Movie. What is more significant is that this victim, when Gal is out of the room, praises Jay like some sort of celebrity. What is it about Jay? What is going on here? We will never find out.

A major problem with the plot is that very little attention is paid to the folder of documents and photographs which Gal takes from the victim’s safe (presumably to make the hit look like a botched burglary). This folder is all about Jay and Gal, it includes a whole dossier on something which happened in Kiev (frequently alluded to but never in sufficient detail for us to care about) and there are even photographs taken of the duo carrying out the hit on the priest a few days earlier.

This should have been a complete game-changer, a wake-up call that the two men are not just hired guns but somehow mixed up in a much bigger, more deadly and more personally relevant situation - but Gal doesn’t even show Jay the folder. He just mentions it in passing and they pretty much shrug and go, oh, that’s weird.

There are a couple of other situations which simply don’t ring true. On discovering that the next hit is an MP, Jay and Gal seem unconcerned. But a disappearing priest or a random bloke killed by a burglar are one thing, assassinating a Member of Parliament is quite another. Any investigation will be massive and much more likely to lead to their arrest - but they just accept it as Another Job.

The MP has a huge estate and it is here, bivouacked in woodland for the night, that our two leads are woken by a torchlight procession of 20-30 people, some naked, some in hooded smocks, some wearing wickerwork masks. This comes completely out of nowhere and although the downing of hoods identifies some minor characters we know, the significance or relevance or meaning of it all is glossed over. Incidentally, it’s never indicated whether any of the cult members is the MP in question.

And here comes the final problem with the story (non-ending aside). Jay and Gal start shooting the cult members. That’s two trained, professional killers, hidden among dark woodland in the middle of the night, armed with a shotgun and an automatic pistol, against a couple of dozen unarmed, brightly illuminated individuals. Yet not only can the cultists somehow see where the two hitmen are but the hitmen are unable to take out more than one or two cultists as the latter race unsteadily towards them across several hundred yards of rough terrain.

None of this is in any way believable or credible and none of it will be explained so don’t get your hopes up.

It’s worth for a moment considering the sine qua non of pagan-cult movies, The Wicker Man. One of the reasons for that film’s success is its careful structure. By the third act, Sgt. Howie (and hence the audience) has worked out what is going on. Then in that classic finale Howie (and hence the audience) discover that there is something even bigger going on. The Wicker Man actually answers more questions than it asks, because the actions of the characters are not only explained by Howie’s initial assumption but also by the reality. This is important: every single thing that anyone does or says in that film - however spooky, however random - can be seen, in retrospect to be part of the overall scheme to entrap Howie in accordance with the Summerisle beliefs.

The Wicker Man has a coherent narrative. And while not every film can be The Wicker Man, a coherent narrative is not too much to ask.

It’s worth also taking a look at the Kill List production notes. They won’t explain what is going on, but they offer some clue as to the problems with the film, which become more numerous and more significant the more one thinks about it (and that’s not good for a film which sets out to make its audience think abut it after seeing it!).

“Eight months after a disastrous job in Kiev left him physically and mentally scarred, ex-soldier turned contract killer, Jay, is pressured by his partner, Gal, and wife Shel, into taking a new assignment.”

Is there any indication in the actual film that Kiev left Jay “physically and mentally scarred”? No, there isn’t. As previously mentioned, it’s just referred to in passing a couple of times. Mental scarring? None that I could notice. He argues with his wife. Who doesn’t do that? Physical scarring? He has spurious lower back pain, that’s all.

“the [second] victim acknowledges Jay and thanks him for his fate. The shock and confusion are too much for Jay who viciously attacks the man.”

Nope, that doesn’t come across at all. Jay is already viciously attacking the man and everything indicates that his anger is based on the victim’s involvement in orchestrated child abuse. If Jay was shocked at being addressed directly and continually thanked, all he has to do is slit the guy’s throat and the bloke will shut up.

“As they descend into the dark and disturbing world of the contract, Jay begins to unravel once again – his fear and paranoia sending him deep into the heart of darkness.”

Again, this just doesn’t come across in the movie. Is this press officer hyperbole or was this the actual intention of the film-makers? Either way, it doesn’t match what is on screen. Jay certainly goes over the top but there is nothing to indicate this is anything other than a previously expressed utter hatred of kiddy-diddlers. There’s no sense of fear and paranoia, the very opposite in fact. Neither Jay nor Gal seem particularly bothered at what they are getting into, treating the job at all times like just another set of contract killings. If the above is what Wheatley and Jump were aiming for, they have missed their mark considerably. And even if they had nailed this aspect of the story, that would not in any way excuse the cop-out at the end, when it really looks like they just ran out of ideas.

Here’s a quote from a short interview with Wheatley in the press notes: “I’ve always loved horror films, but there seem to be so few that are actually scary. I wanted to make something that would make the audience afraid and unnerved. I sat down with Amy Jump and we thought about the things that scared us the most and then built the script around that. A lot of the sequences are built around re-occurring nightmares I’ve had since childhood. I thought that if these things scared me then - they would scare a larger audience.”

Therein, I suspect, lies the problem. Wheatley and Jump have prioritised scaring people over actually telling a good story. They have written the script as a ghost train ride: a succession of freaky, creepy events that has no actual continuous narrative thread and which stops arbitrarily when the car re-emerges into the fresh air. It’s possible to give a ride a narrative, as many of the bigger, better theme parks have found with their fancy-dancy 3D wotsits, but Kill List exhibits no more storytelling structure than you will find at Billy Bates’ funfair.

This is Wheatley’s second film after a thriller called Down Terrace. That received extensive critical praise but so has Kill List so I can’t see myself wasting an hour and a half of my life watching another of this director’s films. More interesting, and I think relevant, is that Wheatley was both director and writer on The Wrong Door.

Regular readers may have come across mention of this BBC3 sketch show before, in my review of Just for the Record. That film - inarguably the worst British movie released last year - was written by Phillip Barron, who was also a writer on The Wrong Door. Maskell, Buring and Smiley all have The Wrong Door on their CV, as do numerous other cast and crew. Ah, it starts to fit together...

The biggest problem with The Wrong Door, the thing which made it stand out as particularly shit and unfunny even by the dirt-scrapingly low standards of BBC3 sketch shows in general, was that it was clearly made by people with absolutely no understanding of comedy. The sketches were written to some sort of formula - incongruous character in normal situation or normal character in incongruous situation - and pumped out without any thought for whether they were actually amusing. It was production line ‘comedy’ made by people with no concept of what they were doing, like poor Chinese factory workers hand-painting unlicensed rip-offs of western TV characters. Just a mechanical process without thought or care.

And it is my conclusion that Ben Wheatley has here approached horror the same way that he, Barron and others approached comedy on BBC3. He has knocked together something that looks like a horror film - it has strange events and sinister characters and brief, brutal violence and a hint of the mystical or supernatural - and then he has given it a lick of paint and watched it sail off down the conveyor belt to be packed into a box and stacked on a pallette and lifted into a container and shipped across the ocean and unloaded onto a lorry and shelved in a warehouse and sold by a wholesaler and taken in a white van to a shop where everything costs one pound.

It looks like a horror film but it’s not a horror film. Because the purpose of a horror film is not to scare people. The purpose of a horror film is to tell a scary story. And a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Wheatley has played a trick on people, making a stylish and compelling film which seems, for 98% of its running time, to be so good (and comes with such hype) that many viewers have developed a blind spot for the completely crap, run-out-of-ideas ending. It’s a common (and annoying) tendency among film/TV fans nowadays to praise poorly crafted stories and try to defend them by setting up straw men among critics and/or by creating extraordinarily convoluted explanations. Take a look at online discussion about most of the recent Doctor Who episodes and you’ll see what I mean.

I‘ve seen some ludicrous explanations for the shoddy plot of Kill List: Jay is the Antichrist; it’s all a dream; whatever... The truth is that it’s the Emperor’s new clothes. People just won’t believe - can’t believe - that the film doesn’t have a true and wonderful meaning.

Ah, the heck with it. That’s 3,000 words and I think I’ve made my point. Kill List is overhyped, over-rated and demonstrates that although the film’s writer-director may enjoy horror, he doesn’t understand it as a genre. The movie might work better if you lower your expectations. Don’t believe the hype.

The cast also includes Struan Rodger (who was the voice of the Face of Boe!) as the mysterious client, Esme Folley (The Horror of the Dolls) as a hotel receptionist, Sara Dee (Room 36, Zombie Office) as a newsreader, Alice Lowe (Liz Asher in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace!), Ben Crompton (Going Postal, Doomwatch remake) and Twins of Evil’s Damien Thomas as a GP who is also in on the conspiracy (for some reason and in some way).

Cinematographer Laurie Rose does camera-work on The X Factor. Editor Robin Hill is the same Robin Hill who worked on Project Assassin (on which Wheatley helped out), Are You Scared and Pumpkinhead 4. Composer Jim Williams scored Philip Ridley’s Heartless and the remake of Minder.

One final point is to consider whether the film has any of the social relevance that characterises the best British Horror Revival titles? Well, yes and no. The characters’ lives, if not the characters, are solidly middle class and aspirational. Jay and Shel have a jacuzzi in the back garden and own a holiday cottage in the country. But we see nothing of their greater lives or their social situation. Where the film scores best is in its depiction of Jay and Gal’s bland existence in motels and travel lodges as they move around the country on their mission. But when, an hour in, the film-makers decide they’re bored with making a thriller and want to make a horror film instead, all that goes out the window.

MJS rating: C-
review originally posted 6th October 2011

Kill Keith

Director: Andy Thompson
Writer: Andy Thompson, Pete Benson, Tim Major
Producer: Tim Major
Cast: Marc Pickering, Susannah Fielding, Cheggers!
Country: UK
Year of release: 2011
Reviewed from: festival screening (British Horror Fest)
Website:
www.killkeith.co.uk

I don’t know which is the more surprising fact about Kill Keith: that it got made or that it’s actually very good. Both seem unlikely.

On seeing the trailer, most people assume it to be some sort of spoof but no, as one surprised blogger wrote just before its release, “Incredibly, this is a thing.” I must admit that when I first saw the advance poster artwork on the DOA Digital site a couple of years ago I assumed that it was something doomed to spend forever in development hell. A good idea, a wouldn’t-it-be-great-if, but not a serious cinematic proposal. I mentally lumped it in with horror comedy Frank in Staines Monster rather than obviously serious projects such as Ellie Rose, the retitling of Tristan VersluisNot Alone, which is still awaiting release.

But no, Kill Keith actually got made. It is a thing. It is a film. I have watched it in a cinema. And it turns out to be far, far better than expected, and far, far better than it has any right to be. It is one of my favourite films of the year and I can’t wait to enjoy it again,

Another surprising fact about Kill Keith is that it is, at heart, a romantic comedy. The Tarantino-esque poster of Keith Chegwin in an Uma Thurman-style yellow track suit suggests an action movie and it screened at the 2011 British Horror Film Festival as a horror picture (obviously) but it is first and foremost a comedy, with a will-they-won’t-they couple at the centre. It is also a horror movie, I’ll give you that, in that the plot revolves around a series of gruesome, gory deaths. And just for good measure. it also has aspirations to be a superhero picture, an action movie and a film noir.

This shouldn’t work, but it does. And the proof that is does is the fact that I laughed very long and hard at Kill Keith. This is one of the funniest British comedies of recent years and certainly the funniest British horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead.

(Just in case you think that’s damning with feint praise, like calling this ‘the best D-list Celebrity Psycho Slasher Romcom you’ll see this year’ let me just remind you that there have indeed been several British horror comedies since Shaun, including Freak Out, Evil Aliens, The Cottage, StagKnight, Lesbian Vampire Killers, Doghouse, The Vampires of Bloody Island, Stag Night of the Dead and Attack the Block. Some are good, some less so, but none have made me laugh like Kill Keith.)

The film is based around The Crack of Dawn, a fictitious breakfast television show hosted by the eponymous Dawn (played by the impossibly pretty Susannah Fielding, who was in Noel Clarke’s 4.3.2.1 and the ‘WW2 Daleks’ episode of Doctor Who) and the suave Cliff (played by Family Affairs/Brookside’s David Easter as an arrogant slimeball of the first water). Cliff has announced his decision to leave and a secret shortlist of replacements has been drawn up: former DJ Tony Blackburn, comedian Joe Pasquale, astrologer Russell Grant and the irrepressible Keith Chegwin - all of whom play themselves with absolutely gleeful abandon. Chegwin is already a regular on The Crack of Dawn, out in the street surprising people in their homes in a segment called Cheggers Knocks You Up.

Among the staff of ‘Iam-TV’ is studio runner Danny (Marc Pickering: Sleepy Hollow, The Task), a likeable, enthusiastic-but-clumsy, gawky young chap who has dreams of one day being a TV presenter but is still stuck on the lowest rung of the industry, in charge of ‘coffee and arsewipes’. Danny carries a torch for Dawn and has a lifesize cut-out of her in his bedroom (in his mum’s house) which he swiped from the studio reception. Dawn herself is on the rebound from an abusive, testosterone-addled boyfriend known as ‘Rob the Knob’ and there is a great chemistry between Fielding and Pickering which makes an audience desperate to see them somehow get together, which is what any good romcom should have.

What very few romcoms have is an unidentified psycho in a boiler suit, only ever shot from the chest down, who brutally (and hilariously) murders a TV exec for the secret shortlist and then sets about shortening it even further. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know that Pasquale and Blackburn both end up gruesomely despatched. Who could be responsible for these atrocities, and can they be stopped before they... Kill Keith?

There are plenty of candidates. Cliff himself is a thoroughly unpleasant, supercilious twat, convinced of his own greatness and utterly obnoxious to those around him, especially Danny. Perhaps it’s recently employed studio cleaner Andy (the ubiquitous Simon Phillips: Jack Says, The Reverend etc) who seems to have a lot of questions. Maybe it’s vampiric quizmaster Brian - a wonderful performance from Stephen Chance (The Shadow Within) combining gothic eccentricity with genuine pathos - who receives constant instructions to further dumb down questions that wouldn’t tax a five-year-old.

In casting around for a killer, as one must perforce do in a whodunnit, however gory, the possibility cannot be discounted that either Danny or Dawn might have a dark side, or could it be one of the studio’s various other employees, or even somebody connected with one of the celebs themselves? Perhaps it’s Rob the Knob?

As the bodies pile up, Danny and Dawn move hesitantly closer together, a series of finely judged comic misadventures constantly letting down Danny’s attempts to impress the love of his life. Part of his problem is that he is a dreamer and there are several quite wonderful Walter Mitty-style daydreams scattered throughout the film as Danny’s alter ego ‘Danny Danger’ becomes a gun-toting Rambo, a golden age superhero and a tough-talking 1940s ‘tec whose car comes equipped with its own dodgy back-projection.


Throughout all this we have the quartet of celebs themselves, all of whom worked for free on this low-budget production (other celebs were approached, including Vanessa Feltz, but were unable to fit into the Kill Keith shooting schedule). All four are consummate professionals and helpfully already have a broadcast persona. When Russell Grant or Cheggers appears on TV they are already a version of themselves. Blackburn, as an old-school DJ, is very much a self-made media construct. And as a stand-up comedian Pasquale is playing a role every time he steps on stage. For this film, they have no problem just slightly exaggerating themselves, which works perfectly as all four are already exaggerations. Then again, it’s clear they don’t mind playing against type and there’s some magnificent swearing on show here.

It is also worth noting that Tony Blackburn is treated slightly differently to the other three, resulting in one of the film’s funniest scenes, featuring my pal Frank Scantori (Room 36) at his skin-crawling best in a small but gloriously funny role.

The romcom plot and the psycho killer plot both build towards Cliff’s final show, on the morning of Halloween, with the set full of pumpkins and plastic bats and the hosts in fancy dress as vampire and witch. There is a brilliantly original, almost Hitchcockian ‘ticking clock’ as our hero races to save our heroine, the two plots finally colliding in one unforgettable finale.

The whole film looks fantastic, utterly belying its small budget, and one of the main things that carries the movie is a cast which, right down to the smallest bit-part, never puts a foot wrong. Iain Rogerson, who was one of the ex-commandos in The Scar Crow, turns in a particularly good supporting performance as the studio’s security guard.

Cinematographer Luke Bryant makes his feature debut here after shooting some impressive shorts including Human Assembly, Deathless and an adaptation of Michael Marshall Smith’s short story ‘Later’. Production designer Danny Rogers (The Hike, Jack Falls) does a great job with not just the studio and domestic sets but also the hyper-realism of Danny’s daydreams. Editor Richard Colton (Airborne, Strippers vs Werewolves) also deserves praise as does John Zealey whose renditions of appropriate songs make for a beautifully sympathetic soundtrack.

Make-up effects designer Kristyan Mallett has amassed a hundred or so credits in the few years since he started as a trainee on Harry Potter 3 including WAZ, The Cottage, Doomsday, Eden Lake, Mutant Chronicles, Strigoi, Heartless, The Reeds, The Holding and The Inbetweeners Movie. The gore which he provides for Kill Keith is just gruesome enough to be funny without tipping over into silliness.

The final surprising thing about Kill Keith is that it is the second feature from Andy Thompson - as it could not be more different from The Scar Crow. Not just in its tone, style, subject matter and approach but also in having a tightly constructed, narratively satisfying script rather than the previous feature’s enjoyable but ultimately plothole-riddled story. Pete Benson, who co-directed The Scar Crow, restricts himself to writing duties here, working with Thompson and with producer Tim Major from an original idea by Andy (who already knew Chegwin slightly before starting on the project). Freak Out director Christian James is credited as associate producer.

Finally, a word must be said about Chegwin himself who already has some remarkable, little-known credits to his name. This is actually his second British horror film, or even his third if you’re of the school which considers Polanski’s Macbeth (in which young Cheggers plays Banquo’s son) a horror movie. Personally, although it’s a great version of my favourite Shakespeare play, I don’t think of Polanski’s film as horror; the supernatural elements are rationalised away and it’s not as gory as people seem to think it is. Be that as it may, Cheggers certainly does get a horror credit for narrating the Fun Dead zombie game show seen briefly on TV in the epilogue of Shaun of the Dead.

In his pre-Swap Shop acting days, he was also in a couple of episode of The Tomorrow People and played the title role in Robin Hood Junior, long before a different actor with initials KC donned the Lincoln green tights.

Whatever you think of Keith Chegwin, Kill Keith will make you see him in a completely new light. This could be the start of a whole new career for the man, a reinvention of his cheesy image in the light of his incredible performance as the epicentre of this film.

Brilliantly written, marvellously produced and directed, flawlessly acted and genuinely hilarious, Kill Keith deserves to join the pantheon of great cult movies.

It will be a sod to sell in overseas territories, mind.

MJS rating: A+
review originally posted 18th October 2011

The Killing Floor

Director: Gideon Raff
Writer: Gideon Raff, Ryan Swanson
Producer: Gideon Raff, Eden Wurmfeld
Cast: Marc Blucas, Shiri Appleby, Reiko Aylesworth
Country: USA
Year of release: 2006
Reviewed from: UK disc (Revolver)
Website:
www.thekillingfloor.co.uk


Although Revolver are touting this as a horror film, it’s really a Hitchcockian thriller. But it’s a good one and Israeli director Gideon Raff’s next picture should be a real horror movie; he’s attached to the remake of Terror Train.

There is a peripheral horror connection because Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) stars as David Lamont, a literary agent specialising in representing horror authors. He moves into a fantastic three-story penthouse apartment in the middle of Manhattan and almost immediately his life starts getting more complicated and more dangerous.

Lamont isn’t a particularly bad guy. I mean he’s an agent, which means he could walk under a snake’s belly without taking his hat off, but we never actually see him lie, cheat or steal. He’s just a bit self-possessed and selfish. He treats his PA Rebecca (Roswell’s Shiri Appleby) as a skivvy even though she works incredibly hard for him. And he forgets to make an important phone call which means his brother Bobby (Andrew Weems) doesn’t get a job, then thinks he can make it up to him by sending a bunch of flowers. Or rather, getting Rebecca to send some flowers. He doesn’t even bother to write his own note.

So a bit of an arsehole, but not actually evil. Apart from the whole ‘agent’ thing.

Lamont falls for a downstairs neighbour, the sultry Audrey Levine (24’s Reiko Aylesworth) and throws a housewarming party where he argues with Bobby, ignores Rebecca and fails to get off with Audrey. But his real problems start when a detective named Soll (John Bedford Lloyd: The Bourne Supremacy) turns up late one night with a young man, Jared Thurber (Jeffrey Carlson) who claims that he legally owns the flat because it was his father’s. Soll humours Thurber, Lamont talks with Soll and asks him to speak with his lawyer in the morning who will prove that all the deeds are in order.

But this is one of those thrillers where nobody is likely to be precisely who they say they are or doing what they claim to be doing. Who can Lamont trust as he starts to receive mysterious envelopes containing photographs which appear to show a murder in his home - yet when Soll checks police files there’s no record of a crime at that address.

I liked The Killing Floor because I’m usually hopeless at really, really complicated thriller plots but I could follow this, keeping track of who was claiming to be what and whether they were or not (and who knew that they were). Being critical - it’s kind of my job - there are a few bits that don’t stack up near the beginning, such as a couple of indications that Audrey does not actually live downstairs (which we subsequently discover, she certainly does). I also found myself thinking, as the threats became more physical and Lamont became justifiably panicked about intruders in his flat: you know, you live on your own in a huge home and you’re filthy stinking rich so why don’t you just hire a bodyguard and install him in your spare room?

One also has to wonder how an agent could afford something quite so palatial. What, does he represent Stephen King and Dean R Koontz? Even on 15 per cent of their advances, I’m not sure someone could afford this place. The actual ‘represents horror writers’ angle does become peripherally relevant to the plot but it’s hardly vital.

Nevertheless, The Killing Floor is a gripping thriller worth 90 minutes of anybody’s time.

Among the crew, the most notable name is composer Michael Wandmacher who also scored Revenant, Cry Wolf and the Night Stalker remake. Costume designer Erika Munro also worked on Trail of the Screaming Forehead!

Before leaving Israel for the USA, Gideon Raff was apparently “a best-selling author, a columnist for the country´s largest newspaper and a paratrooper in the military.” That last one is probably just his military service so basically he was a writer. He moved to California, studied at the American Film Institute in LA and had some festival success with a 17-minute coming-of-age film, The Babysitter. His break was landing an internship as ‘assistant to Mr Liman’ on the Doug Liman-directed Bradgelina film Mr and Mrs Smith.

Liman, together with ex-Marvel man Avi Arad (who was impressed with The Babysitter), executive produced The Killing Floor which was shot on location in New York over 25 days in 2006. Raff describes his debut feature as: "Right on the border between a psychological thriller and a horror film. There´s a little gore. The movies I like the most are ... scary, but there´s a human story being told."

MJS rating: B+
review originally posted 6th June 2007

The Killin'

Director: Kevin Powis
Writer: Kevin Powis
Producer: Kevin Powis
Cast: James Harris, Becky Neal, Chris Stanton
Country: UK
Year of release: 2005
Reviewed from: screener DVD
Official site:
www.lastindependent.com

Here is an enjoyable, professional-looking ten-minute comedy horror film from one-man band Kevin Powis (soundman David J Nock, who was a werewolf victim in Full Moon Massacre, is the only other credited crew). It’s a simple tale of three Brummie friends, walking home through the woods, scaring each other with stories about an unsolved brutal murder which occurred in the same spot three years earlier.

James Harris (jokey James), Becky Neal (exasperated Becky) and Chris Stanton (introspective Tod) flesh out their characters into believable and likeable people. Siddique Hussaine (who doubled as stills photographer) rounds out the four-strong cast as ‘the man in the woods.’ The dialogue has gags about Ring, Psycho and Friday the 13th but uses them to illuminate character rather than just show off the director’s video collection.

Powis’ direction is taut and his editing is slick. There are some nice reveals which show that he knows what he is doing with a camera. The sound is good (which can be quite an achievement shooting entirely on location at this level of budget/production) and the photography is crisp.

There are no real scares - the ‘horror’ element is discussed and implied, not shown - but there are some real chuckles. Comedy is the hardest genre for low-low-budget indie producers to work in, but Powis does a good job. It’s not a laugh-out-loud funny film, it’s not meant to be - but there’s a nice, light touch to the characterisation that is deftly handled.

Well-made, fun to watch and doesn’t outstay its welcome. I wish I could say that about more films on this site. The Killin' has been screened at cinemas in Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

MJS rating: A-
review originally posted 20th November 2005

KillerKiller

Director: Pat Higgins
Writer: Pat Higgins
Producer: Pat Higgins
Cast: Dutch Dore-Boize, Cy Henty, Danielle Laws
Country: UK
Year of release: 2006
Reviewed from: screener disc
Website: www.jinxmedia.com


KillerKiller is great. Honestly, this is a terrific little movie with an original premise, interesting characters, good dialogue, a thought-provoking ending and - for those of you who don’t really care about such things - there’s plenty of blood too.

Eight serial killers in a maximum security institution awaken one morning to find their cell doors open, the guards gone and the whole building transformed overnight into a state of semi-dereliction. What on Earth is going on?

Now, I know I’m always comparing films to The Exterminating Angel but it is the sine qua non of there’s-nothing-stopping-us-but-we-can’t-leave movies. In this case, there is a dense, freezing fog around the building and when one inmate tries to make his way through he comes back so frostbitten that he looks like someone has dipped him in liquid nitrogen.

So the eight are trapped and forced to examine their situation. Gaunt, shaven-headed Lawrence (RADA-trained Dutch Dore-Boize - Twisted Sisters, Lovesick: Sick Love - who spends his time between films working as a bouncer at a top London nightclub!) is our central character, our point of reference. Irish Rosebrooke (Cy Henty) who admits to having been a goth in his younger days, maintains that he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice but the others admit their crimes with varying levels of passion and dispassion.

There’s mentally retarded Perry (Richard Collins) who can’t be separated from his scrap of security blanket; cultured physician Harris (James Kavaz: Siamese Cop, Bean 2) who has a dislike of the working class and is presumably named in honour of the creator of Hannibal Lecter; cheerleader-murdering duo Samuel and Victor (Scott Denyer and Danny James); monstrous Nicholas (Nick Page) who is so psycho that the other seven lock him in the cellar for their own safety; and Wallis (Rami Hilmi) about whom we know very little because he’s the first to die.

Lawrence has his back turned at that point and the question is: who killed Wallis? In fact, it’s difficult to see how any of them could have done it as they were all several feet away when he suddenly collapsed in a pile of stab wounds. Nevertheless, the finger of suspicion points to Harris, as does the knee-in-the-groin of retribution and the headbutt of finality.

But as the others succumb, one by one, over the course of 75 finely paced minutes, we see what happens from their point of view. Each murderer finds himself suddenly somewhere else, where a blonde woman (Danielle Laws) kills him in a suitably gory and apposite way. From the point of view of those around him, death is instantaneous, inexplicable - and bloody. Gradually, the group is whittled down until there are only two left, by which point it is clear that nothing is real - but then what is it, if it’s not real? Lawrence advances the possibility early on that they might all be dead and in some kind of limbo, and while that’s probably not the case, it’s as good a theory as any.

This is not a movie with pat answers, it’s a movie which is ripe for endless discussion and debate, much in the manner of The Descent or The Prestige, to name two recent examples. Who is Helle (as the female character is credited)? Where are the eight men? What is going on?

In fact, whereas I normally praise movies for keeping under 80 minutes, in this instance I felt that the film was a tad too short. I would have liked to have seen more debate about whether things were really happening. Although the question is raised over whether the killer is one of the men or somebody else in the building with them, the former option is largely discarded after the second death and I was hoping in vain that something would happen near the end to make us doubt the veracity of what we had seen and ponder whether it might be a straightforward series of violent deaths at the hands of one of the octet after all. I was also hoping that, once the gang were down to two or three, there might be more suspicion among the survivors, in the manner of The Thing or Ten Little Indians. There’s a bit but it’s not really played up as much as it could be.

In any case. it’s clear from the off that the cause of death is something at the very least supernatural and quite possibly metaphysical or theological. I would have liked to have my doubt stretched a little more. After all, we are relying on psychopaths as our guides in this story, who are not the most reliable or trustworthy people, and nothing improves a film like an unreliable narrator.

But such criticism is churlish when the film as a whole is such a belter. There’s some great character conflict and some wonderful character development as we find out more about each of these killers. It’s a surprisingly talky film but writer/director/producer/editor Pat Higgins (TrashHouse, Hellbride) adroitly balances the dialogue scenes with the gore. There’s also a wonderful vein of very black humour just below the surface, which any film of this sort has to have. Interestingly Henty, Denyer, James and Page are all stand-up comedians.

The acting is good, with a very strong double act between Lawrence and Rosebrook at the core of the film. (Collins and Henty both previously worked with Higgins in TrashHouse, while Kavaz and Laws were also in Hellbride; James was in both.) Higgins’ regular cinematographer Alan Ronald (Jesus vs the Messiah) does a great job on the film which was almost entirely shot within an abandoned Victorian mental hospital. However, the sound has some technical problems and I found some of the quieter bits of the dialogue difficult to make out.

Incredibly, Higgins shot Hellbride and KillerKiller back-to-back (and in that order) during the summer of 2006, with the latter premiering first in November of that year at a film festival in Portsmouth. To have produced something this professional in such a short space of time, while doing post-production on another film, is a heck of a work rate. But KillerKiller doesn’t suffer because it’s clear that Higgins has done all his prep including making sure he has a damn good script.

On the basis of KillerKiller, I have ordered myself a copy of TrashHouse and I am eagerly awaiting a screener of Hellbride.

MJS rating: B+
review originally posted 30th November 2006

Kaew Kon Lek

Director: Suthas Intranupakorn
Writer: Suthas Intranupakorn
Producer: Suchela Toipan
Cast: Winai Kraibutr, Kongkapun Sangsuriya, Ninnart Sinchai
Year of release: 2003
Country: Thailand
Reviewed from: Thai DVD


In a historical prologue we see the evil tyrant Mekin (Thai superstar Winai Kraibutr: Nang Nak, Snaker, Krai Thong) captured and imprisoned, and his lover (Pissara Umavijani) killed most unpleasantly. A series of hooks are attached to her face, which is then ripped off and presented to Mekin. Cool! Distraught, he entombs himself in some sort of magical elixir, awaiting rebirth.

In the present day, Narudom (Kongkapun Sangsuriya: Win Yarn Tee Took Sarb) is the only surviving heir of the Prachart family, who has just graduated from university in India and plans to now settle down and marry his sweetheart Chotirot (Pornthip Wongkitjjanon). Narudom is a nice guy but starts to change when he comes into his inheritance, the palatial mansion known as ‘Payamek Castle’. While poring over an obscure Tibetan holy text about immortality which he picked up on his travels, Narudom accidentally restores Mekin to life - as a vampire.

Of course, like any good tyrant-turned-vampire, Mekin seeks the reincarnation of his lost love, who turns out to be Romanee, girlfriend of Narudom’s best mate Wittawas (Ninnart Sinchai: Body Jumper). Narudom becomes Mekin’s servant while Wittawas and his companions try to thwart his plans.

What we have here is, to some extent, a Thai version of Dracula, albeit a very loose one. It certainly trades on European vampire iconography - all gothic set design, flowing dresses and stone sarcophagi - rather than native Thai superstitions, which makes it both odd and annoying that the DVD has no English subtitles. The above synopsis comes from a couple of summaries that I was able to track down on the web - because without subs the story is simply not followable - but there is much more to the plot. There’s an old man who gives Wittawas a magic ring which not only repels vampires but can imbue any weapon with anti-vampire properties, leading to a scene where a car steering lock magically transforms into a mystical sword. That’s a new one!

There is also a moustachioed vampire hunter who turns up without explanation in one scene to fight a vampire in a graveyard. This is one of three female vampires created by Mekin and she attracts her prey by pretending to have hanged herself. A young man helps her down and is bitten for his troubles. But our Thai Van Helsing appears with a magic whip, causing the vamp to impale herself on a spike. Mekin then appears, absorbs without flinching whatever magic the vampire hunter can fling at him, then takes his vampire bride and flies away, transforming mid-air into a giant eagle (one of several quite good CGI effects).

The film moves into a whole new area towards the end when Mekin calls forth an army of Romero-esque zombies who lay siege to Payamek Castle. Fortunately a squad of riot police arrive - followed by a SWAT team abseiling down from helicopters! The cops blast the zombies with copious amounts of automatic weaponry which has only a temporary effect. Fortunately our heroes, including Van Helsingthikul and his magic whip, are able to reduce the monsters to enjoyably horrific crumbling skeletons with their various magic weapons.

Among the other delights on offer is a scene of Narudom and Chotirot exploring the mansion’s catacombs which features swarms of CGI cockroaches, rats, bats and snakes. These shots are repeated under the end titles, without and then with the effects, which is a nice touch. We also get to see the three vampire brides attack a man underwater - another interesting twist.

Kaew Kon Lek (also known as Immortal Enemy) is an entertaining, well-paced horror flick with enough special effects to keep western viewers interested even without subs. It’s not particularly gruesome, despite the face-ripping in the prologue, and what gore there is on show is only seen fleetingly. The film opened theatrically in Thailand in March 2003 but doesn’t appear to have played any western festivals (making the seven-minute extract that I showed at Leicester Phoenix Arts in 2004 effectively its UK premiere). I bought my DVD, which sadly has no extras apart from 12 chapters and a 2.0/5.1 sound option, from the ever-reliable eThaicd.com.

The cast also includes model-turned actress Thanyaluk Worapimrat, Kanyaphat Unshagate, Kirk Schiller and Luppaporn Jaruchaisitthikul. Director Suthas Intranupakorn, a former cinematographer (Killer Tattoo) wrote the screenplay from a story by Tree Apirum. Cinematography duties on this movie were shared between Vichan Reungvichayakul and Rawi Kruewan (The Hotel).

MJS rating: B+
review originally posted 19th December 2004

interview: Peter Jones

I interviewed Peter Jones by telephone on 18th January 1998 for a feature that I was writing for SFX to celebrate the twentieth anniverary of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For some reason, despite being very approachable and delightfully avuncular, Peter was very, very rarely interviewed so I took the opportunity to ask him about his other work on radio and TV and in films, as well as his writing. Peter Jones passed away two years later. An extract from this was used in the SFX article and the whole thing was printed in the Hitchhiker’s Guide fan club newsletter but I think it deserves more widespread exposure. Peter Jones passed away in 2000. A few years later, when Hitchhiker's Guide returned to Radio 4, Peter's role was taken by his good friend William Franklyn.

Do you remember when you were first approached about the radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?
"Well, I was in Cornwall doing a bit of work, writing. A script arrived in the post from the BBC and they asked me to read it, said they were thinking of doing a pilot and was I interested. I read it and I must say I was fascinated. It was such a very different style to anything I’d been asked to do before, so I told them I would be very interested. It was Simon Brett who was in charge of it then; he sent the script."

That would be summer 1977?
"I don’t know what time it was, but if they say it’s twenty years then it must be, I suppose. Didn’t take long to get underway."

You recorded all your stuff on your own.
"Yes, that was rather boring in a way because I like meeting other actors. It’s always fun to be with a group."

Was it just going to be a six-part series, or were they looking at expanding it?
"Oh no, I think they just thought it was six. I didn’t get the impression that many people at the BBC were all that enthusiastic about it. They were a bit tentative."

When did you realise that it was starting to really take off?
"Well, good Lord. We’re talking twenty years ago, aren’t we? I don’t know. I suppose when they asked me to do another series."

Was the second batch of six seen as all one series, or was the Christmas episode seen as a one-off for recording purposes?
"Again, you’ve got the advantage of me because you’ve got figures there in black and white. But I don’t remember that."

Douglas Adams is famous for being very, very late with his writing.
"Yes, he was. He was very late. Twice I turned up at the studio on the appointed day and there was no script so I was sent home."

It’s said that Douglas wanted a Peter Jones type voice but tried several people before he thought of Peter Jones. Were you aware of that at the time?
"(laughs) No, no."

Do you mind being thought of as 'the voice of Hitchhiker’s Guide' even though you’ve had a long and varied career?
"No, I don’t mind. It was very popular. I’ve been very fortunate with things I’ve done on the radio. I mean, Just a Minute has been going on for 25 years. And then many, many years ago there was a programme with Peter Ustinov which was very very successful."

In All Directions - was that partially improvised?
"Oh it was, wholly really. We weren’t allowed to act without a script so we used to meet and improvise it, then secretaries at the BBC would transcribe the tapes and provide a script. But we couldn’t stick to them; they didn’t read at all well. You know what I mean."

You’ve got to have some spontaneity in there.
"That’s right. So we just refreshed our memory of what the sketches were about and then re-improvised them in the studio. Of course we were at a disadvantage with the BBC because they didn’t have tape recorders then. Peter and I both had one, but the BBC were rather slow. As they always are."

That would be a big reel-to-reel thing.
"That’s right, yes. But of course they weren’t able to edit these discs which they recorded on. Well, they were, but it was very difficult. We had a marvellous producer, Pat Dixon, who was a legend at the BBC, and he really got the thing off the ground, with the help of the late - unfortunately - Frank Muir and Denis Norden."

Another radio series you did was J Kingston Platt. Where did that character come from?
"Well, I wrote it, you see. They were short stories on showbusiness, and he was an old actor-writer type who remembered a lot. I did three series of that. Yes, I enjoyed that."

Getting back to Hitchhiker’s Guide, was it seen as a natural given thing that most of the cast would go on and work on the TV series?
"No, I don’t think so. I rather thought they would probably ask me to narrate it as I did on the radio. But the other people were not all the same, were they?"

I guess you were stuck away on your own in a cupboard again.
"That’s right, yes."

Was there any major difference, from your point of view, between recording the narration for the radio series and for the TV?
"No, none at all. In fact I think I thought at the time: why didn’t they just use that? But there was probably some contractual problem about that."

Were you pleased with the graphics?
"Oh yes, I thought they were terrific, very clever."

There were also the LPs.
"Yes. Well, first they were done independently of the BBC on discs, and we never got much money from them. I think the company went bust eventually."

Stephen Greif says he’s never been paid for it at all.
"Well, I did get something, I know. But I don’t know what. The BBC of course didn’t publish the books either. They were very slow. Years and years passed before they realised what a goldmine they had on their hands."

Were you ever approached to play the Book on stage?
"No, I wasn’t. Not as far as I remember anyway. No, I don’t think I was."

There’s been lost of talk about the film. Have you heard that Douglas has signed a deal with Disney?
"No, I didn’t know that."

It should be in cinemas by summer 2000.
"Well, that would be nice. I mean, if they ask me."

You’d be up for it, then?
"Oh certainly, yes. I know Disney pay very badly, but even so, it must be better than the BBC. I was in America the same time as Douglas when he was negotiating Hitchhiker’s with some other company, I think."

This would be in the 1980s?
"Yes, I think it was. And he was quite optimistic at that time."

Have any of the people who’ve had the film rights ever approached you?
"No. No, they haven’t. No, I was there because I wrote a television show called Mr Big, and it was picked up by an American company. They took an option which they renewed every year for ten years. Twice during that time, they said, ‘We’re going to do a pilot. Can you come over and talk to us?’ and so on, which I did. Unfortunately, it never came to anything."

Was there a British Mr Big series?
"Oh yes, two. It was about a very small group of crooks who were never very successful. Well, they were complete failures really. Mr Big and my wife, Prunela Scales, Ian Lavender and his girlfriend, in the series. There were just four of us. We were living in ghastly situations. They would have done more, had I not done The Rag Trade again for London Weekend, which was a great career mistake."

Why was that?
"Because Bill Cotton didn’t want me to do it for London Weekend, since he’d already turned it down. He didn’t want to do it at the BBC so as soon as London Weekend said they were going to do it he would have liked to have done it, I think. But anyway, he didn’t. He said, ‘You do realise that there probably won’t be any more Mr Big if you do this?’ If he’d offered me a contract to do Mr Big for another two or three series I’d be interested, but otherwise, I just had to go along with it. Bird in the hand."

The Rag Trade originally was in the early 1960s.
"Yes, it was. But then the authors tried to revive it. It didn’t work, because although Miriam Karlin was in it, none of the others were in it. It just wasn’t the same."

I also remember an early 1980s series you wrote called I Thought You’d Gone.
"Oh yes, now that was not successful at all. That was because Kevin Laffan and I agreed that we wouldn’t have an audience - the critics always say, ‘What a pity, the studio audience ruins it.’ - or even canned laughter. And we didn’t have any of that. It was deathly quiet and didn’t work."

You’ve done a lot of films.
"Oh yes, never very good."

Some of them were very good.
"I mean I didn’t shine in them, really."

A lot of them you only had very small roles in. You were in Dead of Night.
"Yes, amazing."

You’ve only got a small role as the barman, but that’s a classic, one of the first great British horror films.
"That’s true, it was."

Do you remember making that?
"Oh I do, yes. Because I’d been really quite ill, with pneumonia and everything, and I’d been to Brompton hospital and they told me that I’d have to give up acting. A very depressing prognosis. Anyway, I went home for couple of weeks and felt good, then I got this little offer and so I did it and I’ve never looked back, from that point of view. Healthwise I mean. And I loved working with Basil and Naunton Wayne. I did a lot of radio with them subsequently."

Was that your first film?
"No, my first film was Fanny by Gaslight. It was not so long before Dead of Night."

Some time in the late 1940s?
"Yes, it would be, that’s right. Again I only had a few words. But that was quite effective because the first scene is in - they weren’t allowed to call it a brothel, but it was a brothel. In order to establish the sorts of things that were going on, I arrived with another raw chap who hadn’t had much experience of life, and we would walk in and I would peep through a curtain into an alcove. I’d say ‘Good Lord!’ and close it. And that is meant to get over the fact that there are writhing bodies inside. Anthony Asquith directed that, and I did work for him again once or twice. Very nice, clever director."

I’ve got a list of your films here.
"Good Lord."

You were in School for Scoundrels.
"Yes, that was quite a nice scene with Dennis Price."

Is that the one where you’re dodgy car dealers?
"That’s right, yes."

Wasn’t that similar to characters you played in In All Directions?
"Yes it was, and I think Peter Ustinov was supposed to be doing it with me, but something went wrong, I don’t know what. Dennis Price was very good."

You were in one of the St Trinian’s films.
"Yes, I was. I think I was in more than one, I’m not sure. And I was in a play that Frank Launder wrote at Guildford. I don’t know when that was. It was called The Night of the Blue Demands. It was a terrible flop. I didn’t really like the script much. I just thought, ‘This man is so experienced, he’ll get it into shape when we’re at Guildford.’ But he didn’t lift a finger. He just came and enjoyed it all, roared with laughter throughout the rehearsals, and didn’t do anything.

“But what I do remember is that when we finished our rather dismal run at Guildford, he said, ‘Now Peter, we’re going to do this again. So don’t do anything else until you hear from us.’ And I never heard from them. But then, about ten years later I was in my agent’s office, Richard Stone, and he was talking to Frank Launder on the phone. So at an appropriate moment I said, ‘Tell him I’m here. I’d like a word.’ He handed me the phone eventually and I said, ‘Frank, last time I saw you, you said don’t do anything until you hear from us. And I’ve never done anything and it’s been about ten years now. Do you think I would be free to offer my services elsewhere?’ He didn’t think that was very funny."

In The Magic Box, like most people you’ve only got a small role, but it was an incredible cast.
"It was, yes, it was. It was almost we were working for charity. I don’t know what charity it was. But it was a great thrill to be close to Robert Donat who’s a great hero of mine. I help him to die at the end."

Was it the British film industry finally saying thank you to William Friese-Green, who doesn’t normally get the credit for inventing cinema?
"Yes, I think it was. Yes, that’s right."

Lovely film.
"Yes, it was."

At the other extreme, you were in a couple of Carry Ons.
"Yes. I can’t understand it that I get fan letters still for being in that. There’s some organisation somewhere which I wish I could stamp out, where they supply people with photographs of anybody who’s ever been in it. I think they’re very misguided people because I never liked the Carry Ons much. I never thought they were very funny. That’s not the sort of humour that I like, really."

It’s not the sort of humour you’re associated with.
"That’s right. The second one - I was rehearsing Polonius in Hamlet for the Ludlow Festival. They asked me if I’d fit in this appearance in the Carry On, and it rather appealed to me to be doing the two things at the same time. But Polonius was much more successful, I think."

You were in the TV series of Whoops Apocalypse.
"That’s right, yes. I loved my bits in that. Awfully well written."

You were the Prime Minister.
"That’s right, yes. I had a mental condition, I thought I was Superman. Did you see it? You probably don’t remember. I know I had the pleasure of throwing a dog out the window: ‘Go for a walk round the block.’"

I wish they’d repeat it. It hasn’t been on for so long.
"That’s right. I think there were things that offended people, like a huge penis on a truck or something."

You’ve done a lot of guest spots, like an episode of The Avengers.
"Yes, I got a cheque the other day for being in The Avengers. I was amazed."

It must be thirty years ago.
"That’s right, yes. But there’s some organisation in France where they trace that kind of thing and manage to extract cheques from the companies. So I was pleased to get this little present, as it were. But I can’t believe this sort of thing’s very interesting to people. I don’t know what you have in mind doing with it."

Were you in an episode of The Goodies as well?
"God yes. I used to get cheques for that, but they stopped a few years ago. And I used to think, ‘My God, those people in The Goodies - the three of them - must be getting huge amounts because there were so many episodes.'"

But they don’t show them any more.
"They’re a little bit old hat, are they?"

A lot of people would like to see them.
"Of course, the BBC throw a lot away, you know."

Have you got copies of most of your films and TV shows on tape?
"No, no I haven’t. I’ve got one or two."

Are you one of these actors who doesn’t like to watch themselves working?
"No, I don’t mind. I often get a bit depressed because I think I didn’t act enough. I underplayed rather often. That’s my normal criticism. I’m sorry that I didn’t come out of my shell a bit more."

Do you wish you could have done more writing?
"I do, in a way, yes. But, having had three children I like to keep working, keep the money rolling in. I’ve just lurched from one job to another, really."

What have you been up to recently?
"Well, I did something called Midsomer Murders. The BBC did a pilot of this last year sometime, and they’ve done now four more and I was in one of them. Two-hour play or film; that’ll go out at Easter."

Have you got anything lined up?
"No, no I haven’t. But I’m quite old now and I don’t have to work all the time. I did last year 13 episodes of something called Titch, which is a children’s programme. I think they’re going to do another 13 and I shall be doing that. It’s very nice, like a pension. It takes less than an hour to do it once a fortnight, and they can negotiate the time, so I’m quite pleased.”

interview originally posted 9th March 2006

interview: Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones played Paul in Julian Richards’ film Summer Scars. I interviewed Jonathan on set in South Wales in August 2006.

What can you tell me about Paul?
“Paul’s the leader of the group. He’s the biggest one and the head dog, as you might say. He’s got a bit of a mystery to him because of what happened to his brother with the car accident where he lost the use of his legs. So he’s sad but he still keeps a straight face. Above that, he’s quite a violent person!”

How did you get this role?
“I auditioned for it through my agent in a group audition. Then I got called back for a recall for three different roles in this film. Then I got a recall a couple of weeks later, saying I’d got this part. Then a couple of weeks later I got the script sent to me.”

For the auditions, were you just reading sides?
“The first audition, it was totally improvised, everything was improvised. The second audition was reading from script.”

How old are you and how old is the character?
“The character’s fourteen but I’m seventeen in two weeks so there’s a big difference. He’s an oldish-looking fourteen-year-old boy.”

What have you done before this?
“I’ve done mainly extra work. Quite a lot of extra work, actually. It’s experience anyway, isn’t it? And I’ve done Screen Gems which is ten-minute films and half-hour films and that. I’ve done three series of Treflan [? - MJS] but that was extra work as well.”

So you’re used to being on a set?
“Oh yes, I’ve been doing it about six or seven years.”

Is this something you want to make a career out of?
“It’s more of a hobby of mine. I enjoy it. I would make it as a career but it’s hard. You’ve got to know people. I’m certainly getting there but it’s going to take a couple of years.”

How are you finding the experience of a lead role?
“It’s all right. It’s stressful at times but it’s okay. I’m in every day of the shoot so it’s tiring as well, but apart from that it’s a laugh. Everyone’s really fun round here.”

Are you going to do some of the riding on the moped?
“Yes, we’re doing that now. I’m the only one who can actually ride a moped properly, out of the whole cast! I ride motorbikes now and again so I’m sort of in charge of it at the moment.”

How are the actors getting on? Do any of you know each other?
“Well, me and Ben, which is my brother in the film - his real name’s Chris Conway - we go to school together and so does his brother Ryan. Everyone else in the cast we’ve met in the last three weeks and we’ve all just really got along. Ryan’s the only boisterous one. He’s loud and he has his times but apart from that, he’s all right.”

Do you have other work lined up?
“It’s just this at the moment. Apart from that, I don’t know. I just finished Young Dracula, doing extra work in that. I might go up to London for a couple of weeks and just try my luck up there.”