Thursday, 28 April 2016


Director: Steven Tayler
Writer: Christopher Bourne
Producers: Paul Bedder, Allen Margrett
Cast: Christopher Clarke, Simon Jarrett, Steven Rostance
Country: UK
Year of release: 2016
Reviewed from: screening

Immune starts with a prologue establishing that the zombie apocalypse was caused by an inadequately tested pesticide which somehow escaped into the foodchain and caused everyone in the world to suddenly fall down dead and/or turn into a zombie. Within this short sequence you’ll spot a middle-aged bloke in a blue suit – and that’s me! And the young lad running away from his imminently deceased father is young TF Simpson. Conflict of interest established. Stick another credit on our StarNow pages!

The story proper concerns Jack (Christopher Clarke, who starred in Halogen Entertainment’s previous films Icicle, Echoes and Change for a Shilling), who is for some reason immune to the plague, although he wouldn’t be immune to having his guts ripped out by zombies so he has to be wary. This is not as difficult as one might presume because these particular zombies are photosensitive and burn up when exposed to sunlight, so they only come out at night.

Jack has established himself in a random house on a modern housing estate in Coventry. He cycles around, raiding tinned food from other houses, and believes himself to be the sole survivor. As long as he gets back home before dark, he should be safe. In lieu of gas or electric light, his night-time is illuminated with dozens of candles and tea-lights, which he must have liberated in significant quantities from the local branch of Homebase.

See, if it was me I’d hole up somewhere more nocturnally secure than a standard, middle-class home. Those French windows don’t look particularly zombie-proof to me. Also, I’d stock up on wind-up torches and solar-powered lights rather than relying on candles. Just saying.

At the end of act one, Jack finds a body lying on the road, barely alive and with a bite mark on his arm. He takes the injured man home and nurses him back to health. This is Tommy (Simon Jarrett) who was previously an inhabitant of ‘the village’, a solidly defended, self-sufficient commune. Tommy was thrown out for wanting to leave in order to find out if his wife and son are still alive.

Act two develops the relationship between the two men, then in act three they set out to find Tommy’s family and/or the village (the location of which is something Tommy’s not sure about). There’s not a great deal of plot to Immune, and what there is leaves a considerable number of unanswered questions. For example, we see Tommy dumped, unconscious, from a car. So the inhabitants of the village still have petrol – and enough that they can use some for driving off somewhere just to chuck out someone who wants to leave. Why didn’t they just throw Tommy out of their compound and let him head off on his own to take his own chances?

There are several action sequences in Immune – zombie attacks that will tick undead fans’ boxes – although they’re not the focus of the movie. Nor does it significantly explore the desperation of survival among a suddenly non-functioning world. It’s more existentialist, a meditation on loneliness and isolation. It’s bleak and miserablist and frankly depressing, and dammit I like that in a zombie film.

I also really like its Midlands pride. The location is unequivocally Coventry, with plenty of local landmarks – in the prologue and as background to Jack’s lonely cycle expeditions – to keep local audiences happy. There are dialogue mentions of Birmingham, Kenilworth and – yes, indeed – Leicester.

While I’m not sure it adds anything significantly new to the diverse and extensive genre of British zombie films, Immune scores points by working nicely within its microbudget limitations. Good use of locations, limited but effective CGI, and a willingness to spend long periods of time with little or no dialogue are all to its credit.

As well as the two leads and Simpson pere et fils, the cast includes Daniel Jack Evans (She Who Brings Gifts), Colin Murtagh (Hungerford, Crying Wolf, The Zombie King) and Sharon Elizabeth Greenwood (director of zombie shorts Village in Chaos and ZAP: Zombie Adoption Programme).

A one-off screening in April 2016 at an arts venue in Coventry was extended to three screenings because of the interest. This was followed in May by a VOD release on Vimeo on Demand. Halogen Entertainment, who previously concentrated in dramas, are now filming the pilot for a proposed six-part Anglo-Norwegian fantasy/action/adventure TV series called Dark Frost (formerly Bea Bumble).

MJS rating: B

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Slight Complication

Director: Shane Davey
Writer: Shane Davey
Producer: Shane Davey
Cast: Alan Carrington, Lindsay Jones, Jevan Miell
Country: UK
Year of release: 1998
Reviewed from: screener VHS

Back in 1998, you couldn’t even buy DVDs in shops. The idea of simply making one on a computer and popping it in an envelope was not even dreamed of. In those days, when you sent out screeners and review copies, you sent them out on big, bulky VHS tapes.

And here’s one. This was sent to Total Film back in February 1998. It came to me and it has been sitting on my shelf these eleven years gone by. I suppose I had better watch it.

When Total Film launched, I was working at SFX and both magazines were published by Future Publishing in Bath. The launch editor of Total Film was Matt Bielby, who had been launch editor of SFX (and hence my boss when I started at the company). As there was an obvious overlap between the two mags, I was part of the various discussions around the new title.

I had been writing lots of news stories in SFX about little indie films and I suggested something similar to Matt. I think it started in issue 2 - a regular short column called 'Independents Day' which gave a mention to whatever stuff we were sent. It ran for a few issues but then the Total Film team decided to write it themselves. I honestly don’t know whether Slight Complication was featured in the mag. It may have fallen between the cracks when my little column was wrenched away from me to save the company a few quid a month. I don’t recall seeing the movie before but that was a world away and a lifetime ago.

Slight Complication is a 55-minute film about two brothers whose profession is disposing of dead bodies. Except that today the body they are asked to collect isn’t dead. She turns out to be the wife of a corrupt senior politician. The plot centres around the brothers trying to cover their tracks and find out what happened to the hospitalised victim although this all seems somewhat redundant since all they did was ‘find’ her so they don’t really have many tracks to cover.

What is more interesting than the plot is simply the short-term historical curiosity of a production like this, dating from a time when the only digital thing on a film set would be the director’s watch. This was the a dark time for independent low-budget cinema, the early excitement of home video having given way to an ennui of stifled ambition as the equipment proved inadequate for anything more than backyard film-making.

The image here is flat, the sound all over the place, the lighting inconsistent, the editing crude. The acting is also, incidentally, very bad - which raises the possibility that the boom in quality indie productions may have had a beneficial effect on the lower reaches of the acting profession, giving the debutantes and ingenues unprecedented opportunities to work on well-produced, well-directed films.

Eleven years on, the state of British low-budget indie production is unrecognisable. Where, in 1998, film-makers like Shane Davey were fighting against their equipment (in both production and post-production), trying to wrench some degree of quality from basic, simplistic and often manifestly unsuitable technology - now, the opposite is true. The technology has overtaken the average film-maker so that now the problem lies most often with directors whose grasp exceeds their reach. Freely available shooting and desktop editing facilities of which neither Shane Davey nor anyone else could even dream in the late 1990s leave audiences and critics distinguishing between good and bad film-makers by their work - which is as it should be - rather than by trying to see past their work and make an educated guess about the latent talent hidden behind the technological restrictions.

According to a letter from Shane Davey, still enclosed with the tape like some sort of time capsule, Slight Complication “was shot over the last week of September 1997, filming lasted a total of seven days, at thirteen locations, with a cast of eleven speaking roles, using an entirely inexperienced crew, incorporating day and night shoots and completed for just under £4,000 ... fully edited and packaged.” Davey himself left school with no qualifications, served seven and a half years in the Royal Navy, then decided he wanted to make films so, with an amateur cast and crew, a budget of four grand, no training and equipment which we would now consider absurdly primitive, he made Slight Complication.

If somebody sent me a film like this today, I would be kind but have to admit that it’s rubbish. Jesus, the acting. I thought the nurse was wooden until the doctor appeared, giving possibly the worst performance I have seen in any film I have ever reviewed for this site. The technical and, to a lesser extent, artistic value of the film is, ah, limited. It also features some of the most absurdly inappropriate soundtrack songs I have ever heard.

The central plot doesn’t make a whole heap of sense, to be honest, resting as it does on the idea of a two-stage poison. Part A is added to the politico’s wife’s baked potato by a servant in the employ of her rotten husband. Part B is gaseous, permeating the car in which said servant drives the wife into town, he being unaffected because he hasn’t ingested Part A. But the whole scheme is foiled when the wife unexpectedly winds down the window to try and get rid of the foul-smelling substance seeping in through the air vent. As murder plans go, it’s not up there with the best.

But this was the past and it’s like another country. I should judge Shane Davey’s film not on an absolute scale but in terms of how well he achieved what he set out to do with what he had available. And in that respect, criticising this film is like criticising Louis Bleriot for only flying 22 miles. Actually getting the thing made, actually filming a (reasonably) coherent storyline, actually delineating a number of characters, actually editing and mixing the sound, actually producing a screener that could be sent to magazines - that’s an achievement.

So... whatever happened to Shane Davey? Where is he now? Well, a quick google reveals that he is working as a director, so good for him. He has a website at where he works with or employs a bunch of other young film-makers. Davey has a load of pop videos and adverts on there. He seems to be doing all right.

The IMDB lists eight shorts directed by Davey between 2000 and 2006 including mermaid comedy Waterbaby and From the Bottom Up, a documentary featuring Stephen Fry and Stockard Channing. He is also credited with executive producing a couple of shorts directed by James Keaton in 2007/8. But no mention of Slight Complication, which has been forgotten until now. I am happy to provide documentary evidence of the film’s existence, restoring it to the pantheon, as it were. Quite what Shane Davey will think when he comes across this review next time he googles his name remains to be seen.

MJS rating: B

[In fact, Shane  was busy making- and subsequently sent me a copy of - The Horror of the Dolls. - MJS]

Review originally posted 25th October 2009

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Rise of Jengo

Director: Joe Wheeler
Writer: Joe Wheeler
Producer: Joe Wheeler
Cast: Joe Wheeler, Natalie Graham, Meaw Davis
Country: UK
Year of release: 2011
Reviewed from: Online version (

The Rise of Jengo is an extraordinary film, a film you really should see if you have a genuine interest in contemporary British horror cinema. This is not, however, a film for everyone.

It’s not for you if you expect your horror to be sweetened with a dash or dollop of humour. It’s not for you if you are only interested in creaky Victorian gothics. It’s certainly not for you if you like cat-scares and 3D jumps. But, if you are interested in the limits of horror, in transgressive works that explore the very notion of horror as an artistic genre, then I think you’ll get a big kick of out of The Rise of Jengo.

Multihyphenate (or, if you like, one-man band) Joe Wheeler writes, directs, produces, photographs, provides effects and music – the whole bit. He also stars (as ‘Jake Weaver’) and really it is his incredible performance which makes this film so essential and fascinating.

Jake is possessed by a demon named Jengo. When Jengo takes control, Jake brutally murders people, wearing a mask made from the face of an earlier victim. And to be honest, that’s about it as far as narrative goes. This isn’t a film about plot and it’s certainly not a film about dialogue. For much of the time, Jake/Jengo/Joe is alone on screen (or shares it with a terrified, screaming victim). He grunts, he screams, he howls, he laughs, he cries, he leaps around, he screams some more. Really, this is the most amazing, intense performance I think I’ve ever seen in a low-budget horror film.

There’s no hint of embarrassment or reticence, but there’s also none of the theatricality that one might get from a professional ac-tor. Wheeler simply throws himself heart, body and soul into portraying an insane, amoral, violent lunatic. It’s powerful and disturbing and alarming and everything that good horror should be.

Jake/Jengo kills a plumber who comes to check the boiler. He kills a couple of ghost hunters invited round to the flat because of mysterious happenings. He kills a woman who comes for a photo session. Each in turn arrives at the flat, is let in, then finds themselves attacked from nowhere by this British Leatherface. All of this happens against a continuous soundtrack, ranging from choral to industrial, polyphonic to atonal, which barely lets up and drags us even deeper into the nightmare scenario on screen. Wheeler himself, hence also Jake, is shaven of head and baby of face; in scenes without the mask his innocent expression (among splashes of blood) makes the violence and screaming, demented anger all the more scary.

At some point amid the mayhem we have to take stock and ask the $64 million question: is any of this real? Is Jake really possessed, or is he an extremely disturbed young man with major mental health issues, acute schiozophrenia manifesting itself through extreme violence? Well, you can ask this all you like. You won’t get an answer, and that’s one of the film’s greatest strengths.

Jake shares the flat with his girlfriend, Jodie (Natalie Graham), who reveals herself, about half an hour in, as a Satanist who has summoned Jengo and conditioned the hapless Jake to submit to the Demon’s possession when triggered by key phrases. But does this really happen? Is Jodie actually one of Lucifer’s acolytes or is this sequence the product of Jake’s disturbed imagination, finding a rationale for his behaviour? Jodie disappears during the middle act but reappears near the end when her sister comes to stay. Eventually Jake and his sister-in-law flee to Mexico after having killed three police officers. But an epilogue sees Jake wake from a nightmare back in the flat.

What is reality? What is Jake’s reality and what is real reality? Is Jodie’s admission real? Is Jodie even real? Are any of the killings real? We’re left to make these decisions for ourselves. There are no easy answers here. The Rise of Jengo is a unique movie and one that you won’t easily forget.

Well, I say unique but actually, as far as I can tell, this is a remake of Wheeler’s first feature The Evil Outside Your Window which was self-released on DVD in October 2010. The Rise of Jengo was shot in September/October 2011 and swiftly released in December. Wheeler sold the disc through a now defunct website and also posted a lo-fi version online, which can still be viewed at To be honest, the lessened quality ironically works in the film’s favour, in my opinion. The photography is a mix of close-up handheld shots that waver in and out of focus, and a few locked-off tripod shots where the focus is fine but obviously the framing is subject to the vagaries of the actors’ movements. Both of these are deliberate artistic decisions and both work, helping to disorientate the viewer. So a small, soft image doesn’t actually make me want to see this larger and clearer. (A one-off theatrical screening in December 2011 was announced but I'm not sure whether it actually happened.)

At the end of 2013 Wheeler remade the film a second time as Jengo Hooper, expanding on the idea to provide a framing story of Jake Weaver locked up in a mental hospital, further blurring the waters regarding whether this is a tale of demonic possession or mental illness (or indeed, both). This actually played a festival in November 2014 and picked up a couple of awards. The DVD is available from the director’s website, and the film is also available VOD via Indiereign.

The Curse of Jengo, a prequel to Jengo Hooper, is apparently in the can but hasn’t yet been released. Two further titles, Jengo Hooper Returns and Jengo Hooper’s Cannibal CafĂ©(!), are listed as future projects on Wheeler’s IMDB page. Among a number of documentaries that he has directed in the past few years is one non-Jengo horror film, The Curse of Ba’al, although I can’t find any evidence of that having a release of any sort.

A few of this film’s cast play the same roles in The Evil Outside Your Window and/or Jengo Hooper. Several actors have no other IMDB credit except this. One of the few with non-Wheeler credits is Meaw Davis who was also in Le Fear and Thugs, Mugs and Violence.

Joe Wheeler is one of those fascinating names that make the British Horror Revival so fascinating. He clearly has his own following (I can’t believe he’s just selling these films to family and friends) but even serious, hardcore British horror fans have never heard of him. Well, they should. The Rise of Jengo is made with passion, creativity and unwavering dedication and commitment, and the result is something artistic and worthwhile.

MJS rating: A-

Saturday, 16 April 2016

interview: Terry Rossio (2002)

In October 2002, a couple of years after my big interview with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, Terry kindly agreed to answer a few quick questions in a follow-up mini-interview just as they were starting work on the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

How has the success of Shrek (and your BAFTA) affected your standing in Hollywood?
“Our standing is about the same - we've had hit films before, even number one films before. Hollywood usually treats writers well; it's the writing itself that gets trampled on. It remains to be seen whether that will change.”

What aspect of Treasure Planet are you most pleased with?
“I'm most pleased that Ron Clements and John Musker finally got to make the film they wanted to make for fifteen years, and that it turned out to be an astonishingly beautiful and powerful work of art.”

What aspect of Pirates of the Caribbean are you most looking forward to?
“Maybe nobody noticed, but we were allowed to write a big budget summer movie that's mostly about character, with room for people to tell stories, and with fun roles for secondary characters, just like in the old days. If that stuff gets through all the way to movie screens, we will have accomplished something great, in this era of non-story blockbusters.”

To what extent did having written one SF/fantasy Disney pirate movie contribute to you getting the job on another SF/fantasy Disney pirate movie?
“I can honestly say - none. We wrote the first draft of Treasure Planet in 1992 for the animation department. Pirates of the Caribbean was written in 2002; I don't think anyone associated with Pirates knew about Treasure Planet. Oddly, we also worked on the Sinbad movie at Dreamworks (that was around 1998); it's pure chance that the three pirate pictures are all being released within seven months of each other.”

interview originally posted 22nd May 2007

interview: Frank Schaeffer

After reviewing Headhunter in December 2006, I tracked down the film’s director, Frank Schaeffer, who kindly agreed to answer a few e-mailed questions.

As you can see from my review, the credit block on the video sleeve differs significantly from the on-screen credits. Can you clarify who actually wrote and produced Headhunter?
“Wayne Crawford produced. Art (forget last name) and Wayne Crawford wrote it.”

How much is this an American film and how much is it South African (in terms of both footage and finance)?
“It was all shot in South Africa except for some second unit in Miami (about ten per cent). As for finance, I don't know.”

What aspects of the film are you most and least pleased with?
“I liked the Zulu and African locations. I liked the train car interior chase content the best, and having to try and make the picture look ‘American’ the least.”

Was the shape-shifting, head-lopping demon/monster based on any established African mythology or just made up for the film?
“Just made up.”

What sort of distribution did Headhunter get and how was it received?
“I think it got a very limited US theatrical release and went direct to video tape in the US and worldwide.”

How did your brief career as a film director come about and why did it end?
“I made about 25 hours of documentary films in the 1970s and then four feature films. I wrote, directed and put together the financing for my first feature Booby Trap (aka Wired to Kill). The other three pictures - Headhunter, Rebel Storm and Baby on Board - were jobs for hire as a director. In 1992 I made my last feature and that year my first novel Portofino was published. I have written three more novels since: Zermatt, Saving Grandma and Baby Jack. The books have done well, as have my non-fiction books. I enjoy the writing more than I enjoyed the directing. I kept hoping for a ‘break’ to make movies I'd like, but that creative break came from writing, not film. So I began to concentrate on that. You never know, one of these days I might do another picture, but for now I am writing.”

interview originally posted 10th December 2006

Friday, 15 April 2016


Director: Rob Burrows
Writer: Rob Burrows
Producer: Denise Wakefield
Cast: Amy Ornston, Jason Savin, Ian Stewart Robinson
Country: UK
Year of release: 2014
Reviewed from: online (TubiTV)

This suprisingly nasty psychothriller starts out inoccuously enough, introducing us to Amy Ormston as Sarah and Ian Stewart Robinson as her husband Andrew. They’re blissfully happy, married with two kids (Mark Burrows and Ellie Ormston) who love their parents as much as the parents love each other. The first 10-15 minutes really lets us know how warm and loving and supportive and happy this family is. To be honest, it makes you sick.

But we signed up to watch a horror movie, so it ain’t gonna last. So that's alright.

Sarah works in a flower shop where one of her regular customers is Nigel (Jason Savin) who couldn’t be more obviously villainous if he twirled a waxed moustache and said, “I’ll get you, my lovely!” Still, there are people who look villainous and then there are stone-cold sociopathic sadist nutjobs. And that’s Nigel.

First he breaks into Sarah and Andrew’s home and steals a few personal items, making sure to dress entirely in disposable overalls and overshoes. Very careful and methodical this one. Then he kidnaps Sarah and whisks her off to his farm outside town where he chains her up, cuts off her clothes and forcibly tattoos her with his name and the name he thinks she should have: ‘Wendy’.

Over the course of the film, Sarah will be abused and humiliated by this psycho, who flips between hammy explanation and brief surges of savage anger. It’s an interesting performance by Savin, reined in just this side of pantomime villain and all the more scary for it. But what really sells the film – especially given that some of the supporting cast are, well, not great – is Ormston as Sarah.

We really feel her terror and her pain, her loneliness and her broken will. It’s a belter of a performance, it really is: utterly credible and utterly pathetic in the truest sense of the term. But where many films about men torturing and abusing women are misogynist trash, Flowerman is much more sensitive and astute. This is a film about the suffering of the victim, not the power of the abuser.

And abuse of power is definitely the theme here. Nigel has warped plans to force Sarah to marry him. He sends texts from her phone to Andrew, saying she has left him. They even get as far as a solicitor. Nigel has Sarah’s passport from that earlier robbery, and she is so under his control by then that she can only meekly agree to his promptings.

Even when, later on, she does manage to effect an escape, Sarah is still terrified of Nigel and convinced, as abuse victims often are, that it is somehow her fault. So although she makes it as far as the house of a helpful Polish prostitute (Luiza Stefanova), she doesn’t call the police. Some commenters find this action unbelievable. They need to learn a bit more about manipulative abusers: not every woman is Sarah Connor.

What of Andrew? He is sure that Sarah would never leave him but the two coppers investigating the case (writer-director-DP-editor Rob Burrows and Emma Marshall) think it’s just a domestic disagreement and that Sarah has simply walked out on him. This idea is supported by a neighbour (Denise Burrows) who is convinced that Andrew is having an affair with a work colleague, Jenny (Faye Ormston). The irony is that he wasn’t - but he is now. Jenny has been carrying a torch for Andrew for some time and swiftly makes her move, becoming a surrogate mother to the kids. Nevertheless, Andrew still loves Sarah and is convinced all is not right.

By the third act, three people have been brutally murdered by Nigel and he plans to destroy Sarah’s will even further by making her watch as he kills her family. Clearly by this point he has crossed a line – I mean a line much further along than the one he crossed by initially kidnapping and abusing Sarah. Something will stop him, sooner or later. The resolution, when it comes, is somewhat out of nowhere but not completely deus ex machina and the film just about gets away with it.

Flowerman is one of those movies that begins unpromisingly but picks up when it starts getting very nasty, not because of any salacious appeal of gender-based violence but because Sarah represents abused women everywhere. It’s not her actual husband abusing her, but it’s a man who thinks he is her ersatz husband and can become her real one. Nigel's obsession manifests itself first in stalking – he has a wall of photos he has taken of Sarah – and then in a belief that he can force her to love, honour and obey him through violence and intimidation. She, as far as he is concerned, belongs to him, body and soul. Thematically therefore this sits with The House of Him and The Devil’s Vice in the ‘domestic abuse as horror’ subgenre.

The movie is not without its faults, principally some wooden acting (it’s never a good sign when so many of the cast share surnames) plus it’s too long at 97 minutes. We don’t need the top’n’tail scenes of Sarah writing the story longhand in a book, and a subplot about Nigel’s brother (Richard Batey) goes nowhere and serves no real purpose that I could see.

The other problem is the accents. Every single character speaks with a really strong Northeastern accent (it's actually set in Durham, according to the on-screen police cars) and there were several moments when I literally had not a clue what was being said. The only exception is Stefanova, but her Polish accent is just as thick! The version I watched (on TubiTV, free but with adverts) had close captioning but it was out of synch with the image by about a minute so not really much help.

Flowerman won two awards at the Tenerife International Film Festival in July 2015 and also played Milan in November of that year, with an R2 DVD in December. The actual first release was across various VOD platforms in March 2014. This was Burrows’ third feature after Dead Frequency and Entwinement, and he has since made a fourth, Temporal. Several of the cast were in those other films, as well as Warren Speed’s Coulrophobia and also The Legend of the Chained Oak, a half-hour horror short from Mark Mooney and George Watts.

Powerful enough to overcome its shortcomings and with some genuinely horrific moments, yet rooted in solidly British domesticity, Flowerman is certainly worth a watch.

MJS rating: B

Saturday, 9 April 2016


Director: Liam Regan
Writer: Liam Regan
Producers: Candice Redford, Mark Adams
Cast: James Hamer-Morton, Dani Thompson, Damian Morter
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener

Banjo is Liam Regan’s love letter to Troma. The main character wears a Stuck on You T-shirt; there’s a clip from Tromeo and Juliet on TV; and Uncle Lloydy himself has a cameo as a doctor. It also features more penis damage than probably any film since John Wayne Bobbit Uncut. In particular there’s a scene at about 27 minutes which made me cover my eyes and yell “Dear God no!” loud enough for my son to hear me right at the other end of Simpson Manor. What is more, just when you think it’s all over, Regan edits in a brief flashback to this later in the movie.

James Hamer-Morton (Dead Love) delivers a fine lead performance as Peltzer Arbuckle, saddled with an inferiority complex and a shit job in the accounts department of a paper manufacturing company. Fan fave Dani Thompson (Monitor, Three’s a Shroud, Serial Kaller) is Deetz Montgomery, his hot but horrid girlfriend who is PA to Peltzer’s sadistic bully of a boss, Sawyer (Vito Trigo). Peltzer has the desk next to his cute ex Melissa Lee Ray (Serena Chloe Gardner – the corpse in She’s Dead) who is now dating swaggering American knob Stiles Rembrandt (Clay von Carlowitz). Continuing the Troma connections, Carlowitz and Trigo were both in Return to Nuke ‘Em High 1 and 2, on which Regan worked as a production assistant.

When Peltzer stops taking his medication, he finds himself revisited by Ronnie, his childhood imaginary friend (Damian Morter, director of The Eschatrilogy, Bicycle Day and The Day After Dark, who was also DP and editor on this film). The basic premise of a sad sack forced into asserting himself by a demonic-looking, impishly amoral, invisible companion is superficially similar to Peter Anthony Farren’s obscure 2012 BHR entry Kenneth but Regan’s film works a lot better than Farren’s, because both Peltzer and Ronnie are more interesting characters than Kenneth and his annoying ‘ear-goblin’.

Although no-one else can see Ronnie, he is able to interact with the real world – pushing a trolley full of cakes or setting a deadly trap on the company sports day – and no-one seems bothered by that. Rather than trying to justify or explain such inconsistencies, Regan simply scoots over them with glorious abandon and the film is all the better for that. Or perhaps this is all in Peltzer’s head anyway.

There’s an enormous amount of both horror and comedy to enjoy in Banjo which has deservedly been a big hit at festivals including the 2015 Frightfest and the 2016 Horror-on-Sea. Plus there are assorted little nods to some of Liam Regan’s favourite horror movies and movie-makers scattered within the film (it all takes place in a town called Henenlotter!). The corporate setting puts this into a subgenre with the likes of Lock In and Fired although it’s thematically and stylistically a very different film to both of those. The humour throughout is both scatological and sexual, with no concern about such arbitrary concepts as ‘good taste’. That said, the story is more character-based – hence the politically incorrect humour is less full-on – than something like Zombie Women of Satan.

Other employees at ‘ReamsforLess’ include The Human Centipede’s Laurence R Harvey, Stalled’s Dan Palmer, David Curtis (Bad Moon Rising), Eloise Daye (Dead Strange Jam), Paul Sutton (Exorcism of Evil, Apparition of Evil) and Steve Pollard (Clown Syndrome, Blaze of Gory). Ernest Vernon (Blood and Bone China, Molly Crows, The Singing Bird Will Come, The Wrong Floor) is a priest.

Banjo is an expansion/remake of Liam’s 14-minute 2012 short Banjo: Confessions of Peltzer which can be found on YouTube with a bit of diligent searching. The short featured Liam Perrons as Peltzer (in a wheelchair), Louise Stevenson as Deetz, Mike Crone as Sawyer and Oliver Kenny as Ronnie. In lieu of make-up, Kenny wore a green-painted Ronald Reagan mask (hence the name). This was included in the Self Induced Nightmares multi-director anthology.

Banjo is a tasteless, outrageous hoot from start to finish. It’s great that someone in the UK is carrying the Tromatic torch so proudly.

MJS rating: A-