Thursday, 12 March 2015

Blood and Carpet

Director: Graham Fletcher-Cook
Writer: Graham Fletcher-Cook
Producer: David Dayan Fisher
Cast: Annie Burkin, Billy Wright, Frank Boyce
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener

Blood and Carpet is only 72 minutes long, and you will spend most of that time saying to yourself, “Well yes, it’s very good – but it’s not exactly what I’d call a horror film.”

And then, about ten minutes from the end, writer-director Graham Fletcher-Cook sticks his leg out and trips you up. And then he does it a couple of times more before the credits roll. And afterwards you will sit there and think, “Well crikey, that was a terrific horror film.”

Which is a very, very impressive trick to pull off. Because it involves two separate achievements. Fletcher-Cook has to keep our interest through the best part of an hour as we watch something which, irrespective of its quality, doesn’t seem to be what we were promised. And he has to then turn everything around in a manner that is narratively consistent and cinematically satisfying.

So here’s what you get. Overweight, amiable rocker Lyle (Billy Wright, a former homeless druggie who has done a magnificent job in turning his life around – and a courageous effort in admitting it) and his wife, emaciated beehive blonde Ruby (an absolutely blistering performance from Annie Burkin, also in Fletcher-Cook’s post-apocalyptic short Plastic) have got a dead body upstairs in the bathtub. Also a large bloodstain on their living room carpet that is not going to come out. Hence the title. While Ruby sorts out matters downstairs, Lyle sets to work sawing up the deceased.

Framing this is a scene in a prison cell of a lawyer (Julian Firth: Bedazzled remake, Agent Cody Banks 2, and two different Ian Fleming biopics!) speaking with a prisoner whom we neither see nor hear. So the main story is one giant flashback. But who is in that cell? Lyle? Ruby? Someone else?

Lyle is a big lug, a teddy bear of a guy, but his brother Melvin (Frank Boyce: Tony) – who insists on being called ‘Stan’ – is very different. Melvin is a nasally voiced, arrogant, wheeler-dealing little shit who thinks he’s the big man in town. A scene at their mother’s grave shows us how disparate the two siblings are. Melvin isn’t married and actually comes on to Ruby, although this is clearly less about any genuine attraction, more about a chance to cuckold his brother.

Aaron Ishmael is a young chancer in the pub, unimpressed by Melvin’s grandstanding. Huggy Leaver (Gangsters Guns and Zombies, Gun of the Black Sun) is the barman who breaks up the pair of them. Nicola Stapleton (Urban Ghost Story) is Ruby’s single friend who has just got a gig as an Avon Lady (historically accurate: Avon launched in this country in 1959). Andrew Tiernan (Le Fear II, The Bunker, Snuff-Movie, Man Who Sold the World, Dead Cert, War of the Dead) is a vicar who witnesses the graveyard contretemps. And Stevenage mod revival band the Petty Hoodlums appears as themselves, performing on stage halfway through.

The whole thing is set in the 1960s, recreated to perfection through the production design of Maike Crampton and the art direction of Jeanette Monero (I’ve seen 1967 cited in reviews but no specific date is given). Crampton is also credited with hair and with costumes, which were sourced from a number of retro boutiques for authenticity. Monero was also DP and gets an additional credit for directing ‘second unit’ which may refer to a colour sequence of Ruby and Lyle’s 8mm holiday footage. As a rotoscoper and compositor she has amassed gigs on such blockbusters as Avengers Assemble, The Hunger Games, John Carter, Kick-Ass and Paddington.

Whoever did what, the point is that this is an absolute spot-on recreation of the era (including some great footage on a vintage Routemaster). Too often, films and TV shows set in 20th century decades make the mistake of thinking everything they show must be from that decade. But people keep things and pass things on. These characters are working class EastEnders who grew up during the war and have lived through post-war austerity. Much of what they own is clearly pre-war, exactly as it should be.

Barny Stoppard (Under the Skin) provided the visual effects, about which I can’t be precise but I suspect much of it involved digitally removing background anachronisms. Actor Dean Batchelor gets a nonspecific ‘story consultant’ credit. Chris Burton was the editor and Mark Monero composed the soundtrack, which also includes songs by the Magnetic Mind, the Electric Mess and Jake and the Lawlessmen. Monero (presumably the DP’s hubby) is an actor whose CV goes right back to a bunch of Grange Hill episodes in the early 1980s, and then progresses through a six-year stint on EastEnders, Sid and Nancy, a James Bond game and a Matt Smith episode of Doctor Who.

Producer David Dayan Fisher is another (British) actor whose credits include National Treasure, 24, Charmed and The Dark Knight Rises. The supporting cast includes Bill Fellows (Bloodlust, Zombie Women of Satan, Until Death), Shona McWilliams (Le Fear II, When Evil Calls) and Sammy Williams (Attack the Block).

Like a number of the crew, Fletcher-Cook is primarily an actor (he has a small on-screen role), in his case boasting screen credits back to the 1970s. He also was in Sid and Nancy, as well as such notable titles as Absolute Beginners and Stars of the Roller State Disco. Although for our purposes his most significant credit is Elisar Cabrera’s pre-BHR feature Demonsoul. He is the brother of Dexter Fletcher (known for distinctive roles in Bugsy Malone, Dead Cert and all points inbetween). A third Fletcher brother, Steve, has an acting CV encompassing numerous TV gigs from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s but seems to have now packed it in. GFC has previously directed a few shorts including the aforementioned Plastic (starring Dexter), Lucky Dip (with Boyce) and a 2010 production called Ham and Mustard which, from its one-line synopsis, sounds like a precursor to this debut feature (so don’t go and look it up!).

What is really remarkable here, quite apart from the historical accuracy, is that in defiance of accepted wisdom, there are no sympathetic characters here. They’re all pretty awful in one way or another, with their contemptuously grating Larndarn accents and insincere shakeyer'and-slityerfroat East End faux-camaraderie. From the lawyer to the vicar to the barman, there’s not a person here that anyone (anyone from north of Watford Gap, at least) would want to spend any time with in real life. So skilfully does the production recreate its time and place that one gets the distinct feeling some of these characters know people who know people who know the Krays. And most of the rest probably think they do a good job because they arnly kill their own, an’ they lav their mum. Cor blimey etc.

And yet, somehow we are drawn into Ruby and Lyle’s world. A world of constant chain-smoking, no seat belts, borrowing a shilling for the meter, mods and rockers, unequal wages and no blacks, no dogs, no Irish. And within this world, we take an interest in the couple, even sympathise with them. There’s a very real relationship between Lyle and Ruby, best demonstrated in a heart-achingly tender bedroom scene which ought to have casting directors beating a path to Billy Wright’s door.

That said, obviously we don’t feel any sympathy for Melvin, who’s an appalling little prick-weasel. But all credit to Frank Boyce: he makes the character a rounded, believable prick-weasel when he could so easily have been a one-dimensional cartoon prick-weasel. That’s a tough one to pull off.

Shot over ten days in May 2013 for under £3,000, Blood and Carpet premiered at the Marbella Film Festival in October 2014 before hitting Vimeo On Demand in February 2015. An absolutely storming achievement by GFC and all his colleagues on both sides of the camera, the film manages to recreate the past without relying on nostalgia, resulting in a quite unique movie that comes thoroughly recommended to mods, history buffs and British horror fans alike.

MJS rating: A

No comments:

Post a Comment