Director: Ian David Diaz
Writer: Ian David Diaz
Producers: Ian David Diaz, Angela Banfill
Cast: Oliver Young, Richard Banks, Giles Ward
Year of release: 1996
Reviewed from: VHS tape
In 1999, a low-budget British thriller called The Killing Zone was released straight to VHS. Directed by Ian David Diaz, it was produced by ‘The Seventh Twelfth Collective’, which was Diaz, Julian Boote and their pals, The same gang made ultra-obscure horror anthology Dead Room (only ever released in Greece and Thailand!), Anglo-Canadian horror Fallen Angels and two American thrillers, Bad Day and Darkly Dreaming Billy Ward.
It’s a lo-o-ong, long time since I’ve seen The Killing Room, but a little digging reveals that it is about a cool, calm underworld assassin named Matthew Palmer. Viewing the world from behind large, thick-framed glasses, Palmer’s name is a tip of the hat to Harry of that ilk and there are other Michael Caine references scattered throughout the three stories which together make up the 65-minute feature.
The first story concerns a couple of small-time crooks who are believed to have stolen some cocaine. Tied to chairs in a warehouse, they are interrogated by a sadistic gangster while Palmer stands implacably by. This story is a remake of a short film which Diaz shot in 1996 called The Interrogation.
The point of all this is that, 20 years on, I found The Interrogation among a pile of VHS tapes I was taking to the skip so decided to give it one last watch before it becomes landfill. It’s a smartly-directed, tightly written, generally well-acted little thriller. Much of the film is experienced crook Fenton (Richard Banks) and first-timer Finn (Oliver Young) tied up and questioned by ‘Mad Dog’ McCann (Giles Ward), a tall, pony-tailed, dinner-jacketed sadist who wants to get this all over and done with so he can make it to a dinner party on time.
Fenton takes his impending death in his stride. Finn is scared shitless. Both are adamant that the contacts they were due to meet were already dead – and without any cocaine – when they got there. McCann doesn’t believe them. While McCann knocks the two around and reveals how much homework he has done on them – he knows their motives, their backgrounds, their needs – Palmer just stands motionless in the background in trench coat and spoddy glasses. But he’s not window dressing, he will become very relevant towards the end of the story.
The reason why all this is of interest to me is the casting. Banks, Young and Ward all reprised their roles when the film was remade as part of The Killing Zone, which starred Padraig Casey as Palmer. But in this short film, Martin Palmer is played by none other than Kevin Howarth.
Kevin’s page on the Inaccurate Movie Database lists his first film as a thriller called Cash in Hand, then relationship drama The Big Swap, both listed as ‘1998’ along with Razor Blade Smile. In fact The Big Swap was his debut, filmed in 1996, followed by RBS then Cash in Hand (filmed as The Find). So this short apparently just predates The Big Swap. By the time that Diaz was shooting the feature version, Kevin already had several films on his CV and either didn’t need to do The Killing Zone or was simply too busy.
Subsequently of course Kevin has become a familiar face to fans of British horror with roles in The Last Horror Movie, Summer Scars, Cold and Dark, Gallowwalkers and The Seasoning House.
If I hadn’t know this was Kevin Howarth, I probably wouldn’t have recognised him. Maybe it’s just the hair, glasses and make-up but he looks somewhat rounder of face, less gaunt than he appears in later films. Once he speaks, however, the voice is unmistakable. Kevin has always been particularly good at portraying largely emotionless characters (much harder than it sounds) and Palmer is about as emotionless as they come. But he’s threatening, in the same way that a gun on a table is threatening.
Although most of the cast of this film disappeared after making this and Dead Room, a few names in the credits have, like young Mr Howarth, gone on to greater things. Co-producer and editor Piotr Szkopiak is now an experienced soap editor, with many episodes of EastEnders, Emmerdale and Corrie to his name. And composer Guy (son of Cliff) Michelmore is now – how cool is this? – the regular composer for animated Marvel projects, including series based on Thor, Hulk, Avengers, Dr Strange and Iron Man.
It’s not quite true to say that there’s no record of The Interrogation anywhere as it has a page on the BFI website, but that’s all. So now it has a review too. It’s a crisply directed, enjoyable short but, unless Ian David Diaz decides to post it online, your chances of ever seeing it are effectively nil. On the other hand, a DVD of The Killing Zone can be picked up easily and cheaply so the story’s there if you want to check it out. Just not with Kevin Howarth.
MJS rating: B+