Monday, 30 January 2017

interview: AD Calvo

AD Calvo (aka Alejandro Daniel) directed thought-provoking small-town gothic character study Doll in the Dark (aka The Melancholy Fantastic). After I reviewed the film in January 2017 (released, in its second incarnation, by Safecracker Pictures), Alejandro kindly agreed to a short email interview.

What was your original intention when you made The Melancholy Fantastic and how well do you think the film achieved that?
"I set out to make a micro-budget gothic Christmas tale (as my sophomore feature), a psychological horror film that featured a strong female lead. I wanted it to be a film that would be full of beautiful cinematography, rich production design, but whose real strength would come from its performances. I feel the film achieved that on some levels, but the first cut was a stillbirth, and was never really seen under its original title. There were elements that weren't working. It gave me time to contemplate the film and find moments that I felt weren't helping the narrative and goals of my original concept.

"Emotionally I was inspired by Kierkegaard's rather cryptic Sickness Unto Death in which he states how we can become romantically attached to our suffering. The story grew out of that melancholy fantastic passage; a girl, unwilling to let go of her painful past, who instead creates a romantic imaginary world of her own."

How did you select your two lead actors?
"I wrote the story for Amy Crowdis, she hadn't really made any films up until then. She was a stand-in on my first feature (The Other Side of the Tracks) and I immediately felt the camera strongly gravitating to her. She was natural and carefree in front of the camera, and became a muse of sorts for my writing. I wrote another script for her first, a very dark and trippy adaptation of Snow White (long before the wave of dark fairytales, e.g. Snow White and the Huntsman, Blancanieves). My Snow White script turned out to be a bit too weird and more difficult to produce at a micro budget.

"Robin Lord Taylor was very different from how I originally envisioned the character of Dukken - originally I saw him as a more stereotypical goth with dark hair and all (not unlike Penguin, I guess). Robin's audition was so unique and fresh and he made a bunch of different choices so he became the clear favorite for me and my casting director."

Why did you re-edit The Melancholy Fantastic into Doll in the Dark?
"As I said above, time gave me the ability to see it with fresh eyes, and the flaws that seeped into my first cut - I think this answered to me why the film struggled with festival programmers. I wanted to fix it. I felt there was something unique and special in the story and I wanted it to be seen. It was like a child of mine that had never left the house. I makes me really sad to think of that. I had lots of Gotham fans reaching out to me, wanting to see the movie. So in many ways, they gave me the energy to dust it off and finally get it out there. I feel lucky Safecracker believed in it as well."

What are the principal differences between the two versions?
"I made about 300 edits to the film, both in picture and sound. I'd say narratively, the biggest difference is in silencing much of the expositional (and philosophical) dialogue that was in the first cut. That and quieting down the doll, so that we only heard her whispers. In the first cut the doll spoke way too much and that was taking me out of the narrative and killing the sinister undertone. To be fair, we had little to no money when cutting the original version. I worked with an assistant editor who had never cut a feature on her own. Technically, she was very proficient but the film needed another set of fresh eyes and I didn't have them back then."

How do you feel your Argentinian background influences your films?
"There's a strong tendency towards spiritual magical realism in Latino culture, so I'd say mainly in that way."

What can you tell me about your latest movie Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl?
"In many ways, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl (website here) is the sister to this film. I revisited the idea of a sad and lonely girl in a great big house. I tried to amplify the gothic horror/romance frequencies that I'm finding resonate the most in my writing. But I'm only seeing those with the passage of time."


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Doll in the Dark

Director: Alejandro Daniel
Writer: Alejandro Daniel
Producer: Alejandro Daniel, Linda Ayr Calvo
Cast: Amy Crowdis, Robin Lord Taylor, Josh Caras
Country: USA
Year of release: 2011
Reviewed from: online screener

Doll in the Dark is an obscure US indie which was shot back in 2009 as The Melancholy Fantastic, played a few festivals in 2011 and surfaced on American VOD and cable in 2012. It generated some good reviews and a bit of fan appreciation then pretty much disappeared.

In November 2016, the film resurfaced under its new, more marketable title when Safecracker Pictures released it on UK DVD/VOD, exploiting the casting of a pre-Gotham Robin Lord Taylor. If you like Taylor’s portrayal of proto-Penguin Oswald Cobblepot, you will definitely also enjoy seeing him in this movie. It’s not one of those situations where a subsequently well-known name has a small role that renders a film inconsequential except for the most extreme fanboys/girls of that actor. Taylor here is 50% of what is essentially a two-hander and his character has the same sort of restrained craziness as Cobblepot. Just younger and less sociopathic.

[Update: Since posting this review, I have been told by the director that Doll in the Dark is a heavily re-edited version, not just a retitling. - MJS]

Amy Crowdis is Melanie Crow, a teenage girl living alone after both her parents died. She has a very creepy life-size doll which she treats as a real person. It’s a home-made, skeletal affair of stuffed limbs and torso surmounted with a cracked ceramic head. Sometimes it sits on the sofa, sometimes it’s in the kitchen, sometimes it rides shotgun in Melanie’s car. There is absolutely no suggestion that the doll is actually alive or possessed or has any independent life. This is not a supernatural tale.

The doll never moves, except for a couple of shots when an arm flops down. Noticeably, we also never see Melanie move the doll, except for one scene later on when she carries it upstairs. Removing that shot would have kept the creepy factor higher, but it’s already pretty high so no great loss.

Melanie meets Taylor’s skinny-jeaned emo character in a public library. It’s quite some time until we find out his name is Dukken, which I assumed was Dougan until the credits. Although it seems odd that we have no scene where he tells her his name, that lacuna is actually justified by a reveal near the end. Dukken and Melanie’s paths cross a couple of times and they start spending time together. Dukken is puzzled by Melanie’s doll but not freaked out by it because he thinks it’s just part of her ‘sick taste’, like decorating her Christmas tree with razor blades.

What we have here is an offbeat love story. Sort of. It’s what happens when someone whose freakish unconventionality is a deliberate choice meets someone whose idiosyncratic, individualistic behaviour and rejection of the norm stems from genuine mental health issues. Melanie is very, very cute but in a damaged goods sort of way. Somethin’ ain’t right.

There are other oddities of behaviour. Melanie seems to survive largely on pink ‘snowball’ marshmallows. When she does vary her diet to include a PBJ sandwich, she uses a large carving knife to spread the peanut butter. She watches 8mm public domain cartoons in a car in a barn, her own private drive-in. Although mostly she just talks to an ugly, weird doll. And occasionally the doll talks back.

This doll, we eventually realise, represents her mother.

Because we see everything through Melanie’s eyes, and because it’s obvious right from the start that she ain’t right in the head, she is effectively an unreliable narrator. As the film progresses, we will start to question exactly what is or isn’t real. All credit to Argentinian-born director Alejandro Daniel, this is well-handled and effective. What really sells this unnerving ambiguity is an absolutely bravura performance by Crowdis who has many solo scenes acting opposite just the doll prop. Taylor’s role is more reactive and his character necessarily shallower, since Dukkan’s persona is his own creation, but it’s a fine performance and I can well believe that this is what persuaded the producers of Gotham to cast him.

There are some areas where the film does unravel slightly, not least that it’s not made clear until well into the third act that this is actually happening around Christmas. Most scenes take place in Melanie’s home or open fields and roads so we don't get any confirmation that this is actually the holiday season and the decorations in her house are not a further represention of her detachment from reality.

This is only a short feature, running less than 70 minutes without credits, and thus doesn’t outstay its welcome, reaching its satisfying third act without resort to padding or unnecessary subplots. Though the final scenes offer some sort of resolution, even a happy ending, we know enough about Melanie (or little enough, if you like) to retain doubts about where this will go after the credits roll. What looks like resolution and catharsis could just be redirection and hiatus.

If that last sentence sounded a tad pretentious, then be aware that Doll in the Dark does on occasion steer dangerously close to the naively mannered angst of sixth form poetry. There are musings on death, there’s a (thankfully brief) discussion of Nietzsche, a copy of The Stranger by Albert Camus is a significant prop and there is a length quotation from Kierkegaard in the credits which seems random now but which originally explained and justified the title.

Fortunately, any time that it looks like Doll in the Dark might tip over into pretension some sort of narrative self-righting mechanism steers it back on course. This is an enjoyable, interesting film which is genuinely thought-provoking. You don’t have to be a loner goth to enjoy it.

Filmed in snowy Connecticut, the movie was offered for sale at the 2012 AFM under the title The Christmas Stranger but doesn’t seem to have been released as that. Director Daniel, who used the screen name ‘AD Calvo’ for the original release, previously made a supernatural romance variously known as The Other Side of the Tracks and The Haunting of Amelia. Since completing this picture he has made three more horror films – The Midnight Game, House of Dust and Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl – plus a comedy thriller, The Missing Girl.

Josh Caras, Geneva Carr and David Pirrie make up the solid, if sparse and sparingly used, supporting cast, with Shirley Knight as the voice of the doll.

Bizarrely, the film has ended up on the IMDB twice, listed as both 2011 and 2016. This may lead to some confusion, but it should be pretty obvious, just from the stills, that Robin Lord Taylor made this several years before the first season of Gotham in 2014.

Doll in the Dark is available to download from the Safecracker website.

MJS rating: B+

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

15 years on the web - an announcement

So, according to the Wayback Machine, I launched this website - in its original incarnation and at its original URL - on 24th January 2002. Which means that today the MJ Simpson website celebrates 15 glorious years.

To the best of my knowledge (and I'm perfectly willing to relinquish this crown if needs be) I believe this to be the longest-running single-author film site on the web. There are film sites that pre-date mine, but they're group efforts. Every word here was written by me.

A few stats. There are now 693 films reviewed on here, 40 of which are so obscure they're not even on the IMDB. Some people think I only write about the 'British Horror Revival' but that only accounts for 224 of these reviews. The total word count of all reviews is 1,041,834. Approximately. In addition, there are 312 interviews here, totaling 588,236 words, every single one of them lovingly typed by my fair hand. (Or in some cases, copied and pasted from an email...)

An unexplained recent boost in popularity means I now get 35-40,000 page views every month. For some reason. And another 5,000 or so on my British Horror Revival blog. My most popular reviews are The Haunting of Radcliffe House, The Seasoning House and 47 Meters Down. My most popular interview is Martine Beswick.

Thank you to everyone who visits the site, especially those of you who link to or retweet my announcements of new content. I don't make any money from this, it's purely a labour of love because I love writing. A huge thanks also to everyone who has sent me screeners over the years.

To celebrate my 15th anniversary, I am sending a four-question mini-interview to 100 of the biggest names in Hollywood. I came up with a list of directors, producers, writers, actors, composers and effects artists - some are legends, some are cult heroes, some are just my favourites - and today posted a letter, by airmail, to each one, care of the address listed on Here's what I asked them:
  1. Which technological or social development during your career has changed cinema the most?
  2. Which deceased film-maker or actor do you wish you could have worked with?
  3. What is the one question you’re fed up with answering in interviews?
  4. What would you rather be asked instead?
I'm not going to list who I wrote to, but I will tweet when/if I get a response from anyone and will add the interview here, even if it's just four words. To give you some idea, here's a bunch of people who probably would have been on that list if I hadn't already had the pleasure of interviewing them: Charles Band, Doug Bradley, Roger Corman, EG Daily, Ken Foree, Terry Gilliam, Lance Henrickson, Lloyd Kaufman, Udo Kier, Debbie Rochon, George Romero, Julie Strain, 'Weird Al' Yankovic

I don't expect to get a reply from everyone, but let's see, shall we? And here's to the next 15 years.
  • 8th February: First reply, a hand-signed letter from Sir Ian McKellen
  • 8th February: Also, a signed photo from Ben Affleck
  • 1st March: Letters from George Lucas' office, explaining that he doesn't do interviews any more. Fair enough.
  • 2nd March: Stacy Haiduk has evidently changed agents: letter returned, marked 'unable to forward'. Shame.
  • 8th March: Another success! An email from Joe Dante.
  • 4th June: From John Williams, a three-page FAQ which I guess is what he sends out to interview requests. At least he took the time to respond.
  • 26 August: Unexpectedly, a signed photo of Simon Pegg
  • 25 September: Puzzled to receive FAQ from John Williams again, then realised he had updated it with my questions!

Friday, 20 January 2017

Let’s Be Evil

Director: Martin Owen
Writer: Martin Owen
Producer: Jonathan Willis
Cast: Elizabeth Morris, Kara Tointon, Elliot James Langridge
Country: UK
Year of release: 2016
Reviewed from: online screener

Let’s Be Evil tries to do something different and we must give it props for that. I don’t think it fully succeeds, and in all honesty I don’t think what it’s trying to do is as different as the film-makers – and some critics – think. But this is a sincerely made movie with some nice characterisation and one genuinely shocking, nasty moment that will stick in your memory.

It’s also absolutely laden with post-production. Excessively so.

Three teenagers take paying jobs with something called the Posterity Project. It’s based in an underground complex, where they are chaperones to 20 or so children, aged about 7-11. These kids are being prepared to become great leaders and thinkers, learning hugely advanced scientific concepts. The less cine-literate among my fellow reviewers have consistently compared them to the young antagonists of Village of the Damned but actually that’s completely misleading and a much closer, more relevant and accurate comparison (which could actually be a direct influence) is These are the Damned.

The three teens and the kids all wear ‘augmented reality’ glasses, without which the complex is pitch black. I guess it saves on the leccy bill. And this is where the post-production comes in as we see almost the entire film through these glasses, with lots of unreadable little graphics skittering away on both sides of the screen. There is also a tab in the top left with the name of the person and a little photo. Which is handy for us as an audience because it means we know whose POV we’re looking through at any one time, since the film constantly cuts between the three main characters. But it does seem a bit redundant because people know who they are…

So yes, what we have here is another entry in what I have suddenly decided to call the third wave of found footage. The first wave – post-Blair Witch films where people carry cameras around with them at all times – are passe, as are second wave, post-Paranormal Activity stories about folk setting up cameras everywhere to record spooky activity.  None of which stops people from still making that sort of stuff, of course.

But a more recent development has been POV film-making where we see everything from one or more person’s point of view, usually (but not always) because of a tiny camera mounted on their glasses. A good example of this sub-subgenre was POV. A poor example was Day of the Mummy. I would venture to suggest that Let’s Be Evil falls somewhere betwixt the two in terms of quality.

Let’s be honest (not evil) – it’s a gimmick. It’s only ever going to be a gimmick. And it gets irritating really fast. What it does is at least distract from the sparse and – let’s be honest again – daft story at the heart of the film.

I actually liked the three main characters. Jenny (co-writer Elizabeth Morris) is sweet, fun and thoughtful. Tiggs (Kara Tointon: EastEnders, Mr Selfridge, Never Play with the Dead) – it’s short for Antigone – is more vivacious, dynamic and spunky. And Darby (Elliot James Langridge, who most people know from Hollyoaks but I know from Dalston Heath) is kind of a slacker but a good-hearted one who is nerdy enough to make a passing Trekkie reference to the Kobayashi Maru. I liked the relationship(s) that these three build up. I particularly liked that, a few bits of joshing aside, there’s no attempt to insert a romantic or sexual dynamic into the set-up. All three actors deliver fine performances of natural-sounding dialogue.

Where the script falls down is in what they do about where they are. They seem to just accept their situation. They say things like “This is weird” but at no point do they, either singly or together, question what’s going on. They didn’t know what this job entailed before arriving. They’ve had no contact with anyone apart from a phone voice confirming they’ve got the job. They never question the morality or ethics of what is being done to these children. They never ask where the kids come from or what the purpose of this advanced training is or where their families are. They never even wonder how long they or the kids are going to spend down here in this sunless network of rooms and tunnels.

In fact, what are they even paid for? The children behave in a kind of quasi-autistic way, not even acknowledging the trio’s presence. Food is provided from a dispenser in the form of unappetising mush in sealed packets.  There’s no suggestion that Jenny, Tiggs and Darby are doing the kids’ washing or any similar housekeeping chores. Also, there was no-one down here before them, or at least there was no sort of handover, so it looks like the kids have been doing fine on their own. They all seem to passively and unquestioningly follow instructions from Arial.

I haven’t mentioned Arial, which is the sentient AI running the place. Sometimes she’s a disembodied voice (Natasha Moore) and sometimes she appears as a rainbow-washy female silhouette (Jamie Bernadette: Reel Evil, The Bunnyman Massacre), usually in the corridors. She always walks ahead of the characters (so we can see her via the glasses) and consequently has to keep talking back over her shoulder, which just looks silly. Arial (or rather A.R.I.A.L.) stands for something tortuous and one can’t help thinking: if you’re going to come up with a strangulated acronym, why not make the second A an E and then you would have a much better name, one which simultaneously carried connotations of remote control/communication and a magical, ethereal sprite. But whatever.

Arial’s female form is purely digital and can only be viewed through the ‘augmented reality’ glasses of course. Which is something else I’d like to question. In what sense is any of this ‘augmented reality’? Now, I’m no technogeek, but my understanding of augmented reality is that it overlays digital imagery onto the real world as a sort of extra. So one might be able to view a still image that moves, or one might be able to read explanatory labels on things, or one could just search for and find a weird Japanese cartoon creature in a certain location. But there’s none of that here.

The children, when seated at their long table, wave their hands and fingers in the air in front of them, operating invisible (to us) touchscreens as they learn and study and calculate. But that’s not augmented reality is it? It’s just a heads-up 3D display that responds to motion, a cross between Google Glasses and a Wii. It’s no different from what Tony Stark does in his basement, or even what Tom Cruise did way back in Minority Report. At one point, Darby has a go at playing with some giant 3D star-map thing that the kids have been playing with but again it’s just a 3D display. There’s no sense of it seeming to interact with the real world when viewed correctly.

Now, it seems to me that the horror potential in augmented reality is when you find yourself uncertain about what’s real and what isn’t, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the film-makers were aiming towards here. At one point Jenny finds a message carved into a toilet stall door which is no longer there when she shows it to Tiggs. And later she steps out of a shower to find that her clothes, which were neatly folded and balanced on the hand-basin, have disappeared – and now they’re back in her room. But this doesn’t square up with the premise of augmented reality. Everything that the characters see through their glasses is really there – because they can feel it. Jenny physically put her clothes on the basin. Their location is nothing to do with what she can or can’t see. They are physical objects. It’s entirely possible that they look different, that the name tag everyone sees is actually blank – now that would actually be augmented reality – and for all we know the 'black' outfit is really shocking pink with pictures of unicorns on it. But its physical nature – and hence its physical location – is undeniable.

The creepiness of the situation and the creepiness of the silent, super-brainy kids – neither of which is ever really explored in any great depth – give way in the third act to basically just a generic chase sequence. Jenny and the oldest little girl, Cassandra, who has somehow broken out of her quasi-autism and made a personal connection with her surrogate big sister, scramble around the facility, collecting first Tiggs and then Darby. Cassandra has lost her special glasses so has to hold Jenny’s hand in the darkness (though Jenny’s exhortation to never let go falls a bit flat when Jenny repeatedly lets go of Cassandra’s hand).

This third act, though more action-packed – and featuring one astounding, out-of-nowhere act of violence which is let down only virtue of the victim being a very, very minor character we’ve met once, briefly, ages ago – doesn’t really use the film’s premise in any way. Since we don’t actually see the children they are running away from, the nature of the threat is immaterial. They could be escaping zombies or killer robots or giant ants for all the difference it would make.

And why exactly are they afraid of the children? Sure they’re outnumbered but these are little kids. Three fit young adults could easily fight them off if they turned wild and violent like in that old, banned Star Trek episode (look it up). Like so many elements of the story here, it's an idea that has no substantial premise underlying it, just an assumption that this is how things are because the plot requires it.

Don’t get me wrong, individual moments within the film mostly work, and there are many of them strung together. It’s the framework they’re strung together on that makes no sense, a bunch of half-formed ideas loosely connected without development or discussion. There's no weight to the film, and a film about children's minds being messed with that also questions the nature of the reality we see around us should have some weight, some oomph, some PKDick-ian pizzazz. Let's Be Evil is oomphless, disappointingly so. It's neither thought-provoking nor mind-expanding, throwing away its interesting premise with a lightweight tale that goes nowhere.

Furthermore the whole film is book-ended with a splash panel prologue that has no obvious connection with anything else and a dumb, lazy epilogue that makes not a lick of sense.

In short, the whole of Let’s Be Evil is less than the sum of its parts. It’s an okay time-waster and at only 82 minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. But there is a much more interesting story to be told about these characters and this set-up, one that uses the premise to explore ideas of humanity, responsibility, even the very nature of reality. And one that isn’t bogged down with the restrictions of third-wave found footage. If half the effort that went into all the photography and post-production here had gone instead into the script, Let’s Be Evil could have been a belter.

Said script is credited to director Owen (who also provides a telephone voice near the start). Owen and Elizabeth Morris share the story credit, which is “based on an original concept” by producer Jonathan Willis. So there’s a three-stage process there and the actual creation of a coherent, interesting story that explores this scenario, plays on the creepiness of the kids and uses the undoubtedly well-drawn characters in some way – well, that’s just slipped through the cracks. What, we are left wondering, was Willis’ ‘original concept’? Was it just 'creepy kids in a secret underground facility'? My money’s on it being something about augmented reality and seeing the whole film through the character’s hi-tech glasses.

See, it’s all very well having a concept. It’s fine and dandy having a story. But they’ve got to mesh in some way. The story has to take the concept and build on it in ways that derive from that concept, incorporate that concept and rely on that concept as an intrinsic element of the narrative. Not just use the concept as window dressing.

Four other producers are listed separately from Willis: Owen, Morris, Matt Williams and Weena Wijitkhuankhan. The old IMDB lists these as co-producers but they are producers on screen. Willis also gets an Executive Producer credit, separately from the other 24 executive producers (whom I’m not going to list here). Willis has also exec-produced Dartmoor Killing, The Machine, Andrew JonesPuppet Master homage The Toymaker and The Last House on Sorority Row, a forthcoming slasher which Steve Lawson is making for Jones.

This is Martin Owen’s second feature after Abducted aka LA Slasher, an Anglo-American picture which seems more the latter than the former so doesn’t make it onto my BHR master-list. Before that he made some shorts with regular Brit-horror actor Giles Alderson. Production designer Melissa Spratt should get a shout-out for effective use of the location, which is an old nuclear bunker in Brentwood. Some distinctly low-tech equipment – phones with cords, PCs with CRT displays – contrasts with the super-futuristic glasses and their displays in a way that adds to the spookiness and apparent unreality of the whole set-up.

Let’s Be Evil premiered at Slamdance in January 2016 and also played Frightfest in August, a couple of weeks after an American VOD (and limited theatrical) release. There was an extremely limited UK theatrical release in October of that year (could have been a single cinema). The first DVD release was in Japan in December 2016 with the UK disc following at the end of January 2017.

Two final points. Cassandra is played by Isabelle Allen who was the little girl on the poster of the movie version of Les Miserables. One of the pre-release images was Allen as Cassandra, her hair blowing across her face in a recreation of the iconic Les Mis image, a bit of fun which seems to have been (wisely) relegated to the back of the actual DVD sleeve. Maybe there’s something in the (otherwise meaningless) title too: let’s be evil instead of let’s (be) miserable. Maybe not.

And also: Kim Wilde. When we first meet Jenny, a pop video is playing silently on a TV screen which I instantly recognised as ‘Kids in America’ – and indeed that is the song that plays over the end credits. The MJS rating definitely goes up a notch for featuring the Kimster.

I didn’t dislike Let’s Be Evil, and you won’t either. But it’s a poorly constructed, frustratingly empty missed opportunity which never has the courage of its convictions and consequently squanders its narrative potential in favour of gimmicky post-production and a formulaic third act.

MJS rating: B-

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Essex Heist

Director: Steve Lawson
Writer: Steve Lawson
Producer: Steve Lawson
Cast: Glenn Salvage, Steve Dolton, Adam Collins
Country: UK
Year of release: 2017
Reviewed from: cast and crew screening

Geezer gangster films, man. They’re not my bag. Genre crossovers aside, I don’t think I’ve seen a film about East End criminals since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Yet there is this massively popular and successful subgenre out there. Low/mid-budget film-makers pump these things out, onto Netflix and the shelves of Asda and Morrisons, and they sell in huge quantities.

It’s a subgenre which is largely independent of star names (except for Danny Dyer, I suppose) and distinctively, parochially British. And these things shift by the bucket-load. Recent-ish titles Bonded by Blood and We Still Kill the Old Way both scored big enough to justify a sequel. I don’t know who’s watching these things, I don’t know who’s buying these things, but there’s money to be made.

Step forward, 88 Films. This Leicester-based label has spent the past few years releasing critically acclaimed versions of old horror and exploitation titles, including a number of Troma and Full Moon films as well as Asian extreme horror, 1970s Italian thrillers, all sorts of malarkey. They have also released three recent pictures by my mate Steve Lawson: Killersaurus, The Haunting of Annie Dyer (aka Nocturnal Activity) and Footsoldier (aka Rites of Passage aka Survival Instinct). So when 88 Films decided that they wanted to try their hand – as successful distributors so often do – at producing, they turned to Steve. And in considering what sort of film could be made on a small budget and safely turn a decent profit, the obvious choice was geezer gangsters.

Which brings us to Essex Heist, which I viewed at a cast and crew screening at Phoenix Arts in January 2017. Against long-term expectations, I found myself watching, reviewing – and indeed, enjoying – a geezer gangster film.

Now, my enjoyment and appreciation of the movie was not dependent on it being a Steve Lawson joint. I have always striven for critical objectivity and just because a friend of mine made (or was involved in making) a particular film does not mean that I will give it a free ride. If I had hated Essex Heist, either because it was a bad film in itself or because it was fine for what it was but archetypal of a genre I generally can’t stand, then I would either have written a negative (but constructive) review or, more likely, simply not reviewed it.

But I think the film’s strength lies in the fact that, not only do I have no specific interest in this genre per se, nor does Steve. And nor, to judge by their catalogue, do the 88 Films guys. Approaching a cinematic genre from an outside standpoint can be very beneficial because one is not constrained by accepted practice and conservative tropes. I’m reminded of 28 Days Later, inarguably one of the best British horror films of the modern era. Danny Boyle has never had any interest in, or detailed knowledge of, horror films. He makes no bones about not being a horror fan and having only a minimal awareness of zombie cinema. And that’s one of the reasons why his zombie film turned out to be so impressive, influential and important.

On the other hand, The Gathering was made by someone with no knowledge of the horror genre and it’s absolute shit so, you know, it’s far from a foolproof method.

So here we go at last. Someone who doesn’t watch geezer gangster films reviewing a geezer gangster film made by someone who doesn’t watch geezer gangster films.

Glenn Salvage stars as Jez, who runs a dodgy car-shop fixing up old motors in less than legal ways. Salvage starred in The Silencer ten years ago, one of the micro-budget actioners that Steve used to make. A surprisingly frequent name on this site, I have also seen him in Project: Assassin, Distant Shadow, Left for Dead, Ten Dead Men and The Dead. He’s also in the cast of Survival Instinct but only as a voice on a phone. (In a neat bit of mirroring, Helen Crevel is a phone voice in this movie.)

Jez works for local crime lord Terry Slade, as indeed does everyone else slightly crooked in this unidentified English seaside resort which is variously represented by stock footage, Leicester streets near Steve’s studio and the exterior of the Coalville shoe warehouse where much of The Wrong Floor was filmed. Jez has three blokes working for him on the motors. There’s muscular, intelligent Andy, played by Adam Collins who was the sergeant in Killersaurus and a copper in Justice League. That’s probably the only time you’ll ever see those two films mentioned in the same sentence but hey, if you’re playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon that sort of thing can be a winner.

There’s weaselly junkie Daveyboy, played by Marcus Langford who was Twinkle Toes Tommy Duggan in The Wrong Floor (he’s the boxer who spews up green stuff in the trailer). Langford is an old hand at this sort of movie having also appeared in such do-what, knock-it-on-the-‘ead, didn’t-you-kill-my-bruvver titles as Age of Kill, I am Hooligan, Gatwick Gangsters, Rossi’s Boyz, Vigilante Style, Bonded by Blood 2 and Rise of the Footsoldier 3. He was also, like Yours Truly, in Leicester-shot Bollywood nonsense Yamla Pagla Deewana 2. And there’s mild, na├»ve Clive, played by Dean Leon Finlan, a Brummie actor who has been working on stage since he was eleven, recently moving into film.

Basically, these three look like Vin Diesel, Steve Buscemi and my brother-in-law. Although I appreciate that’s only 66% helpful to most of you.

Andy has been dating Stacey (Georgia Annable: Whiteblade) who is not only Terry Slade’s niece, she actually has enough dirt on her uncle to keep her in the jewellery and shoes to which she has become accustomed. Through Stacey, Andy has discovered that Slade is personally bringing a million quid in cash down from his casino in Nottingham. Which gives Jez an idea for an audacious blag, a scheme which the other three all sign up for.

Quite how they think they will get away with this when Slade controls the whole town’s underworld is glossed over to some extent. Principally, as so often in crime cinema, they are driven by greed. Jez would like to move away from sitting in a little backstreet lock-up managing three bozos in a cut-and-shunt car-fiddling scheme. Andy, who is genuinely smitten with Stacey, would like to settle down with her. Clive needs money to pay for his mum’s care home costs. And Daveyboy owes some dealers for some smack. (Richard Carter turns up briefly in the first act as a debt collector; his previous credits include London Heist, Shooters Hill and The Hatton Garden Job.)

The blag goes almost according to plan. Slade is played by Steve Dolton, taking a break from acting on the other side of the law as a detective in British horrors Devil’s Tower, Nocturnal Activity and The Curse of Robert the Doll (he is also in Killersaurus and Zombie Undead). His driver and minder, who both skedaddle the moment a gun is pulled on them, are Wrong Floor director Marc Hamill and the incredibly busy Ryan Flamson (Mickey Firefirst in Marc’s film).

Back at the lock-up, things fall apart. Something has gone wrong horribly somewhere which means one of the four crooks is cheating on the others. Honesty, you can’t trust anyone nowadays. Hence arguments, hence recriminations, hence violence and bloodshed. Don’t expect a happy ending.

Essex Heist succeeds on three counts: a quartet of excellent performances (and indeed top work by the supporting cast, which also includes Raven Lee from Nocturnal Activity in a shower scene); Steve’s usual professional and solid direction; and a cracking script which clearly delineates and motivates the characters. One of the things that I dislike about the geezer gangster genre (based, I will admit, largely on trailers and other marketing) is that it always seems to glamorise its protagonists (and antagonists). Essex Heist does no such thing. These are four awful men. They may vary in their awfulness. Clearly Daveyboy is a snivelling little shit whose dependence on crack makes him the least trustworthy member of the gang, none of whom you would ever ask to feed you cat while you’re on holiday. And clearly Clive is a good lad who loves his mum, doesn’t want to get involved in any violence and has a genuine talent for car maintenance that he could put to better use with a job at Kwikfit.

But none of them are good people. You wouldn’t ever want to go for a drink with any of them. Thus their downfall is of their own making, a retribution both just and deserved.

Steve produces with his usual adroit efficiency, keeping most of the action within the lock-up, represented by his own studio. It’s a system which, one cannot deny, works better in tales of small-time crooks than it does in epic sagas of genetically recreated dinosaurs (however much fun those may be…). A particularly nice motorbike – belonging to Andy and an integral element of Jez’s plan – gives a veneer of production value that raises the perceived budget above the actual one.

So I was very impressed by Essex Heist, which runs a taut 75 minutes and delivers a coherent, narratively satisfying story about believable characters behaving in a credible manner. That said, I am aware that I am not the target audience for this. So if you are that person who actually buys all the geezer gangster films that get made, someone who strolls towards the checkouts in Asda with your trolley of loo paper and frozen chicken only to pause in your tracks as you pass the DVDs, your eye caught by a glaring, shaven-headed thug toting a shotgun, inexorably blurting out: “Blimey! That looks good!” and chucking a casual blu-ray on top of your four-pack of tinned spaghetti hoops – then this may or may not be your cup of Rosie Lee. I don’t know. I don’t know you so I don’t know on what criteria you judge this sort of thing.

But if, like me, you’re much more at home watching a werewolf, killer robot or swarm of giant ants – but are looking for something a little different, a non-horror title to clear the cinematic palette – then you could do a lot worse than Essex Heist. And if this does well, and 88 Films proceed to further production, then who knows what homegrown delights we might see from them in years to come.

In the meantime, Steve Lawson says he may make a shark movie. And I freaking love shark movies, me. Bring it on.

MJS rating: A-

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Vampires of Bloody Island

Director: Allin Kempthorne
Writers: Allin Kempthorne, Pamela Kempthorne
Producers: Allin Kempthorne, Pamela Kempthorne
Cast: Pamela Kempthorne, Allin Kempthorne, Leon Hamilton
Country: UK
Year of release: 2010
Reviewed from DVD

Since it was originally released, a full seven years ago, I have been meaning to watch this film, just to see for myself quite how awful it is. Self-released and self-promoted, the movie’s marketing screams ‘terrible’. The film’s website refers to it as a “hilarious cult vampire comedy movie” and “a vamptastically entertaining send-up of every vampire film you've ever loved!” Such hyperbole sets off a klaxon to any would-be viewer (or reviewer).

Comedy, as I think has been well-established over the years, is very difficult to do on a low budget. A few films have managed it - Stalled, Kill Keith, Evil Aliens, Take Me to Your Leader – but plenty more have crashed and burned: Le Fear 2, Stag Night of the Dead, Whatever Happened to Pete Blaggit, Zorg and Andy and many others so desperately short on laughs that I can’t even bring myself to review them. Here’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years though: genuinely good comedies rarely feel the need to tell people how ‘entertaining’ or ‘hilarious’ they are.

The film’s website has lots of laudatory, unlinked review quotes from sources I’ve never heard of. To be fair, it did get a positive review in Fortean Times, but that’s not really a journal of cinematic record. There are no external review links on the IMDB (except this one). All but two of the Amazon reviews are five-star raves; the remaining pair are one-star excoriations. The signs are not good.

Everything about The Vampires of Bloody Island just looks terrible. The website, the DVD sleeve, the trailer, everything designed to appeal to a potential audience has the absolute opposite effect. Even the character names on the IMDB page suggest this will be about as humorous as a root canal. Unless you’re an obsessive goth who thinks anything with a vampire in is an instant classic, one’s instinct is to stay away.

But my job (well, it’s hardly a job…) is to watch these things so you don’t have to. Cover me – I’m going in…

Thus, after seven years, I finally picked up a copy and watched it. And, because I write these reviews in a spirit of absolute honesty, I’ll tell you this. The Vampires of Bloody Island is nowhere near as bad as I expected. The cringeworthy marketing does this film a disservice. It’s not the worst comedy ever made. Not even the worst horror comedy ever made. Heck, it’s not even the worst British horror comedy about vampires ever made. A few minor aspects of it are moderately clever.

Let me be clear: in no way am I saying that this is A Good Film. The Vampires of Bloody Island is painfully unfunny amateur rubbish and I cannot with a straight face recommend it to you in any way unless you are obsessively completist about vampires and/or British horror. It’s awful. Just not as barrel-scrapingly awful as I previously assumed.

Hey, credit where credit’s due is my motto.

The set-up is this. Morticia de’Ath (Pamela Kempthorne) is a centuries-old vampire living in a castle on an obscure Cornish island, tended to by her mute zombie manservant Grunt. Her goal is to be able to go outside in sunlight, towards which end neighbouring mad scientist Dr N Sane is working on an elixir. The one remaining ingredient is the blood of a mortal, born of vampire, who has returned to their birthplace of their own free will.

To this end, some decades ago Morticia had a daughter by a mortal man, who then took the baby away and raised it alone. In London we meet Susan Swallows (also Pamela Kempthorne), a clutzy  employee at a soft drink company which produces, among other disgusting flavours, Garlic Cola. Grunt surreptitiously arranges for Susan to be sent off as a sales rep to Bloody Island, Cornwall. She is accompanied by her colleague Kevin Smallcock (Allin Kempthorne) who maintains that his surname is pronounced ‘Smelkirk’.

On arrival at the island, Kevin and Susan are welcomed as guests by Morticia but after a dinner party incident they are thrown into a dungeon along with tweed-wearing parapsychologist Professor Van Rental. Dr N Sane completes the elixir, then Morticia uses it to raise a small army of vampires, but Kevin, Susan and Van Rental escape and defeat the undead using water pistols filled with Garlic Cola. Susan spends most of the third act parading around in her underwear, adding a fur coat to her costume partway through.

You can see that there is some attempt at an original plot here, bolstered out by Kevin and Susan’s journey to Bloody Island. This includes a stop at a prehistoric monument where they first encounter Van Rental, an overnight stay in a guest house where Kevin gets vampirised by a topless Morticia, and an encounter with a ferryman who is terrified by the name ‘Bloody Island’ and refuses to row them across ‘Sheet Creek’.

There are some genuine attempts at humour on show, including unamusing, vaguely rude, sub-sub-sub-Carry On character names. The Garlic Cola stuff is original and justifies the denouement as assorted vampires disappear in a puff of computer graphics. The scene with the ferryman meanwhile is a self-contained sub-sub-sub-Python sketch, the sort of thing that might raise a smile in a village pantomime. You know, some ‘comedies’ I’ve sat through have been so bad that I genuinely couldn’t work out where the jokes were. All due credit to The Vampires of Bloody Island: it is very obvious where the jokes are. That’s because they are old, weak, laboured and for the most part desperately unfunny (and kind of have a metaphorical neon sign above them saying ‘comedy bit’). But at least there are jokes.

The attempted humour, as you can tell, is very broad and unsubtle. If I was asked to sum the movie up in one sentence, it would be thus: this is a film that wants to be Carry On Screaming but ends up as Carry On England.

Still, could have been worse. Could have ended up as Carry On Emannuelle. Anyway…

Speaking of things which are unsubtly labelled, Allin Kempthorne is one of those film-makers who feels the need to put a typewriter caption at the start of every scene telling us where it is, what day it is and the precise time. The first two are always obvious from context (assuming we haven’t got bored and started checking our emails) and the last doesn’t matter. The most extreme example is on the journey when Susan tells Kevin she wants to stop off at somewhere called Devil’s Lookout. We get a close-up of a map, Susan’s finger pointing to something clearly labelled ‘Devil’s Lookout’. Then we see the car pulling up next to a sign reading ‘Devil’s Lookout’. Kevin gets out of the car saying: “Here we are, Devil’s Lookout.”

And a typewriter caption clatters across screen to tell us that this specific location is… Devil’s Lookout!

Last time I saw anything like this was in Summer of the Massacre. And while The Vampires of Bloody Island isn’t anywhere near as bad as Bryn Hammond’s classic tale of ball pein hammers and rubber masks, these typewriter captions are another red flag that we’re dealing with people who don’t really understand how film narrative works.

This is a shame as Allin Kempthorne clearly does know how to make a film. The direction is perfectly competent here. The actual camera-work isn’t great but I’ve seen worse. The editing is actually rather good, particularly in scenes where Morticia and Susan appear together. Through judicious use of stand-ins, the director is able to make us completely forget that these are the same woman. Or nearly forget anyway. Probably the biggest hole in the plot, one that cannot be excused just because this is a low-budget silly comedy, is that that when Kevin and Susan meet Morticia they completely ignore the fact that (a) she looks exactly like Susan and (b) she has bloody great fangs sticking out of her mouth.

All the above notwithstanding, let’s get to the elephant in the room, which is Pamela Kempthorne herself. And I don’t mean that in a personal way, but some of what I’m about to type will seem very personal indeed. That is, I’m afraid, unavoidable. If you take the lead role (actually two lead roles) in a feature film and promote it heavily, and if you spend much of that film in a state of undress, you must expect people to comment on your physical appearance. And the simple truth is that Mrs Kempthorne has neither the figure nor the face to play either of these roles. When she gets undressed, flashing her boobs and her bum, frankly it’s more frightening than the last half-dozen serious vampire films I watched put together.

Morticia is supposed to be a seductive, sexy vampire. And for Allin Kempthorne to cast his wife in the role is pure vanity. If my wife decided she was going to make a film about Ancient Rome and cast me in the lead role as a gladiator, it would be utterly ridiculous. It would make me, and her – and by association anyone else involved with the movie – look like idiots. Because I’m an overweight, underheight, 48-year-old nerd with bad skin, a large nose, overgrown eyebrows, a speech impediment and a haircut that has barely changed since 1973. Kirk Douglas I ain’t. And Ingrid Pitt she ain’t, sorry.

Under her husband’s direction, Pamela Kempthorne swans through the film like she’s some sort of cross between Barbara Steele and Barbara Shelley. When in fact she’s somewhere on a line between Barbara Bush and Barbara Cartland. She thinks she’s Madeline Smith but she looks more like Madeleine Albright. And nobody ever wanted to see the Secretary of State’s tits, not even Bill Clinton.

Nor does Pamela Kempthorne convince as Susan Swallows (hoho, very amusing). Frankly, the daughter looks even older than the mother (which, to be fair, given that the latter is an ageless vampire, doesn’t actually break any narrative rules). While Mrs Kempthorne as Morticia is waving her bazongas about in one scene, seducing Kevin Smallcock (god, that’s funny) in the guest house, the sequence is intercut with Mrs Kempthorne as Susan in another room, curled up on the bed, squeezed into a pair of pink panties emblazoned with the phrase ‘Pretty princess’. I actually had to rewind and pause to work out what it said. I never, ever want to do that again.

We are supposed to accept that, after initial hostility at the soft drink firm office, Kevin keeps making moves on Susan and eventually they fall in love. I’ve no doubt that the Kempthornes are happily married (since October 1998) and blissfully in love with each other, and that’s lovely and wonderful and all. But this is cinema, not real life. And when you see them on screen together, honestly you’d assume they were mother and son.

Compounding the problem (yet somehow also ameliorating it) is that Allin Kempthorne himself is a good-looking guy, with his floppy hair and cheeky smile. When I watched this movie, I kept thinking: well, I wouldn’t climb over him to get to her. Look, when a male viewer who ticks the ‘straight’ box on diversity forms finds your male romantic lead more attractive than your female romantic lead, there’s something wrong with your casting. (Unless of course the male lead is Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt, in which case hell yeah! You know where you can stick your diversity forms then. Don’t try to deny it, you’ve all thought the same.)

On top of which, Allin Kempthorne is also a good actor, especially impressive given that he’s directing himself which always makes life harder. He’s had a few walk-on parts in things like The Colour of Magic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and episodes of Black Mirror, Horrible Histories, EastEnders (as a clown) and Doctor Who (as a mime artist). He has also been a stand-in several times, including doubling for Rowan Atkinson on Johnny English, plus Cronenberg’s Spider, Julian RichardsSilent Cry and a brace of Harry Potters.

Mrs Kempthorne, on the other hand, is simply one of the worst actors who has ever crossed my TV screen. I know I’ll never win a Bafta (not for playing a gladiator, anyway) but that doesn’t mean I can’t spot an absence of acting ability in other people. And honestly, it’s embarrassing how awful she is. Especially when she’s on screen with her husband. The overall cast of the film range right across the acting spectrum from terrible to quite good.  Leon Hamilton mimes his way through a fine wordless performance as Grunt, while John Snelling as Dr N Sane is like a plank of wood. Oliver Gray as Professor Van Rental is somewhere inbetween.

It’s ironic that the best actor on screen is Mr A Kempthorne and the worst is Mrs P Kempthorne, but that’s the way it is. She was also a stand-in on Silent Cry, actually appears on screen as a witch in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and was a zombie in Shaun of the Dead. I suspect she can carry off non-speaking witch and zombie roles, but two lead roles, both supposedly sexily seductive – no, not a chance. Maybe, just maybe, if cast as some sort of crumbling, cobweb-covered, ancient vampire matriarch who spends the whole movie sat on a throne (and fully dressed), Pamela Kempthorne could have pulled off a bloodsucker role. But that’s not what we get here.

This is what happens when you make a vanity project. And make no mistake, The Vampires of Bloody Island is a vanity project. Allin Kempthorne made it for his wife. He manages his wife’s acting career. He marketed and distributed this film starring his wife. It’s commendable how much he does for her. But it would be untrue and unkind to suggest that the result is anything except a self-indulgent home movie. Keep your wife’s flabby arse in the bedroom Mr Kempthorne because no-one in their right mind wants it on their telly.

When not being film stand-ins, the Kempthornes run a mail order business selling goth/vampire ephemera (and signed copies of their DVD) from their home in the little town of Mountain Ash near Merthyr Tydfil. Which means that they know their audience and their market. If you’re the sort of person who will happily shell out £1.90 for a sachet of ‘Astral Cleansing Ritual Bath’ (“Remove astral debris picked up in everyday life, breaks minor curses and strengthens the auric field.” Which, incidentally, is a funnier line than anything in the script of this movie…) then you will probably freaking love The Vampires of Bloody Island and can safely ignore everything I’ve written here.

Since making The Vampires of Bloody Island, Mrs Kempthorne doesn’t seem to have troubled the screen again, concentrating on such challenging stage roles as Sally Skull in Skull and Crossbones, the Potty Pirates and Ping Pong in Santa’s Naughtiest Elves. Two of Ibsen’s lesser known works there.

A little digging reveals that these pirates and elves are part of a whole cornucopia of characters which the Kempthornes offer for children’s parties, corporate events, walkabouts etc. Allin does close-up magic, both family-friendly and more sophisticated (plus stand-up comedy as ‘Eddie Twist’). Pamela does tarot and palm reading. They both make balloon animals. Walkabout characters on offer include Baron Blood the Vampire, Wizzall the Wizard, Wanda the Wacky Witch, Runefungle the Sorcerer, the Giggling Ghost, Midshipman Arnold Poop-Decker, Jack Frost, the Mad Hatter, Sparkie the Clown, Ditzy the Clown, the Andromedans, the Space Tourists and a frankly terrifying giant humanoid rabbit.

There is also Lord Two-Head, a monstrous character whose second head sits upside-down on top of his regular head. (It’s creepy, but still better than the shitty version of Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie.) This explains one of the mysteries of The Vampires of Bloody Island, which is that when we first met Dr N Sane he is treating a patient who has this curious double head and is never explained. It is a very good full-head mask and really one of the highlights (if such a term can be used) of the movie.

The other bit of the film that I really liked was when Morticia raises her vampire army and they all announce what year they were turned. Two of them were vampirised in the late 1960s so are hippy vampires, sticking to their principals of peace and love. When the big fight breaks out, they refuse to get involved, sitting on a blanket and waving placards (although that doesn’t save them from a deadly blast of Garlic Cola). The actors are Rebecca Finley-Hall (you may remember her as ‘Skank Hippy Crack Bitch’ in obscure 2006 social drama The Plague) and the surely pseudonymous Caspar De La Mare. This is a clever and original idea, well handled, and probably the closest the film ever comes to being genuinely entertaining.

The leader of the vampire army, played under impressive make-up with a plummy English accent, is a ‘war demon’ named General Valkazar. This is Marcus Fernando (also credited as fight director) whose stage career includes puppeteering for the RSC. It’s another good performance that veers towards entertaining. Also in the cast are Carl Thomas and Paul Ewen as ‘Catering Demons', serving at the dinner party scene. Ewen (also credited as key prosthetic artist) is a British horror regular with bit-parts in Cockneys vs Zombies, Zombie Undead, Three’s a Shroud, Blaze of Gory, Seize the Night, The Vicious Dead and Kim Wilde’s legendary goth-horror video Every Time I See You I Go Wild (google it!).

Tacye Lynette who plays the boss of the soft drinks firm (another good performance) does audio descriptions for Sky TV. There’s actually a borderline funny bit in the office sequence when three Chinese ladies are assumed to be customers from China but take offence because they’re actually Irish. Kaila Lee, Amy Ip and Carolyn Seet are ‘Miss Chang’, ‘Miss Wang’ and ‘Miss O’Leary’. Three sexy female vampires who make a move on Kevin (and these ones are genuinely sexy, even though they keep their clothes on) are credited as ‘Mina’, ‘Lucy’ and ‘Morgana’ and played by Sadie Sims, Lisa Pobereskin and Jennifer Grace.

There are also two werewolves chained up in Morticia’s dungeon. One is played by an actor hiding behind the pseudonym ‘Fritz Aardvark Bragpuss’ (sic) and the other is – crikey! – Mick Barber. You may recall Barber's recurring role as a non-speaking, bubble-permed background copper in Ashes to Ashes but you will definitely recall his most famous role as squeaky-voiced, bubble-permed foreground lunatic Tommy in Richard Driscoll’s Eldorado.

Of final note is the film's soundtrack which features a number of goth beat combos including Inkubus Sukkubus, Fever, Theatres des Vampires, The Suburban Vamps and Corpse Nocturna. The opening titles play under a song by Vampire Division called ‘Place of the Dead’ and you’ll have the catchy chorus stuck in your head for days after you watch the film. It goes:

Place of the dead! Place of the dead! Place of the dead! Place of the dead!
Place of the dead! Place of the dead! Place of the dead! Place of the dead!

Ah, they don’t write ‘em like that any more…

So that’s The Vampires of Bloody Island, a film I watched in order to tick it off my list, which proved that you can’t judge a DVD by its sleeve. Although you can get a pretty good idea. The Kempthornes self-released it on their Weird World of Wibbell label in January 2010 with an NTSC version following in August. There was a cast and crew screening back in 2007 and it was shown at the first Horror-on-Sea in January 2013 but seems to have otherwise largely left the big screen untroubled.

Now you might expect this vanity project to be the only Wibbell release but you’d be wrong. They also released something called Learning Hebrew: A Gothsploitation Movie which is synopsised thus:

"When criticism of faith and the freedom to offend is outlawed by the Politically Correct Militia, Bella and her gang of idealistic cyberpunks push Darwinism door-to-door. But with agnostic thugs in the street and the Atheist Revolutionary Army attacking the liberal establishment, Bella and her friends are driven underground into a dark fetish existence, where the future and past collide, allegiances are strained and old scores must be settled."

That was written and directed by someone named Louis Joon and released by the Kempthornes on DVD in 2012. It played Horror-on-Sea in 2014 although it’s not on my masterlist because I’m not convinced (yet) that it’s actually a horror film. Wibbell Productions has also given us Twisted Britain, a phone-shot web series with Allin Kempthorne in his Eddie Twist guise visiting various towns. Currently under development is The First Stars of Vaudeville, a compilation of archive footage of obscure music hall acts.

I absolutely love old music hall acts so if that ever gets finished I will be first in the queue to buy a copy. Seriously.

Just so long as I never have to watch The Vampires of Bloody Island again.

MJS rating: C-