Sunday, 14 May 2017

interview: Mark J Howard

I reviewed Mark J Howard's debut feature Lock In, a tale of corporate coulrophobia, in 2014. Three years later, the film was released on DVD on  both sides of the Atlantic as Clown Kill, so I took the opportunity to ask Mark for an interview and he provided these great, detailed answers.

What was the original inspiration for Lock In? How well do you think you achieved what you set out to do?
"We’d been renting a huge business suite in a modern office block at the foot of Pendle Hill (home of the infamous Pendle Witches in the 17th Century), to serve as production office and edit booths while we were working on a series of TV ads and other advertising films, and it was a bit creepy at night, to say the least. Pipes would expand and contract, floors creaked, dodgy electrics made the lights flicker and go out and the regular winds barrelling down Pendle Hill would howl around the corners of the building, which kind of puts you on edge when you’re in the building on your own. When you’ve been working at the office for 48 hours straight to meet a deadline, your mind doesn’t always  think straight. Then, on the way out, the lift got stuck, and I hate lifts, almost as much as I dislike clowns, so the seeds were already starting to grow.

"The story developed over the next few months as we workshopped ideas with the already-cast actors. I think we achieved our goal by introducing a creepy new clown, and I was happy with the comedic chemistry with the security guards, but we dropped a major bollock and didn’t notice until we were in the edit. In the original script the clown breaks the fourth wall as he regularly addresses the audience between kills, which makes more sense once you’ve seen the end scene and know where the character of Jenny is at, but in the edit it suddenly looked like we were trying to rip off Funny Man, and not doing it very well. So, at the last minute I brought in my long-term collaborator, actor and comedian Peter Slater, we sat down at the editor and chopped things away, reduced or removed all of Charlie Boy’s one-liners and pieces to camera, heavily toned down Jenny’s drunken pub attack scene, and added more security guards stuff for balance. The end result is one huge compromise.

"During filming one of the leads had serious personal issues going on, and she became difficult to nail down, so that brought a whole slew of new problems that had to be addressed during the shoot. We’d only budgeted for a 21 day shoot, and we managed to shoot it in exactly 21 days, but it was one nightmare after another. I’m happy with the finished film, but if luck and circumstance had been on our side on the day, it could have been so much better."

What aspect of the film do you think works best, and what aspect would you change if you could?
"The personality clashes between shop-steward Gobby Karen and John the Boss are my favourite performances in the film,  Rachel was an absolute revelation, her sense of timing is better than any comedian I’ve ever worked with. She hit every beat, delivered every time, and that’s something I’ve never encountered before. If I could change anything I’d have found a way to reinstate some of the excised clown footage, Roy’s amazing in the role, and some of my favourite scenes are the ones we had to cut out. That’s usually the way though."

How did you assemble your cast, and what effect has Jessica Cunningham’s subsequent reality TV career had on awareness of your film?
"Apart from Rachel (who plays Gobby Karen) and Holly (Sally), the script was written personally for the actual actors who starred in the film. Rachel and Holly were late additions to the repertory company I’ve been building over the last 20 years; so I knew who would be playing what character as  I wrote the script. We’d just come off a series of TV commercials with Jessica, and I’d had a big public row with her in a Costa, and I knew I’d found my feisty office worker that day.

"Two hours after Jessica was confirmed as an Apprentice contestant, my phone went absolutely crazy, as the press bombarded me with questions. All of the major tabloids had found out about her 'clown rape' past and wanted to know more. It was actually my very significant birthday that day and I was pissed up. My wife banned me from speaking to the press in case I got carried away or said something I might later regret, so I had to let Roy (Basnett) do the talking, and as a result we got some great sensationalist headlines in the national tabloids. I imagine some of her fans might be curious enough about the film to watch it, but other than that I doubt her rapid rise up the greasy celebrity pole would benefit the film.

"She’s been really busy these last few months with her fashion brand and new-found fame, so we haven’t managed to catch up on things, but before she hit the limelight we had a chat and she did agree to do the sequel. We had two huge fans of Jessica, who are also top-flight footballers from a famous northern club, make an offer to finance a sequel under the Enterprise Investment Scheme, but a week later the Inland Revenue started cracking down on footballers investing in fake films to offset their taxes, and they got cold feet. Got a great script out of it, though, featuring Charlie Boy’s Undead Army of Clowns. If this first film is well received, and if there’s a market there, the sequel might just happen."

What are your favourite slashers and/or clown horror movies?
"I was never a fan of the Halloween films (though I’m a big fan of the third one), but I loved the first couple of Friday the 13th’s. I abandoned that franchise when I went to see Part 3 in 3D on its initial release, and the projectionist got the lens assembly on wrong and completely ruined the presentation. Huge fan of European slashers, especially love Stage Fright and Amsterdamned, but don’t watch clown films. Like I say, clowns and lifts, not my bag. I don’t think I was abused by a clown as a child, but I think something must have happened to fuel my unease about them. The new adaptation of It looks fun, though, but Tim Curry’s a hard act to follow."

What have you been working on since finishing Lock In?
"Adverts and pop promos have been the bread and butter that keeps the wolf at bay, We’ve shot a big zombie film set in Liverpool, about a terrorist attack on Ellesmere Port petro-chemical plant, just at the moment they are destroying an experimental battlefield biological weapon developed by the Russians and seized in Syria. The resulting gas cloud threatens an extinction-level event as it slowly creeps across the UK in real time, turning the victims into blood-crazed zombies. The film is called Undead Air and will hopefully be ready by the end of the year. It’s quite heavy on visual fx, but I’ve a great team doing some amazing work.

"At the moment we’re  just prepping our new docu-drama American Psychopath – the Ripper of Whitechapel, which is a period piece bringing a post-modern, fresh perspective on the Jack the Ripper case. We’re shooting this in 4K and Super 16, with the murders being covered by raw and grainy Super 8 on my trusty old Beaulieu, filming begins second week of May for three weeks. Because we’re still having to work on promo films for clients, our more narrative films tend to take forever to complete, but we’ve a delivery deadline for the Ripper film so it’s all hands on deck. Both films will feature the same cast and crew, with a few additions, that made Lock In."

Finally, can you tell me a bit about the super 8 films you used to make with Tony Luke?
"I miss Tony so much, and it doesn’t feel like fifteen months since we lost him. We got to know each other in the very early '80s. We were the same age, both at secondary school, both making animated super 8 monster movies,  and we both contributed to Junior Filmworld, a magazine/newsletter for wannabe junior super 8 Spielbergs. Tony lived in the North East and I lived in Manchester, so hundreds of miles apart, but he used to ring regularly and we’d post our only prints of our latest films to evaluate each others work. We’d swap ideas, script notes, designs and special fx techniques we’d discovered, and generally encourage each other.

"He found a supplier in the States who could provide T rex latex skins, all ready for you to insert an armature into, and he was off. His films always had more pazzaz than mine, my always came back with the note 'Sorry, your splices didn’t go through the projector too well'. Tony was my first animation collaborator, albeit long-distance, and somewhere I’ve got a box of photos of his animation creations, including his first Satannus puppet. I need to find it and pass it on to his sister Fran for the archive.

"When we premiered Lock In I spoke to Tony, he asked me if I’d be interested in directing a project he had in mind. I was busy, I said if he could postpone a few months I’d be able to discuss it further and commit. It never happened. A few months later Tony started with his back and neck pain, and he had to focus on getting better. I was sure he’d beat it again, he was a real fighter. It’s a weird thing when someone you’ve known since you were kids dies, makes you put things into perspective. Facebook hasn’t been the same since he left."


Monday, 1 May 2017

Hunters of the Kahri

Director: Ali Paterson
Writer: Ali Paterson
Producers: Ali Paterson, Pip Hill
Cast: Marc Goodacre, Jon Bennett, Doug Booth
Country: UK
Year of release: 2006/2016
Reviewed from: YouTube

This is the first time I have ever reviewed a movie without watching the whole thing. This is not something I intend to make a habit of, but Hunters of the Kahri is literally unwatchable. I mean, I’ve watched plenty of films before which, for one reason or another, were effectively unwatchable. For most people. But I’ve stuck with them, for your sake. I provide a service here. I take pride in my work.

Hunters of the Kahri is 104 minutes long. I suffered through the first 44 minutes; the final hour can frankly go fuck itself. (I did skip through the rest of the film, just in case there was any evidence of a major change in direction or quality. There wasn’t.)

I had this film on my list of never released British horror pictures. It was shot in 2005, had a single cast and crew screening in June 2006, then disappeared. In April 2017 I spotted that Ali Paterson had posted the whole movie onto YouTube the previous October. So I gave it a spin. All I really got out of my viewing experience was confirmation that this isn’t a horror film. It’s a sub-sub-sub-Tolkien fantasy of swords and quests and suchlike but there are no demons or other elements that might make it borderline horror.

It is also – and let’s make no bones about this – a home movie. Not just an amateur film made by a group of friends (there are plenty of those reviewed on my site) but literally just something cobbled together in somebody’s garden.

Which runs for 104 minutes.

I think it’s set in a post-apocalyptic quasi-medieval fantasy world, rather than a historical quasi-medieval fantasy world, which just about excuses the fact that most costumes are obviously just muddied-up T-shirts and similar 21st century garments. What it doesn’t excuse is the neatly trimmed hedges, fishpond and patio. Bizarrely, some of the film is set in open countryside, so your guess is as good as mine why Paterson didn’t shoot everything away from suburbia. It really seems like he either didn’t care about, or possibly didn’t notice, anything that was in the background of his shots. In one shot, two bicycles are leaning against a tree. In another, a character who has just been killed is sitting up, apparently unaware that they are in view.

The story itself is impenetrable nonsense. Our central character seems to be Calum Narata (Marc Goodacre) who sports an eye-patch and has two teenage children, despite being clearly in his early twenties. He steals a sword from someone and gives it to someone else who is going on a quest and wants Calum to come along but Calum stays behind and sends his two kids instead. There’s a woman in a white boob tube and a bloke in a kimono and another guy dressed in a white bathrobe and a bedsheet. They have names like Kenzo Kasdan and Jengole Marguand and Tenzing Oz, and most of them carry samurai swords for some reason.

It’s all incredibly talkie, with just the occasional brief, dull swordfight. There is a woman narrating the film with lines like “After the slaughter of the Woodpeople, Xenos fled, leaving Narata to take on the rest of Tenzing’s horde.” After a bit she slips into the present tense so it’s like she’s just reading from the script descriptions of scenes that they couldn’t afford to film.

The whole thing has been shot for zero pence, without even the most basic concern for things like character, story, photography, sound or audience. It looks like no-one was expected to watch this who wasn’t also in it. Like I say: a home movie. But why make a home movie that’s 104 minutes long? Especially when that is 104 minutes of stuff that makes Stephen Donaldson novels look interesting and well-written. Why not make a 14-minute home movie, show it to your mates who made it with you, and then you’ve got an extra hour and a half to get drunk and come up with daft ideas for the next one. Or just one idea would be good, and would be a step in the right direction.

Of particular note is the sound, because one of the things that makes this unwatchable is that it is mostly inaudible. Paterson apparently got hold of some outdoor sound effects – basically birdsong – and added this to most scenes, over the top of the dialogue (which looks like it may have been looped). But because he either didn’t know what he was doing or didn’t care, he’s got the sound mix all to hell so that the dialogue is drowned out by the music which is in turn drowned out by these bloody birds. It’s like watching the film inside a particularly well-stocked aviary and means that only occasionally can we make out the terrible dialogue that the non-characters are statically spouting.

There really is no reason for anyone to ever watch this, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t even have bothered with a review. But there is one aspect of this film which means that it is worth recording, so that it’s not just a title on a filmography, and so that people don’t get overly excited and think they’re missing something.

Most of the cast, as you might expect, have no other IMDB credits. One of them is called Christian Lloyd and the IMDB thinks that’s a British-born, Canadian actor who has numerous film and TV credits since 2001 including Jude Law-starring sci-fi feature Repo Men and Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. No, I don’t think that’s the same guy. Perhaps he came over to the UK in 2006 to make a film in Ali Paterson’s back garden, but I have my doubts.

However, Calum Narata’s son Sagar Narata is played by 14-year-old ‘Doug Booth’ who, as Douglas Booth, has gone on to not just a genuine career but considerable critical acclaim. Being somewhat out of touch with popular culture I wasn't familiar with Mr Booth's work myself, but a look at his IMDB and Wikipedia pages indicates that he’s quite the hot young thesp. His first proper acting job was in Julian Fellowes’ ghostly fantasy From Time to Time, but his filmography starts with Hunters of the Kahri, which is consequently cited in various features about him. A good-looking, talented young lad like Booth undoubtedly has a small army of fangirls by now who may want to seek out this film. Ladies, if you come across this review, let me assure you that although the film is available to watch on YouTube, its only purpose is as somewhere to get screengrabs of Boothy-babe when he was a teenager.

Booth played the lead role in a 2010 BBC drama about Boy George, which brought him to the attention of critics, and also modelled for Burberry. He was Pip in the BBC’s Great Expectations, he was Romeo in a version of Romeo and Juliet scripted by Fellowes, and he was in Jupiter Ascending which, you know, it’s not his fault. Big sci-fi epic by the … siblings who made The Matrix. A young actor’s going to take that, isn’t he? Anyway, Sean Bean was in it and he really should have known better.

You can look up the rest of Douglas Booth’s credits for yourself. In a few months he’ll be seen as Dan Leno in Juan Carlos Medina’s The Limehouse Golem, which might be okay but the script has been written by the seriously over-rated Jane Goldman who made such a hash of The Woman in Black, so we’ll see. He has also recently wrapped a role as Percy Shelley in historical romance Mary Shelley (aka A Storm in the Stars). Plus he was in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So borderline horrors with fancy frocks seems to be his genre of choice right now.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and here is where Douglas Booth started. In years to come, maybe when he’s picking up his third Oscar, people are going to be saying: "What’s this on his IMDB page? Hunters of the Kahri, starring lots of people who never made another movie? Must be the Inaccurate Movie Database up to its old tricks." But it’s not. Is there evidence of Booth's talent here? Well, he can clearly act, which many of the cast equally clearly can't, but frankly Kenneth Branagh couldn't make a script like this work, especially with these production values and the abundant non-direction.

As for Ali Paterson, he made a second feature, the snappily titled The Third Testament: The Antichrist and the Harlot. This is a biblical epic which looks like it might be horror and the appearance of Hunters of the Kahri on YouTube gives me hope that The Third Testament may finally appear one day too. Kevin Leslie, who starred in The Third Testament before going on to be 50% of Fall/Rise of the Krays, also starred in N-Day, a half-hour short that Paterson made with, by the looks of it, a budget. This is about four people trapped in a submarine while the world is hit by a nanobot virus (or something) and the cast also includes Jemima Shore herself, Patricia Hodge.

Since when Paterson seems to have concentrated on corporate stuff about finance. Which is where the money is, in more ways than one.

Hunters of the Kahri, according to Paterson’s page on Casting Call Pro, features “horses, CGI creatures, battles and choreographed fight sequences”. Just to be clear, there is one shot of someone (dressed in white so it might be bathrobe guy) riding a horse. There are indeed several choreographed sword fights. In at least one of these, the sounds of battle have been added to the soundtrack to try and give the impression of a larger conflict. (It doesn’t work, but at least those bloody songbirds shut up for a bit.)

There are however absolutely no CGI creatures, or CGI anything, or any sort of creatures. Apart from a fallow deer that wanders past the camera about 90 minutes in. If that’s CGI it’s bloody good.

Watching these things so you don’t have to. And thanks for sharing, Mr P. Genuinely appreciated, just so I can knock this off my list.

Oh. If you’re wondering, the Kahri is some sort of precious stone they’re all after. I think.

MJS rating: E-

Friday, 21 April 2017

Bella in the Wych Elm

Director: Thomas Lee Rutter
Writer: Thomas Lee Rutter
Producer: Thomas Lee Rutter
Cast: Lee Mark Jones, Sarah L Page, 'Tatty' Dave Jones
Country: UK
Year of release: 2017
Reviewed from: online screener

I love Tom Rutter’s stuff. Right from his early teenage movies like Full Moon Massacre and Mr Blades Tom has always wanted to do something different. Not for young Master Rutter anything as simple as a generic slasher or zombie picture – there was always something offbeat, something unique and distinctive. Something new and unapologetic.

Since those days he has made a fair number of oddball shorts, from hallucinogenic clowns to stop-motion animation to Ancient Greek drama. Some of these have been assembled into flatpack anthologies such as Quadro Bizarro and The Forbidden Four.

The one thing you can be sure of when you watch a Tom Rutter film is that you can’t be sure of anything. You can confidently expect that it’s pointless to expect anything. The man’s range and nonconformist approach is his auteurial signature. Tom is a cinematic maverick, the original ‘unable to label’.

The latest movie from Tom’s outfit Carnie Films is a half-hour dramatised documentary about a very curious event which happened in the Black Country during the Second World War. It’s such a bizarre tale that I had to check to see if it’s true – and indeed it is. Which makes the film no less fascinating and enjoyable.

Here’s the basic gen: Some boys discover human remains hidden inside the hollow trunk of a tree (a wych elm, not a ‘witch elm’). The police investigate and find the skeleton of a woman who must have been crammed in there shortly after she was killed. Attempts to identify her came to nothing – and to this day no-one knows for sure who she was, although various theories have been put forward. Some of these relate to black magic, some relate to WW2 espionage. And just to make things even weirder, a recurring graffiti has been inscribed around the area over the years asking: “who put Bella in the wych elm?”

I won’t go into any more detail. If, like me, you’re not familiar with this story then Tom’s film is an excellent summary of events. If you are familiar with it then you’ll enjoy the way it is presented. If you want to find out more, there’s tons of stuff all over the web. It’s exactly the sort of local Forteana that people love to document.

Fascinating story aside, the strength of Tom’s gorgeous little film is in his use of the image and the sound. A cast represent the players in this tale but they’re all shot silently as the story is narrated, in a glorious accent, by someone named ‘Tatty’ Dave Jones. As the story – and one possible explanation – progresses, Tom Rutter turns the visuals into poetry, mixing and cutting and overlaying and using all manner of techniques so that what we have is something very, very much more than just dramatised, narrated scenes.

This is film as art, without sacrificing narrative. It is film as dreamstate, without sacrificing reality. Together, Jones’ voice and Rutter’s camera-work and editing create an unnerving atmosphere resonant of English folk tales much older than 1943. An alternative version exists, with Jones’ narration replaced by intertitles.

I really, really enjoyed watching Bella in the Wych Elm. It’s not a straightforward documentary on the subject, and if someone made one (mayhap they already have) no doubt we the viewers would learn more facts (or at least, more speculation and theory). Neither is this a straightforward dramatisation; the story could bear one but the lack of a definite, satisfying conclusion to the mystery would require some fictionalisation on the part of the screenwriter. This is something between and separate, something special. I heartily recommend it to you because it’s different and beautiful and intriguing and mind-expanding.

Which is not to say that if you like this you will also necessarily like Full Moon Massacre, which is cheesy as hell and has me in it. But you might.

The cast on screen includes Lee Mark Jones (Theatre of Fear, Spidarlings). Some of the cast are also in The Forbidden Four and/or Tom’s next movie, now in post, the hallucinogenic western Stranger, which I. Cannot. Wait. To. Watch.

MJS rating: A+

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Bigfoot vs Zombies

Director: Mark Polonia
Writer: Mark Polonia
Producer: Mark Polonia
Cast: Dave Fife, Danielle Donahue, Jeff Kirkendall
Country: USA
Year of release: 2016
Reviewed from: TubiTV

Despite a filmography of 42 features since 2000 (plus a few earlier ones), this is the first ‘Polonia Brothers’ picture I have watched. I do view a lot of odd stuff but I’m pretty sure I would remember if I had seen Preylien: Alien Predators or Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast or Peter Rottentail or Curse of Pirate Death or Jurassic Prey or Snake Club: Revenge of the Snake Woman or any of the three dozen or so other titles in that list. And boy, do these guys do titles.

I say ‘guys’ but since 2008 when John Polonia passed away, ‘Polonia Brothers’ has been a solo project by his twin Mark. I suspect that’s why there’s a two-year gap between HalloweeNight (listed as 2009) and Snow Shark, after which Mark Polonia returned to his hugely impressive output of two to four features every year.

Unfortunately that’s going to be the only usage of the term ‘hugely impressive’ in this review. Bigfoot vs Zombies is watchable, if you’re in the mood for lacklustre micro-budget tosh, but I’d hesitate to call it enjoyable. Nevertheless it deserves to be noted, if only for its status as a crossover between two otherwise utterly disparate subgenres.

The one thing that the film has going for it is an original setting, which is a body farm. If you’re not familiar with the concept, don’t worry, it’s explained about ten minutes in. A body farm is where dead bodies are placed under controlled conditions in order to be studied by forensic experts. It’s a clever (if gross) concept. If you leave three corpses on the ground and examine one after a month, one after six months, one after a year – then when the cops discover an actual dead body somewhere, the forensics dudes can judge how long it’s been there by the state of decomposition.

Obviously any body farm has to be well away from habitation and protected by a stout metal fence to keep out both intruders and wildlife. The object is to see what happens when a human cadaver is eaten by bugs, not by foxes or bears.

A body farm would be a place where there were lots of dead folk just waiting to walk again, although in real life they would more likely by in shallow graves or ponds than just lying around. And this premise does at least justify why the zombies here appear different to each other, with some merely grey-faced and others having stiff, skull-like masks. Although that may be more the result of there being dozens of zombies but only 11 actors playing them. Even then, we see the same zombies killed multiple times. Also, it pains me to say it, but the quality of this film can be judged by the fact that one of the ‘skull-face’ zombies has been so shoddily created that we can clearly see the actor’s beard underneath the skull…

This particular zombie farm is run by mad scientist Dr Peele (Jeff Kirkendall) and his long-suffering, bored lab/admin assistant Renee (Danielle Donahue). There is a truck driver named Andy (Bob Dennis) who drives around the farm, delivering cadavers to requested locations. And there is a security guard (Todd Carpenter) on the main gate who has no character name. Rather cruelly, the others refer to him throughout the film as ‘the security guard’ despite the fact that he is 25% of the farm’s entire workforce and they must all see him at least twice a day.

Stu (James Carolus) and Ed (Dave Fife) are delivering a couple of new corpses in their van. Stu’s an old hand at this, Ed is the new guy. Stu and Andy both constantly hit on Renee who is repelled by their unsubtle advances but takes a liking to nice guy Ed. So, you know, characterisation.

The problem is that Dr Peele has been working away in his ‘secret lab’ (which is literally an office with a microscope and a couple of bottles on the desk) to develop a serum which will deteriorate the bodies faster. The idea being that he can then process more corpses through his body farm and thus make more money from the local hospital that supplies them. Don’t look too closely at that plan, it maketh not one lick of sense.

Actually the real problem is that, far from deteriorating the cadavers, this serum brings them back to life. Although it is unclear whether this is due to the injections that Dr Peele has given the dead bodies or leakage from the barrel of the stuff which drops off Andy’s truck near the start of the film. Much later, it is discovered that an overdose of this stuff will actually kill a zombie but this is never followed up on, as if both the characters and the director simply forgot this ever happened.

As the dead start to rise, one more character arrives at the farm. Duke Larson (Ken Van Sant) is a big game hunter called in by Dr Peele because Andy has reported that one of the shallow graves has been dug up, presumably by a bear that has somehow got into the compound.

Well, strictly speaking two more characters arrive because here comes Bigfoot. We have already met him in a prologue where he spies on a hiker/photographer (Greta Volkova) who is later munched by a zombie after somehow getting past the security fence. For no reason at all, Bigfoot hides in the back of Duke Larson’s Jeep to get into the farm, where he starts fighting zombies.

The last part of the preceding sentence sounds very exciting and is the nub of this high-concept film whose title basically is it plot. And kudos to Polonia for the amazing sleeve art showing a giant, fearsome sasquatch hurling itself at a shuffling army of the undead.

But you won’t be at all surprised if I tell you that there ain’t nuttin like dat on show here at all, no sir ma’am.

This film’s Bigfoot is, well, it’s an ill-fitting, tatty gorilla suit with a long, shaggy wig over its face. It’s really one of the very worst Bigfoot costumes you’ll ever see. I know the movie isn’t exactly taking itself seriously but nevertheless this is just kind of embarrassing. Uncredited on screen, the actor inside the suit is Steve Diasparra according to the old IMDB and he does at least attempt to give the creature some characterisation, establishing a mute, somewhat touching relationship with Renee.

At various points in the film we do get Bigfoot fighting zombies but it’s all really half-hearted and lame. Basically they shuffle towards him and he pushes them away. In fact, that’s the film’s biggest failing: it is utterly devoid of even the slightest hint of action. There’s gore, certainly. Or at least, there’s fake blood in some scenes as people scream. But obviously they couldn’t afford to get any of that on the gorilla suit as the dry-cleaning bill would have trebled the film’s budget. So we have lackadaisical shuffling scenes, and shots of bloody terror, but nothing inbetween. No actual fast or emphatic movement. Even in dialogue scenes, people just stand around talking. Then they walk somewhere. It’s like they can’t do both at the same time.

There are a few nice bits of dialogue but the quality of the acting is generally poor. Most of the cast have been in various other Polonia pictures and some have other credits at a similar level, but nothing notable. And, for all his experience in film-making, Polonia’s direction remains thoroughly pedestrian. Cut to Renee; Renee says line; cut to Ed; Ed says line; cut to Renee, Renee says line... and so on. There’s no flair here, but there’s also no real sense of storytelling or atmosphere. It certainly kills any potential comedy moments stone dead. There’s no verve, no pizzazz, no oomph in any scene in the entire 79 minutes. And if there’s one thing that a film called Bigfoot vs Zombies should have it’s oomph. I don’t think anyone ever actually runs anywhere in the entire film.

A sequence in which Duke Larson drives his Jeep across the farm, shooting at zombies with a pistol, is probably the closest we get to any action - but there again the direction hobbles the potential enjoyment. We have close-ups of Van Sant in his jeep, and cutaways of zombies falling over, but no shot of the Jeep actually driving past zombies as Larson blasts them out of the way.

Yes, budgets (or lack thereof). Yes, shooting schedules. Yes, lots of other limitations on micro-budget indies. But there are plenty of micro-budget indie pictures which manage to stage action sequences, which manage to film exciting scenes, that demonstrate oomph or just where characters, y’know, run.

The film carries a 2014 copyright date, is listed as a 2015 picture in the sales agent's publicity, and eventually appeared on DVD and VOD in February 2016. Mark Polonia's subsequent films have been Sharkenstein, Land Shark and Amityville Exorcism. You've got to give the guy props for coming up with titles (and commissioning great sleeve art).

I can’t say that Polonia’s movie is the worst zombie film out there, not by a long chalk. Neither am I convinced that it’s the worst bigfoot movie ever made. And certainly within that tiny lozenge at the centre of this previously unconsidered Venn diagram, Bigfoot vs Zombies holds its own – primarily because of the absence of any other pictures that tick both boxes.

But I can’t help feeling that this could have been better, without too much additional effort. It honestly doesn’t look like anyone had fun making it. Maybe they did, but that doesn’t come across at all. And with a film like this, if it doesn’t seem like it was fun to make, sadly it’s not much fun to watch.

Still, it hasn’t put me off watching other Polonia Brothers productions. And boy, do I have a lot to choose from.

MJS rating: D+

Saturday, 1 April 2017


Directors: Bart Ruspoli, Freddie Hutton-Mills
Writers: Bart Ruspoli, Freddie Hutton-Mills
Producers: Bart Ruspoli, Freddie Hutton-Mills
Cast: Ed Stoppard, Vas Blackwood, Ray Panthaki
Country: UK
Year of release: 2016
Reviewed from: DVD

Cryptic is an amazingly good film. By which I don’t mean that the quality of the actual movie is staggering. Yes, it’s good – but it’s not perfect and it won’t blow you away. What I mean is that the fact that Cryptic is a good film – is amazing.

Because of who made it. This is the third horror film from the team of Bart Ruspoli and Freddie Hutton-Mills. They also wrote/produced the middling zombie time-waster Devil’s Playground and wrote/produced/directed the ridiculously titled World War Dead: Rise of the Fallen which, in a crowded market-place, manages to stand out as one of the very worst found footage pictures ever made in this country.

World War Dead was actually made after Cryptic but released first. My understanding is that the executive producers approached Ruspoli and Hutton-Mills, asking them to quickly bang out a zombie picture that could tie in to the centenary of the First World War (tasteful…). Can’t really blame the guys for taking the money and running, and the number of people who have suffered through WWD:ROTF must be pretty minimal, but still it’s not a good film to have on your CV. So it’s fortunate for the duo that Cryptic, which is significantly better than Devil’s Playground and infinitely better than the execrable World War Dead, is now out there to be viewed.

This has certainly revised my opinion of BR and FHM. I was genuinely surprised not just by how much I enjoyed Cryptic but by how skilfully it had been constructed. Where World War Dead was utterly devoid of characterisation or plot, Cryptic is a tightly structured narrative which relies almost entirely on characterisation.

So what I really meant to say, back up at top there, was: Cryptic is, amazingly, a good film. All the right words, not necessarily in the right order.

This is a classic gangster set-up: eight people, one room, loyalties and conflicts ebbing and flowing, tension building until someone lets fly with a shooter. There is a brief discussion about how similar the situation is to “that film, the one with dogs in” to acknowledge that the film-makers understand the territory wherein they are currently working.

The location is a crypt underneath a church (in, presumably, London). Our first two characters are ‘Sexy’ Steve Stevens, a dapper and rational crooked banker (Ed Stoppard: Upstairs Downstairs redux, The Frankenstein Chronicles and Dan Dare audio dramas – rocking a very fine set of threads) and ‘Meat’, a nervous and not terribly bright gangster (typically superb performance by the great Vas Blackwood: Lock Stock, Creep, A Room to Die For). Both have been sent to the crypt by a local Mr Big, as have the next to arrive, brothers Jim and John Jonas.

The Jonas Brothers (presumably named as a gag about the soulless boy band from a few years ago, which fairly accurately dates when this script was written) are both psycho idiots. One is slightly less idiotic than the other and one is slightly more psychotic. But you wouldn’t trust either of them to cat-sit for you or to count to 20 without using their fingers. They are played by Philip Barantini (World War Dead, Young High and Dead) and Daniel Feuerriegel (Spartacus TV series, Pacific Rim 2).

Completing the sextette are Cochise (Ray Panthaki: The Feral Generation, 28 Days Later, World War Dead), an arrogant fellow with intricate designs cut into his beard, and his moll Alberta (Sally Leonard). All six have been sent to the crypt with instructions to locate and guard – but not open – a coffin. Their employer will be with them in due course but has been delayed by illness.
It’s a very Beckett-ian set-up and once again Ruspoli and Hutton-Mills acknowledge their debts with the name of the godfather behind all this is. Meat, Cochise and the others are all… waiting for Gordon.

Two other people show up. One is Ben Shafik as Walter, a posh junkie looking for some drugs he stashed in the crypt. (Shafik was in not only World War Dead and Devil’s Playground, but also the Bart Ruspoli short that the latter was based on, The Long Night.) The other is Gordon’s crooked lawyer (Gene Hunt’s brother, Robert Glenister: Spooks, Hustle, Law and Order UK) who knows all the others (except Walter, obviously) though they don’t know him.

Five gangsters, a lawyer, a banker and a junkie.

The coffin, when located, proves to be a curious metal construction, solidly locked. What – or who – is in there? Meat has an idea, because he has invested in a vampire-slaying kit.

Over the course of the film we learn about the gradual decimation of organised crime in the area, a series of gangland murders which some are saying is the work of a vampire, or at least, someone pretending to be a vampire.

Because, as Steve Stevens assiduously points out, there are no such things as vampires.

But then, if there are no such things as vampires, what is in that coffin and why has the frustratingly delayed Gordon assembled this team to guard it. Guard it against what?

As the plot develops – through dialogue but without being talkie – the characters find themselves in groups of two or three, often discussing the others. Unable to find his junk, Walter is getting withdrawal symptoms. And attempts are made to resolve an unpleasant situation caused by the slightly more psycho of the Jonas brothers having recently raped and murdered a 17-year-old girl.

Eventually somebody cracks and lets off a shooter. Which punctuates the dialogue but thankfully doesn’t tip the film into general mayhem. By now the door is locked and no-one is getting out until Gordon lets himself in. And eventually, inevitably, one of the group, in a dark corner of the crypt, unseen by the others, is killed – with subsequent examination revealing two puncture wounds in the neck.

Five gangsters, a lawyer, a banker and a junkie. And one of them is – possibly – a vampire. Well, you’re spoiled for choice there, aren’t you?

It is a measure of how carefully plotted Cryptic’s script is, that each act of this 90-minute film is exactly 30 minutes long, the inciting incidents for acts two and three occurring dead on the half-hour and the hour. You could set your watch by it. And there’s some lovely, lovely dialogue in the script, some real zingers, many of them delivered by Steve Stevens whose masterful calm clearly infuriates the psycho Jonas Brothers. It’s a cracking script that, while it doesn’t unfold in exactly real time, could probably be adapted into a stage play without too much difficulty.

Notwithstanding all the above, the film falls down in two respects. One is the sound mix. As the group fragments, people hold whispered conversations in corners of the crypt. And sometimes the dialogue just isn’t audible – especially when Ray Panthaki is speaking. You can pump up the volume on your telly but you’d better remember to turn it down again before the next round of shouting and shooting.

The other problem is the character of Alberta, whom you may notice I have barely mentioned. And that’s because she doesn’t really have a character. Which is no reflection on the actor. It’s not that she isn’t given stuff to do. There’s a couple of very funny scenes where two male characters discuss matters while, in the background, Alberta struggles to lift a dead body on her own. And when it is revealed that she is from Transnistria there is debate over whether that is where Dracula comes from.

But there’s just no depth to Alberta, a situation heightened by the seven well-rounded characters surrounding her. Even the junkie has more personality. She is defined by her skin-tight, cleavage-flaunting black leather outfit, her flame-red hair and her eastern European accent. None of those elements define character. She might as well be somebody at Comic-Con pretending to be Black Widow. Maybe Ruspoli and Hutton-Mills suffer from the traditional British male writer’s inability to create realistic female characters. Or maybe they just couldn’t work out what to do with her, beyond using her as a sounding board so that Cochise doesn’t have to talk to himself.

Those cryptic, whispering corners – and indeed the rest of this small but adroitly used set – come courtesy of top production designer Caroline Story (The Seasoning House, Vampire Diary, Its Walls Were Blood). The excellent hair and make-up is by Emma Slater whose British horror CV includes The Borderlands, Stormhouse, Evil Never Dies, Blood Moon, World War Dead, The Rezort and 47 Meters Down). There’s some fine cinematography by Sara Deane (The Horror of the Dolls, World War Dead) and a sympathetic score by Emma Fox. But I think what really stands out is the costume design (not least Ed Stoppard’s terrific coat, which I craved throughout the entire film) courtesy of Raquel Azevedo (The Seasoning House, Truth or Dare, Scar Tissue). It’s somewhat ironic that a movie with so many female department heads should fall down so badly in its non-characterisation of the only woman on screen (a big fat zero on the Bechdel test here).

Ruspoli and Hutton-Mills, whose other feature was prison drama Screwed, are currently in post on sci-fi picture Genesis, which uses many of the same cast and crew as Cryptic. The website for their Next Level Films company says their fourth feature will be called Dark Web, but that’s out of date – it was a comedy thriller that got shelved when they were unexpectedly asked to make World War Dead.

Shot in 2014, Cryptic was released on UK DVD in February 2016 but doesn’t seem to have appeared anywhere else yet. The IMDB lists Chinese and South African releases in September 2014 which we can take with a pinch of salt.

My expectations when I picked up this DVD were low, which only heightened my delight when Cryptic turned out to be such a whip-smart, carefully structured slice of gangster/vampire cinema. It’s a long, long way from the over-the-top bullets’n’bloodsuckers action of From Dusk Till Dawn or Dead Cert. Give it a spin and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

MJS rating: A-

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Di Gal Bite Mi

Director: Jc Money
Writer: Jc Money
Producer: Jc Money
Cast: Jc Money, Sharan B, Roll Out
Country: UK
Year of release: 2013
Reviewed from: YouTube

When I came across – quite by chance – this amateur, feature-length, British vampire movie I thought I had found something completely unknown and unrecorded. I subsequently discovered a review on specialist bloodsucker website Taliesin Meets the Vampires but this is still a staggeringly obscure film. There’s no IMDB page, no mention of this anywhere except YouTube, plus that one review and now this one.

In North London, a seductive young woman is actually a vampire, preying on flirtatious, cocksure men. A young man whose friend was killed by the vampire is told by his grandmother (who raised him) the truth about what happened to his parents. He always believed they left when he was eight but actually they were killed by vampires, sacrificing themselves to save their baby (shades of Harry Potter). Grandma says the man who can tell him about vampires is a wheeler-dealing Rastafarian who wears a permanent oxygen mask and reads from (I assume) the Holy Piby. At the end of the film, our hero and a friend discover the house where the vampire sleeps, sneak in and destroy her with a combination of stake through the heart and ripping down the curtains to let the sunlight in.

On an objective level, the film is solidly amateur. Camera work is wobbly and handheld with no real attempt at grading or anything fancy like that. There are lots of characters, many in only one scene. Actors wear their own clothes, improvise their dialogue, and for the most part can't act. Outside scenes are shot guerrilla-style so that quite a few people are in this movie without realising it. The whole thing is either a home movie or a dogme masterpiece – you decide.

But listen, I absolutely don’t care about the lack of basic film-making elements like script, acting, make-up or ‘vampire fang effects that weren’t bought at Poundland’. Di Gal Bite Mi has one big thing going for it, which makes it (I believe) unique in the history of British horror cinema, and the clue is in the title. Under the Shadow was in Persian, The Passing was in Welsh, and this, my friend, is a British horror movie with dialogue in Jamaican Patois.

Filmed in, by, among and for the African-Caribbean community in North London, most of the film is delivered in a Patois – and with accents – so impenetrable to this white Midlander as to be effectively unintelligible. But not to worry because the film is subtitled. Admittedly the subtitles have their own curious take on grammar and syntax, and frustratingly they stop 15 minutes from the end of this 69-minute feature (although by then you’ll have the gist of what’s happening), but nevertheless they make the narrative (such as it is) understandable. And hence they make this film hugely enjoyable.

Some characters do speak more clearly and there are a few white folks, notably a young (Polish?) woman who has a scene where she implores the vampire to come and bite her. She is fed up with her miserable life and wants to become a glamorous immortal. However, a mysterious male voice explains that the vampire (spelled ‘vampier’ throughout the film) only ever bites men. Thirty years ago, she was wronged by a man who cheated on her, and now she returns every three decades to take revenge on arrogant, sexist men. (This of course slightly contradicts the bit about that guy’s parents being killed by vampires, although to be fair his grandma doesn’t say it was this vampire who killed them, just a vampire).

There is a (literally) running gag about a Rasta who sees his friend killed in the prologue, runs off – and keeps running. Every so often we cut to shots of him running along assorted pavements, and characters sometimes mention that they saw a scared Rasta-man haring along the road. Eventually, as the final gag of a light-hearted movie, he reaches Manchester(!) where he sees another vampire and starts running back down south again.

Apart from the above and a couple of vampire attack scenes – surprisingly well-shot with judicious use of fake blood – most of the rest of the film is simply two or more characters discussing the recent vampire attacks. There’s not really what you might call narrative development.

But none of that matters a jot. This is something strange and special. Here we have a horror film, made by people with a basic awareness of the standard genre tropes, but set within a distinctive community: genuine, indigenous black British horror film-making. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Notwithstanding that this is a horror-fantasy romp, this film reflects the community where it’s set and where it was made in a genuine, unforced way. This is not some right-on, Lottery-funded, serious exploration of London Jamaicans by a pretentious, if well-meaning, film school graduate. This is real. This one movie can tell external audiences far more about this community than a dozen serious dramas with budgets and trained actors and proper equipment – and it does so precisely because it was not made for external audiences.

What Di Gal Bite Mi reminds me of most is Nollywood. Though clearly British – and identified on YouTube as Jamaican (which it is, in an ex-pat sort of way) – this feels very much like a West African film. There is the same focus on reflecting the real lives of the audience, but within a fantastic storyline full of action, thrills and laughs. There is the same defiant determination to simply not worry about limitations or restrictions, to just plough ahead and make the film. But whereas such determination in a European or North American context can often be self-indulgent, this is not a self-indulgent film. This movie has been made to be seen. It has been made for audiences. Audiences beyond the amateur actors on screen and their immediate friends and families, but audiences like these actors, who identify with the characters, the settings, the attitudes, the dialogue, the jokes, the sex, the beliefs, the haircuts.

If you enjoy Nollywood films that were never meant to be seen outside of Nigeria, if you love old Mexploitation movies that were never expected to play North of Guadalajara, if you get a genuine thrill from discovering some Thai or Filipino obscurity that has never been subbed or dubbed into English, if you somehow combine this international eclecticism with a determination to seek out the most obscure and esoteric elements of 21st century British horror - so if you're me, basically - then you will derive great pleasure from watching Di Gal Bite Mi.

The man behind this movie is Jc Money whose YouTube channel is full of music videos, short films, animation, trailers and a couple of other features, all produced under the banner of Wah Gwan Family Entertainment (I don't speak Patois but even I know what 'Wah gwan?' means). His ‘ghetto action movie’ Murder Job and ‘ghetto movie’ 135 D Street were posted to YouTube in April 2013 and January 2014 respectively; Di Gal Bite Mi was posted between them in July 2013.

Money is a one-man band: writing, directing, producing, photographing and editing as well as playing the nominal hero whose gran sends him on a quest that ends in the eventual destruction of the vampire. Judging by the order of the cast list, in which everyone uses either a single name or a nickname, I would guess that Sharan B plays the vampire (under a selection of wigs) and Roll Out is probably the running Rasta-man.

While it’s pretty much impossible to google anyone involved in this film – and they’re certainly not on the old IMDB! – I have managed to dig up a little bit of info on Jc Money, or Devon Spence to use his real name. His primary interest is music: he studied music engineering at CONEL (The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London) and has been performing since 1995. When Jamaican dancehall stars visit London he sometimes gets support gigs and has appeared on bills with the likes of Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Mavado. As a film-maker, Money is entirely self-taught. He watched other people making videos and hence learned how to shoot and edit, leading eventually to his three (so far) feature-length films.

I was absolutely amazed and delighted to discover Di Gal Bite Mi and can definitely recommend it for anyone who is (a) open-minded and (b) bored with sitting through formulaic horror films.

If you want something different, try a vampire with a reggae beat.

MJS rating: B+

Monday, 13 March 2017

interview: Grant McPhee

After I reviewed arty Scottish vampire chiller Night Kaleidoscope, director/producer Grant McPhee very kindly answered a few questions by email.

In what way do you consider Night Kaleidoscope to be ‘punk rock cinema’?
"It's more an attitude. We took the  'don't need permission' and DIY approach from punk, rather than the spikey haired three-chord version. And I think that's an attitude that every indie filmmaker should take. Just get out there and do it.

"Additionally, it was a pretty rocky production. I had fantastic production support. I like controlled chaos, so there is always a strong semblance of structure - just with an ability to improvise within that. Unfortunately everything that could go wrong went wrong and it became very much an adapt-to-survive approach. All very seat of your pants. There was no script as such. I was shooting a feature for a friend that finished on the Saturday, we filmed on the Monday and I went onto another feature the following Monday. Just picking up a camera and making it up - which you can tell in a fair few places! It's more an attitude of production - as the film is really a bit prog rock! You can achieve special things working this way, but it does not always work out and what you gain in places you lose in others."

Why has it taken three years to be released?
“Due to the shear amount of other work I had on, the film just sat on the shelf. I just had no time to look at it, or even think about it until I could squeeze in one day in 2015 for a pickup. My day job was taking about 15 hours a day and I had a documentary to finish - we had a TV and large festival slot for that but had not actually finished the film, so every second was taken up. A few days without sleep.

"Without knowing what we had in the can we managed another pickup at the end of 2016, for what we assumed was needed. It was edited fairly sporadically from mid 2016 as our editor had to work on it in between jobs. This was the first time we really saw it, and realised we needed an extra couple of scenes. Again it went a bit 'fly by the seat of your pants' and I ended up covering my hotel room in tinfoil, getting Patrick, Jason and Kitty around and throwing blood all over the place. Not sure what the other guests made of that, but we had no complaints. So, although it was started a long time ago it was only put together very quickly towards the end.

"There was actually very little post production work done. Nearly all the images were made in camera. I just held a couple of pieces of glass at angles in front of the camera. One with food dye on it and the other to reflect or project images onto it. The only real bit of post was a shot of eyes turning white."

How satisfied are you with the way that the film turned out?
“In some respects it's amazing there is a film there. But really nobody outside of your friends or other filmmakers care how little time a film took to make, or how small the budget was. Films only stand on how good they are.

"The film is what I wanted to make; in that respect I'm happy. Overall I just wanted to try something different whether it was a failure or not. Some of it worked and some, well not as much. Mainly not having a story! I think you're certainly right about the repetition, though I was very keen on a visual art film with poetic flourishes. I just maybe put a bit too many in! But I'd rather have a film that got one star where we'd tried something that was different than three stars for something that's like every other film.

"I just have no interest to try and copy anyone, a style or a current genre. And if that means some people hate a film, I'm fine with that! I can see where the flaws are, but that's also something I'm happy with. it's a bit more human. People these days are not allowed to make mistakes and learn. Things are too neat and shiny. Rough edges can be good. I'm most satisfied with what I've learned. That's the way to progress. I'm not afraid of failure, what you learn from it is important to your next movie."

What exactly is a ‘Digital Imaging Technician’?
"Ha, a Digital Imaging Technician - also known as a DIT is a geeky guy who sits next to a DoP at a monitor and manipulates the image to suit the DP's intended look."

What is Tartan Features?
"Tartan Features is part of Year Zero Filmmaking. It's a bit like an indie record label where a collective of film-makers make micro budget feature films that share a certain vision. We've made about 13 so far - it's open to anyone in the world. It just happens to have started in Scotland but you don't have to be from there. We've had a few good successes. One film allowed the director to go on to have a well-funded next feature. At its heart it's just people who get up from their seats and make a film, help grow an industry and learn. Here's a link (click on the pictures for more info on each film) -"

What’s next for you?
"I'm a week away from shooting a new feature. This time something very different  It has a story for starters. People do and say things without 15 minutes of trippy visuals (only five). We're taking two weeks to make it, the budget is more, we're paying everyone. We've got a great cast, script and crew, and I'm very excited. It's a little like Blood on Satan's Claw, Picnic at Hanging Rock and less Night Kaleidoscope. You'll definitely know it's one of my films though. I'll tell you all about it soon!"

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Night Kaleidoscope

Director: Grant McPhee
Writers: Chris Purnell, Megan Gretchen
Producer: Grant McPhee
Cast: Patrick O’Brien, Mariel McAllan, Kitty Colquhoun
Country: UK
Year of release: 2017
Reviewed from: online screener

This ultra-stylish vampire/cop feature scores props from the start by restricting its opening titles to the first 50 seconds. Other film-makers please take note. We don’t want to sit through four minutes of titles with a separate screen for every single cast member, none of whom we’ve ever heard of. Do that for your premiere/cast+crew screening if you must, but recut the opening before anyone else sees it.

One thing which did occur to me during those 50 seconds: ‘Tartan Films presents’. Oh, it’s a Scottish production. That’s fine but, hang on, what do I do if/when Scotland becomes independent? Should I continue to regard Scottish horror films as British horror films? Not really thought about that before. Just geographically, Scotland can’t stop being part of Britain. That’s the name of the island that the English, the Scots and the Welsh all live on (except for folk on Anglesey, the Isle of Wight, the Scilly Isles and all the little Hebrides/Orkneys bits and bobs up north, obviously). But should cinema be defined geographically? The Dead was filmed in Africa, The Dead 2 in India, My Little Eye in Nova Scotia, Grave Matters in the Los Angeles, Dog Soldiers in Luxembourg and South of Sanity in Antarctica. They’re all of them ‘British films’.

I may be getting off track here.

So: Night Kaleidoscope. This is a very artistic, arty movie. It is not a narrative movie. There’s probably no more than about 15 minutes of actual story here; quarter of an hour tops of people actually doing and saying stuff. If you come expecting a gripping storyline, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

In a nutshell (so far as I can work out), there’s a guy in a sheepskin jacket who is psychic (at least, when he’s high) who helps a police detective investigate murders. He has a toke and sees visions of what happened. There’s a new killer in town, but it’s someone (or something) different. A vampire. Actually two. A dominant female vampire and her male acolyte. Sheepskin jacket guy teams up with a young woman (who I think may have lost her boyfriend to the vampires). He captures the male vampire and holds him prisoner in a bathtub. Then after that it kind of all gets a bit fuzzy. There’s some Molotov cocktails (prepared but unused). There’s a locket. I’m honestly not sure how it all ends.

But this isn’t about story. Or character. It’s about imagery.

After those 50 seconds, there’s a trippy, psychedelic, drug-induced montage. Then another one. Then another. By now we’re 12 minutes in and I’m thinking: is this film going to be nothing but trippy montages?

As it turns out: yes. Pretty much.

Actual dialogue scenes are few, far between and consistently brief. Then we’re into another montage. And don’t get me wrong: these trippy montages are terrific. The handheld photography and fast editing and extensive post-production work, all overlaid with a 1980s-style score, creates magical sequences of two to three minutes. Despite being set in an ugly, urban world where everything is made of granite or concrete, where locations look better at night only because you can see less of the crap they’re covered in, nevertheless this is a film full of colour. Not vibrant colour; it’s muted but it’s more than grey. The colour twists and turns as the camera moves. Night Kaleidoscope is the perfect title for this film.

Any one of these montages, dropped into another picture, would be a highlight of the movie. But I’d be failing in my duty as a reviewer if I didn’t point out that, one after another after another, interrupted by ‘scenes’ which are often little more than a couple of lines of dialogue and a hefty pause, all these montages get a bit much. Let’s put it this way. I like mayonnaise. Everyone likes mayonnaise. There isn’t a foodstuff on the planet that can’t be improved with a dab of mayo. But the keyword here is ‘dab’. You wouldn’t want to just eat a jar of mayonnaise. Even if you occasionally nibbled on a biscuit between spoonfuls, you’d rapidly get sick of it.

And I’ve got to say that I did start to get bored of the endless succession of trippy montages. By the end of the first act (or at least, half an hour into this 82-minute movie; I’m not sure something this minimalist can be said to have acts per se) the technique had lost its initial impact and was just becoming repetitive, soporific, even somewhat tedious. It’s simply too much.

Bit of dialogue. Pause. Bit more dialogue. Then in comes the music. An electronic snare drum in a slow 2/4 rhythm, then a synth melody so subtle it’s basically just a repeated loop of rising and falling tone. Every single time. All the music sounds like the intro to a Blue Nile song. And listen, I absolutely freaking love The Blue Nile; they’re one of my favourite bands. But if they recorded an 82-minute instrumental album, I’m not sure I’d be so keen on it. Even if there was an accompanying feature-length video. With vampires.

All the above notwithstanding, this is an extraordinary film. Visual poetry. With some quite gruesome and nasty gory bits in several of the montage sequences. I’m criticising Grant McPhee’s film for achieving precisely what it set out to do, for which I feel a bit bad.

Eventually I twigged what I was watching, and it’s this: Night Kaleidoscope is what you would get if Jean Rollin had directed Trainspotting. And once I understood that it was a Scottish Rollinade, I was able to relax a bit (though I did still find my attention frequently wandering, by that point an almost Pavlovian response to yet another synth snare drum intro).

Here’s what it says in the press release I was sent along with the screener. (Film-makers please note: I very much appreciate press releases, or just good website content, that can contextualise your work. But I usually read them after watching the film because I like to view things with an open mind.) Anyway, it says: “Bridging a fine line between the trashy 70s Euro Horror of Jess Franco, the British Art-House miasma of Nicholas Roeg and the underground experiments of Kenneth Anger Night Kaleidoscope manages to become a unique film of its own.” And then it says: “The film is a treat for the eyes and ears – trippy, psychedelic imagery flashing against a pumping 80s synth rock score – story and logic come secondary to atmosphere and terror, a dreamy nightmare captured on film.”

And I cannae really disagree wi’ any o’ tha'!

What I do disagree with is the headline ‘PUNK ROCK CINEMA!’ and the line “maintains a … punk rock attitude throughout”. If there’s one thing this doesn’t feel like, it’s punk rock. It’s about as punk rock as, well, The Blue Nile.

It may have been shot in a week (in 2014 under the curious title Land of Sunshine), but it has then spent the best part of three years being edited and graded and scored and colour-corrected and flimflammed and zimzammed and all the other digital malarkey that film-makers do in post nowadays. This is a film where every frame has been carefully selected and manipulated to create a specific, deliberate, aesthetic, audiovisual impression. It ain’t two chords and a pair of bondage trousers. I can kind of see what Grant McPhee means, and I have no doubt that he knows his musical chops, his previous feature Big Gold Dream being a documentary about post-punk bands like The Scars and The Jesus and Mary Chain. But some of us are old enough to remember real punk.

I mean, I don’t. I don't actually remember it because I was eight and living in a little village in south Nottinghamshire, a long, lomg way from the 100 Club. But I’m old enough to potentially remember it, had I been aware of it at the time. Which I was wasn’t. Jesus, I was barely aware of Top of the Pops.

Before Big Gold Dream, McPhee’s debut feature was Sarah’s Room aka To Here Knows When, a psychological drama three-hander. The reviews I’ve read of this seem to exactly describe Night Kaleidoscope (except without the vampires), suggesting that McPhee is establishing a distinctive auteur-ial style. Before that he made a bunch of horror shorts. He has also done a lot of cinematography over the years, including his own features and also a lost British horror film, Christmas Hear Kids directed by this film's co-writer Chris Purnell. Shot in 2012 and premiered in 2014, that’s been in the MIA appendix to my British horror masterlist for a few years now. I wonder whatever happened to it.

In terms of actually paying the rent, McPhee does small jobs on big projects, as camera assistant or clapper loader or (increasingly) digital imaging technician. His IMDB page includes Trainspotting 2, Game of Thrones, The Bad Education Movie, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Sunshine on Leith, Cloud Atlas, World War Z and a bunch of BHR titles: Let Us Prey, Under the Skin, Outpost: Black Sun, Citadel, The Wicker Tree, The Awakening, Book of Blood and Doomsday. Also Jim Davidson: The Devil Rides Out – Live (a lesser known Dennis Wheatley adaptation, that one) and Eating with Ronnie Corbett.

Thing is: I don’t know what a digital imaging technician actually does. But if ever a film looks like it was made by a digital imaging technician, it’s Night Kaleidoscope.

The small cast are excellent. The psychic guy in the sheepskin jacket is played Patrick O’Brien who has a widow’s peak and a Dan Dare jaw. Mariel McAllan is his associate. The vampires are corporate voice-over queen Kitty Colquhoun and Gareth Morrison (Outpost 2 and 3). Craig-James Moncur as the detective and Robert Williamson as a drug dealer provide impressive support. Alec Cheer is credited with the music; Ben McKinstrie with the editing; Eve Murray with the production design.

Often I find that I enjoy a film while I’m watching it but then, as I think on it more carefully while drafting a review, I find myself becoming less enamoured. Night Kaleidoscope is the opposite. While watching the film I found myself at times underwhelmed and distracted, but re-evaluating it through the process of writing these 1,700 words or so, I now appreciate it more and have realised that I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I did.

Night Kaleidoscope was released on VOD, DVD and – why not? – VHS in March 2017.

MJS rating: B+