Sunday, 26 July 2020

Split Second

Cast: Rutger Hauer, Kim Cattrall, and Alastair Duncan

Director: Tony Maylam   

90 minutes (18) 1992
101 Films Blu-ray region B  
[Released 27th July]

Rating: 7/10
Review by Steven Hampton   

Set in 2008, sci-fi monster-movie Split Second remains, in many ways, a grimly British version of Predator 2 (1990), genre-spliced with Blade Runner (1982), not least because of the presence of Rutger Hauer, here playing an anguished and paranoid - and probably psychic - super-cop named Harley Stone. The supporting cast alone are more than sufficient to win this effort cult status. There’s Ian Dury who runs Jay Jay’s strip-club, Pete Postlethwaite (The Last Of The Mohicans, Alien 3) as police squad senior Paulsen, and RSC actor Alun Armstrong is good fun as Stone’s shouty boss Thrasher. The hero’s new partner is detective Dick Durkin (Alastair Duncan, credited as Neil Duncan), supposedly providing the brains to match Stone’s brawn.

At the city necropolis, Stone meets his murdered partner’s widow Michelle (Kim Cattrall). Flooded by rising sea levels, London crumples under the pressure of climate change, and is besieged by plague rats, while Stone and Durkin hunt a serial killer, that appears with deadly efficiency, and evades capture or even pursuit. Like an inhuman stalker with claws and fangs, this powerful monster has apparently supernatural powers. “The only thing we know for sure is that he’s not a vegetarian.” The slayer rips through metal doors, leaves extremely bloody murder scenes daubed with occultist symbols, and the creature’s victims get their hearts torn out.

Atmospheric locations are furnished messily, with a flourish of gothic lighting evoking the retro styled grunge of disused futurism previously on display in Morton and Jankel’s iconic TV-movie Max Headroom (1985). The double-act of Stone and Durkin form a smart parody of chalk ‘n’ cheese partnerships in American buddy-movie traditions, that resulted from the likes of 48 HRS (1982), and Lethal Weapon (1987). As a title, Split Second is a clever pun concealing thematic resonance within its nest of spoofy off-handed charm. The hasty and heavily-armed showdown against the fast-moving beast, is dramatically staged in an abandoned Underground station, where the director, Tony Maylam (The Burning, 1981), was helped by Ian Sharp (Who Dares Wins), to finish off this production with plenty of B-movie mayhem.

101 Films ‘Black Label’ edition has a second Blu-ray disc with a Japanese version of Split Second in standard-definition video format. Extras include interviews:
  • Great Big Bloody Guns! - producer Laura Gregory with Alastair (Neil) Duncan (27 mins.)
  • Call Me Mr Snips! - composer Stephen Parsons (22 mins.)
  • Stay in Line! - producer Laurie Borg (23 mins.)
  • More Blood! - creature effects designer Cliff Wallace (32 mins.)
  • Shoot Everything! - cinematographer Clive Tickner (19 mins.)
There’s also a featurette of interviews with Hauer, Cattrall, Duncan, and others (6 mins), some behind-the-scenes clips, deleted scenes, promo adverts, and trailers.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020


Cast: Peter Weller, Jennifer Rubin, and Roy Dupuis     

Director: Christian Duguay    

108 minutes (18) 1995
101 Films 
Blu-ray region B  
[Released 25th May]

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary  

Norman McLaren’s classic animated short-film of pixilation, Neighbours (1952), helped to establish the essentially critical tone of many notable anti-war movies. With its narrative about escalation, from dispute and confrontation to high levels of increasing violence and brutality, this dramatic sketch from Canada’s national film board, might be viewed as the vital spark for multi-cultural protests about Vietnam, and even an influence on CND. In a further controversy, McLaren’s animation won an Academy award for documentary short. After those sneaky killing-machines of James Cameron’s SF action-thriller Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), and its low-budget imitators, Screamers was based upon Philip K. Dick’s story, Second Variety (1953), and obviously continued promoting the staunchly accordant message of Neighbours.

In the 21st century, on planet Sirius 6B, a 10-year global war has been fought without using nukes. An outpost chief salvages a priority message from enemy forces calling for peace negotiations. Despite grim cynicism, official armistice talks are considered and so Alliance bunker chief Joe (Peter Weller, RoboCop, Naked Lunch) accepts the challenging invitation and travels to meet corporate NEB command. Along the way, the expedition is attacked by fast-moving mole-bots ‘autonomous mobile swords’, that still emerge from an automated underground factory, because “No-one’s been down there since they first pushed the button and ran like hell.” Screamers concerns the evolution of military tech and the horrifying prospects of weaponised A.I., with upgrades proliferating, including droid-boy ‘David’, specially designed to infiltrate troop deployments in a dangerous world where “things ain’t what they used to be”, including orphaned refugees.

Joe meets Hansen (Jennifer Rubin) who’s averse to gunplay, and simply wants to escape off-world. Paranoia ramps up with fatal consequences from mistaken identities in a trust-free zone of Jekyll ‘n’ Hyde character interactions. Ultimate night-fighting against hordes of electric ‘children’ precedes a string of final twists in a human-versus-machine conflict. Digital visuals enhance locations, and action scenes on gritty industrial sites, including a refinery, while filming sequences inside the roof of Montreal’s Olympic stadium provides a vast set which adds great production values to this movie’s rather modest budget. Also worthy of note, the Chiodo brothers provide appealing stop-motion effects for the quirky robots.

While it’s possible to nit-pick and find significant faults with basic plot-lines in Screamers, and some of the obvious flaws are sometimes confusing with sadly illogical developments and curiously intentional ambiguities, there can be little doubt about the crucial sincerity of SF meanings. Peaceful co-operation is the only route forward, especially for interstellar colonisation. This moderately successful cyber-horror was scripted by Dan O’Bannon, and co-writer Miguel Tejada-Flores (screenwriter of Brian Yuzna’s robot-dog movie Rottweiler, 2004), who - with producer Tom Berry - extracted a second movie from the original PKD source, for their belated sequel, Screamers 2: The Hunting (2009), directed by Sheldon Wilson, maker of average yet creepy shockers, Shallow Ground (2004), and Kaw (2007).

Following an 'as you know...' recap, and video reportage, this offers a homage to James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), with a paramilitary starship on an action-replay rescue mission to the mining planet, Sirius 6B, where runaway mecha threatens the few survivors of the earlier movie’s warfare. Team leaders are played by genre TV’s Greg Bryk (ReGenesis), and Gina Holden (Flash Gordon, Blood Ties). Veteran star Lance Henriksen, tries to bring something worthwhile to his supporting role, but the space squad don’t locate his bunker hide-out until the last half-hour and, by then, it’s really too late to salvage entertainment value or narrative significance from this unabashed retread of genre B-movie conventions, not helped by Z-grade plotting and barely workmanlike direction.

Screamers made a stronger point about machine evolution as the key product of militarism, but the robots that are first encountered here are stuck in that hyperactive leaping-mole gear, and the ‘androids’ remain hidden, just so the original movie’s story-arc can be reproduced (keep that word in mind, so you can easily guess the picture’s closing twist). Most of the main cast rarely perform well enough to recite their lines and emote at the same time. Even the usually dependable Henriksen coasts along on past experience, so this sadly tedious sci-fi horror ends just where it should have begun.

Disc extras include:

  • Northern Frights - Christian Duguay interview
  • Orchestrating The Future - Tom Berry interview
  • More Screamer Than Human - Miguel Tajada-Flores interview
  • From Runaway To Space - Jennifer Rubin interview

Wednesday, 13 May 2020


Cast: Chris Evans, Ed Harris, and Tilda Swinton   

Director: Bong Joon-ho   

126 minutes (15) 2013
Lions Gate Blu-ray region B  
[Released 25th May]

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary  

Adapted from Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige (first published 1982; English version The Escape, 2014), this sci-fi adventure by Korean director Bong Joon-ho (monster movie The Host, Oscar-winner Parasite) might have been rather weird art-house fare. Instead we get an exciting bundle of hugely enjoyable imaginative action and spectacular thrills, combined with dry black-comedy showcasing several oddly compelling characters. Apart from recalling several movies also set on rails, like Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train (1985), originally written by Akira Kurosawa, perhaps the most notable genre influence on Snowpiercer, as a post-apocalypse drama about a quirkily 'futuristic' society in a frozen landscape, is Robert Altman’s Quintet (1979), starring Paul Newman.  

The introduction laments how a ‘CW-7’ solution to climate change only results in an ice-bound planet. Now it’s 2031 on the Rattling Ark where non-stop travel pays “homage to the Sacred Engine” as Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a desperate rebellion against rationing for lowly survivors trapped in filthy overcrowded slums of the refuge train’s tail section, while parasitic rulers horde mankind’s final resources in ultimate luxury in many forward carriages. Being in constant motion, even heroically inclined stereotypes find that human memory fades, and the poor have accepted their fate, until several daring questions are asked. Little boy Timmy is taken away by armed security, and this kidnapping prompts a revolution. Gilliam (John Hurt) represents the spirit of resistance, while on the other side, Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton, gamely doing a Yorkshire accent), champions the tyranny of elitism.

The ultra-violence of revolt kicks off just in time for the Snowpiercer’s 18th anniversary, when Curtis proves that bullying police have no bullets in their guns. Advancing through one railway carriage at a time, pockets of social privilege and exclusivity are revealed in zones of hellish discovery where tunnel-darkness is lit only by fire. The rebels cling to a forlorn hope that if “we control the water, we control the negotiation” but not everything here is what it seems. Into this sustainable and ecologically balanced microcosm, where surrealist wonders of greenhouse, aquarium, and school-room, co-exist with many other box-cars, serving every ironic or decadent need from sauna to disco, iconic fanatic Curtis and his equally frantic supporters challenge the status quo that has stagnated into gross normality, while the engine rumbles on through graveyard cities, apparently without any hope.

With fairy-tale ambiguity exploring class warfare, the train’s designer and chief driver is ‘benevolent’ dictator and divinely ‘merciful’ Wilford (Ed Harris, great as ever), happily inviting surviving hero Curtis to a melodramatic dinner, where his Bond style villainy can explain this hideous master-plan, while former cannibal Curtis is forced to admit: “I know that babies taste best.” Humanity is revealed as both brutal curse and supreme promise, primed for an exploding tragedy like a stylised disaster movie emerging from a time-capsule chrysalis. As profoundly farcical, amusingly compromised, socio-political allegory of holocaust absurdity, Snowpiercer offers a stark and timely reminder, albeit buried in grimly vicarious chills of 'lockdown' isolationism and privileged exclusivity, that we all have really wasted most of the last 20 years.

Friday, 8 May 2020


Cast: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, and Vincent Colombe  

Director: Coralie Fargeat   

108 minutes (18) 2017
Second Sight 
Blu-ray region B  
[Released 11th May]

Rating: 7/10
Review by Steven Hampton

A French action-horror with some dialogue in English, Revenge is the feature debut from writer-director Coralie Fargeat. Clearly wealthy Richard (Belgian TV actor Kevin Janssens) brings his blonde mistress, Jennifer (Matilda Lutz, Rings) to a remote house in the desert. 

At first, Jen seems like a flirty Lolita fantasy but the arrival of boozed-up rednecks Dimitri and Stan disrupts the couple’s plans. Tensions increase during a morning of intimidation, and creepy insults, ending with rape. After she runs away, Jen is left for dead by all three men.  

The notorious I Spit On Your Grave franchise an obvious point of reference for this graphically violent and stylish thriller - but, perhaps wisely, there are no lingering images of the rape. At its heart is a spirited performance from Italian star Lutz, suffering through a nightmarish ordeal, yet emerging into powerful vigilante heroism after surviving mortal terrors and the searing agony of severe injury, with an effective determination seemingly made possible from eating a dose of peyote.

Shot on Moroccan locations, beautifully presented throughout by its excellent widescreen cinematography, the intensity of vivid hallucinations, and Jen’s grisly dreams, all adds up to a heavyweight genre appeal for her phoenix-like rise (complete with a bird image that is branded across her belly) from victim to slayer. Unlike similar American movies of this type, Revenge owes a debt (which is paid back in full) to European cinema developments surrounding millennial shockers of the ‘new French extreme’, particularly Alexandre Aja’s Switchblade Romance (aka: High Tension, 2003), and Moreau and Palud’s Them (2006), but Revenge deftly avoids the usual soul-crushing nihilism of many comparable slasher movies. There is plenty of genuinely artistic talent displayed here, on both sides of the camera.

Jen eventually adopts a bandit-babe guise for a lengthy and suspenseful finale, that soon follows time-honoured traditions of The Most Dangerous Game (1932), and its numerous imitators, and wild westerns like Hannie Caulder (1971), yet without any gun-training for the homicidal heroine. When this movie promotes feminism with all the timelessness of a modern fable, about ‘a woman scorned’, wreaking a savage vengeance upon hunters who are now hunted targets, its outcome is not in doubt. Despite an element of predictability, the full extent of its bloodily theatrical showdown is new movie-making of richly dramatic greatness.

Disc extras:
  • Out For Blood - interview with Coralie Fargeat and Matilda Lutz (45 minutes)
  • The Coward - interview with actor Guillaume Bouchede
  • Fairy Tale Violence - interview with cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert
  • Death Notes - interview with composer Robin Coudert
  • Commentary track by Kat Ellinger

Tuesday, 5 May 2020


Cast: Sonia Braga, Udo Kier, and Barbara Colen

Directors: Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho

131 minutes (18) 2019
MUBI Blu-ray region B

Rating: 7/10 
Review by Donald Morefield

Approaching a quiet village in near-future Brazil, a tanker lorry drives over empty coffins accidentally strewn along the road. The vehicle brings essential water to Bacurau, where a failure of the piped supply has alarmed the villagers. Returning home, Teresa (Barbara Colen) arrives in Bacurau for the funeral of respected Carmelita. A celebratory procession for the deceased matriarch ends with startling burial in a watery grave. Next day, mayor Tony Jr appears to campaign for re-election but, at first, nobody turns out to see or hear him as complaints fester in response to his sleazy corruption. Dr Domingas (Sonia Braga) confronts him about the kidnapping of a young woman.

Later, a UFO style drone tracks local delivery biker. Horses escape from the nearby farm and introduce further mystery to rapidly expanding scenarios about predatory capitalism. With improv singing, the local guitarist insults spying visitors. Michael (Udo Kier) heads a group of assorted outsiders plotting a secret man-hunting mission against villagers. They are sporty, but so unsporting in their approach to criminal assaults, it’s a crowd-pleasing twist when the inhabitants of Bacurau rise up to defend their territory.   

Jury Prize-winner at last year’s Cannes festival Bacurau (Portuguese for ‘nighthawk’), a prime example of foreign-language sci-fi, is rarely good at portrayals of quirky futurism, but due to socio-political differences and cultural perspectives, this sometimes generates a compellingly weird sense of otherness via surrealistic tendencies and several very odd, or offbeat, directorial choices and winningly quasi-satirical narrative. 

Here, world cinema embraces weird western themes explored in a mix of Portuguese and English dialogue by sundry characters often intended to be upended stereotypes. ‘Trigger King’ Pacote is the village’s favourite video-star outlaw. For the movie’s action-packed climax, local bandit Lunga (Silvero Pereira) returns to help the village with defence against gringo mercenaries.

After a child is murdered, violence ramps up, into a siege with machine guns and satellite surveillance. The eclectic score includes synth music ‘Night’ by John Carpenter. This curio blends generic elements of commercial Hollywood pictures with wittily subversive political critiques of Brazilian history. Despite its desert setting, any fans of swampy movies like Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort (1981), and John Woo’s Hard Target (1993), should enjoy this unique central inversion displaying cowboys ‘n’ indians parodies as dystopian motifs.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Phase IV

Cast: Nigel Davenport, Michael Murphy, and Lynne Frederick  

Director: Saul Bass   

84 minutes (12) 1974
101 Films Black Label
Blu-ray region B  
[Released 6th April]

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary  

In Frank Sinatra’s Oscar-winning song High Hopes, for comedy movie A Hole In The Head (1959), the lyrics slyly comment: “Everyone knows an ant can’t/ Move a rubber-tree plant”. It is quoted here because the prodigious ability, and capacity for doing work, of a hive-mind is relevant to this movie’s exploration of a confrontation between the ants and humanity. Partly influenced by iconic genre movies, Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Phase IV is very different to most other sci-fi monster movies. Unlike the atomic giants in Them! (1954), the creatures in this bleak little chiller are only normal-sized insects. Unlike creepy Martians seen in The War Of The Worlds (1953), the ‘invaders’ of mankind’s planet are already here, but with a new social structure and prior ancestral claim to ruling the Earth. Essentially, ants in Phase IV are sinister ‘aliens’ in comparison to and competition with 20th-century human culture.

After a mysterious cosmic event, Dr Ernest Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) discovers a sudden behavioural change in the colonies of different ants, now co-operating with each other against the natural order. Monolithic (by insect scales) towering ant-hills, with angled peaks like tilted heads, are discovered in the Arizona desert. There’s a crop circle around a square that’s marked by dead sheep. A local farmer’s family are ordered to join a general evacuation, but their grand-daughter Kendra (Lynne Frederick), survives when an accident kills the old couple. Hubbs recruits another scientist, James Lesko (Michael Murphy) and they investigate the weird activity of ants, from safety of their labs, sealed in a metal-walled geodesic dome.   

After decoding the intelligent ants’ language, sonic weaponry is the human response to attacks but the men find their industrious enemy soon deploys reflected sunlight for over-heating the base. Later the bugs dig out hidden pits as man-traps. Hubbs proves to be obsessive, not simply a curious investigator studying an entomological puzzle and, after becoming infected, he soon turns paranoid. However, his fears are quite well-founded, as the relentless insects are quite unstoppable.   

Despite a comparatively low budget, Phase IV eagerly adopts a technical virtuosity that is keenly reminiscent of The Andromeda Strain (1971), where decontamination processing keeps the building clean for its scientific research. The strange insects are captured with macro-photography by Ken Middleham, who also worked on Oscar-winning pseudocumentary feature, The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971), a cult movie of apocalyptic vision that apparently inspired Saul Bass to make Phase IV. And it is a particularly fine example of eco-horror in the subgenre tradition of nature’s revenge movies, but offers much more than its obvious surface themes. 

There are many great scenes of Quatermass styled thinking, and some clever sci-fi creativity, especially notable in dialogues between Hubbs and Lesko. Phase IV is a hard-SF movie that’s driven by a vaguely Lovecraftian tale of a unique kind of warfare, staged like some live-action game of chess, but with uneven sides of a king, a queen, and only one knight, against countless millions of tiny pawns on the Other side.

Disc extras:

  • The original ending (17 minutes) includes a sequence of bizarre surrealism, about man’s transcendent evolution, artistically portraying the dawn of a new species. This has an optional commentary.
  • An Ant’s Life (20 minutes) - a featurette of critical comments

A second disc collects short films by Saul Bass:

The Searching Eye (1964) - 17 minutes

Why Man Creates (1968) - 24 minutes

Bass on Titles (1977) - 33 minutes
An interview with Saul Bass about his groundbreaking work on graphic designs and / or animations for movie title-sequences. Unfortunately, clips of titles here are not shown in their correct screen ratios.

Notes On The Popular Arts (1978) - 20 minutes

The Solar Film (1980) - nine minutes

Quest (1984) - 29 minutes
Written by Ray Bradbury, this visually impressive dark fantasy and sci-fi mystery is about a strange future world with a condensed-epic story, where a human life-span is limited to eight days.

Thursday, 26 March 2020


Cast: Richard Burton, Ian McShane, and Nigel Davenport

Director: Michael Tuchner

108 minutes (18) 1971
Studio Canal Vintage Classics
Blu-ray region B
[Released 30th March]

Rating: 6/10
Review by J.C. Hartley

Somewhere there is probably a learned article, or breathless blog, about gay gangsters in British cinema. But let’s acknowledge that gay is perhaps too gentle a term, redolent of theatrical aestheticism, a world away from the manner in which homosexuality was used in a spate of British films of the 1960s, and thereafter, and invariably tied-up with the pathology of violence.

The locus for the portrayal of the homosexual thug was of course the eventual conviction of the Kray twins in 1969. Once they had been safely put away, lurid stories emerged, not only about their reign of terror, but the fascination they exerted upon a variety of figures from various walks of life. They hobnobbed with stars of popular culture, many of whom were vocal in support of them as decent working-class lads just trying to make a living. It was a common occurrence at one time, to read some film or pop star pushing the usual tripe about how the twins loved their Mum, only murdered and maimed among their fellow criminal class, and kept the streets of the East End safe for ordinary decent people.

In their heyday, the twins also found an advocate within the British establishment in Lord Boothby, who received damages from the Sunday Mirror after their allegations about his relationship with Ronnie Kray, when it was common knowledge among the security services and within parliament that the allegations were true. It would be nice to say that times have changed, but then the Jeffrey Archer case in 1987 and latterly the revelations surrounding the repellent Cyril Smith highlight how the British establishment closes ranks to protect its own.

And so, to Vic Dakin, portrayed here by Richard Burton, someone whose catholic choice of movie roles, sometimes driven by sheer boredom, often brought criticism, but who is never less than watchable. Burton’s better acting vehicles, Thomas Becket in Becket (1964), Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965), George in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (1965), and yes, even Major Smith in that perennial seasonal favourite Where Eagles Dare (1968), show what he could do with a decent script and direction.

Villain begins with a horrifying scene where London gang boss Dakin exacts revenge on someone who has crossed him, slashing his victim with a razor as the young man is held by Dakin’s lieutenants. Dakin works himself up into a paroxysm of sexual rage to do the deed, and the link between Dakin’s sex drive and violence is made clear throughout. The harnessing of a character’s sexual nature with a career in which violence is a perquisite involves a certain amount of subtlety otherwise both strands risk being presented as comparable examples of perversion. Burton’s Dakin is presented as a sadistic psychopath whose violent nature is barely under control, violence for Dakin is itself a sexual outlet, the sex act just another medium for violence.

Receiving a tip-off about a wages-run for a new factory, Dakin proposes to ambush the delivery and steal the money. One of his men, Duncan (Tony Selby), is critical of the plan, feeling that it is outside of their usual sphere of operations, mainly involving protection rackets, but he is overruled. To carry out his plan Dakin enlists the help of rival gang boss Frank Fletcher (T.P. McKenna), and his nervous brother-in-law Edgar (Joss Ackland). Protecting the wages are some heavies from the local rugby club, and despite Dakin’s gang weighing in with baseball bats, in a particularly brutal sequence, the rugby players give as good as they get, resulting in Edgar being badly injured. In the aftermath of the raid, Dakin’s nemesis, detective Bob Matthews (Nigel Davenport), closes in, and Edgar becomes the means to bring Dakin to justice. Dakin’s plans unravel when he is forced to abduct the injured Edgar from hospital to prevent him confessing to Matthews and things go steadily wrong.

Alongside Dakin’s criminal plans, and his sparring with Matthews, the film follows the activities of Wolfe Lissner (Ian McShane), a sort of go-between operating on the borderline where Dakin’s world overlaps with members of high society in search of cheap thrills. Wolfe is a glorified pimp, providing what his society connections require for their parties. One such contact is sleazy MP Gerald Draycott, who moves in on Wolfe’s current girlfriend Venetia (Fiona Lewis), when Lissner abandons her at a weekend house-party.  Wolfe clearly despises everyone he exploits, but that doesn’t prevent him expressing irritation when, in a later meeting with Draycott the latter boasts of Venetia’s sexual enthusiasm subsequent to her initial reserve. Lissner is the object of Dakin’s sexual interest, although any potential tenderness is mitigated somewhat when the gangster’s idea of foreplay is limited to him advising Wolfe not to make too much noise, so as not to wake Dakin’s old Mum in another room, before punching him in the guts and knocking him on the bed. Wolfe’s own amoral ruthless streak is exposed when Venetia surprises him with Dakin, and the latter dismisses her as a ‘slag’ to Wolfe’s amusement, and he uses the girlfriend of the man Dakin murdered in the film’s opening scene to entrap and blackmail Draycott into providing Vic with an alibi.

As an extra on the disc, the ever-dependable Matthew Sweet locates the film as a sort of southern companion piece to Mike Hodges’ Get Carter (1971), but notes that while that film exudes a grubby authenticity, Villain looks a little scrubbed and polished, something emphasised by the gleaming colours of this Blu-ray release. There are of course many other points of difference. The audience largely roots for Michael Caine’s Jack Carter in his quest to avenge his brother’s death, and probably chooses not to interrogate his actual career choice. Carter is after all a hired thug working for gangster brothers Sid and Gerald Fletcher, “I do this for a living,” he says while giving local ‘big man’ Brumby a slap. There is little in Vic Dakin or Wolfe Lissner to relate to, and they hardly inspire our sympathy. Get Carter is quite an unpleasant film in its own way, but its legendary status and dramatic set-pieces tend to overshadow the shock of seeing Jack’s remorseless version of rough justice. 

I suggested at the start of this review that homosexual gangsters became a ‘thing’ on the back of revelations about the Krays, and perhaps the first and best film to effectively mine that particular seam was Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (1970).  Johnny Shannon’s gang boss Harry Flowers warns James Fox’s Chas about his vendetta against protection-money averse Joey, because their relationship is ‘double personal’.  When Joey comes onside and takes out his revenge on Chas, and gets shot in the process, the film plunges into its exploration of gender and identity ambiguity. Late in the film Flowers is himself shown to be gay and in a relationship with one of his subordinates. Shannon, who knew his way around London gangland, was demoted for his performance in Villain, turning up as one of Dakin’s unnamed heavies. 

In the source novel, Jack’s Return Home by Ted Willis, for Get Carter, Peter the Dutchman is a sadistic misogynistic homosexual, while in the film version Tony Beckley is simply required to play him as someone with a rather florid dress sense, Beckley risked being typecast as he had already played opposite Caine in The Italian Job (1969) as Mr Bridger’s lieutenant ‘Camp’ Freddy. Homosexual gangsters continue to crop up in later gangland outings, like Mark Strong’s portrayal of Harry Starks in the BBC series The Long Firm (2004),and in the rival gang bosses of Matthew Vaughan’s Layer Cake (2004). Sometimes this aspect of a character is used as a means to add substance and complexity, at other times it is perhaps just some sort of cultural touchstone, designed to trigger memories of the Krays as a shortcut to ‘authenticity’.

Alongside Matthew Sweet’s mixture of insight and anecdote, Ian McShane remembers making the film and the involvement of famed script-doctors Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement. Villain’s director Michael Tuchner worked with this pair again on the movie version of their TV hit The Likely Lads (1976). McShane reveals that the original novel, James Barlow’s The Burden Of Proofthat inspired the film, had originally been adapted by actor Alfredo Lettieri, but La Frenais and Clement overhauled both screenplay and script for Villain. McShane reunited with La Frenais in his hugely popular TV vehicle Lovejoy (1986-94) for the BBC.