Monday, 3 February 2020

Day of the Stranger


d./w./p. Thomas Lee Rutter; cast: Dale Sheppard, Gary Baxter, Gary Shail, Richard Rowbotham, James Taylor, Bazz Hancher, Jim Heal, Maryan Forouhandeh

The list of British westerns is fairly short and frankly a bit odd. Which is also a perfect description of Thomas Lee Rutter’s latest feature. Rutter is the West Midlands auteur who gave me a couple of early credits in his slasher Mr Blades and his werewolf romp Full Moon Massacre. Now he’s working with real actors like Gary Shail from Metal Mickey and Richard Rowbotham from The Grimleys – on a trippy microbudget horse opera. Ostensibly based on a Mark Twain short story, there’s not a great deal of story here. But westerns are not about narrative, they’re about a feeling, an essence: individuals rattling around in a space so large it shouldn’t exist, occasionally interacting in surprising, often violent, ways. Tom has caught the spirit of the western genre (or at least, its more existential side) brilliantly. Parts are talkie, the desert is a Welsh beach, accents are … variable … and the only horses are stock footage. But Day of the Stranger feels right. Like Sergio Corbucci took a day trip to Rhyl. It shouldn't work... but it does.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Haunting of Alcatraz

d./w./p. Steve Lawson; cast: Tom Hendryk, Helen Crevel, Chris Lines, Jonathan Hansler, Mark Topping, Beau Fowler, Marcus Langford

The latest feature from Lawson (Hellriser, Aura, Pentagram) is a spooky historical set in the eponymous prison in 1942. College boy Charlie lands a job as a clerk on the notorious block D where Cell 13 is used to make difficult prisoners disappear, a process invariably recorded as ‘suicide’. He befriends a nurse, clashes with the Warden and discovers that Cell 13 was, five years earlier the scene of a particularly nasty actual suicide by a prisoner whose ghost still lurks therein. Shot in Gloucester Prison, this overcomes much of its low-budget nature but can’t avoid depicting Alcatraz as an institution with five staff and even fewer prisoners. A fine cast and solid script make up for this, along with the director’s typically adroit camera-work. At 90 minutes it’s a tad long, especially given its languorous pace – don’t expect intense action scenes or jump-scares. Nevertheless The Haunting of Alcatraz is a slow-build ghost tale that draws you in and keeps you gripped. Produced for, and soon to be released by, High Fliers.