Thursday, 25 August 2016
On a rainy, dull day I found myself with a few hours to kill, and since I was in a preservationist mind-set decided to spend it scanning a couple of the photos I took of London during the late 1990s and early 2000s. As we’re talking about pre-digital camera photos here, these now only exist as physical copies which are prone to wear and tear and so perhaps the quicker I get these scanned the better. I was commuting from Manchester to London fairly regularly back then and as these trips tended to be of the 24 hour variety (setting off at some ungodly hour in the morning and riding home on the midnight train) I had to cram in a hell of a lot during a brief amount of time, meaning that my trips to London were never anything but action packed.
My cineaste and sleaze tendencies inevitably drew me towards the West End, and Soho in particular. It was a great place for a spending spree and various misadventures, usually starting with a trip to Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus before escaping the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus in favour of the sights and sounds of Soho. There are inevitably many wild tales to accompany the photos I took of that place, from encountering a man with a python around his neck who was casually strolling around with said animal and doing a brisk trade in taking photos of it with tourists, to shops with crude, hand written signs offering the leaked sex tape of flavour of the month Abi Titmuss (“Abi Titmuss discreetly filmed, on sale here”), to seeing a squad of armed policemen bursting out of the back of a van and raiding a sex shop for selling Viagra (this was during a brief period in time when the blue pills had initially been banned by the government, only to see the country being flooded by counterfeit Viagra as a result). It seemed like there was rarely a dull moment in this place, wherever you looked there seemed to be subjects worthy of their own mondo movie segment, and I wanted to document as much of it as I could.
Decades on, the exact dates I took these photos has begun to escape me, I do remember one of my trips to London taking place on the same day that Spike Milligan died (and being driven nuts on the trip to London by hearing the ‘ying tong song’ played constantly on the radio by way of a tribute) meaning that I must have been there on the 27th February 2002. Some of the other photos date from 2004 as they document what would turn out to be the final days of the Raymond Revue Bar, which at the time just looked as if it was being renovated what with all that scaffolding out front, but was in fact in the process of closing. I seem to remember the sign on the door warning workmen that ‘hardhats must be worn at all times’ was causing multiple giggles from passers-by and jokes about the audience now needing protection from all the bouncing boobs being flung about in that place. In fact the guts of the Revue Bar were being unceremoniously flung into black bags by the workforce and left outside the place for the garbage men in collect. In retrospect I should have tried to salvage a few mementos. A swivel chair with Paul Raymond’s initials embossed on it was particularly tempting, who knows maybe PR had once fucked Fiona Richmond on that chair, or done a line of coke with his daughter Debbie off it, sadly the impracticality of wheeling a swivel chair around the streets of London and sneaking it onto a late night train meant that this was one piece of British sex history that not even I could save from the rubbish tip.
Merely attempting to document this place meant you were taking your life in your hands, people, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, don’t really like the idea of being filmed or photographed in the context of a red light district. I remember once arriving there to find the place unusually deserted and quickly discovering that the reason for this being that the BBC were there filming ‘Crimewatch’, and the idea of being captured on film as an extra in a Crimewatch reconstruction was keeping many off the streets (if you are curious about the Crimewatch piece, it involved a punter who’d been shaken down for cash by a strip club’s heavies then dumped back onto the streets, only to return in full on vengeful Cover Girl Killer mode and murder one of the strippers right outside the club). I’d get my own taste of the violent side of Soho when, after taking one of these photos, I was approached by a rather menacing individual who confronted me with “hey mate, did you just take a photo of me, I’ll thump your face in if you did”. Naturally I denied everything and seem to recall making some bullshit claim about there being no film in the camera, and I was ‘just testing’ to see if the camera worked. Did he buy my story? Probably not, but I ran off before he could reply anyway.
Now, I confess, it has been years if not over a decade since I’ve been to Soho. Word through the grapevine would suggest that photos like these are museum pieces these days, and I’ve heard all the horror stories about the place being gentrified, sterilised and generally having the naughty soul ripped out of it by a new generation of entrepreneurs. Will I ever go back there? Probably not, and why would I, far better to remember the place as it was, rather than risk sullying those memories by setting eyes on it as it is now. Maybe being out of the loop for so long has numbed me to the crushing blow that the death of the old Soho should perhaps be to me, but every story has to have an ending, and I just think that the older you get the more you become resigned to the fact that places, like people, change, sometimes they change beyond all recognition, sometimes they turn into things that you don’t like, and sometimes they disappear altogether.
Lets not look back at old Soho through rose tinted spectacles though, no one ever opened a sex shop, strip club or near beer joint solely for the benefit of all mankind, they were all in it for lust and profit as well. Time marches on and the West End Jungle has always been adept at finding new ways to drag punters in off the street and lighten their wallets, whether it be through the wine bars and blowdrys of today’s Soho, or the strip clubs and blowjobs of yesterday’s Soho. Still I’m glad to have been an extra in the Soho story and to have witnessed the tail end of that dirty, neon lit carnival, and yes, I do think it is sad that future generations will never get to experience the Soho that I knew. Maybe in the future some sleaze hungry kid will look upon these photos with a mixture of wonder and envy, much as my generation did over the membership only cinemas and dirty book shops of the 1970s that we’d been born too late to experience first-hand, as well as of course the idea of sexploitation films as a communal, big screen experience rather than a home video one. So sit back, listen to ‘Welcome to Sleazy Town’ by The Kinks (cause R. D. Davies can sum up this subject matter far better than mere mortals like you and I), and enjoy this blast from the past, I promise no one will come round and threaten to thump you in the face for looking….
Sunday, 14 August 2016
Sunday, 10 July 2016
A last hurrah from Cliff Twemlow, Manchester’s first and to date only action movie star, this featurette length SOV production offers a rare opportunity to see Cliff in full on bad guy mode. Twemlow plays Hawk, the leader of a shambolic gang who roam around Styal Country Park with robbery, murder and rape on their low-IQed minds. The gang’s main adversary, and rival to the mantle of biggest looney in the country park is Taggart (Peter Wheeler), a flatulent, gun totting UFO fanatic, who has made a nuisance of himself by opening fire on anyone he meets under the belief that they are ‘aliens’ out to get him. Anti-social behaviour that rubs Hawk and his men up the wrong way, to the extent that they overpower Taggart, stab him in the legs and decide to hunt him through the forest. Walking unfortunately right into the middle of all of this is Harry Ferguson (David Rankin), an easy going middle aged bank manager who along with his teenage daughter Kim, was hoping for a quiet camping weekend in the park. Needless to say there is little chance of that in Cliff Twemlow film. Instead the father and daughter find themselves being set upon by the gang who rape Kim whilst forcing her father to watch on. An especially ugly and distressing scene, particularly as Kim is meant to be only fifteen (although the actress playing her is clearly older). The tables get turned though when Ferguson- who it transpires is an archery champion- escapes into the woods and turns his trusted bow and arrow against Hawk and his merry band of rapey cretins.
After the comparatively ambitious nature of Twemlow’s early 1990s films like GBH2: Lethal Impact and Firestar: First Contact (whose budget even stretched to a spaceship location and extended cameos from name actors Charles Gray and Oliver Tobias) Bad Weekend feels like a stripped ‘back to basics’ exercise with local locations, a just weekend long shooting schedule and tiny cast of close friends. As if Twemlow and his regular director David Kent-Watson gave into the curiosity over just what they could achieve under a self-imposed two day shoot and wanted to test their ability to work on a low-budget to the absolute limit.
Understandably the 37 minutes of footage that resulted from that weekend does show the strain of people working incredibility fast and with very little. David Kent-Watson’s direction and editing are a little rougher around the edges than usual, and a tolerance for SOV production values is dearly needed here. There are signs that not all of the intended storyline made it into the can. Even after multiple viewings I’m still baffled over the ‘accident’ that befalls Kim early on in the film. One minute she is strolling about the forest, blissfully admiring the beauty of nature, the next she has a bloody gash on her forehead and is stumbling around in a daze. Hawk and his men aren’t to blame for once, as this takes place before the father and daughter have their unpleasant run-in with the gang. While a brief dialogue exchange later on in the film speculates she may have run into a tree or that a large bird may have collided with her this is hardly an adequate substitute for a genuine explanatory scene (Kim herself doesn’t live long enough to clear up what happened there).
On the positive side, the reduction of both budget and running time means there is little room for the dull stretches that mar Firestar: First Contact and The Ibiza Connection. Bad Weekend is tight, fast paced and free to cut straight to the chase, quite literally, since its storyline is little more than an excuse for a woodland run around that has characters alternating between being the hunter and the hunted. Bad Weekend’s true strengths lie in the casts’ enthusiastic ability for pulling off action scenes and Twemlow’s own talent for fight chorography and writing sweary one-liners. Twemlow’s casts, who generally had backgrounds in the martial arts or club land enforcement, were never at a loss as to how to make a fight scene look realistic and lively, and boy do Hawk and his men love to scrap amongst themselves in this film, often for no good reason whatsoever. It is miraculous that Hawk has managed to keep the gang together for so long, given that they appear incapable of walking a few paces without getting into a punch up, usually resulting in one of them ending up dangling over a cliff edge amidst accusations of ‘dickhead’ and ‘arsehole’.
Twemlow himself goes from ‘The Mancunian’ to the man you love to loathe, blowing away any memory of the flawed but fundamentally decent hero of GBH, and successfully reinventing himself onscreen as a thoroughly mean and evil piece of shit. Like the best exploitation movie villains, Hawk unleashes an onslaught of physical and mental cruelty on his victims, treats his partners in crime little better, and predictably turns cowardly when the heat gets turned on him. Twemlow’s performance and script are perfectly calculated to antagonise his audience with the vicious and pointless victimisation of decent, relatable characters by nasty scumbags, before finally offering the audience the relief and satisfaction of seeing the tables turned.
Frequent Twemlow cohort Steve Powell plays Hawk’s second in command who has an eye on toppling Hawk as the gang’s leader, leading to one last onscreen showdown between Twemlow and Powell. Always a welcome presence in Twemlow films, Powell wears a permanent ‘dog chewing on a wasp’ facial expression here, swears like a trouper and manages to be extremely funny without actually trying to be. His character’s overuse of the word ‘pussy’ being a reoccurring source of hilarity here.
Bad Weekend obviously takes its cue from a combination of rape/revenge cinema and a zillion post-Deliverance movies that pitted vacationing city dwellers against backwoods thugs. Genres that during the 1980s and 1990s British viewers were more likely to encounter American made examples of, rather than run into home-grown variations on the theme like this. What is so refreshing about the Twemlow movies is their lack of embarrassment or middle class reserve about tackling the type of popular film genres that the mainstream British film industry of the time tended to turn their noses up at and consider beneath them. As a result Twemlow’s films have a far greater connection to the type of films your average British punter was renting out from the local video shop, than anything emerging from the British film industry itself during this period. It is only in recent years that we’re seen the British film industry come back around to the idea of making low-budget, aggressively commercial films aimed at the masses. A U-turn that has not only seen the re-emergence of the sit-com spin-off film and big screen vehicles for TV comedians but so many direct to DVD British horror and British gangster films. Try passing those by in the local supermarket without drawing comparisons to the type of films that Twemlow was making in the 1980s and 1990s.
As much as Twemlow’s films wear their influences on their sleeves, it would be selling these films short to simply paint them as unoriginal, shoestring knock-offs of B-level American films. Whatever genre they were working in – be it horror, sci-fi or rape/revenge- Twemlow and co always made the material their own. Part of their charm lying in their distinctly British and distinctly Northern take on genres rarely associated with British cinema at all. There has always been something about the tough, Mancunian accent that lends itself so well to excessive, impassioned swearing, and Twemlow’s script sure gives his cast enough opportunity to prove that point here. It is frequently claimed that Twemlow’s work was tailor made for a post-pub beer and curry crowd, and don’t get me wrong there is a huge amount of truth to that claim. Even so, it is hard to imagine anyone being able to sit through Bad Weekend without having to spit out that beer and curry in response to what is being said onscreen. Twemlow’s dialogue here is a constant and outrageous stream of crude, gutter level, expletive laden, below the belt insults. Try to imagine The Last House on the Left were it to have been written by Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown rather than Wes Craven, and that should give you an idea of just what to expect here. Choice dialogue includes such put downs as “you mouthy bastard”, “he’s a fucking mind reader as well, bastard”, “your daughter’s got more balls than you have”, observations along the lines of “did you see all that pussy last night”, even a corruption of a biblical quote in “man cannot live by cock alone”. My own favourite Bad Weekend insults are the ones that greet the gang member Weasel when he interrupts the gang’s pursuit of Kim by pointing out a passing squirrel to the others, only to get shouted down with “shut the fuck up Weasel, its pussy we’re after” and “you stupid fucker, I’ll blow your bollocks off”. The Manchester air turns extremely blue in Bad Weekend.
According to the 2009 book ‘The Lost World of Cliff Twemlow’ by C.P. Lee and Andy Willis, Bad Weekend was the first part of an intended trilogy of short films that would have gone on to also incorporate Sci- Fi and horror themes into Ferguson’s weekend of woe. Unlike Twemlow’s earlier work these shorts weren’t made with the direct to video market in mind, rather with an eye on a sale to satellite TV or as something people could pay to watch on their computers. An innovative plan for the early 1990s when the internet was still in its infancy, and an indication that Twemlow had the same foresight to see new markets opening up via satellite TV and the internet, as he had with home video in the early 1980s. It not difficult to imagine Bad Weekend being used as between programme filler for 1990s satellite TV channels like Bravo and Granada Men and Motors. Bad Weekend’s post watershed fart and belching based humour, non-stop action and equally non-stop swearing would have been right at home on blokeish TV channels like those.
As things turned out however, the other intended two shorts were never made and Bad Weekend remained unreleased until 2006 when it and other Twemlow films became briefly available from director David Kent-Watson’s website. As I would find out to my cost though ordering DVDs from David Kent-Watson and receiving DVDs from David Kent-Watson doesn’t necessary go hand in hand. The order I placed for a DVD of Bad Weekend failed to materialise and despite an email to the director being met with an immediate reply reassuring me that the DVD would be sent out the next day…. I’m still waiting for it ten years later. Further emails to David Kent-Watson of a ‘where’s the DVD’ and ‘give me back my money’ nature went unanswered, although now and again I still receive the odd bit of spam from him attempting to sell CD recordings of classical music, which needless to say I have no intension of buying. Sadly I wasn’t the only one who’d gotten short changed in this manner, a fellow collector of obscure films later recalled to me “I ordered several films (from David Kent-Watson) and only half showed up over a long period after the release date. Quality of the discs is poor especially the authoring and sound levels”. So maybe I got off lightly there, still it is a lousy way to treat whatever limited fan base your films have and served as a reminder/life lesson that sometimes we call these people exploitation filmmakers for good reason.
Aside from the fact that its director still owes me seven quid, if there is a frustrating aspect to Bad Weekend it is that it offers an all too brief window into a potential second stage of Twemlow’s career that his death curtailed. One that might have seen him embrace new forms of media, diversify into bad guy roles and cultivate a new generation of talent, what with Bad Weekend bringing together older, familiar faces (Twemlow, Rankin, Powell) with newer, younger ones (St. Clair Palmer, Stuart Hurst). Tragically it wasn’t meant to be, and in 1993 Twemlow prematurely passed away of a heart attack, reportedly brought on by steroid abuse. Unlike the rest of us bozos who during the 1980s and 1990s rented films starring the likes of Stallone, Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson, then spent time afterwards daydreaming we were the stars of those movies, that our friends could be the co-stars and that comedian down at the local working men’s club could play the villain, Twemlow actually went out there and turned these everyman fantasies into a reality. Working class Mancunians aren’t meant to become horror paperback writers, library music composers, film producers or action movie stars but in his relatively short life Cliff Twemlow achieved all of these things, and for that reason alone I think he deserves to be regarded as a hero to DIY filmmakers and just anyone with dreams above their station everywhere.
Wednesday, 1 June 2016
Heres something that should be of interest to readers of this blog, the trailer for ‘Hardcore Guaranteed’ an up and coming documentary about pioneering British pornographer Mike Freeman and his Videx company. https://vimeo.com/163862477
Original Videx adverts:
Original Videx adverts:
Thursday, 28 April 2016
Brothers and sisters, all Cliff Twemlow movies got soul!!! So as I’ve yet to have my skull caved in with a blue plaque, I thought I’d draw your attention to 1983’s Target Eve Island, the second completed collaboration between director David Kent-Watson and actor, writer, producer, lover, fighter and all round legend in his own tuxedo Cliff Twemlow. Made at a time when their first film GBH (1983) was beginning to hit the video rental shelves, it would have been easy for Kent-Watson and Twemlow to have merely phoned in more of the same with Target Eve Island. Ambition was clearly flowing in the veins of both men though, and Target Eve Island is every bit the ‘bigger’ 2nd movie that offers up more fight scenes, car chases, explosions and general onscreen destruction than their first effort. Whereas GBH was rooted in Twemlow’s own background as a Mancunian nightclub bouncer, Target Eve Island looks to mainstream cinema for inspiration, especially the long running James Bond film franchise. Tasking itself with the near impossible challenge of replicating the James Bond formula on a shoestring budget, and shot on video production values.
Target Eve Island sees Twemlow’s GBH Co-star ‘Brett Sinclair’ elevated to leading man status and cast as the film’s Bond character, William Grant, a top secret service agent investigating the kidnapping of female scientist Dr Lindenbrook. Dialogue is Twemlow emulating Christopher Wood era Bond, with sexual innuendo being served up in rich abundance. “Something came up”, “I’ll come as quick as I can” quips Grant over the phone to his M-like boss Major Barrett (David Rankin), whilst simultaneously trying to jump the bones of his latest sexual conquest. Evidentially being associated with Grant carries with it the same short life expectancy as being related to Charles Bronson’s character in the Death Wish series. Grant’s regular snitch Danny gets knifed in the gut and Grant’s fellow agent Jonathan Halstead is beaten up by thugs, placed in a car and crushed to death in a junkyard. Halstead’s death tips Grant off that there is a snitch at MI5 in the form of female agent Christina Fleming. Grant’s subsequent pursuit of her around 1980s Manchester sends him in the direction of other displaced Bond villains, the Goldfinger-esque businessman Sir John MacKlin and the superbad, tough as nails soviet agent Dimitri Petrovitch (John Saint Ryan). Fleming learns the hard way that her elegance to Petrovitch counts for nothing when he sends a female agent to strangle her in his Jacuzzi, resulting in a topless catfight to the death between the two women. Meanwhile Grant discovers that Lindenbrook’s kidnapping is actually the work of Italian/American mobster Harry Filipino (Jerry Harris, a former turn on TV’s The Comedians) and Kung-Fu master Roman (Steve Powell).
Around the half hour mark Target Eve Island surprisingly drops Twemlow’s beloved Manchester as its location in favour of sunnier climes, when it transpires that Filipino and Roman have shipped Lindenbrook off to a secret island in the Caribbean. As a result Grant gets assigned to travel to Barbados and Grenada in the company of Chaser (Twemlow himself) a silent but deadly heavy who Grant insists on partnering up with. A decision that doesn’t go down well with Major Barrett, who whines “Chaser tends to attract trouble”. Frequent attacks by Filipino’s Kung-Fu goons take up the majority of Grant’s time in the Caribbean, however in the Bond tradition there are romantic interludes for our hero too. Grant romances Russian agent Stella Starlight (Ginette Gray), as well as a redhead called Maria Corsair (Andrea Kelly). When the latter is kidnapped by Roman, Grant and Chaser have to temporary abandon their attempt to rescue Lindenbrook from Filipino’s clutches, in favour of rescuing Maria from Filipino’s clutches. Petrovitch also surfaces in Barbados, and immediately sets about kicking Roman’s ass and kidnapping a few of Filipino’s men, as if this film didn’t already have enough kidnappings already!! In the midst of all this chaos Grant even acquires a comedy sidekick in ‘Crazy’ Max (comedian/impressionist Maxton G Beesley) who feigns being a nutcase “people round here think I’m crazy, mental” in order to disguise the fact that he too is a secret agent. Crazy Max’s penchant for impromptu impersonations of famous people –Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Peter Lorre- serves as a way for Target Eve Island to work Beesley’s real life shtick into the film.
The making of Target Eve Island was severely compromised when –rather inconveniently- the US government decided to launch ‘Operation Urgent Fury’ an all-out military invasion of Grenada designed to oust the Communist government that had just offed the Grenadian Prime Minister a week earlier. A dangerous turn of events that audaciously gets adapted into the film’s own storyline. Operation Urgent Fury in fact proved an unlikely godsend to the real life filmmakers, gifting them with all this incredible footage of American tanks and sea stallion helicopters rolling into their filming location, material that they’d never have had the funds to stage themselves. The American invasion also benefits the fictional Grant who uses Operation Urgent Fury as a smokescreen to launch his own assault on Filipino’s private island in order to finally rescue the female scientist. The goofy nature of the rescue scene –with Maxton G Beesley doing John Wayne impressions and tripping over coconuts- can’t prepare you for Target Eve Island’s unexpectedly downbeat conclusion. One that finds nearly all of Grant’s cohorts dead and an embittered Grant returning to the UK to get revenge on the corrupt government official who sold him out.
Target Eve Island is the kind of film that leaves the false impression of being allot longer than it actually is. I don’t mean that in a nasty, put down way, it is just that the film is so epic in scale, containing as it does two main villains in Filipino and Petrovitch, three different female characters, two sidekicks for the hero, and location hopping from Manchester to Barbados to Grenada. Given the film packs in what initially feels like an entire afternoon’s worth of entertainment, you’d swear it has to have been at least two and a half hours long, whereas in fact Target Eve Island does its thing in at a relatively short 80 minutes.
There is a tireless hyper activeness at work in the early Twemlow films like GBH and Target Eve Island. Calling these films action packed is putting it mildly, filler is in extremely short supply here, and the only reasons characters tend to keep still in this film for very long is if they’ve been punched out, stabbed or shot. It’s as if Twemlow and Kent-Watson feared the inferior look of video would be a hard sell to a 1983 audience still mainly accustomed to watching films on the big screen, and their solution to overcoming this prejudice was to cram their productions with way, way more action than the average shot on film production offered back then. It’s only as their filmmaking progressed, and presumably the pair grew in confidence, that their later films felt comfortable with setting aside time for character development and whose pacing was in keeping with that of regular films.
Unfortunately for Twemlow and Kent-Watson history almost entirely tends to remember shot on video productions as the domain of amateur or underachieving filmmakers. When Target Eve Island was made in 1983, the concept of shooting films on videotape for direct to video release would have been seen as fresh and innovative, and you suspect that Twemlow and Kent-Watson had high hopes that once the public became familiar with watching films on home video they’d also come round to the idea of watching films that had been made on video too. With Target Eve Island the pair significantly upped their game. The exotic locations, explosions, speedboat chases, stunt work and a scene of a helicopter being downed, all raise the bar for a shot on video production. A pity then that rather than follow their lead and make productions that rivalled anything being done on film, other lesser filmmakers used the switch to video as an excuse to dumb down and go low-fi. The expression ‘shot on video’ eventually becoming synonymous to the public with terrible home-made horror films and cheap porno.
Although Target Eve Island is a relatively early film in Twemlow’s acting/filmmaking career, his cinematic inner circle had already been assembled by the time this film was made. All the faces and personalities that you remember from the Twemlow films- Jerry Harris, Brett Sinclair, Steve Powell, John Saint Ryan, Maxton G Beesley, David Rankin, Brian Sterling-Vete- are present and correct here. Target Eve Island is initially centred on Grant, and therefore a Brett Sinclair vehicle, yet quickly opens out into quite the ensemble piece, with all concerned allocated their own moment in the spotlight. Make no mistake this is an overly crowded film when it comes to supporting characters, still there is no one here who doesn’t justify their screen time. What real life Jeet Kune Do instructor Steve Powell lacks as a natural actor he makes up for in the physical action stakes and remains as facially distinctive as any great character actor. Brett Sinclair (actual name: Brett Hutchinson, the real life brother of actress Sherrie Hewson) was the obvious choice to play Grant. The most conventionally handsome of Twemlow’s people, Sinclair/Hutchinson juggles catalogue model good looks with the ability to convince you that he’d still be able to fight his way out of a bad situation. Jerry Harris is enjoyably OTT as Harry Filipino, making a side-splitting meal of an Italian/American accent. Boasting the kind of rubbery face that made his real calling in life as a comedian perhaps inevitable, Harris can’t help but bring a smile to your face, despite doing his best to play a complete bastard here. In contrast to the hilarity that Harris injects into the film, John Saint Ryan registers as a threating force to be reckoned with. Not surprising Saint Ryan was asked back to deliver further villainy in Twemlow’s horror/action hybrid ‘The Eye of Satan’ in 1988, and eventually had a career outside of Twemlow’s films, going on to appear in American TV shows like Babylon 5 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Saint Ryan even got to reprieve his Russian tough guy routine in Delta Force 3: The Killing Game. That film and Target Eve Island do offer up a fairly decent argument that John Saint Ryan was the greatest Bond villain we never got.
Jerry Harris making an offer you can't refuse
Given the sheer amount of disparate elements and talents that Target Eve Island was trying to house under the same roof, it is no real surprise to find that this is the most uneven of Twemlow’s films. For all of the channelling of light, tongue in cheek Moore era Bond that goes on here, Target Eve Island isn’t shy of displaying its real working class roots. Beesley and Harris bring plenty of working men’s club flavour to the proceedings, a culture that rarely got a look-in when it came to British cinema, let alone got mashed up with James Bond elements like it does here. As with the Bond influenced British exploitation films that came before it –like the Lindsay Shonteff stuff and Harrison Marks’ Aphrodisia- Target Eve Island happily takes advantage of the fact that it can play outside of the confines of the family friendly EON Bond films. There is more boobage pointed in the direction of Brett Sinclair here than Moore and Connery ever got to feast their eyes on during their stints as Bond, and joltingly violent moments –a young child being gunned down in a crowded street, Grant ramming a pole through a baddie’s neck- also need filing under ‘things you’re never likely to see in a real James Bond film’.
Pop culture references are everywhere in this film, Christina Fleming owes her surname to Bond creator Ian Fleming, and appears to have borrowed her yellow jumpsuit from Bruce Lee in Game of Death. Jerry Harris is openly ‘doing’ Marlon Brando in The Godfather, seemingly a requisite impersonation for all 1970s British comedians. The twist ending is… ahem… somewhat indebted to The Wild Geese. Much as Twemlow’s films are frequently described as ‘exploitation films’ and ‘B-Movies’, the movie references contained within the Twemlow films themselves suggest Twemlow’s own viewing habits were a bit more mainstream than the Video Nasties and Section 3 titles that GBH is frequently mentioned in the same breath as.
Tonally all over the place as Target Eve Island is, this doesn’t diminish what an exciting, testosterone fuelled, whole lotta fun that this film is. One that functions best on a ‘Boy’s Own’ level. Target Eve Island’s relentless barrage of fighting, shootings, bikini clad babes and working class humour demonstrates just how in tune Twemlow and Co were with what the average man on the street wanted out of a video rental in 1983. GBH is said to have been especially popular with solders who’d just come back from fighting in the Falklands, and recently a former video shop owner has claimed said Twemlow film was also a frequent rental of persons belonging to the travelling community (although he didn’t put it as politely as that!); tales that reveal just how strongly the underdogs of British society connected to Twemlow’s films.
In a perfect world Target Eve Island would too have ended up on the video rental shelves, sharing shelf space with GBH, Missing in Action, No Retreat No Surrender 2, Big Trouble in Little China, Ninja Terminator and all the other good time action movies that wowed us all back in the video rental days. In reality it is one of two Twemlow films (the other being The Ibiza Connection) whose release history is shrouded in mystery to this day. We’ve still yet to get to the bottom of where and when Target Eve Island was released, that is if it was released anywhere at all. The version of the film I’m reviewing this from bears all the traces of being an uncompleted work print, lacking as it is in opening and closing credits, a music soundtrack and certain sound effects. A situation that lends Target Eve Island a couple of memorably bizarre, if unintended moments. Characters pick up phones and always find someone else on the other end of the line despite the fact that the phone hadn’t been ringing in the first place, and action sequences that cry out for a pulsating soundtrack –like Grant’s car being pursued by a helicopter- instead play out against peaceful silence. There exists the possibility that a more complete, and indeed completed, version of Target Eve Island could be out there. A scene from the film that is on YouTube is a no-show in the version I have, and Steve Powell’s website contains screenshots from what appears to be a version of the film that has opening credits. I have to admit though that I’ve become so accustomed to seeing Target Eve Island with several silent action sequences and phone conversations prompted by phones that aren’t ringing, that these quirks have become part of the film’s character to me. During my last few viewings of the film I’ve tended to find myself filling in the blanks by doing impersonations of a phone ringing at the points in the film that are missing said sound effect. Feel free to do likewise yourself.
Ironically for a film that acts as a strong showcase for all of Twemlow’s usual cast members, the one Twemlow regular who goes underutilized here is Twemlow himself. The big ego thing for Twemlow to do would have been to cast himself in the Grant role, yet perplexingly he instead allocates himself one of the least memorable parts in the film. Casting himself as Chaser, Twemlow gives himself virtually no dialogue, and largely chooses to hide his features under a straw hat throughout. Rather than use the role to demonstrate his action movie credentials, the main joke in Chaser’s big scene is based around how ineffective Chaser is. As Grant fights it out with Filipino and Roman, Chaser opts to drink Filipino’s booze and let them get on with it rather than lend Grant a hand. Twemlow’s incognito appearance and the low-key nature of his role in general could be interpreted as an acknowledgement that the film belongs to other people, and Twemlow admirably does nothing to scene steal the film away from anyone. Any accusations that the Twemlow films were simply self-produced vanity vehicles for Twemlow himself, can easily be counter argued by how little screen time he gives himself here, and while he may be restored to leading man status in his next film ‘The Ibiza Connection’, he uses that film to cast himself as one of the least likeable characters in film history.
Target Eve Island might give you very little of the man himself onscreen, but Twemlow’s personality, movie influences and sense of humour are all over this film. Although Twemlow never took to the director’s chair in his career, he always comes across as the main creative force in the films he was involved with, far more so than his regular director David Kent-Watson. The films Twemlow appeared in that weren’t made by Kent-Watson, ‘Moonstalker’ directed by Leslie McCarthy and ‘The Ibiza Connection’ directed by Howard Arundel, all retain the same feel and spirit as GBH. On the other hand the film that Kent-Watson made without Twemlow, 1986’s ‘Into the Darkness’ is a dreadful bore, that not even Twemlow regulars, a guest appearance by Donald Pleasence and a slasher movie plot can breathe life into. So I do feel that it was Twemlow who was the vital component in these films and the motivational force for getting these films made, it is telling that after Twemlow died in 1993 Kent-Watson appears to have dropped out of filmmaking altogether.
Despite short changing you when it comes to showcasing Twemlow as an actor, I’d still have no reservations about chalking up Target Eve Island as one of the key Cliff Twemlow films. Maybe not the first film of his you should see, that surely has to be GBH, but definitely a persuasive carrot on a stick to dangle in front of any potentially new converts to the small but dedicated cult of Cliff Twemlow. Everyone in Target Eve Island is so clearly giving it their all, and there is such energy and sense of camaraderie onscreen that you really do have to be without a pulse to not get swept along for the ride. Twemlow once wrote a song called ‘Cause I’m a Man’ whose protagonist likes “my movie shows with lots of action, take my beer straight from the can”. Target Eve Island is a film made with such a man in mind. Chances are that if you like your movie shows with lots of action, and take your beer straight from the can, then you’re gonna love Target Eve Island.