Thursday, 28 April 2016

Target Eve Island (1983, David Kent-Watson)

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.