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.