The Killer inside Me

The Killer inside Me

Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 June 2010

Venues: Cineworld Haymarket, Curzon Soho, Odeon Covent Garden (London) + nationwide

Distributor: Icon

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writers: John Curran, Michael Winterbottom

Based on the novel by: Jim Thompson

Cast: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba

USA 2010

109 mins

That filmmakers should be drawn again and again to the work of American crime novelist Jim Thompson is not surprising. Thompson’s dark gems are tightly written, brutally compelling and as psychologically complex as they are morally ambivalent. It would be great then if those directors made the effort to read Thompson properly, if they did not oversimplify and often entirely miss the point of the novels. Indeed it is rather frustrating that, with a few exceptions, Thompson’s remarkable body of work should have led to so many disappointing offerings, and Michael Winterbottom’s new adaptation of The Killer inside Me is a particularly deplorable entry into the canon.

The British director’s film, co-scripted by John Curran, is the second screen version of what is often considered one of Thompson’s finest works (the first was Burt Kennedy’s 1976 film, with Stacey Keach in the lead). It stars Casey Affleck as Lou Ford, the outwardly sweet-natured but dim-witted Deputy Sheriff of a small Texas town, who under his Southern good manners hides a frightening intelligence and psychopathic impulses. When naí¯ve rich boy Elmer (Jay R Ferguson) falls for Joyce (Jessica Alba), a prostitute who has set up shop on the edge of town, his father, local big shot Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), asks Lou to move her on. But Lou instead gets involved with Joyce and decides to use the situation to seek revenge for past misdeeds. His plan does not quite work out and Lou increasingly struggles to keep control of events, a situation that is further complicated by his relationship to girlfriend Amy (Kate Hudson).

This story of deceit and death is the occasion for scenes of extreme violence, which has already generated heated controversy. There are two particularly grisly murder scenes, in which the women are subjected to extended brutality and degradation. The issue here is not the graphic violence per se, but its presentation and context. There is a tremendous sense of indulgence in the beautifully shot murder scenes, and the copious amount of gratuitous sex adds to the sensational aspect of the film and the objectification of the women. The characterisation of the main female characters is indeed spectacularly reductive: always seen half-naked and in bed, they are both stunningly gorgeous and like rough sex… This, coupled with the fact that they only appear in scenes of sex or violence, gives the film a rather nasty whiff of unredeemed misogyny.

Winterbottom has said in interviews that he wanted to be ‘faithful’ to the source novel, and this has served to justify the violent excesses of the film. He is most probably not misogynistic, but his incredibly unsophisticated literal approach is particularly unsuited to capturing a novel as ambiguous as The Killer inside Me: Winterbottom scrupulously follows to the letter a book that actually requires reading between the lines (could literalness be one of Winterbottom’s defining directorial traits? Real migrants in In This World, real sex in 9 Songs…). Crucially, the film fails to coherently convey the fact that Lou is an unreliable narrator and that what he tells us might not be true, something that would help explain the characterisation of the women and distance the film from his view of them. This is particularly important in the murder of the second woman. In the book, Lou teases the reader, making us wait for the full narrative, possibly because what he has done has triggered strong emotions in him, possibly because he likes to play games, probably for both reasons and more. That section is a key moment in the book: it explores hidden nuances in the main characters, reveals the complexity of Lou’s psychology and of his relationship to Amy, and confirms that the reality described by Lou is a fictional construct. This, if translated into the screen version in some form, would have given a much better understanding of the violence and made it far less dubious.

This is something that Alain Corneau and his co-scriptwriter, Oulipo novelist George Perec, successfully managed to do in Série noire, their adaptation of Thompson’s A Hell of a Woman (1979), which, like The Killer inside Me, features an unreliable, murderous narrator. The brilliant opening sequence shows Patrick Dewaere’s Franck Poupart role-playing in the middle of a wasteland, shadow-boxing in the rain before dancing to Duke Ellington while holding his small radio, entirely in a world of his own creation. This prepares us for Poupart’s endless re-positioning of himself and his constant reconstruction of an unsatisfactory reality, and most disturbingly of all, for his remarkable ability to actually believe in his warped version of events.

Paradoxically, by relocating the story to a drab Parisian suburb, and making Poupart a hopeless door-to-door salesman, Corneau and Perec convey more of Thompson’s spirit than Winterbottom’s ‘faithful’ version. They understood one crucial thing: Thompson’s psychotic men are losers and misfits who are uncomfortable in the confines of their insular, petty-minded surroundings. Winterbottom does not get it: he channels Thompson’s savage view of humanity through memories of glamorous Hollywood noir cinema; the women look like stars, not like provincial beauties; the cars are desirable curvy objects straight out of 50s advertising; the cinematography is as flawless and slick as the women. But his noir pastiche completely misses the seedy side of the evil described by Thompson, the mediocrity of the hypocrisy, decay, immorality and viciousness, the small-town-ness of it all, present even in the most disturbing acts of malevolence.

This profound understanding of Thompson’s world makes Corneau’s Série noire one of the best adaptations of the novelist’s work on screen by far. The other exceptionally good Thompson adaptation happens to be another French film: Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de torchon (1981) takes one of Thompson’s most accomplished novels, Pop. 1280, and transposes it to colonial Africa, a setting that not only perfectly suits, but also intensifies, the climate of corruption of the original novel and its uncompromising vision of the rotting human soul. Clearly, Tavernier and his co-scriptwriter Jean Aurenche, like Corneau and Perec before them, had made the effort to read the book closely. Shame Winterbottom’s literary sensibilities are not quite as developed.

Virginie Sélavy



Format: Cinema

Release date: 25 June 2010

Venues: tbc

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writer: Francis Ford Coppola

Cast: Vincent Gallo, Maribel Verdíº, Alden Ehrenreich, Klaus Maria Brandauer

USA/Italy/Spain/Argentina 2009

127 mins

Tetro, Francis Ford Coppola’s first original screenplay in 30 years, has been hailed by some as a return to form. Although it is not in the same class as the four films he made in the 1970s (The Conversation [1970], The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 [1972-1974] and Apocalypse Now [1979] all regularly feature in all-time greatest film lists), it is reminiscent of some of his more interesting work from the following decade, particularly Rumble Fish, The Outsiders (both 1983) and One from the Heart (1982). Like the former, it is beautifully shot in high-contrast black and white.

Although Coppola’s writing credits are impressive - deservedly winning an Oscar for the brilliant Patton (Franklin J Schaffner, 1970) and co-writing The Godfather - it is the script that proves to be Tetro‘s flaw. It is an over-egged Freudian/Oedipal melodrama about an artistic Italian-American family, the Tetrocinis, and the effects of its dominating patriarch (Klaus Maria Brandauer grandly stating, ‘There’s only room for one genius in this family’), which has had everyone drawing comparisons with the Coppola clan (although who is supposed to represent Carmine, Francis, Sophia or Nic Cage is not exactly clear).

Set in Buenos Aires, the film centres on two brothers: a world-weary, beaten beatnik writer (Vincent Gallo in the title role) and his innocent younger brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich symbolically dressed in a pure white seaman’s uniform at the outset), who tries to discover why the talented brother he had grown up idolising is hiding from his family in Argentina and seems to have given up on his dream of becoming a writer.

As we meet Tetro’s quirky group of friends, a scene of an angry girlfriend cutting up Armani suits and smashing guitars sent worrying messages that we might be entering that same cliché-ridden ‘life among those passionate Latins and artists’ world presented to us by that other fading star of the 1970s, Woody Allen, in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). Luckily, such scenes do not dominate Tetro. What we have instead is an old-fashioned soapy plot that is somehow just too melodramatic to be engaging. And although Pedro Almodí³var has proved time and again that such a mix of stylish filmmaking and melodrama can work in the 21st century, Coppola is less successful with the blend here. Mostly because the film demands that we take the overblown drama seriously.

However, in most other aspects the film proves its worth. The performances are strong throughout. Vincent Gallo rises to operatic intensity to deliver a perfect hammy Dean/Brando impression that outshines both Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke in Coppola’s SE Hinton adaptations. Maribel Verdíº somehow holds the film together despite being a modern woman stuck in a 50s melodrama, and Alden Ehrenreich is a revelation - a C Thomas Howell for the 2010s (if one is needed).

As the drama moves from the mildly preposterous - Bennie discovering his brother’s magnum opus in a suitcase and finding that it was written in a secret code that can be read using a mirror - to full-blown ballet sequences, Coppola, who has never been known for subtlety, piles on the heavy metaphors. He might not be using the entire Vietnam War to show the corruption of the human soul here but costumes (dark glasses, leather jackets, plaster casts) and scenery (towering glaciers, glaring headlights) are all used ‘poetically’ to show the emotional and psychological depth of the characters.

Although the times when a film being ‘personal’ was seen as a sign of quality and of a ‘true artist at work’ are long gone, Coppola’s authorship here transcends the obvious autobiographical aspects. Visually, so much is borrowed that it could be argued that Coppola is more ‘pasticheur’ than ‘auteur’ but what shines through as personal is the director’s deep love of cinema. It is a film that seems more cinematic than his other works (if that is possible). Coppola himself credits the influence of Elia Kazan, whose blend of stylish location-based realism with the theatrical (as in Baby Doll [1956] and On the Waterfront [1954]) is certainly apparent in Tetro. This belief in the power of filmmaking and love of cinema (an excerpt of Powell and Pressburger’s Tales of Hoffman [1954] is even included in the film) stands to remind us of why Coppola, along with Spielberg, Bogdanovic and Scorsese, earned the collective moniker ‘the movie-brat generation’.

Tetro may be pretentious and bombastic but there is also much to enjoy. It is a beautiful film - the contribution of cinematographer Mihai Malamaire is every bit as vital as Vittore Storare’s work on One from the Heart and Apocalypse Now. And Tetro stands as proof that Coppola, with an almost stationary camera and nothing more technical than light on film, can still achieve a more stunning visual experience than the 3D CGI of Avatar.

Paul Huckerby

Two Films by Lucio Fulci

City of the Living Dead

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 24 May 2010

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Lucio Fulci

Writers: Lucio Fulci, Dardano Sacchetti

Original title: Paura nella cit&#224 dei morti viventi

Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi

Italy 1980

93 mins

You’d be forgiven for assuming Lucio Zombie Flesh Eaters Fulci’s 1980 City of the Living Dead would be another Dawn of the Dead clone, but Romero’s zombies could never teleport or leap from walls like ninjas, and I don’t remember them having the power to make people cry blood. The atypical ghouls are not the focus of the action, either, just one of many manifestations of evil that are summoned by the suicide of a Christopher Lee-lookalike priest in the Lovecraftily-named town of Dunwich.

If you’ve seen The Omen, you’ll be familiar with the amorphous ‘dark powers’ at work. This free form horror appeals to Fulci’s screw-the-story-in-favour-of-tenuously-strung-together-set-pieces approach. He’d already given us The Beyond by then and would go on to paint himself into his own haunted world in Cat in the Brain (the Curb Your Enthusiasm of Euro-horror), but City of the Living Dead is surely the best of all; heads are drilled through, brains ripped out, storms of maggots burst into homes, guts are puked up literally and endlessly; all this to a Fabio Frizzi soundtrack that challenges Goblin in the zombie-prog stakes.

Arrow Video have a geek-centric attitude, heroically commissioning video nasty-style box art, with a logo animation straight outta the VHS rental days. Even without all the fanboy-friendly extras (interviews, commentaries, etc), City of the Living Dead would be a great release; the transfer quality is a far cry from the bootleg I picked up at some pikey market so long ago. The crispness thankfully doesn’t ruin the special effects; it just makes the gore more sickening than ever, hooray!

Lizard in a Woman's Skin

Format: DVD

Release date: 7 June 2010

Distributor: Optimum

Director: Lucio Fulci

Writers: Lucio Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, José Luis Martínez Mollá, André Tranché

Original title: Una lucertola con la pelle di donna

Cast: Florinda Bolkan, Stanley Baker, Silvia Monti, Jean Sorel, Anita Strindberg

Italy/Spain/France 1971

104 mins

This month also sees the release of a less well-known Fulci movie: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a well put together Rosemary’s Baby-ish mystery, which is a pleasant surprise, kinda like discovering that your favourite black metal band started out doing garage rock. Prudish Carol (Florinda Bolkan) is fascinated yet revolted by her sleazy neighbour, Julia (Anita Strindberg), and her swingin’ orgiastic love-ins. In a nightmare, she is seduced by Julia, then kills her. When Julia turns up murdered in exactly the way it happened in Carol’s dream… it’s time to tick the Hitchcockian boxes and play ‘spot the giallo cliché’! Doorknob-jiggling chase sequences, cod-psychology and hunchbacked red herrings; all on cue.

What sets A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin apart from other Italian formula thrillers is its hallucinatory dream sequences (I like the one with the Toho-style goose monster) and its acid-soaked hippy happenings, lent authenticity by an Ennio Morricone (!) score that modulates druggily enough to have been phoned in from a crack den. The film also looks great, with a babe-heavy cast and Carnaby St wardrobe, and that film stock that makes everything warm and groovy. The blood looks like red paint, but that never hurt HG Lewis. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin doesn’t approach the bloodiness of City of the Living Dead, but Lucio the Butcher does rear his dripping entrails… always when you least expect it.

This one is an Optimum release, and the only special features you get are a grainy trailer that makes it look like it’s going to be The Trip, and the option to watch in Italian.

To gore hounds considering one of these, I recommend City of the Living Dead. If you’re a Fulci fan wanting to check out his early work, then A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin will show you what he’s capable of when he’s not being gory and/or confusing. Each offers a glimpse into the bottomless Gothic toolkit of a horror master.

Doc Horror

audio Listen to the podcast of Alex Fitch’s interview with Dario Argento + Goblin Q&A at the Supersonic music festival in Birmingham.



Format: DVD

Release date: 10 May 2010

Distributor: Icon

Directors: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Paween Purikitpanya, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, Parkpoom Wongpoom

Writers: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Paween Purikitpanya, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, Parkpoom Wongpoom

Original title: See prang

Cast: Laila Boonyasak, Maneerat Kham-uan, Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk

Thailand 2008

111 mins

As with most horror anthologies, Phobia (or 4bia to give the film its alternative, gimmicky title) is a mixed bag. A quartet of ghost stories from Thailand that vary in stylistic tricks and genre clichés, they are united by the impression they give of being extended 10-minute shorts hastily jammed together with no particular format. Some of the stories are linked by references to other characters but there’s no common theme or central thread, and the title itself is misleading: this isn’t an exploration of different phobias, just a straightforward play on people’s understandable and natural fear of ghosts.

The first segment, Happiness, is throwaway. A lonely woman is trapped in her apartment thanks to a broken leg and begins a text conversation with an admirer from beyond the grave. With little dialogue and the girl constantly flipping up her mobile to check for messages, it seems to have been written by the cut-throat producers from the Orange ads and proves why interacting with technology just doesn’t make for good cinema, no matter how much the phone companies want it to happen.

This is followed by Tit for Tat, a jittery, flashy attempt to create a mythological villain in the style of Japan’s Ring or Death Note. The rushed story sees a school kid take revenge on a gang of bullies by invoking some sort of devilish spirit from a book, the gimmick being that whoever looks at the page is instantly killed. This results in some splattery deaths that would be vastly improved if director Paween Purikitpanya stopped his pop video editing and filter changes to give the characters some room to breathe. Tension is sacrificed for gore, perhaps to cram in the thrills lacking from Happiness, and it quickly descends into muddy and unnecessary computer effects that only prove why all successful horror movies employ the ‘less is more’ approach.

The second half is a vast improvement with In the Middle being the anthology’s stand-out, not because it’s particularly scary but because it keeps a tight, coherent plot, revolving around a group of lads on a camping holiday who are haunted by a friend after he’s drowned. It’s the most post-modern of the collection with the guys talking about twists in movies and ghost stories while being trapped in one themselves. Like Scream it’s self-referential, director Parkpoom Wongpoom even gives away the ending to his own film Shutter, and the humour is engaging until it reveals a neat little shock of its own.

Last Fright is the most technically accomplished of the bunch, a slow-burning chiller that doesn’t rely on ropey effects, just old-fashioned storytelling. It follows an air stewardess looking after the sole passenger on a plane who she inadvertently kills due to a food allergy. She must then make the return journey with the body, which, of course, comes back to haunt her. Thunderstorms and sheer panic evoke William Shatner’s desperate passenger in the classic Twilight Zone episode ‘Nightmare at 20000 Feet’ but Last Fright‘s slow start sums up the issue with Phobia as a whole; that at half an hour, each story stretches its concept thinly - except for Tit for Tat, which feels like a feature film stripped of its characterisation - and put together it’s a lengthy exercise, but one that does showcase Wongpoom’s skill as an accomplished horror director.

Richard Badley

Phobia screened at the Terracotta Festival of Far East Film in May 2010.

The Grifters

The Grifters

Format: DVD

Release date: 26 February 2007

Distributor: Optimum

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Donald E Westlake

Based on the novel by: Jim Thompson

Cast: Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening

USA 1990

110 mins

At the start of The Grifters, small-time scam artist Roy Dillon (John Cusack) walks into a bar, intending to make some easy money by switching a $20 bill for a $10 spot when ordering a bottle of beer; however, the bartender has seen this trick before, and punishes Roy by punching him in the gut with a baseball bat, causing a near-fatal injury that results in hospitalisation. In most American movies, a swift trip to the emergency room, and the recuperation that follows, would prompt the central protagonist to reconsider his personal and professional values, but The Grifters is an adaptation of a 1963 novel by Jim Thompson, arguably the most nihilistic of the second generation of noir writers, and Roy is a typical Thompson anti-hero, hurriedly checking out of the hospital to get back to his routine. However, the presence in his life of two strong-willed women causes complications; his mother Lilly (Anjelica Houston) works for a powerful bookmaker, placing last-minute bets at the track to lower the odds on long shots while skimming off the top for her retirement plan; his girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) is a former long-con operator, reduced to paying her rent with sexual favours. Both women fiercely compete for Roy’s loyalty; Lilly offers him the most motherly advice she can muster after a life on the grift, warning her son that ‘you don’t stand still, you go up or down’, while Myra becomes infuriated with his lack of interest in her ideas for relieving big-time tycoons of their immense wealth via stock market fraud. Roy tries to sever ties with both women, a sensible decision that makes him a strangely sympathetic individual amid the author’s rogues’ gallery of morally bankrupt bottom feeders.

As befits someone who is keen to conceal his past but has no specific plans for the future, Roy’s life is a carefully constructed facade; he resides in a low-rent hotel room with ‘cornball clown pictures’ on the wall, engaging in friendly banter with the manager of the establishment and meaningless sex with Myra, while maintaining a legitimate job as a matchbox salesman. His scams are ‘small-time stuff’ and he insists that he can walk away from the life whenever he wants; within the context of the criminal underworld, Roy is something of a working stiff, a competent ‘mechanic’ with a stable life and some superficial human relationships. The character of Roy Dillon is perhaps Thompson’s most semi-autobiographical creation; the summer before he wrote The Grifters, the author was hospitalised with a severe stomach condition and nearly died from bleeding ulcers, and Thompson even used the name ‘Dillon’ as a pseudonym when he joined the communist party. The resentful relationship between Roy and Lilly suggests that their inability to trust others stems from an unpleasant childhood, and was possibly inspired by Thompson’s upbringing; his father was a sheriff, but was forced to leave amid rumours of embezzlement; the Thompson family relocated and he worked as a bellhop in Texas hotels, where he witnessed the petty crime, alcohol abuse and confidence games that would feature in his ‘fiction’, often supplementing his meagre wages by procuring heroin and marijuana for the unsavoury guests.

While Roy is smart enough to take advantage of easy marks such as a group of soldiers on a train, he is not sufficiently ruthless to entirely evade the predatory advances of Lilly or Myra, and Cusack engages in a series of hard-boiled exchanges with his co-stars that are appropriately at odds with the puppy dog features of an actor who had just graduated from such teen movies as The Sure Thing (1985) and Say Anything (1989). Lilly is only 14 years older than her son, and the Oedipal tension between them is palpable, while Myra is also older and more experienced, but her perky ‘good-time girl’ persona belies an extensive working knowledge of the ‘long con’ and a contacts book that includes Lilly’s employer Bobo Justus (Pat Hingle), a suave mobster who dishes out personal concern and professional cruelty in equal measure. For all his insistence on independence, Roy is trapped by the duelling personalities of Lilly and Myra, and this is emphasised in an early sequence that segues into split screen to introduce the three characters, thereby setting up a twisted love triangle that will inevitably end in tragedy.

Screenwriter Donald E Westlake found the source novel ‘too gloomy’ and initially declined the assignment, only for director Stephen Frears to convince him to reconsider by suggesting that they emphasise the survival instincts of Lilly, and pare down Thompson’s already sparse prose by excising a sub-plot concerning Roy’s affair with Carol, the nurse who aids his recovery. Frears also took liberties with the period trappings of the source material, acknowledging both the noir era of Thompson’s fiction and the author’s very modern approach to character and genre; the 1940s dresses, 1950s architecture, 1970s automobiles, 1980s suits serve to create an ambiguous time frame, although one that remains grounded in reality, unlike Michael Oblowitz’s later adaptation of This World, Then the Fireworks (1997), which aimed for pastiche but regrettably lurched into parody. Thompson admitted to being as influenced by the movies as he was by the previous generation of crime writers, and Frears includes numerous nods to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), from the ‘mother complex’ of the male protagonist to the Arizona motel sequence, while the closing elevator descent into ‘hell’ recalls the more overtly satanic noir of Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (1987).

The Grifters was released around the same time as two other Thompson adaptations, Maggie Greenwald’s The Kill Off (1989) and James Foley’s After Dark, My Sweet (1990). However, the marketing muscle of Miramax and the much publicised presence of Martin Scorsese as executive producer and narrator ensured that The Grifters received greater critical attention and achieved modest box office success, also earning four Oscar nominations. Oliver Stapleton’s sun-drenched cinematography, the star casting, and the suggestion that Roy may be redeemable, probably lent this particular Thompson adaptation a degree of mainstream accessibility, but Frears utilises his attractive actors to envision the author’s characters at their most unpleasant and untrustworthy; ‘I was hoping we could play it straight with one another,’ Lilly says to Roy in their penultimate encounter. ‘I guess not,’ replies Roy, although his wavering loyalty from Myra to Lilly suggests that he is looking for an honest relationship. In this respect, he lacks the ruthlessness that Thompson’s world view demands of even those who are ‘strictly short-con’, and Roy’s fate is sealed by such sentimental indecision. In terms of its treatment of Thompson’s man-in-the-middle, The Grifters is a splendidly cynical adaptation of a stone-cold literary classic.

John Berra

Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer inside Me is released in the UK on June 4.

After Dark, My Sweet

After Dark, My Sweet

Format: Region 1 DVD

Release date: 26 March 2002

Distributor: Artisan Home Entertainment

Director: James Foley

Writers: Robert Redlin, James Foley

Based on the novel by: Jim Thompson

Cast: Jason Patric, Rachel Ward, Bruce Dern

USA 1990

114 mins

A sun-drenched film noir set in the Palm Springs desert, After Dark, My Sweet drips with tension and a brooding sensuality as two desperate people, a disgraced ex-cop and a struggling widow, ensnare a vulnerable and disturbed drifter in their scheme to kidnap a wealthy family’s son for ransom. Based on the 1955 novel by Jim Thompson and directed by James Foley, the film captures the sinister, yet morally ambiguous tone of the author’s pulp fiction.

Jason Patric, then a teen heartthrob who had last appeared in The Lost Boys, stars alongside 80s pin-up Rachel Ward, who spends much of the film dressed in a pair of cut-off jean shorts, showing off her impossibly long legs. Patric plays ex-boxer ‘Kid’ Collins, who is on the run from a mental institution when he meets Ward’s Fay in an empty bar. Black and white flashbacks to his vicious final bout hint at the reason for his confinement, and it’s easy to assume that too many beatings have made the boxer dim-witted. He even shuffles along as if he’s still in the ring, itching for a fight.

Given a menial job by Fay, and a home in a trailer parked on her land, Kid is soon introduced to Uncle Bud, played by Bruce Dern at his sleaziest, with long white hair and a procession of Hawaii shirts. Blinded by his attraction to Fay, and despite her half-hearted warning to stay away, Kid finds himself entangled in their plot to kidnap the town’s wealthiest son. Kid is soon set up as the kidnapper, and the fall guy.

But Kid Collins has something in common with Thompson’s other leading men: seemingly slow and underestimated by everyone, he’s darkly clever, and deeply disturbed. Kid’s smouldering blue eyes are the only hint that he’s not as slow as he seems, although he does warn Fay and Uncle Bud (to little avail) not to treat him like he’s stupid. It’s only as the film builds to its taut, near-perfect conclusion that he reveals himself for what he truly is - a frighteningly intelligent man who has one last shot at making something of his meaningless life.

It’s an impressive performance by Patric, and the sexual tension between Kid and Fay is certainly palpable (although the sex scenes show little of the violence that marks Thompson’s work - an issue that’s already causing controversy around the release of The Killer inside Me). There’s no denying Rachel Ward’s sex appeal, but it’s a shame that she isn’t a better actress - good at playing drunk, she over-acts in the melodramatic moments when the kidnapping of the young, lonely and neglected boy starts to go horribly wrong.

Despite its minor flaws, Foley’s film is a lean, compelling thriller whose fluid tracking shots and rusty brown and gold hues have aged surprisingly well in the 20 years since its release, while Patric, whose career never quite took off, is still a heartthrob.

Sarah Cronin

Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer inside Me is released in the UK on June 4.

The Getaway

The Getaway

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 18 July 2005

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Writer: Walter Hill

Based on the novel by: Jim Thompson

Cast: Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw, Ben Johnson, Sally Struthers, Al Lettieri

USA 1972

122 mins

Sam Peckinpah might well have featured in the top 10 list of directors most likely to successfully bring Jim Thompson’s dark misanthropic world view to celluloid - if he hadn’t made The Getaway. Thompson’s 1959 novel was filmed in 1972 as a Steve McQueen star-vehicle, and thus not only is the violence softened, but McQueen’s Doc McCoy - a bank robber who is paroled from prison with the assistance of crime lord Jack Beynon (Ben Johnson) only to escape with the loot - is certainly a more sympathetic character than his literary equivalent. Thompson’s mean-spirited slobbish lowlife (perfectly captured by Philippe Noiret in Bertrand Tavernier’s Coup de torchon) becomes that Hollywood stereotype - the charming professional criminal with his own strong moral code. There is no doubting McQueen’s presence and star quality, but he is just too cool and likeable to play a Thompson anti-hero. Peckinpah, who was something of a hired hand at McQueen’s request (in recompense for the brilliant elegiac neo-Western Junior Bonner, a commercial failure but a happy collaboration for Peckinpah and McQueen), might have done better to cast his favourite actor - Warren Oates.

But a McQueen film it is and Jim Thompson’s influence is thus diminished. That is not to say that The Getaway is a bad film, it’s just very different from the book. With Peckinpah at the height of his directorial powers, it’s certainly a cut above the hollow voguish-ness of Bullitt. An incredible wordless title sequence portrays the inhuman mechanistic prison system as Doc is refused parole. The daring non-chronological cutting shows Doc’s dreams of freedom become a reality in the memorable swimming sequence. Making use of his stars’ burgeoning real-life romance (MacGraw left her husband, producer Robert Evans, and married McQueen shortly after), The Getaway becomes an odd blend of matrimonial drama and heist film. McQueen is almost convincing as a cuckolded husband torn apart by his wife’s indiscretion (even she did it to ensure his release from prison). But marriage guidance Sam Peckinpah-style (yes, he even slaps her at one point, despite McQueen’s complaints to his director) proves to be as much a trial as the getaway itself. And what in other hands (Peter Yates take note) could have become a stylish but mindless action thriller becomes a complex drama about relationships and trust issues, complete with narrow escapes and explosive shoot-outs.

The long running time allows for an almost episodic structure with some great set-pieces as various police, gangsters and petty criminals attempt to help themselves to the half a million dollars. The minimal script by Walter Hill (who went on to direct The Driver and The Warriors) is enhanced by some colourful performances by the supporting cast. Al Lettieri’s kidnapping of Sally Struthers and her husband is as disturbing as it is funny and Peckinpah regular Ben Johnson is excellent as the scheming Beynon. Even Ali MacGraw, not always the most skilled actor, does some good work here.

This being a Hollywood movie, the hellish ending of Jim Thompson’s novel has been dropped, but even Peckinpah films never end as bleakly as that. And although the studio system of the 1970s is perhaps what prevented The Getaway from being a more faithful adaptation it seems we are even further away from such a possibility now. That said, maybe Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer inside Me will prove me wrong - after all, in A Cock and Bull Story (2005) he remains true to what was perhaps the most un-filmable of literary voices, that of Lawrence Sterne.

Paul Huckerby

Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer inside Me is released in the UK on June 4.

The Party’s Over

The Party's Over

Format: Dual Format Edition: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 17 May 2010

Distributor: Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

Director: Guy Hamilton

Writer: Marc Behm

Cast: Oliver Reed, Clifford David, Ann Lynn, Katherine Woodville, Louise Sorel

UK 1963-65

94 mins

Originally filmed in 1962, British melodrama The Party’s Over was shelved for three years after censors objected to some of its themes - most notably that of necrophilia. An edited version eventually received a limited release in 1965, by which time its director had gone on to huge success with Goldfinger. Perhaps nervous of jeopardising his burgeoning Hollywood career, Guy Hamilton had his name removed from the film, disowning it in interviews - and until recently it was thought to be totally lost.

Now restored to its full length by the BFI’s excellent Flipside strand, it’s most interesting for capturing a particular period in British cultural history, one normally overshadowed by the myth of the Technicolor Swinging Sixties. Yes, The Party’s Over takes place in the pre-pop world of the beatnik, where London (Chelsea, to be exact) is a reckless but somewhat dowdy place, where the wild antics of a group of nihilistic artists consist mostly of listening to jazz, drinking pints of mild and wearing baggy jumpers. When they’re not doing this, they’re painting people green, pulling on roll-ups or speaking in mannered hepcat slang (‘I’m just a dead fly in the soup at the tycoon banquet’).

Into this milieu arrives Carson, a clean-cut American businessman who has flown to England to look for his girlfriend, a spoiled rich girl who is being pursued by a wonderfully brooding Oliver Reed, himself the head of the beatnik gang. But what begins as a neat examination of cultural misunderstandings soon develops into something far more compelling, as Carson attempts to find out the truth behind his girlfriend’s disappearance and struggles to come to terms with the gruesome truth that it reveals.

Viewed today, the film is a potent mix of the kitsch and the genuinely unsettling. Written by Marc Behm (who later also co-authored one of the defining pop flicks, Help!) and featuring a zippy score by a young John Barry, it nevertheless occasionally descends into the kind of wearisome moralising and middle-aged prurience evident in other cautionary tales of the era. It’s hard not to attribute this to Hamilton, a man who spent most of the 1970s directing Roger Moore in various pastel-coloured safari suits in a series of increasingly hackneyed and conservative instalments of the Bond franchise. Produced by Jack Hawkins and, oddly, Peter O’Toole, The Party’s Over nevertheless deals with its themes in an intelligent and un-sensational way - even daring to ask us as an audience what exactly it is about degradation and death that we choose to be entertained by. For that reason alone, it’s a worthwhile watch.

Pat Long

Also available in the BFI’s Flipside strand: Gerry O’Hara’s The Pleasure Girls (1965).

Diamonds of the Night

Diamonds of the Night

Format: DVD

Release date: 10 May 2010

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Jan Němec

Writers: Jan Němec, Arnost Lustig

Original title: Démanty noci

Cast: Ladislav Jánsky, Antonín Kumbera, Irma Bischofova

Czechoslovakia, 1964

64 mins

Diamonds of the Night is a very closely focused film, and its focus is the moment-to-moment bodily experience of two young Czechs on the run from the Nazis. At the same time it is loose in structure. The protagonists’ occurrent experiences are intermingled with sights and sounds from their memories and imaginations. The material is selected and edited apparently more for expressive than for narrative purposes. Various distancing and disorientating techniques characteristic of the 1960s New Wave are deployed. Most prominent of these are temporal fragmentation and repetition: there is so much of the latter that a 64-minute film is compiled out of less than an hour’s worth of material. In addition, sound levels go up and down, light effects include overexposure and dazzle, at certain moments of tension the focus of the camera is too close for us to see what’s going on, and towards the climax of the story there are jarring switches of mood and emotional tone. The rough monochrome cinematography imparts a stark realist feel. The mundanity of much of what we see adds to the impression that this is not a story being enacted, but unplanned events being observed.

The film is driven nevertheless by a grim sense of purpose. It certainly makes you feel what is shown, which is something pretty harsh. The ordeal that bodily existence becomes for the fugitives is vividly conveyed in small details - the state of their feet, their pitiful brushwood shelter, the discovery that they can’t eat the longed-for bread because their mouths are too sore. This is a bleak, numb film, almost wordless, turned inward to lay bare the experience of humans in extremis. There is no refuge taken in detachment from the subject matter, such as often makes the New Wave seem cynical.

Peter Momtchiloff

Read a review of Jan Němec’s The Party and the Guests (1966).



Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 28 June 2010

Distributor: Optimum

Director: Johnnie To

Writer: Ka-Fai Wai

Original title: Fuk sau

Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Gordon Lam, Lam Suet, Simon Yam

Hong Kong/France 2009

108 mins

In his recent movies, Hong Kong director Johnnie To has been pushing the crime genre in strange new directions. Mad Detective blended a police procedural with barmy surrealism, while Sparrow was much more light-hearted, a hip caper with plenty of nods to 60s French cinema. But Vengeance marks a return to what To does best - stripped down gangster stories with a hard-boiled edge and slickly executed stand-offs. With this film, he has gone back to the action of Exiled and the detachment of his crime saga Election.

The plot is simple - a woman barely survives the assassination of her family and demands that her father Costello (Hallyday), a French chef, take revenge on those responsible. Costello employs a trio of hitmen (played by To favourites Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Gordon Lam and Lam Suet) to track them down, but there are a number of twists and turns as the group make their way to Simon Yam’s unrepentant crime lord.

The main stumbling block is Costello’s own memory, which is slowly failing him. He takes pictures of people to remember their names and faces and his condition worsens to the point where he can forget where he actually is. While this all sounds a bit Memento, To keeps this theme very much in the background, playing out the shoot-outs and double crosses as you’d expect but leaving Costello’s degrading motivation as a nagging question for the audience - can he take revenge if he cannot even remember why he’s doing it?

Revenge in cinema often falls into two camps; either it is a moment of glorious catharsis or it transforms the protagonist into the sort of person who wronged him in the first place. Vengeance is less clear-cut. Here, revenge becomes a commodity, bought and sold by the various parties involved in the criminal world, so much so that Costello is almost completely removed from proceedings and his original goal ceases to matter. But To isn’t one to hammer these points home, and Costello’s condition is played subtly at first while To wallows in the seedily lit Macau location, showing that he is still very much about style and visuals.

As usual, To provides some memorable set-pieces that are both playful and fraught with tension. One is the climactic shootout that sees Costello’s hired assassins surrounded by gangsters who roll out huge bales of paper ahead of them as protection. The other is the final face-off in which Costello’s enemy is plastered with stickers so that the Frenchman can remember who he’s hunting, and once his target works that out he starts sticking the flags on other people to confuse him. It’s this simple poetry that gives To’s films a distinctive mark, this touch of the bizarre and the humorous that sets his work out from the crowd.

Vengeance might be a little Westernised for some die-hard To fans. It goes at a slower pace and the inclusion of French singer/actor Hallyday might seem like To is pandering to European audiences, but the director proves himself once again to be a master of the crime film. With each new film he manages to approach the genre from a fresh, unexpected angle and Vengeance takes revenge into dark, compelling territory.

Richard Badley

Vengeance screened at the Terracotta Festival of Far East Film in May 2010.