So… a camp, stylized 80s musical about a snooker match of which one of the players is a vampire you say? Yes, it has been done. The UK has a bit of a history of putting out some really camp musicals: Ken Russell did a few (Tommy and Lisztomania) which are the most obvious, then of course anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber which is of dubious quality.
Other than the two aforementioned Ken Russell films the other points of reference for this film include the most popular, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and then it’s lesser known sequel “new wave” tinged sequel, Shock Treatment. Or perhaps my favourite, Brian De Palma’s The Phantom Of The Paradise which features a gothic-styled synthesizer playing half-cyborg.
Billy The Kid and the Baize Green Vampire — the name alone draws up a lot of curiousity and that’s pretty much how I got around to watching it. That and London/mod poster boy of the 70s and 80s, Phil Daniels, was starring in this — a musical. Two points of interest right there.
The film was directed by Alan Clarke, who directed a lot of films based on the reality of life in London in the 70s and 80s with classics such as the gritty Made In Britain starring Tim Roth as a skinhead and the comedy-drama Rita, Sue and Bob Too.
Somewhere in between those films Clarke decided to take a far more artier slant with Billy The Kid… The first thing one notices is the complete lack of outside, establishing shots. Most of the scenes are shot in somewhat claustrophobic, artifically lit neon rooms. Any scenes that take place “outside”, such as driving in a car, are completely artificial — laid thick with ridiculous amounts of impossible coloured lighting and smoke, much like the way Fellini opted to shoot ocean scenes by making watery waves out of garbage bags.
The house of “the vampire” Maxwell Randall is gothic baroque meets whisky parlour gone into dark and murky overdrive. Mrs Randall, played by Eve Ferret, sports a number of alarming/amazing hairstyles and wardrobe changes throughout the film.
I personally like the really dark, artificial look of the film and evokes similar vibes to other 80s films that opt for the same nighttime fantasy feel; perhaps not too unlike Liquid Sky or Scorsese’s After Hours.
And much like most musical films to me, the transition from dialogue to musical is usually incredibly awkward and over-the-top, which adds greatly to the entertainment value. Phil Daniels seems a little bit shaky in his boots signing lead in some of the numbers but other performers fare well in the format, including the agitated and menacing Alun Armstrong as the vampire, and Bruce Payne having a hidden talent for singing. The MC who introduces the final snooker match is absolutely ridiculous and probably one reason to watch this film on that performance alone.
The musical numbers were penned by George Fenton, who has had his creative output in a lot of classic British television and film over the decades, including the iconic reggae-meets-accordion, Police-styled theme tune to the popular 80s maverick detective show, Bergerac. For me there’s many similarities between that show and Miami Vice but that’s a completely different article unto itself.
The tunes are epic, rock musical fare and if you’re into the cheesier side of film you’ll be throughly entertained at some of the lyrics and the context in which the musical numbers are set. And if you’re one really into all things that culturally “camp”, especially those from the 80s, this will surely fit the bill.
And most people that know me know my taste in films range from high brow to trash, and the wonderful, creative things in between.