Twelve years ago, young British filmmaker Darren Ward shot his very own homage to the Italian police movies and British gangster flicks of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and ended up with the explosively bloody “Sudden Fury” (which we’ve only just recently reviewed for its latest UK release on DVD). Like many of the very low budget shot-on-video efforts that have proliferated across the home viewing market in the meantime, a lot of things about the film were quite amateurish and poorly realised. But still there was in it an energy, and an obvious talent for the execution of extremely convincing, well-choreographed action sequences, that helped bring home to anyone watching that there was a great deal of potential here in terms of what Ward might go on to achieve with any future work.
Well, it may have taken over a decade to arrive, but the director’s second full-length feature represents a massive leap in quality over its predecessor. Most of the ‘mistakes’ that plagued “Sudden Fury” have been sorted out for “A Day of Violence”; in many ways, the film plays much like a stripped down, simplified remake of that previous film, but with an added emotional core underpinning the prodigious tally of on-screen carnage Ward proves still very much drawn towards (although it takes until very near the end for this aspect of the story to be fully unveiled). There are generally much stronger performances all round from the cast as well, even if the script does still stumble on some clunky dialogue here and there. The film looks considerably better than most indie flicks that attempt this genre: shot on HD Digital Video, it’s been graded to give it a far more professional sheen than its often rather bland-looking 12-year-old cousin.
Other than that, the story is not a million miles away from that of “Sudden Fury” -- but without all its unnecessary complications and needlessly over-involved digressions. We’re back in the violent, macho world of angry drug dealing gangsters and small-time urban debt collectors, desperate double crossings and uncompromising killers who take total revenge on those who wrong them. Ward even throws in another luminary of the golden age of Italian exploitation flicks: “Sudden Fury” gave us a memorable performance from David Warbeck, and “A Day of Violence” follows up on that with a short but vital appearance by another veteran of Lucio Fulci’s ‘80s period, Giovanni Lombardo Radice -- although his neck is gashed open and he’s spraying his arterial blood all over the walls before we even get to the opening titles.
Mitchell Parker (Nick Rendell) – like most of the macho male cast, a beefy skinhead -- is sent to pick up a routine debt for his seedy crime boss, from an even seedier lowlife drug pusher called Hopper (Radice), but finds a much larger stash of money hidden away inside the scumbag’s unkempt flat. He decides to kill Hopper, pocket the mysterious cash, and quit his job to go and work for another crime lord who pays better wages. Mitchell then shows up for work at his new boss Curtis Boswell’s (Victor D. Thorn) warehouse base-of-operations, only to find his best mate Smithy (Steve Humphries) being tortured for creaming off monies from Boswell’s finances. Mitchell’s even more worried, though, when he realises that the money he’s just stolen from Hopper’s flat actually belonged to Boswell, and his very first job for his new boss involves being sent on a mission to retrieve the haul with Boswell’s thuggish right-hand man Chisel (Christopher Fosh).
Mitchell subsequently finds himself being drawn further and further into a maelstrom of violence and deceit as it becomes clear to him that the half-crazy Boswell will stop at nothing to get his cash back. He’s forced to take a massive risk when Boswell sends him and Chisel to see Smithy’s wife, believing that the dead man must have stolen the money and that his wife will know of its location. Watching in horror as Chisel sets to work torturing and disfiguring his dead pal’s wife, it’s not long before he can take no more and realises that he will have to rescue her. This act forces him to go on the run while Chisel and Boswell’s men start to look a bit more closely at his involvement in the case. Unfortunately for Mitchell, Hopper secretly filmed him on his mobile phone before he was killed, discovering and bagging the cash! And after Chisel finds the video, Mitchell’s days appear to be numbered; he ends up facing a similarly unpleasant fate to the hapless Smithy as Boswell and his men string him up and prepare to get to work on him …
“A Day of Violence” starts out in an unlikely ode to “Sunset Blvd”, with Mitchell already lying dead in the mortuary with a large hole in his abdomen the size of a cannon ball. Nevertheless, it’s Mitchell’s voice we hear on the soundtrack, supplying a voice-over that sets the scene for how he will come to end up in this sorry state. We flash back twenty-four hours beforehand, with the small-time heavy desperate for cash for reasons that don’t emerge until near the end of the movie; and although the logic that is eventually put forward for why this money would make any difference to the particular situation Mitchell feels guilty for having caused and wants to alleviate isn’t exactly water-tight, it does at least imbue the character with a certain pathos, giving him a cause to fight for and explaining his determination to plough on relentlessly in the face of overwhelming odds. There is a believable motivation underlying the character’s actions -- one of the things that was lacking in the cardboard cut-out world of “Sudden Fury”. Yet Ward stuffs the film with everything that worked in Sudden Fury” and which that film had in abundance: it’s an orgy of bloody gore, violence, swearing, shouting and lots of John Woo style pyrotechnics, with the director simply organising the material a little bit more succinctly, and ensuring the tension and the bloodletting increase steadily throughout the picture as the stakes are seen to get ever higher.
There’s another uninhibited sex scene -- this time at the start of the film, since this is probably the only space in the narrative where there is room for it – with Nick Rendell (who’s bulked up at bit since his fresh-faced days as the lead in “Sudden Fury”) and the impressive Tina Barnes getting surprisingly graphic for the occasion. The violence starts with a brutal neck gashing, continues with a horrifically grotesque castration scene and spirals into a welter of punishing gunfire that zaps across the screen from then on in, with all the attendant squibs pyrotechnics and vicious beatings you can stomach in one sitting. The pacing builds steadily until we get to a tense man-hunt that dominates the latter half of the picture, the amusingly hysterical crime lord Boswell spending the whole film shouting insults at his blundering henchmen (who all seem to have cutesy names like ‘Noodles’ and ‘Chisel’), while Mitchell vainly tries to find someone he can trust to give him shelter on the streets of Southampton. Victor D. Thorn still makes a violently villainous foil to Nick Rendell’s mean and moody protagonist, and there’s even more of an emphasis on torture in this film than there was in the last -- perhaps a sign of the times and an indication of the way the genre has developed in the intervening years. The film is shot in a hyper-propulsive, modern style and the extra layer of digital grading gives it a pleasingly film-like aesthetic that reminded me a little of the murky, hand-held graininess of “24” in its heyday. The special effects are equally impressive, with all manner of outrageous gore splattering across the screen throughout the entirety of the film -- these gangsters proving particularly inventive in dreaming up some imaginative punishments for each other, making use of circular saws, chainsaws and even garden implements such as garden shears at one point -- a pair of which get used in an eye wateringly specific fashion. Mitchell’s face gets pummelled to a pulp once the debt collector is captured by Boswell’s men, and Rendell accordingly spends about half of the film covered from head to toe in bloody grue and suffering under a hefty weight of prosthetic make-up as his injuries get worse and worse. Most of the movie was shot in real locations such as warehouses and in what appears to be a working print factory, and so is imbued with that extra sense of gritty urban realism to heighten the sense of cruel fatalism attending this tale of certain death and bloody struggle. Ward has succeeded in creating a relentless, pulse-throbbing, bullet-pocked bloodbath of a movie, with redemptive sacrifice as its compelling theme and a cruel twist of fate at the very end.
The film’s transfer is gritty and grainy but in a deliberately styled fashion. A few subtle digital effects have been added in post-production (during a visceral car crash scene for instance) and give the whole enterprise an extra gloss of professionalism that was blatantly lacking in the ropey home video appearance of “Sudden Fury”. Once again Ward has commissioned another great throbbing synth soundtrack that sounds like it could easily have been lifted from an ‘80s European horror flick, and which works well to lift the tone of proceedings and imbue them with an air of pumped up sophistication. The DVD comes with a 25 minute behind-the-scenes documentary that includes Giovanni Lombardo Radice on set discussing how he should approach his character with the director (he relies on developing his character’s body movement to get a feel for a role, it emerges) and relating an anecdote about getting stoned with his co-star Antonella Interlenghi while on the set of “City of the Living Dead”. Most of the rest of the documentary consists of footage of various special effects sequences being prepared, and some short on-set interviews with cast and extras snatched while preparing certain scenes, particularly a massacre sequence filmed in a night club near the end of the shoot.
“A Day of Violence” is bloody, violent, loud, confident, nihilistic and brash: all the usual ingredients of a full on balls-to-the-wall (although the balls end up splattered all over the floor in this instance!) gangster flick, delivered with a brutal sense of style and an uncompromisingly direct sense of panache. From merely showing great promise in his debut, Darren Ward has delivered the goods this time out, with a startling blast of slick, gore-drenched action that’s well worth seeking out by anyone who enjoys their action films raw, relentless and intensely physical.