31st Aug2015

Frightfest 2015: ‘Banjo’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: James Hamer-Morton, Damian Morter, Laurence R. Harvey, Dan Palmer, Dani Thompson, Vito Trigo, David Curtis, Eloise Daye | Written and Directed by Liam Regan

banjo-ronnie

It’s a credit to a film festival like Frightfest that so many of its attendees not only are wannabe filmmakers, but actually put their proverbial money where their mouth is and make movies – be they shorts that screen as part of the ever-popular Short Film Showcase and the fantastic Shortcuts to Hell competition the festival held last year or, as in the case of Banjo, full length features.

Based on the short film of the same name, Banjo tells the story of Peltzer Arbuckle, a bullied office employee, humiliated by his megalomaniac boss, teasing colleagues and cheating partner. Stuck in his mundane, nightmarish reality, once news about an embarrassing sexual accident circulates the workplace, Peltzer decides to put up with his misery no more, and conjures up his childhood imaginary friend Ronnie who manipulates him to exact gruesome revenge on his tormenting co-workers. As the body count rises, Peltzer must either run away from his past or take control of his future, battling between sanity and madness in a twisted tale of infidelity, revenge and snapped banjo strings (and for those unaware of the term, click here for the NSFW definition).

It’s safe to say Banjo wears its influences on its sleeve. Inspired by the likes of low-budget independent studio Troma and Charles Band’s Full Moon label (two companies whose works undoubteldy influenced my love of the genre), Regan’s film is the bastard lovechild of a thousand movies of that era, the era in which I grew up renting VHS after VHS of films I picked purely on the basis of the cover art and a brief synopsis. You only have to hear name checks of the likes of Frank Henlotter, director of Basket Case; and Andre Toulon, the creator of the puppets in Full Moon’s Puppetmaster franchise, to realise that. But Banjo is also something more…

Banjo could be the birth of a new horror icon.

The 80s were a boom era for horror superstars. Jason, Chucky, Freddy – you know who I’m talking about even if you’ve never seen one of their movies. That’s how iconic they became. Well would it surprise you to discover that Banjo‘s Ronnie is just as terrifyingly insane as Freddy Kreuger? And as riotous as Troma’s Toxie? The character is a fantastic mix of the wisecracking evil nature of Robert Englund’s character, with the demented over-the-top antics of the likes of the Toxic Avenger and the “heroes” of Troma’s universe (Sgt. Kabukiman et al.). There truly is scope for an entire franchise featuring the sex-crazed, gore-filled antics of Ronnie – even if he is just a figment of Peltzer’s imagination!

Whilst Banjo is a hell of a lot of fun, it is not perfect. Originally screened at Cannes in a much longer cut, the film has already been re-edited to tighten up the film but there are still some pacing issues, especially early on in the film – the montages featuring Ronnie and Peltzer getting “reaquainted” could easily be trimmed without either characters story arc suffering; plus we’d get to the more zanier, and gorier, aspect of the film a little faster. Plus some of the cast really don’t stack up against leads James Hamer-Morton (Peltzer) and Damian Morter (Ronnie) – who also doubled up as the films DP, doing a stunning job with both roles. Morton’s transformation from put-upon nerd to revenge seeking psycho is particular a joy to watch!

Despite any issues I may have had with the movie, for a first time feature writer/director Liam Regan has done wonders. He has taken his years as a horror fan and channeled it into a film that other fans can, and should, do nothing but admire. From the nods to his filmic influences (there’s a fantastic Class of Nuke ‘Em High homage, apt given Regan’s runner job on the set of Return to Nuke ‘Em High); to the hilarious script – the films real strength; to the creation of a wisecracking “villain” who is anything but; Banjo is one hell of a debut film. I’m excited to see what Regan and his collaborators do next.

**** 4/5

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