30th Aug2023

Frightfest 2023: ‘Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Cliff Twemlow is, for me, something of an enigma, an urban legend, even a myth if you like. I remember reading about this self-made film star in the pages of Darkside Magazine – his films seemingly lost to the VHS era in much the same way as Lindsay Shonteff’s oeuvre. Speaking of VHS, Twemlow is probably best known for G.B.H., a British gangster movie that became notorious after it featured on the video nasties list thanks to the garish artwork – Cliff’s character covered in blood brandishing a hammer!

What I didn’t know about Twemlow is that he wrote music, and performed not only as part of a band (under the name Peter Reno) but also penned theme songs under the same name for the De Wolfe label – over 2000 pieces of music in fact, themes that went on to be featured on TV shows of the era! Twemlow was also a novelist, penning a book about his life as a bouncer called The Tuxedo Warrior – a novel that was optioned by Manson International and featured Twemlow as a stuntman – and a horror novel called The Pike (released at a time when killer creatures were REALLY in vogue).

That film, and the way the filmmakers totally changed Cliff’s story – changing the locale from the UK to Africa and making the story about a diamond smuggling operation rather than the nightclub scene of Manchester – led to Twemlow deciding to produce his own films, starting with the unreleased adaptation of his novel The Pike, followed by the aforementioned G.B.H., which was put into motion following the debut of VHS.

Yes, in much the same way that shot-on-video exploded in the US, Twemlow leapt on the video bandwagon with director David Kent-Watson and got funding from independent sources – including a Swedish businessman in the make-up industry – bringing Twemlow’s stories to life, featuring him in numerous starring roles, embodying the same character: a cross between Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris decked out in suits akin to a British James Bond, with the same “suave” womanising manner.

Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow comes from filmmaker Jake West who has experience not only in filmmaking (Evil Aliens, Doghouse) but also documentaries such as Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape and its follow-up Video Nasties: Draconian Days and, like his aforementioned documentaries, this film covers everything you’d ever want – or need – to know about the Manchester man who wanted to make Eccles the Hollywood of the North.

Told through a series of interviews with those involved with Twemlow’s productions, from performers turned friends, friends turned performers, actresses whose only roles were in Twemlow’s films and even the financiers (when Cliff wasn’t financing the films himself), Mancunian Man reveals a story of a man who had more imagination, more ambition and more passion for filmmaking than money, a man whose first film was a moderate success (apparently G.B.H. sold 9000 copies to video rentals shops) leading him to chase the same success but a man who could never recapture that success in any of the films that followed – though the stories surrounding the production troubles of Target: Eve Island, for example, are undoubtedly BETTER than the film(s) ever could be!

Mancunian Man also features a number of promos Twemlow shot for films that were never produced – including Tokyo Sunrise which, honestly looked like it could’ve been a badass British version of Deadly Prey (but not quite Rambo). As for his film Moon Stalker… I need to see that ASAP, even though it was – apparently – never released. And that’s the power of this documentary, not only is it highly informative, but Mancunian Man left me wanting to see ALL of Twemlow’s oeuvre: the good, the bad, the ugly… and the unreleased!

**** 4/5

Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow screened as part of this year’s Frightfest London.


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