It is a world apart from those reliable old exports that we may find the Britain of gangster flicks. They populate a straight-to-DVD nether world which has scant regard for global recognition. These are not slick Ritchie flicks, attracting Hollywood stars to a middle-class vision of roughing it. These are honest to goodness, behind the scenes at the terraces, unflinching looks at a crude life of crime. A fist-full make it to limited big screen release bolstered by underworld faces, true-crime notoriety and boxing names. Few seek to venture outside the paint-by-numbers plot lines. None seemed to wander far beyond our shores. Until now!
Dead Cert is a creature apart from its plodding predecessors. Granted a premiere at FrightFest 2010, Black & Blue Films and Raw Film Productions’ bold new project is treading new ground in its shiny old loafers. The film takes the staples of the genre: busty birds, brawny boys, turf wars and violence and throws in a bloody new twist – vampires! The only heaving bosoms here run ruby red with the claret of punters past. It sounds compelling stuff and late last year HeyUGuys were lucky enough to be granted front row seats as the carnage commenced.
A gang of tough London gangsters get more than they bargained for when a group of businessmen make an offer to buy their club, the Inferno. They turn out to be nothing less than Vampires wanting their land back and turn viciously on the gangsters when they fail to have demands met…
To bring the ambitious project in shy of a million pounds without damaging its slick appeal the producers sagely cropped production costs and, aside from location days in the country lanes and strip clubs of Essex, the bulk of Dead Cert’s shoot took place in an echoing Dagenham Warehouse. It was here we joined the cast and crew during their (frosty) penultimate week of filming.
The eclectic cast features genre veterans Billy Murray and Craig Fairbrass, Lock Stock alumni Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng and character greats Perry Benson and Steven Berkoff. Sugar and spice are provided by scream queens Janet Montgomery and Lisa McAllister while Big Joe Egan offers all the muscle anyone could ask. Murray also acted as one of the film’s producers and his camper van, parked up in a far corner of the warehouse, offered the closest thing to a VIP area we found on the back-to-basics shoot! The atmosphere on location was one of tremendous camaraderie, despite the freezing temperatures. There was a real sense of mucking in and even the syrup-drenched, bloodied extras were psyched to take a turn in the killing room.
In fact every cast member we spoke to echoed the instant sense of inclusion they felt when joining the project. Black & Blue have sought to assemble something akin to a rep company and the benefits of that solidarity were plain to see. Jobbing British actor Danny Midwinter (Rise of the Footsoldier, Freight) had the role of Dennis Christian written especially for him. When we sat down together he became quite choked about his time on the film. Billy Murray had been something of a mentor to him over the years and brought him through a dark time in his life – offering a shoulder, not to cry on, but on which to lean until he was ready to stand alone and an invite join the Black & Blue family. It was a story I heard repeatedly during my two days on set. Many of these good ol’ boys have had careers that ebb and flow with the slow mud drag of an estuary tide. They are old timers, pros in the very truest sense of the word and the combined weight of their experience lent an authenticity to the production which left me intrigued to see the finished product.
Conventional career success has come more smoothly to Andy Tiernan (300, Mr Nice) perhaps, yet nevertheless he was relishing his role as the monstrous Chekha. Snarling with savage charisma as cameras rolled he slinked across a bloodied banquette to mesmerise his prey. Off-set he grinned with ill-disguised glee as he told me how much he loves to be a bad guy. Andy met director Steve Lawson at a convention and had been on board with the project in its various incarnations from day one. He, Steve and producer Jonathan Sothcott, shared a desire to see vampire pictures return to a Lost Boys sensibility. To show the smile beneath the teeth! Andy also pushed to bring Perry Benson and Ricky Grover into the fold “these two great home-grown comedy talents”. A versatile actor who delights in a challenge, he had chosen to play the part of Chekha entirely in Romanian simply “to give it something different”. That something different required that he translate his dialogue line by line – quite a demand for a non-Romanian speaker!
The man behind the Dead Cert story, Ben Shillito, also acted as our guide. The behatted Sickipedia fan told us outrageous lies about the cast and crew, jokes we cannot repeat here and above all made us very welcome. Ben and Steve Lawson were originally sent a vampire vs. demons script to develop for Dead Cert but chose ultimately to go their own way. Dead Cert as it now exists was born during a brainstorming weekend with co-writer Nick Onsloe. Ben’s obsession with gothic horror, mainstream and obscure, was well matched by Jonathan Sothcotts’s passion for Hammer and when the two met everything fell into place.
Ben and Jonathan had Billy Murray in mind for demonic lead Dante Livenko from the outset. Billy had other ideas. Having signed on as the project’s producer he had no idea he would end up its star. When we chatted over a bucket of severed limbs he acknowledged he had somehow been sweet-talked into complying! Ben described Billy’s performance as “calm, menacing and brilliant. Billy is Christopher Lee in this role”. Billy himself was more modest as he admitted how much fun his walk on the dark side had been. Indeed his transformation to Dante was a million miles from the crinkle eyed charmer of our interview. As I went over my notes he reappeared, threw me off my feet and swooped down to take a cheeky bite and readers…
I believed in vampires!
Meanwhile on set it was all kicking off. The gleaming Inferno club of our first visit with its writhing glamour girls and immaculate bars was a gore spattered, intestine strewn abattoir. Luckily This is England’s Perry Benson and young gangster favourite Roland Manookian soon arrived – tooled up and ticked off – to set things straight. And lest you think Dead Cert is all about jobs for the boys, let me assure you that the girls were equally well-represented. Lusty beauties, feisty girls next door and vampish vixens abounded.
The Dead Cert set was a vibrant, violent delight and the footage we saw promised nothing less from the final cut. Selected tickets are still available for the debut screening this Thursday night at Frightfest and, if you’re planning to lounge around London town, we urge you to give it a go. As the East End boys would have it:
This one’s got a lot of heart!