Although I was aware that Jake West (Evil Aliens) and Simon Hunter (Mutant Chronicles) knew each other - indeed, they each provided an uncredited radio voice for the other’s first feature - it was still a surprise to discover that this half-hour short, which was Jake’s graduation film, was actually produced by Simon. Furthermore it stars the guy who subsequently produced Simon’s debut feature, Lighthouse.
Club Death was included on the 2-DVD special edition of Razor Blade Smile in 2004, giving us all a chance to see Jake’s first serious foray into film-making (a clip from one of his earlier student films, A Bizarre Short Film About Death..., is included in the documentary on the RBS special edition). And crikey, it’s weird. Frankly, it’s more than weird, it’s obtuse. But here’s a handy synopsis which I found on the internet:
James Clover, killed at his own fancy dress party, finds himself with a choice between joining the Afterlife Corporation and reliving his life again or joining Club Death and accepting that his time is over.
Well, that’s more than I could work out from watching the film, to be honest. The black and white opening sequence shows various folks partying and James Clover (Mark Leake) upstairs committing adultery with a young lady played by Caroline Crampton-Thomas (now a barrister!). He complains of deja vu and then a figure dressed as Death enters the room and shoots him.
After that it all gets very surreal, albeit in colour, as Clover finds himself in Purgatory where he meets Magus, played by Jake West regular Christopher Adamson, the bastard offspring of Christopher Lee and Terry-Thomas. Magus (who may even be Satan himself) works for something called the Afterlife Corporation (ALC) who produce a thing called the Karma Kard. This is advertised using some very early computer graphics and inserted into Clover’s body through a slot-shaped wound.
Clover returns to Earth and we see the same adultery/shooting scene again but with some of the dialogue slightly different, after which Clover returns to Purgatory. There he once again meets not only Magus but also an elderly vicar who was previously seen at the party (Stanley Lloyd, who was in McVicar and two episodes of 2.4 Children) and a gorgeous, Gaiman-esque, female Death (Louise Edwards, who changed her name to Louisa Moore between this and Razor Blade Smile and now seems to have disappeared).
It all ends up with the (thoroughly unsurprising) identity of Clover’s killer being revealed while Death dances with and somehow tricks Magus. Precisely what is what and who is who is something that’s impossible to determine as everything seems to be a metaphor for something else. It’s a very student-y student film.
However, it’s also a very confident and extraordinarily well made student film with excellent contributions from the future Razor Blade Smile creative team of cinematographer Jim Solan, production designer Neil Jenkins and costume designer Dena Costello plus make-up artist Claire Le Vesconte who subsequently did Lighthouse and now works on Harry Potter movies. In typical Jake West fashion, everything you can think of is thrown into the mix, in both stylistic and narrative terms, with an elan that demonstrates a love of, and an understanding of, cinema in its most creative form. I suppose it all works - because I don’t think it’s meant to be straightforward.
While the actual story is an enigma, the film is carried by its directorial style and three performances from the leads which are considerably stronger than one often sees in student films. Adamson uses the RADA voice familiar from RBS and it’s quite a surprise in the Making of Club Death/RBS documentary to hear him talk in his normal London accent.
Mark Leake had a few other acting roles, including a BBC radio dramatisation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but may have returned to his original career as an investment banker. Sound recordist Simon Price went on to work in various audio roles on Chicken Run, Alien vs Predator, Batman Begins and The Dark while boom handler Nils Petter Midtun is now a DoP on documentaries in his native Norway. Cameron Kerr, who provided the computer graphics, has worked on top games such as Tomb Raider and Carmageddon. There there’s special effects bods Nick Rideout and Richard Thomas who share a credit for ‘Armourer and pyrotechnics’; the former’s CV now includes The Descent, Cold and Dark and the remake of The Quatermass Experiment, while the latter, after constructing the eponymous model building for Lighthouse, went on to ply his trade on Alien vs Predator, Batman Begins and The Mutant Chronicles.
Costello, Hunter and Jenkins are all extras in the party scene along with a chap named Edward Lynden-Bell who has now relocated to New Zealand where he has directed a feature called The Last Great Snail Chase. The music was composed and performed by Jake Knowles who also appears as Jimi Hendrix.
Club Death, which was premiered at Raindance in London, was also included on a German 2-disc edition of Evil Aliens along with its own nine-minute Making Of (which may simply be re-edited material from the Slices of Life documentary on the Razor Blade Smile disc).
MJS rating: B