‘Bleedin’ women. No wonder there’s so many queers!’
G.B.H. is the sort of film that assumes the audience doesn’t know what GBH stands for, and so helpfully explains it underneath the title card using state of the art video graphics.
Ah, Grievous Bodily Harm! Thanks guys.
The film itself is a vanity project for star, writer, producer and composer Cliff Twemlow. If that isn’t enough to set alarm bells ringing, what if I told you it was one of the first British films shot on videotape?
There’s more to G.B.H. than meets the eye. Actually, that’s not really true, but it is a genuinely heartfelt and surprisingly sincere gangster film that is full of enjoyable performances and amusing dialogue.
It starts off with some exotic shots of, ummm, Manchester. Here’s the one skyscraper!
Here’s a piece of wasteland and a roundabout!
If that’s too glamorous for you, then take a look at our hero, Donovan.
Donovan is released from prison and immediately becomes a bouncer for a nightclub called The Zoo. Initially I hated Donovan, because he looks like a thug and says things like, ‘Bleedin’ women. No wonder there’s so many queers!’
He also struggles to remember his lines, which is odd because he wrote the damn film.
But things play out unexpectedly. Instead of being one of those boring ‘hardman’ characters so common to British gangster movies, Donovan is a pretty nice guy with a sensitive side. So sensitive, in fact, that he falls in love within 24 hours of meeting Tracy.
He’s also prone to delivering lines like, ‘This is my favourite time to become sentimental; between darkness and light,’ which makes no sense because there is no time between darkness and light. It’s one or t’other, Don.
One bizarre but very welcome character quirk is that he sleeps next to a giant teddy bear, which is the sort of mind-melting detail that separates a great movie from a The Killing Hour.
Donovan also enjoys donning ghastly track suits that make him look like an extra from Jeeves and Wooster and going jogging in the park.
But the best thing is that Cliff Twemlow is fully aware that he is an unlikely leading man, and has most of the characters make jokes about his age (he was fifty at the time), weight and looks.
‘You look old…too old,’ says one young lady, prompting Donovan to push her into the toilet stall and fuck her, the old romantic. When it’s over, he walks back into the bar where his friend asks what he’s been up to.
‘Just getting the feel of the place,’ replies our burly lothario, as if James Bond had failed the MI6 entry exam and become a bouncer instead.
The Bond connection is solidified by the music, which veers wildly between your high school band playing the Bond theme and acres of jazz-funk-lounge music, all of which is objectively fantastic, and written by none other than ol’ Cliff himself.
Music was obviously a real passion for Twemlow, and barely a second of the 70 minute film goes by without one of his songs playing in the background. In fact, about half the movie is leering upskirt shots of disco dancers, giving Prom Night a run for its money in the ‘pointless disco dancing’ stakes.
There are a million problems with the film – the editing, particularly in the last 20 minutes, is about on par with your parents’ home movies and they only seem to have one ‘punch’ sound effect, a big problem for a film where everyone is punching each other when they’re not disco dancing.
But then Cliff and Tracy fall in love, and there’s a romantic ‘walking by a fountain’ montage. Lying in bed, Cliff leans in close to Tracy and says, ‘I feel like saying something really romantic.’
‘Go ahead,’ she coos.
‘You’ve got a lovely arse.’
Perhaps best enjoyed as a pretend docu-drama about club life in early 80s Manchester, G.B.H. never bores, never overstays its welcome and has a sense of humour about itself missing from almost every other Video Nasty.
And, if you’ll permit me to say something romantic, its got a lovely arse.