“This is the story of Bella, who woke up one morning and decided she’d had enough.”
So opens this rare example of British grindhouse. We don’t generally do that genre – it’s just not us, all that violence. But there are odd exceptions, and this would be one. It’s the story of Bella (Williams), who relocates from London to the genteel seaside town of Brighton after splitting up with her boyfriend. However, her flat is overlooked by a window belonging to Tim (Sewell); he begins a series of increasingly-vile phone-calls to Bella, who is terrified at what might happen. A chance encounter with an Iranian clairvoyant (Ian Richardson – yeah, about that…) changes her ‘from a lamb to a butcher’, and she visits Tim in the middle of the night, smashing his head in with a hammer. Galvanized by this, Bella moves on to further “sanitation”, cleaning the not-so mean Brighton streets of other male scum. Meanwhile, a serial killer who preys on young women is gradually moving towards her location.
From the director of the controversial Death Wish, it’s as if Winner said, “Hah! You though that was bad? I’m going to make the heroine female and turn it into a war of the sexes, with every man a sleazy caricature. And it’ll include the Man from UNCLE as a perverted dentist!” It certainly turns your typical British film conceits upside-down, yet still retains that undeniable character: when Bella first sees Tim spying on her, she simply draws the curtains. Her transformation from mouse into avenging angel is impressively put-together, and no doubt Winner was influenced by Ms. 45, with Bella pulling on her stockings and acting out a gun-battle.
But the problem in this case is, Bella’s transformation doesn’t make a difference. In Ms. 45, the interesting moral dilemma was, that our initial sympathy for the central character proved misplaced, as she moved towards killing innocent men. Here, it’s just an ongoing series of repugnant, shallow stereotypes, and attempts to give them depth e.g. with McCallum, are a miserable failure. [Amusingly, one of the thugs she takes out in an alley would go on to greater things: Sean Pertwee has become a genre mainstay, in the likes of Dog Soldiers and Doomsday. Another, Christopher Ryan, was Mike in The Young Ones and has since carved a niche playing Sontarans in Doctor Who!] The subplot with the approaching serial-killer is a complete mis-fire too, and after achieving potential cult-classic level in the middle, it falls short. Still, it’s better than you might think, and is certainly one of a kind.
Dir: Michael Winner
Star: Lia Williams, Rufus Sewell, David McCallum, Michael Cule