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  Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire It's The Frame Game
Year: 1985
Director: Alan Clarke
Stars: Phil Daniels, Alun Armstrong, Bruce Payne, Louise Gold, Eve Ferrett, Richard Ridings, Don Henderson, Zoot Money, Neil McCaul, Johnny Dennis, David Foxxe, Danny Webb, Trevor Laird, Kevin Lloyd, Caroline Quentin, Nick Revell, George Rossi
Genre: Musical, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Billy Kidd (Phil Daniels) is the brash new kid on the block with regards to snooker, and is planning a bright career in the sport but one man is less than impressed with his antics and bravado. He is Maxwell Randall (Alun Armstrong), and as the sharp fangs indicate he is the Green Baize Vampire, a snooker player of the old guard who has been World Champion for the past few years, although Billy has something to say about that. But what he doesn't know is what his manager T.O. (Bruce Payne) is up to behind closed doors...

Yes, it happened, there really was a horror musical about snooker, and of course it happened in the nineteen-eighties courtesy of one of British television's great innovators, Alan Clarke. He made three films for the cinema, one of them the remake of Scum, and this was his last but not much of a hit, so those who recall it at all more probably caught it on television when Channel 4 showed it occasionally. Therefore it was one of those movies relegated to the twilight world of "Did I really see this or was it a dream?" that some exist in, a sort of limbo where few make journeys to.

Other than in their half-recalled memories, that was, but this was indeed a real film, and Trevor Preston's script was apparently designed to cash in on the most popular TV sport of the decade in the UK, no, not football as the string of hoolganism and disaster-related shame was putting that in entertainment's bad books, but snooker. What this looks to have been inspired by is the fact that one of the stars of the game was Ray Reardon, who was commonly perceived to look like Dracula, or the Bela Lugosi version of the character, and as these activities need their personalities, Reardon was only too happy to play along.

Of course, Ray did release his own record, but that was not a success and did not signal a change of career, although judging by the vocal non-talents of Daniels and Armstrong maybe Clarke might have been advised to give him a call. As to those songs, co-written by George Fenton, they were unmistakably of this era, but operated as a curious mishmash of Kurt Weill, Anthony Newley, opera, jazz funk, football terrace chants and a few other influences as well, though nothing sounding like Snooker Loopy. There were better singers in the cast than the two leads, but with them carrying the weightier part of the tunes this was not quite as easy on the ear as it could have been.

Even stranger was that this might have been fertile ground for a wacky comedy, except that everyone involved was approaching it with utmost gravity. Completely filmed on indoor sets, the chief visual motif was that of gloom, as the characters made their way through darkened corridors into the equally Stygian shadows colouring the rooms. The vampire aspect was not so emphasised that Randall went around sucking blood, but he did have sharp teeth (as did his wife) and kept the Count Dracula-esque preserved body of his father in a clear coffin-turned-snooker table, among other fantastical elements. The story climaxes in the match where the stakes are not only that the loser gives up the sport forever, but T.O. has made a deal to fix it so that Billy loses, so there is some suspense as to how this will turn out, as neither competitor are especially sympathetic though we're supposed to back Billy because he has youth on his side. One of kind, then, and worth tracking down for its downright peculiarity.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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