Comic (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Video
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (29th November 2020).
The Film

The Comic (Richard Driscoll, 1985)

Synopsis:
In a future in which the populace is ruled with an iron fist, ambitious comedian Sam Coex (Steve Munroe) envies established stand-up comic Joey Myers’ (Jeff Pirie) prized spot at The Monks Club. So much so that Coex uses the beautiful Ann (Berderia Timini) as a ‘honey trap’, luring Myers to Coex’s home, where Coex murders Myers and buries his body in a flowerbed.

Coex thus secures a spot at The Monks Club, and his show is a success. Subsequently, Coex finds representation in the form of Myers’ former agent, and his career as a nightclub comedian grows.

Coex gets Ann a gig as a dancer at The Westbourne, but their relationship becomes increasingly terse, and Ann is dependent on drugs and alcohol. However, Ann reveals that she is pregnant with Coex’s child; he pleads with her to give up the drink and drugs, but Ann continues with both.

Whilst dancing at The Wesbourne, Ann catches the eye of George Ellington (Vass Anderson), a gangster who runs the city. Ellington approaches Ann, and the two start an affair. Coex confronts Ellington violently, and this leads to Coex being ostracised. No-one will hire him.

Years go by, and Coex asks Mr Bland (Eddie Blackstone) to take Coex and Ann’s young daughter to a safe place where no-one will be able to reach her, whilst Coex plots revenge against Ellington and Ann.

Critique: The Comic was Cornwall-based writer-director Richard Driscoll’s feature debut. Driscoll’s next feature as a director would be the 1988 straight-to-video Falklands War-set actioner Silent Heroes – a film that was released on VHS by ABC Films and then seemingly disappeared from the face of the Earth. Following this, Driscoll didn’t return to film directing until 2001’s straight-to-video horror film Head Hunter (aka Kannibal). More recently, Driscoll has worked as a director on a handful of horror and exploitation films of, shall we say, dubious reputation – including the belated Grindhouse knock-off Grindhouse 2wo in 2016 and, most recently, Conjuring: The Book of the Dead (2019). Some of these have been financed through crowdfunding ventures; the production of one of these films, Highway to Hell (aka Eldorado, 2012) was the centrepiece of Driscoll’s conviction for tax fraud in 2013. (Driscoll inflated the invoices for the production in order to fraudulently reclaim exaggerated amounts of VAT – includingproducing a fake invoice to the tune of £400,000 for then-deceased actor David Carradine’s performance in the picture – ultimately defrauding HMRC out of £1.5 million.) Given their general lacklustre quality (The Telegraph labelled Highway to Hell ‘the worst film ever made’), it’s easy to dismiss Driscoll’s films as ‘slapped together’, but a number of them have taken years to complete production and post-production and find a release – such as Evil Calls: The Raven, which began production in 2002 but wasn’t completed till 2008.

The Comic is a mixed bag, with some interesting ideas and rich photography – but undermined by its ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ script. The opening of The Comic promises a dystopian sci-fi picture. Sadly, the main body of the film does almost nothing with this set-up. Reminiscent of the opening moments of John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974), which begins with the floating, disembodied head of Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy) explaining the basic premise of the film’s narrative, The Comic opens on a close-up of a woman’s face, suspended in space. She intones portentously: ‘In another time and another place, in a world where time means nothing, there is no light – just the black inner core of society, where dark shadows, disease, filth and vermin live [….] The only order is from people with power and money to afford it, with a system that springs from another person’s misery. Disease is not just of the body but of the mind. In this world, people do not survive, they merely exist’. Following this, we are presented with a scene set in what seems to be a subterranean car park, patrolled by a military-style police force that oversees desperate people who are lining up for whatever morsels of food are handed to them. Violence erupts suddenly; a man is beaten to the floor.

This opening mashes together a number of ideas – the floating head from Zardoz, of course; the subterranean setting of George Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971); and a soupcon of the dystopic setting of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). It chimes with the dystopic/post-apocalyptic films popular during the early 1980s – from George Miller’s Mad Max (1979) and its European imitators (such as Enzo G Castellari’s 1990: I guerrieri del Bronx, 1982, and Joe D’Amato’s Endgame, 1983), to US pictures such as John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1982). The Comic was released in 1985 (ie, the year after 1984 – and the year after Michael Radford’s 1984, an adaptation of Orwell’s novel).

Frustratingly, The Comic does nothing with this promising dystopic setting, and with its intermittent much of the remainder of the film feels like a particularly protracted and unpleasant bout of half-remembered drunken fumbling with a slightly sleazy sex partner. As the film’s protagonist, Sam Coex is a deeply unpleasant character. Nay, he is a thoroughly conniving bag of shite. He is only made bearable by the fact that the world around him is even worse… for the most part.

Towards the end of his life, as he was recovering from his first heart attack, Eric Morecambe wrote a curious novel – little-read even by the great comedian’s fans – titled Mr Lonely (1981). The book is about a stand-up club/pub comic, Sid Lewis, who tours dingy venues making a pittance of an income and chasing young women. Lewis devises a character for his stage performances, Mr Lonely, and one of these performances is seen by a BBC bigwig, who offers Lewis the opportunity to perform his act on the television. Lewis’ star is in the ascendance, but he continues to chase women and seems to learn very little from his experiences.

Morecambe’s novel is an oddity – not a complete success but enriched by Morecambe’s own direct experiences of the comedy scene and given a sense of melancholia, largely owing to the fact that Morecambe wrote it in a period of convalescence only a few years before his death in 1984. It’s filled with old-school club-style gags, the worldview of which Morecambe may have been satirising… or perhaps not.

Its nods to a future dystopia aside, The Comic broadly establishes a similar milieu to Mr Lonely, and perhaps the script may have worked better if it had embraced the ‘now’ and been set in the then-present of the early/mid-1980s against a backdrop of the dying days of traditional club comedy. One of the most frustrating elements of The Comic is perhaps the fact that we see very little of Coex interacting with his audience – other than the tail end of a handful of old school working men’s club comedian-style jokes. This is so frustrating because with his shock of blonde hair and snarling demeanour, Coex looks a little like some of the alternative comedians who were becoming popular in the 1980s, challenging the hegemony set by the old working men’s club-style comics; and the early sequences of The Comic suggest that the film is narrativising that period during which the alternative comedy scene overthrew the old club-style comedy scene, much as Coex murders his rival Joey Myers and buries his body in the flowerbeds outside his squalid home. From here, we might expect Coex’s stage show, when he achieves his slot in The Monks Club, to be filled with edgy material that breaks the barrier between performer and audience; but when we see Coex perform, he is simply trotting out the same tired jokes as Myers, and the same platitudes to the audience about how wonderful they have been, etc.

When we first see The Monks Club – and Joey Myers performing in the spot that Coex envies, in front of an audience of posh ‘uns – we might wonder if The Comic is attempting to establish the new hierarchies within the dystopic society, in the manner of Stephen Sayadian’s 1982 pornographic feature Café Flesh and its division between the performances of the Positives on the stage and the Negatives in the audience, in a new world of post-apocalyptic entertainment. The sharp attire of the audience in The Monks Club contrasts sharply with the poverty depicted in the film’s opening sequence, hinting at an allegory for the economic and social divisions mid-1980s and the distinction between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. But… no dice. Again, The Comic hints at a promising theme but pulls back from exploring it.

Elsewhere in the film, Coex remembers snatches of his childhood, depicted onscreen as flashbacks via stark black and white photography. A prowling camera comes to rest on a boy, the young Coex, drawing. Elsewhere, Coex’s mother, a prostitute, entertains a client. Young Coex peeps through the keyhole into his mother’s bedroom and watches as the man slits his mother’s throat. This moment is framed as a primal scene, in the manner of a number of examples of the giallo all’italiana (Italian-style thriller) such as Dario Argento’s Profondo rosso (Deep Red, 1975) or American slasher pictures such as John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) or Romano Scavolini’s Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981). However, this is another strand that the script introduces but which remains underdeveloped.

Other intrusions into the narrative include a memorable sequence in which the camera descends a stairwell, again in prowling POV mode. It’s a symbolic journey to a hell where a blue-skinned ‘demon’ with blonde hair and bushy eyebrows (also played by Steve Munroe) asserts, ‘I will kill him. There will not be any mercy or pity. He will die before my eyes’. (Later, the demonic voice is heard promising, ‘A complete genocide of you and your heirs’.) It’s a fairly well-realised scene, though admittedly the bushy eyebrows tip it into the realm of camp, and has some parallels with the vivid depictions of hell in the horror films of Brazilian filmmaker Jose Mojica Marins. Yet, again, it is a moment that is not integral to the narrative – other than being (tenuously) symbolic of Coex’s self-annihilating drive.

So the film is filled with promises that don’t seem to be fulfilled, and perhaps some of this comes from an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach in the scripting; the screenplay, and finished film, would perhaps have worked better if it had focused on one of these themes and explored it in depth, rather than employing a synoptic approach to a spread of ideas. Structurally, the script struggles after Coex’s murder of Joey Myers – this action effectively eliminating the film’s antagonist early in the story, and at this point the film becomes a weird domestic drama focusing on Coex and Ann’s dysfunctional relationship, before evolving into a gangland story following the appearance of Ellington.

Whilst the script struggles to hold everything together and some of the performances are lackluster – though it has to be said that Munroe is pretty good as Coex, nailing the character’s mercurial shifts from calm and collected to ferocious and cruel – there are some effective, atmospheric moments: Coex burying the corpse of Joey Myers in a shallow grave; a scene in which Coex is met after a show by Ann, the moment directed like a fragment from a New Wave music video; a nightmare in which the corpse of Myers springs from his shallow grave and attacks Coex. Ultimately, The Comic is at times a visually stylish film but with a script that veers all over the place.



Video

The Comic is presented in 1080p, using the AVC codec and filling approximately 25Gb on a dual-layered Blu-ray disc. The film runs for 92:10 mins, and the presentation is in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Photographed on 35mm colour stock, The Comic has a satisfyingly film-like presentation on Arrow’s Blu-ray release. Much of the film was shot in low light on what looks like fairly fast film stocks, often with heavily diffused light (presumably intended to give a ‘futuristic’ look), and this results in a fairly dense grain structure that is carried very well on this Blu-ray presentation – with no evidence of harmful compression artifacts, etc.

The presentation is billed as being based on a new 2k scan of the film’s negative. Certainly, there’s a pleasing level of detail on display throughout the film, and contrast levels are very good – with some deep, rich blacks and even midtones, with a subtle fall-off into the toe. Colours are consistent throughout the presentation.

In sum, it’s a very pleasing, film-like presentation of the movie.

NB. Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review.





Audio

Audio is presented via a LPCM 2.0 stereo track, in English. This is a good track, with depth and clarity. Optional English HoH subtitles are included. These are easy to read and free from errors.

Extras

The disc includes the following:
- ‘Tangerine Dreams’ (17:29). Steve Munroe speaks about the film. He talks about his background in acting on stage. Though Munroe had appeared in smaller parts in feature films previously, The Comic was his first big screen leading role, and Munroe discusses working with Driscoll. Munroe says that he admires Driscoll’s determination to see projects through to completion with often scant resources.

Munroe reveals that the story was inspired by a true case of a Cardiff-based comedian whose lover, a stripper, was killed when a fire broke out at a ‘drugs party’. The look of Coex was based on Jack Nance’s character in David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977).

Most of the film was shot in sequence and at night, and Munroe reflects on some of the difficulties involved in the production – mostly involving the dyeing of his hair. He also talks about the film’s initial screenings and release, and discusses the mixed response to the film.

- Selected Scene Audio Commentary with Richard Driscoll (49:37). Driscoll talks about his intentions for the film, which clarifies some of the questions that a first-time viewing might raise. He suggests that when he made The Comic, he was a fan of Eraserhead and wanted to capture a similarly otherworldly atmosphere.

Driscoll admits that the finished film is disjointed, owing to some of the issues he faced in preparing and producing the film – involving considerable reworking of the script in order to mitigate some of the issues faced vis-à-vis casting and resources. This is actually an excellent little feature, with plenty of cogent advice for anyone considering putting together an independent feature film project.

- Re-release Trailer (1:55).

- Optional Introduction by Steve Munroe (0:29).

Overall

In The Monks Club, Coex has a wonderful response to a heckling audience member. His good humour cracks and he lashes back ‘When they stuck teeth in your mouth, sunshine, they ruined a perfectly good arsehole’. Testament to Steve Munroe’s performance as this mercurial character (Coex’s bite-back has a similar punch to Paddy Considine’s gritted ‘You, you cunt!’ in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes), moments such as this enliven The Comic.However, on the whole the film is less than the sum of its parts, the weak scripting struggling with the weight of too many ideas.

Coex is referred to in the script as ‘Like Myers, only cheaper’. The Comic could legitimately be labelled as ‘Like 1984, only cheaper’. It’s a visually stylish film but one which could have benefitted from a keener editorial eye at the scripting stage.

Arrow’s Blu-ray presentation of the film is very good, offering a HD presentation that is very film-like. The film itself is supported with some interesting contextual material which gives a little depth to what we see onscreen. The selected scene audio commentary with Driscoll is excellent, Driscoll offering some incredibly honest reflections on the production of the film and the challenges he faced – and providing some cogent advice for would-be writers/filmmakers.

Please click to enlarge:
vlcsnap-2020-11-27-21h48m09s951
vlcsnap-2020-11-27-21h48m15s146
vlcsnap-2020-11-27-21h48m22s694
vlcsnap-2020-11-27-21h49m03s407
vlcsnap-2020-11-27-21h49m08s002
vlcsnap-2020-11-27-21h49m13s184
vlcsnap-2020-11-27-21h49m33s547
vlcsnap-2020-11-27-21h49m42s138

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it, amazon.es and amazon.se.