The Films of Bazz Hancher

Some of you may recall that, a while back, we reviewed a short film called LEON'S BROKEN MIND. The writer-director of that rather demented movie was Bazz Hancher, who got back in touch with SGM recently with an offer of three newer films of his for us to take a look at. We didn't have to be asked twice.

Currently making movies under his White Raven Films banner with associate Michael Walcott, Kidderminster-based Hancher has been directing shorts and even the odd music video (anyone familiar with thrash band Beyond Redemption) for almost a decade now. Arguably his most well-known piece prior to LEON'S BROKEN MIND was 2007's ultra-gory JOEY'S GARAGE.

The three films presented for review are more recent affairs. Watching them in chronological order demonstrates how Hancher, who describes himself as "a self-taught guerrilla filmmaker", continues to hone his craft and develop his skills to this day.

First up on offer is 2010's BONJOUR MONSIEUR TREPAS.

While it may sound like a terribly twee Palm D'Or bore, TREPAS actually tells the brisk and eminently watchable tale of the titular character (Kevin Varty), whose eccentric exterior is written off as endearingly bumbling by his apathetic neighbours.

In reality, Trepas has a dark secret that his pretty suburban surroundings are completely oblivious to. It's not until he invites a couple of football fans back to his home with the promise of digging out an old shirt signed by a legendary player for them, that the full extent of his wickedness is revealed.

Shot on digital with what I'd guess is an absolutely minimal budget; TREPAS is nevertheless efficiently edited and benefits from a flab-free screenplay which tells a simple story well within its 15-minute running time. Lighting and compositions are accomplished, as is the ambient electronic score and some unexpectedly good special effects work.

The downsides to it are a final twist that's been done a few too many times before, and that inevitable curse of no-budget filmmaking: bad acting. However, these gripes aside, TREPAS is an enjoyable romp with equal amounts of typically quirky British black humour (it appears to be taking a swipe at both the middle class and a more general aloofness many of those around us possess) and visceral horror.

Much better though is 2011's THE ROGUE FILMMAKER.

This is a 23-minute mockumentary about Hancher, intended for use as a featurette on any DVD that White Raven Films may produce in the future.

In it, a host of Hancher's associates speak candidly to the camera about their experiences while working with him. His brother Ross is weary and droll, while his friend's wife and rival filmmaker Tom Rutter are flat-out insulting about the director's social skills.

Hancher is painted as a bully and a psycho by almost all of his acquaintances, barring only those actors who appear to be as off their tits as much as he apparently is. An unfussy, QED-style approach lends the film an agreeably authentic vibe while the performances are pleasingly naturalistic. Even the faux American narration doesn't hamper the feel of this piece, which feels like something The Comic Strip Presents ... team would've done.

It helps that the cast is free from youngsters (hope I'm not being unkind, but I'd guess the youngest person in this is in their late 30s?), which - alongside the smart script and assured deliveries - helps lend proceedings a definite, professional result.

Chock-full of splatterific clips from Hancher's earlier shorts (JOEY'S GARAGE, LEON'S BROKEN MIND, THE KIDDERMINSTER KILLER etc), and culminating with a tongue-in-cheek cameo from Hancher himself (as himself), THE ROGUE FILMMAKER is a lot of fun.

Finally, there's DARKEST SECRETS, a new production for 2013.

At 33 minutes in length this is the longest of the three films that were provided for review, and it's also the most downbeat.

Brothers Ray (Steve Coussens) and Ricky (Joel Smith) are small-time criminals who sever their ties with gay drug baron Charles (Richard Taylor). It turns out Ray is homophobic and doesn't like the fact that Charles has been getting close to his brother ... so he takes steps to distance them from one another.

Bad move, as it sets off a chain of events which soon escalate into acts of violent revenge, betrayal and revelations.

Lighting, camerawork, compositions, performances, script, editing, music ... every aspect of DARKEST SECRETS shows ably how Hancher and cohorts have progressed as filmmakers. Indeed, DARKEST SECRETS has an extremely accomplished veneer to it.

In the film notes that accompanied the screener disc, Hancher states that he "wanted to be reliant on dialogue rather than gore" but seems uncertain of the results. He needn't worry: the film offers solid entertainment with a hard edge, even without an abundance of bodily fluids drenching the screen (though it does have its moments, such as a bloody baseball bat beating).

Playing DARK SECRETS straight is a risk on such an evidently low budget, but it works because everything - in front of and behind the camera - is achieved with finesse. While it's true that the British gangster genre has long since reached saturation point and so this is ultimately, unfortunately unlikely to garner White Raven Films the attention it deserves, it's still a well-made and thought-provoking little film that illustrates how Hancher continues to grow as a filmmaker.

For more information on the above films and more from Bazz Hancher, check out White Raven Films.

Review by Stuart Willis

Directed by Bazz Hancher
Produced by White Raven Films