*/**** Image B+ Sound D+ Extras C
starring Craig Fairbass, Dexter Fletcher, Lisa McAllister, Steven Berkoff
screenplay by Ben Shillito
directed by Steve Lawson
by Jefferson Robbins That single star is for the concept--London gangsters vs. vampires--which, apart from some very fine lensing and decent actors, is probably the only thing that got Dead Cert any kind of release. In a genre thickly dotted with piles of shit, this thing is shit stacked high but glazed with modest visual sugar and a great high-concept. It barely merits a single viewing, yet you keep hoping something will switch on and provide a reason to persevere.
Anvil-browed top man Freddie Frankham (anvil-browed Craig Fairbrass) has a newly-opened strip club and a newly-pregnant moll, Jen (Lisa McAllister), among his assets. Jen's bareknuckles boxer brother Denny (Danny Midwinter) is on a winning streak that's helping to line Freddie's pockets. Currently on top of his particular venal, scungy world, Freddie finds himself threatened with a hostile takeover by a pack of Eastern European vampires, led by Dante Livenko (Billy Murray) and abetted by Freddie's turncoat lieutenant (and Jen's other brother, to compound the confusion), Eddie (Dexter Fletcher). What a set-up! The vampire genre has happily cross-pollinated with any number of other story realms, and the London gangster film seems ripe for the mating.
Except the story's a mess, the dialogue is bagloads of redundant exposition and impenetrable backstory, the pacing and blocking are awkward, dramatic possibilities are set up and abandoned, unknown characters are suddenly significant, and the sound is impossibly bad. That last may be the most offensive--whole blocks of dialogue are untranslatable, and it can't be written off wholly to the Cockney accents against my midwestern ear. Are there subtitles to ease my pain? No? Bollocks. There's a chase scene in which nobody actually runs, a drug-dealing subplot involving a drug that doesn't seem to get anybody high, and a few centuries of backstory about the ground Freddie's club is built on that arrives--via a monologue by Steven Berkoff, the übervillain of innumerable '80s movies (who I frankly thought was dead before now)--too late. So much weight is placed on Freddie's domestic situation that his relationship with his crew is muted. Jason Flemyng makes his cameo without interfacing with any of the major players, as if walking in from the film next door, and his presence, along with Fletcher's, serves mostly to remind us that Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was longer ago than we thought.
Speaking of Guy Ritchie, it's annoying to see how badly Dead Cert fails when the cure for its ills is obvious: make it a comedy. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch entertained with kineticism and humour while still allowing us to appreciate the high stakes and memorable characters. Dead Cert is in no way played for laughs, which is probably the only way it could be salvaged. It's not bereft of creativity, adding a few new wrinkles to the vampire mythos along the way, some of which work better than others. (Vampires draw strength from ritualistically consecrated ground (hmmm...), for instance, and they're scared of dogs (wha?).) Steve Lawson's cinematography (and Neill Gorton's practical gore F/X, leaving aside the awful digital blood spurts imposed by Alan Marques) really can't be faulted much. Fairbrass and Murray are both quite charismatic and suitably matched as adversaries--all the performances, really, make the very best of the material. It's as if a fully professional cast and crew launched principal photography with half a script, then selected randomly from a reservoir of plot plug-ins as the cameras rolled. The idea of a strip club run and staffed by vampires doesn't engage the way it did around the time of From Dusk Till Dawn, and it's played so PG-13 here that the filmmakers plainly weren't engaged with it, either.
Shot with the Red One HD camera, Dead Cert upconverts just fine from DVD, with minimal noise in the 2.35:1, 16x9-enhanced image and every hue (I suspect) coming across just as the filmmakers intended. The predominant reds and blues of Frankie's strip club are a bit blown-out in some of the later scenes, but I think that's an artistic choice. Still, someone should've tipped off the crew that red light isn't the best contrast for spurting blood. The sound, I think, I've addressed above--it's a mutilation, whether in the default Dolby 5.1 or the optional DD 2.0 alternative. Shout! has also released Dead Cert on Blu-ray, where it evidently sounds a lot better, as though the 7.1 DTS-HD MA track found there was never properly mixed down for lossy playback.
"Listen, making low-budget horror movies is difficult," producer Jonathan Sothcott says on the audio commentary, to which star Fairbrass interrupts: "It's not difficult, it's impossible. It's im-possible." Sad to report, it's done all the time, sometimes with greater success than the ones with lots of money. That's not say the participants gathered for this track are defeatist. Rather, Fairbrass, Sothcott, and co-stars McAllister and Murray (also a co-producer) have nothing but good recollections of the shoot as well as an apparent blast making fun of each other and their output. Their recollections smack of people carried away by concept but falling short of their goals. "I just felt it could've been really good," Fairbrass says, remembering long planning sessions "talking about old Hammer films." It's only through this and the accompanying "Making of Dead Cert" documentary (30 mins.) that I learn, to my surprise, that Freddie is supposed to be a retired gangster at the film's start. You'd never guess; he sure looks in it up to his neck. The speakers here offer no illusions about their project, being quite up-front about the limitations on time, location, and money that beset them. "But being that we're all horror freaks, we loved it," Fairbrass says. And Billy Murray, when he does pipe up, is quite a gas--for instance, when he warns McAllister that she'll need to have the electrical current of her body "realigned" after getting her wisdom teeth removed. Who knew? The making-of doc offers behind-the-scenes what-have-you, but I'd rather have gotten a subtitle option. Hell, I don't even care if it's in English. (Hear that, Shout! Factory?-Ed.) Originally published: November 10, 2010.