Funny Man 1994
Well, this is a turn-up. A 90s Brit horror/comedy that is (whisper it) genuinely funny, reasonably well made, entertaining and packed with ideas. And you thought that the UK’s horror output through the decades between An American Werewolf In London and Dog Soldiers were a turgid, garish, laugh-free mess. I know I did.
Funny Man is by no means perfect – it’s cheaply done and makes no apologies for its lack of budget – but therein lies its considerable charm. Wisecracking supernatural serial killers may be ten-a-penny, but the Funny Man at the centre of this 90 minute gem is actually one of the best I’ve seen. Which is a good job, considering the title of the film.
The film starts with a bloke called Max Taylor winning Christopher Lee’s ancestral home off him in a game of poker (“Okay, Mister Whippy – I’m intrigued” he quips, referring to the octogenarian’s cotton wool quiff). The bloke is a tiresome gag machine (“I’ve seen amputees with better hands”), but as he hands over the keys, Lee tells him: “You’re a funny man, Mister Taylor, but I’ve known funnier… and so will you.”
Max and his family turn up at their new home, and are joined by his brother Johnny, who has arrived in his own “Freak Bus” along with a group of disparate weirdoes he appears to have picked up on the way for no good reason.
That pretty much puts paid to the plot, as in the next scene a hobgoblin court jester bursts from the floor of the attic, Hellraiser-style, and proceeds to lay waste to everyone in a variety of bizarre ways.
Max’s wife finds herself in an art gallery along with the Jester, who is posing as a snooty critic. “Ah know fook all about art, but ah know what I lark!” he announces, before clubbing her to death and announcing to the camera: “Now that is the way to do it.”
One of the bus passengers (a girl dressed as Velma from Scooby Doo, which is a nice touch never actually mentioned or elaborated on) goes searching for a duck she can hear quacking, only for the jester to pop up, unannounced, behind her. “Duck!” he shouts, before blowing her brains out through the front of her head.
Another character finds himself in “Club Sexy”, and after a bizarre exchange with the bouncer on the door (the jester again) is treated to a grim strip show (“Get ‘em off! No – no – put ‘em back on again!”), leaves, and is then attacked.
“Okay, okay – I get the point!” he cries, asking for mercy. “But you don’t get the point…” replies his attacker, menacingly.
And yet another finds himself as a character in a Punch and Judy show, which, as you’d expect, doesn’t end well. “Ah tell yer what – yer can’t whack a good bit of family entertainment!” his tormentor tells us.
Yes, the minor characters are dropping like flies at the hands of the quick-fire “Funny Man”, who, in case you hadn’t realised, is a work of cinematic genius. Like a combination of Les Dawson and Freddy Krueger, he spends half his time indulging in over-the-top violence and the rest speaking to us, directly, through the camera in a variety of stupid voices. “Ah got me arse-kickin’ boot on tonart!” he explains – and yes, he has.
But he’s not getting it all his own way – and the fightback has begun. One of the bus passengers – a weird black man-woman thing in a very 90s dayglo outfit, outguns him in a bizarre, Beetlejuice-style nightmare wild west town. “I’ll be back… probably.” Says the bested jester. But the besting doesn’t last long – there he is, bursting back through his/her body in a welter of gore. “It’s like me old dad used used to say,” he tells us. “They don’t like it up ‘em. And they don’t, you know. They don’t.”
During all this strangeness, John has found out that Max, who is a music promoter, stiffed him earlier on in his music career (which, one assumes, is the reasoning behind the whole massacre). He could have been in the Rolling Stones (love Mick Jagger’s writing on the contract he finds).
For some reason, the Funny Man gives John his dream (cue interminable heavy metal song performed by John on stage, only livened up by the jester’s dressed-like-Jimmy-Saville-dancing-like-Bez performance) and the entire film ends with a very strange sort-of happy ending.
But sense is not what this film is about (as you’ve probably guessed) – it’s all about the central performance. And it is a cracker. When you call a film “Funny Man” you really have to deliver the lines, and this film does – it’s a work of minor genius, and well worth seeking out as a shining jewel in an otherwise moribund decade.
Updated: July 15, 2010
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