Review: Banjo

A young man becomes manipulated by his imaginary friend to exact revenge on his tormenting co-workers.

Liam Regan brought his Banjo to Frighfest and rocked the VUE cinema, with his own British slice of Troma. It had everything, from over the top villainy, sexy women, green slime and of course lots and lots of blood. It won’t be for everyone, but Troma fans around the world should have a great time with this film, there is a lot to enjoy here and Regan’s love for all things Troma shines brightly.

Never a big fan of the Troma films, I have watched them and there were a few of I did like, maybe I should re-visit them now. Yet Regan’s film while it’s steeped heavily in its Troma influence does still feel quintessentially British. From the Office environment, which felt like my office to the characters which are portrayed extremely well on-screen felt like people I’d meet at some point or another in my life.

James Hamer-Morton takes the lead as Peltzer, who is having to deal with his over-scheming girlfriend Deezt (Dani Thompson) and his horrible boss Mr Sawyer. (Vito Trigo) Along with a few more Office bullies and his ex-girlfriend Melissa (Serena Cole Gardner) seeing the office jerk Stiles (Clay Von Carlowitz) Peltzer’s life isn’t really going that well. But there is more to him than meets the eye, enter Ronnie, Peltzer’s imaginary friend to set the balance right. Ronnie played by Damian Morter steals the film, with a wonderful comic and somewhat menacing performance, Ronnie is like Fred from Drop Dead Fred except on drugs and with more nefarious thoughts on his mind. Morter and Hamer-Morton have a great on-screen chemistry and it’s when Ronnie is around the film is at its best, I really enjoyed all these moments.

That said there are some great scenes where Ronnie isn’t around including a rather large penis and lots of blood, Paul While worked on the practical effects and does a superb job with his 2nd on-screen penis. (see short film She for that one!) While also did Ronnie’s heavy prosthetics and makeup which is extremely effect giving the character a strangely foreboding presence.

Overall I enjoyed Banjo, it’s not perfect but it’s a perfect Frightfest film, it also stands alongside the Troma films proudly and I could easily watch it again. It’s a lot of fun, made with a lot of heart and soul and one film I’d recommend from Frightfest 2015.

I thought I knew what to expect going into Liam Regan’s feature-length debut, as I’m fully aware of his love for all things Troma, however, Banjo was so much more than I was prepared for. Much like Troma films of yore, it’s drenched in inappropriateness and oozes grotesque imagery. Yet amongst all the wince inducing shots, the gallons of blood spilled, the many genre nods which come thick and fast, is genuine heart. Liam knows what he is dealing with here, having been a member of Lloyd Kaufman’s crew for some time, and it shows. This is a fun film that has you smiling the whole way through.

All the cast are perfectly placed in their roles, from the money hungry scheming Deezt (played by Dani Thompson) to the down trodden Peltzer (lovingly performed by James Hamer-Morton). Peltzers boss Mr Sawyer and the office bully boys tie in great with the story, playing real pieces of crap, which the audience lapped up. For me, and for most I assume, it’s all about Ronnie, Peltzer’s imaginary childhood friend, returned from the back of his brain space when things start getting a little too much to handle. Regan has created something wonderful in Ronnie. A Drop Dead Fred inspired villain for the horror crowd, guaranteed to bring out the worst in you. Damian Morter plays this role to perfection, projecting charisma and moving menacingly from scene to scene, holding your attention the whole way through. A special shout out goes to horror favorite, Laurence Harvey, who gives a lovely little turn as Peltzers down on his luck work pal.

The prosthetics and effects are some of the best I’ve come across for a low-budget film. Ronnie’s mask in particular is a pure embodiment of the 80’s monsters you watched as a kid. The show stealer, however, was a realistic rubber member, which made the male audience cringe in pain – and rightly so, it looked incredible! The effect, not the member in question.
Liam has done an amazing job on his first big screen outing. Already established with a loyal fan base and industry types alike, he can and will go far. Banjo is everything we love about low-budget horror – a gore covered romp, splendidly played out. Fingers crossed for a sequel – Ronnie sure as hell deserves that.

When a film sets itself in the fictional town of Henenlotter and features a cameo from Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, horror fans who’ve done their homework will already have a reasonably accurate picture of what to expect from Banjo. Both in person and onscreen, director Liam Regan wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, and his crowdfunded feature directorial debut functions equally well as a love letter to the films that took him to where he is today, and as a riotously good time at the movies.

Centre stage is James Hamer-Morton, who engages enough to earn our sympathy in his portrayal of Peltzer Arbuckle, a downtrodden office worker who seems to be the butt of the joke wherever he goes. In the film’s first half it’s Hamer-Morton, Human Centipede trilogy alum Laurence R Harvey and Stalled’s Dan Palmer who bring the most to the table performance-wise, with the latter two portraying a relentlessly bullied employee and a comically exaggerated tormentor respectively. Performances aren’t convincing across the board, but in Banjo’s knowingly caricature-like universe, it’s forgivable and in a way, oddly fitting.

However, the film shifts gears when Peltzer’s long-lost imaginary friend Ronnie enters the fray. Played with effortless charisma by Damian Morter, he’s a relentlessly mean and hilariously watchable yin to Hamer-Morton’s more retiring yang, and what begins as encouraging Peltzer simply to stand up for himself soon escalates into Ronnie’s orchestration of a wickedly entertaining rampage of revenge against everyone who’s wronged him.

The unexpectedly dark final act feels a little jarring considering the hilarity that’s come before, but the film ties its loose ends together in satisfying style. In its way, the film’s modest budget is complimentary to what Regan’s going for. Relentlessly over-the-top and equally unsettling and hilarious, Banjo is a firm statement of intent from a promising British horror director, and as importantly, a whole lot of fun.

On the last day of this year’s Film4 Frightfest I was lucky enough to be part of one of the best audiences to watch Liam Regan’s directorial debut Banjo. A dedicated and loyal member of the festival’s crowd for years, it was a wonderful experience to be amongst the first group of people to see the film and more importantly, to see him receive the warmest of welcomes for a film born out of a great passion for film and horror in particular.

The film follows protagonist Peltzer Arbuckle, played by James Hamer-Morton. Bullied both at work by his office co-workers and at home by his high-maintenance girlfriend Deetz (Dani Thompson), Peltzer reaches breaking point and summons his childhood imaginary friend Ronnie (Damian Morter) to help enact revenge. Unfortunately what follows brings devastating consequences.

Regan’s first feature film is funny, original and thrilling with lashings of blood and gore to keep you entertained throughout. It’s a great homage to the Troma films of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. Ronnie is simply an ingenious creation and a character you can’t help but love! He’s relatable to how a lot of us have felt at some point in our lives. The arc between him and Peltzer is beautifully crafted and builds well throughout, for this isn’t just a horror film but also about friendship and longing and these themes are explored perfectly.

James Hamer-Morton gives a brilliant central performance as Peltzer; charismatic and comedic he is impressive to watch. There is an array of popular faces amongst the supporting cast including Laurence R. Harvey (The Human Centipede 2 and 3) who gives an endearing performance as equally bullied colleague Clyde Toulon and the always quirky Dan Palmer (writer and star of Stalled which went down a storm at Frightfest 2013) who steals the show in one particular scene towards the middle of the film!

All in all this is a well-rounded and impressive film and great credit should be applauded to Regan and his wonderful cast and crew for creating a film that is so well polished, edited and scripted, that you would have thought this was a person who has been directing for years. Banjo is everything you want in an over-the-top, exaggerated horror film like those of the Troma years. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you squirm and it will even make you feel empathetic towards certain characters as a product of solid, good writing. It will be great to see what Regan does next!




71 thoughts on “Review: Banjo

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