Our Favourite Films: Billy The Kid And The Green Baize Vampire

billy the kid and the green baize vampireAnyone who wasn’t aware of this 1987 film from Alan Clarke may have presumed they were going to get a slice of supernatural western madness, it’s certainly what the sixties film Billy the Kid Versus Dracula offered up, and imdb describes it falsely as a horror comedy. But it’s actually an extremely unique movie, a surprisingly funny musical about snooker from a director who was best known for gritty fare like The Firm, Made In Britain and Scum

Phil Daniels plays the titular Billy The Kid who is managed by T.O. (Bruce Payne) which rather arrogantly stands for “The One”. T.O’s a compulsive gambler who’s in trouble with a loan shark, and to get himself out of the situation he needs to arrange a game between Billy and Maxwell Randall (Alun Armstrong), who has been given the nickname The Green Baize Vampire due to his looking rather like many a fictional take on Dracula. There’s a catch though in that there’s a clause that Billy is unaware of, as whoever loses the game will never play snooker professionally again.

Very, very loosely based on the real life snooker players Jimmy “The Whirlwind” White and Ray “Dracula” Reardon this is by no means a perfect film and some of the acting wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Only Fools And Horses, while a couple of scenes between Billy and T.O. have the feel of a grungy eighties Channel Four sitcom. Yet oddly in the context of this ridiculous film it only serves to make it all the more endearing, and these are characters that you’ll grow very fond of very quickly.

Best of all are the songs, with lyrics by Ace Of Wands creator Trevor Preston and music by celebrated composer George Fenton they’re an impressively diverse selection, with Phil Daniels turning out to have a lovely singing voice and it frustrates me enormously that the soundtrack is unavailable to buy. The first song, “Green Stamps”, may have you thinking that I’ve gone mad in recommending this so highly, but after that it’s weird old hit after weird old hit, containing songs about poker (“When your luck is thin, you couldn’t win, a game with five elevens” presumably written before Preston had ever played the game), and the bombastic “Supersonic Sam’s Cosmic Cafe” that is an ode to arcade games and in places sounds a bit like Grandaddy and Bowie.

Also genuinely amazing is Alan Armstrong’s “I Bite Back” where he’s pissy about Billy slagging him off in the press, “I’m The One” which gives a backstory to T.O. and Billy’s history together and is an earworm and then some, while “Billy The Kid and The Green Baize Vampire” is a very eighties power ballad which describes the onscreen snooker action montage in great detail. Another song about the joys of snooker is daft fun, as is “Kid To Break” which contains the quite, quite mad lines: “The balls are out on strike. Dracula plays my balls with your eyes. The game is out of order. Your brain ties in a knot. And the fingers on your hands feel like ten knives. You’re walking under water. You’re throat is dry as rust. Your confidence has just been cauterised.” Which might just be the greatest lyrics of all time, and I’d argue the case if drunk enough, that’s for sure.

This isn’t the kind of musical that is going to convert anyone who doesn’t like the genre, it’s an odd as hell affair that is even more bizarre than I’ve probably made it sound. But Clarke has made a quite singular musical here, one which takes a slightly cheesy underdog story and spins gold out of it. Once seen, never forgotten, yes it has flaws but its cast give it their all and everyone involved has managed to create something truly lovable and original, and how often can you say that?

★★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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You can watch Billy The Kid And The Green Baize Vampire here on youtube.

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