❉ Ambitious in scope and ideas, there is enough here to intrigue cult aficionados.
“Low budget feature film making is a Herculean task and Rutter should be commended for going against the grain of the majority of low-budget British genre film making. Even as a western it stands out in its field, in thrall to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo more than any standard western.”
Day of the Stranger certainly has a unique selling point, billing itself as “The Only British Guerilla Shot Acid Western Ever Made”! Filmed in the West Midlands over a number of years on a very low budget, Thomas Lee Rutter has directed a singular film that goes against the grain of the majority of low-budget British genre film making. Even as a western it stands out in its field, in thrall to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo more than any standard western.
With a story “adapted freely from ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ by Mark Twain” it aims for Jodorowsky’s mystical and hallucinogenic visions through a spaghetti western filter. That the filter employs visual aids like a digitally added vintage look with film scratches and frame jumps as well as off kilter and out of sync dubbing further marks out the film’s influences. The overall effect is that of a pastiche but there is also enough here on display to keep certain cult aficionados interested.
Day of the Stranger tells the story of a gun for hire, Caine Farrowood, played by Dale Shepperd, and his search for a mysterious stranger who holds a mystical influence over those who encounter him, including outlaw Loomweather, played by the film’s special guest star, cult legend Gary Shail (Quadrophenia, Shock Treatment, Johnny Jarvis). Coming face to face with the stranger, played by Gary Baxter, Farrowood is led on a nightmarish vision quest where he will envision hard truths and nightmares.
It is a plot that is as threadbare as its budget – a fact that the film does not hide and in some cases celebrates. Low budget feature film making is a Herculean task and Rutter should be commended for going against the grain. In an age where folk horror has captured the imagination of filmgoers and filmmakers alike the easy option here could have been to adapt Twain’s tale and set it amongst the English countryside. It would be easy to laugh at an English western and Rutter seems to know this. A go-for-broke spirit permeates throughout, putting the ridiculousness of such a concept front and centre that gives the film a unique and interesting hook.
There may be an audience willing to go along with this conceit, looking for a cult fringe film to celebrate. Unfortunately, there will also be as many who are turned off by its stylistic choices. The artificial vintage look does nothing to hide its present-day shooting style and comes across as out of place while its constant score, by Craigus Barry and the Stained Glass Whispers, soon becomes overused and overbearing.
The cast struggle with their accents to the point that some dialogue becomes so garbled that it becomes impossible to understand. This seems churlish to point out however and adds to the film’s DIY vibe. The constant shifting weight and various lengths of stubble that Sheppard goes through from scene to scene betray the film’s years’ long shooting schedule and could also make for an interesting drink-along game to further aid its trippy second half.
Day of the Stranger is an interesting experiment. Ambitious in scope and ideas it gets as much right as much as it gets wrong. Locations range from leafy forests with very English looking towns quickly glimpsed in the background to vast sandy dunes and dried-out caverns that Leone or Corbucci would jump at. It may have worked better as a short film but Rutter should be encouraged to pursue his ambitions further. Lest we forget that Edgar Wright started off in a similar vein with A Fistful of Fingers. Here is hoping that Rutter gets to indulge in occult themes in foreign lands again on a greater canvas in the future.
❉ Pre-sales are now LIVE for ‘Day Of The Stranger’ on Blu-Ray from Darkside Releasing, follow the link here: https://darksidereleasing.com/. Shipping on April 28th. All Darkside Blu-rays are multi-region and ship to the UK.
❉ ‘Day Of The Stranger’: Directed by Tom Lee Rutter. Starring: Dale Sheppard, Gary Baxter, Maryam Forouhandeh, Gary Shail (78mins, UK, 2020).Visit the official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Strangerthefilm/
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was four. Since then he has become a regular contributor to We Are Cult and FrightFest writing about genre film in all its wonderful strange forms and buys too much physical media whilst living in Glasgow. Iain can be found on twitter @irmacleod77