It’s long been noticed that extreme social realism – especially when it concentrates on extremes of poverty and deprivation – can stray into horror territory, and a string of psycho-horror pictures have carved out a bloody niche on the mean streets … mostly American downbeat shockers like Combat Shock, The Driller Killer and The Transfiguration, though the likes of Tony, K-Shop and The Ghoul do for Broken Britain what these do for the American Nightmare. Writer-director Simeon Halligan adapts a novel by Stephen McGeach that brings a gruesome, guignol element into a tale of Manchester lowlife – if there was a need to recycle a title that already has a claim stuck on it (Habit is a Larry Fessenden New York vampire movie), it would have made as much sense to reuse Hammer’s Manc noir monicker Hell is a City, for this works hard to make Manchester look like an infernal region.
Young no-hoper Michael (Elliot Langridge), still traumatised by his mother’s suicide, is vaguely looked after by his bipolar sister Mand (Sally Carman), keeps being led into trouble by his arsehole best friend Dig (Andrew Ellis), and ignored by the authorities. He falls in with Lee (Jessica Barden, from Tamara Drewe and The End of the F***ing World), a feral waif who drags him along as she hits up her uncle Ian (William Ash) for pocket money, which leads to an actual job as doorman in Ian’s massage parlour-cum-brothel … a gig he accepts even though it’s offered to him just after he’s seen a customer stagger out of a girl’s room and collapse with a cut throat. Ian unpersuasively says the punter got out of hand and is all right now, and Michael settles in … eventually learning that the massage parlour is a cover for a coven or cult of flesh-eaters, who might be a particularly ravenous form of vampire (the mythology is slightly similar to Antonia Bird’s Ravenous) or just a clique with very bad habits.
A wrinkle in the script is that Ian’s meat-eating masseuses still aren’t the worst people in the city, and the climax comes when – partly through to kids thinking they’re immortal even when the corpses are piling up – Michael rocks the boat and brings down the wrath of an even more ruthless, but entirely ordinary mob. Halligan’s earlier films (Splintered, White Settlers) have rural settings, but similarly flirt with the gothic and editorialise about the shocking state of the things. Here, he goes for full-on video nasty-style gore amid the seedy late-night verité tours of the seamy side of the street, making this almost the miserable Britflick take on Bordello of Blood or Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. To carry that off, it sliced away almost all traces of humour – though Roxanne Pallet, from Wrong Turn 6 (and years of Emmerdale), plays her killer hooker role with a certain welcome cheeriness that contrasts with the angstier leads.