Director Matthew Holness writes exclusively for Film4.com, explaining how a childhood hero became a creative inspiration, in the form of the at times controversial but always essential cult author Terry Finch, whose ultra-violent ‘Reprisalizer’ novelettes, starring lone wolf vigilante Bob Shuter in tales of savage poetic justice, are notorious among fans of Kentish noir to this day.

“Despite creating one of the toughest hard-boiled characters in pulp fiction history, the near-legendary British paperback writer Terry Finch remains an elusive figure, venerated by fans yet shunned by ‘respectable’ publishers and the wider world.” - thereprisalizer.com

The Reprisalizer was my hero in days when it was acceptable to play with toy guns and hard violence was a staple of basic childhood entertainment. Times change but human nature does not. Despite their rightful place in another world and era, Terry Finch’s tough tales of vigilante justice retain a brutal power to this day, still packing thrills and an emotional punch. Perhaps it’s vapid, sterile, modern Britain that makes one ache to read these ‘unacceptable’ books. Grit from the gutter. Books rightfully judged by their lurid covers, penned and pounded out with sweat and blood as disposable product. Books consumed at breakneck speed to help stomach the hard truth you feel in your gut. Books showing how it really is, despite what They tell you. Escapist fantasies wrought from bitterness, struggle and pain.

Real books.

I’d wanted to make a film about Terry Finch’s life and work for many years, having been an avid fan and collector of the author’s westerns and crime novellas since childhood.  Little is known about Finch’s life. Less that is reliable. Rumour suggests he may have experienced some form of trauma when young and lived alone for much of his life, preferring to write in cafes, cars or motorway service stations. A frequent cinema-goer, he shunned human company as a rule. A neighbour had this to say about him in 1980:

“He lived in a council flat on Millstrood Hill. He had the same bed he slept in as a child, a kitchenette, one chair and a desk for his manual typewriter. He used a public phone box in the street opposite and ate in cafes when he could afford to. He spoke mostly when he wrote – to himself and in a different voice.” – Finchland Fanzine issue 29, August 1980

‘A Gun For George’ is my attempt to paint a portrait of Finch that neither flatters nor condemns. I hope it captures the man’s truth and raw honesty, however warped.  Though their troubled author has long since faded among the weathered pages of pulp paper obscurity, it is my hope that this film will revive interest in Finch’s powerful, subversive and ultra-violent novelettes.  Thanks to modern technology, his vast and largely unknown body of work is finally finding both an audience and the literary recognition it deserves. I hesitate to say respect, of course, and hope these tough, uncompromising thrillers continue to rouse, provoke and offend.

As The Reprisalizer would say,

“Buck up, you bin.”

Matthew Holness