Scum by Alan Clarke starring Ray Winstone. (1979).
This is one of the most vile, gut punching portrayals of the British Borstal system that immediately grabs you by the neck and never lets go. It’s not in the Deep Red catalog, but really should be, it has the same institutionalized programming and vicious abuses of power that Men Behind the Sun has, but none of the gore content. It has the same social commentary about deprogramming and racist politics that authority figures instill in the innocent (or in this case guilty). The cycle of tyrannical authority, senseless beatings and depiction of the failure concerning the prison system gives it a ClockWork Orange quality. Ray Winstone plays Carlin who after getting a welcome kick in the balls right after being processed, he quickly learns the games of hierarchy within the prison system. After being slapped repeatedly, he forms a stern face and turns the screws on his commanding abusers. He refuses to let them onto his plans to dominate the borstal system. The TV version was banned for some reason (I prefer this one). The cast is made up of authentic street toughs, plus half of the cast went on to Quadrophenia. There is a disgusting level of hatred toward abuses of power by the authority figures, who all look like Pythonesque caricatures with their itchy sweaters and spittle in the cracks of their gruesome mouths.
Archer played by Mick Ford is such a pacifist that he walks around bare foot in the freezing cold while shoveling gravel. The system is so corrupt that the only way Carlin is able to survive is to brutally beat other inmates with a pool ball and stomp out bullies’ guts in order to become the top man (or laughing referred to as “The Daddy”). Many of the scenes in this realistic portrayal of juvenile detention would be referenced in Rick Rosenthal’s Bad Boys (1983) with Sean Penn. Both of these films show a bleak and honest version of the prison system ran by former inmates and criminals. As the other kids con, steal and play power games ,the authority figures remain silent and distribute as many beatings as the inmates inflict on each other. Everything explodes to a boiling point and erupts in violence, there is even a nonexistent therapy group run by a Matron who ridicules the death of a black inmate’s wife dying, forcing him read the letter and then wondering if his pet name for his wife “Candy” was a cat’s name. This film has one of the most tragic and brutal preteen suicides ever filmed as Davis (Julian Firth) after being gang raped, the warden looks on leeringly. Later, Davis serenely drifts away after slicing his wrists and then chickens out and cries for help, but is met with disdain from an authority figure who threatens to pummel him. After anyone either snaps or cries for help they are always met with contempt and a vicious beating, such is the rule of authority in the barbaric borstal system. To me this is one of the best prison films of all time, it’s a realistic harrowing portrayal that doesn’t hold anything back and should be required viewing for people in the prison field and mental health industry.
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