This independent film – shot in South West London in 1971 in grainy black and white – is an intense and bizarre study of obsession that is by turns beautiful and disturbing.
It tells the story of parentless young Irish cockney lad Duffer (Kit Gleave) who is caught between the womanly charms and tender love and care of a kindly middle-aged Notting Hill prostitute called Your Gracie (Erna May) and the increasingly brutal sadistic attentions of a demented older man named Louis-Jack (William Dumaresq) who spends his days abusing Duffer in every way possible – torturing him, beating him and inserting things into him.
He even films the abuse with a stolen video camera, forcing Duffer to watch the films at bizarre home cinema nights.
Duffer finds himself in a most extraordinary position when it appears that he has become pregnant. His stomach swells up in a phantom pregnancy and when the baby doesn’t appear, we’re led to believe that Duffer steals one for Louis-Jack, who eventually kills the baby in a fit of sadism.
Both whimsical and disturbing, with a quirky sense of the grotesque, Duffer is a film that defies easy comparison – perhaps Eraserhead (1977) comes close. There is very little dialogue with the majority of the film spoken as a ‘commentary’ by Duffer, all in a very matter-of-fact delivery.
The director and writer were two ex-pat Canadians in London, and the score is by Galt MacDermot, the Grammy award-winning composer of Hair. The trio would reunite to make their London-set musical, The Moon Over the Alley.