Saturday, November 15, 2008

Something Unexpected

I know I’ve reiterated that I’m not a big fan of horror but I might as well get it in one more time, especially since the BBC has just unveiled its new supernatural Apparitions. It’s not because horror movies and TV dramas scare the living bejeezus out of me it’s because, for the last thirty years at least, most of them are just bad movies and TV dramas.

It wasn’t always that way. Before the body counts were ratcheted up and gore liberally hosed across the screen we had marvellous German Expressionist films like Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Paul Wegener’s Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam and FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, the German Expressionist-influenced Universal horror movies of the 1930s, which included James Whale’s magnificent Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, and the giddy and erotic horror of Britain’s Hammer Film Productions and the lesser production companies that worked in its shadow.

Obviously to some viewers time may have lessened some of these movies’ impact – although if you ever get the chance to see any of those great silent German movies with a live piano accompaniment they really are something to see. Even if the shocks may not be as shocking or the scares quite as scary, one thing those older films had going for them were solid narratives. Whereas from the advent of slasher movies in the late 1970s, all the way up to the current trend in torture porn, it just seems that the parameters of the horror genre have narrowed as the films work from the same playbook.

Obviously during the last thirty-odd years there have been a good number of horror movies that appeared quite inventive at the time. But because they magically drew an audience and made a whole pot of money, that first film evolved into a franchise which produced diminishing returns as the novelty wore thin. I first caught Hellraiser at a marathon all-day and all-night horror festival at the Scala in the late 1980s and was absolutely blown away by it. By the time the direct to DVD Hellraiser: Hellworld came around, you had to ask, what the fuck were they thinking?

It seems that the only horror movies that really work are the genre hybrids that can introduce the fundamental elements to new environs. At the very least that means they can work to a narrative that goes beyond stripped-down teens being butchered by knife wielding mentalists in a situation that only Haringey Children and Young People’s Service would find acceptable. The prime example of course is Alien, but the one film I really like is the Nicholas Kazan-scripted Fallen in which Denzel Washington’s homicide detective finds himself facing off against the cursed fallen angel Azazel.

That neatly brings us back to Appartitions starring Martin Shaw, who continues to have The Professionals expunged from his CV, as a Jesuit priest who discovers it’s the beginning of the End of Days, which has got to be a bit of a bummer. Still, as a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, ostensibly investigating miraculous happenings and promoting candidates to sainthood, he’s dab hand at exorcisms, which he seems willing to do at the drop of a hat.

It’s certainly an interesting idea, and at it least means that the characters aren’t once again plodding around a hospital or police station in a typical by-the-numbers drama. Unless there’s a show I’ve forgotten, the last thing we had something like this come along the pike was Andrew Marshall’s 2003 series Strange with Richard Coyle as ex-priest John Strange hunting demons and crossing paths with the late Ian Richardson’s sinister Canon Adolphus Black. Hopefully Appartitions should be a lot better, which, come to think of it, shouldn’t be too difficult.

This would be all well and good if there weren’t the two drawbacks that are inflicting some BBC dramas. First, there were instances where the pace should have really picked up and it didn’t. I don’t know why they do this but there’s a current crop of television directors, Joe Ahearne included, that pick a rowing stroke and then stick to it. Whether the scenes involve an exposition-heavy exchange of dialogue or some actual dramatic events taking place, they always seem to share the same level of pace, which is ultimately what made Ahearne’s vampire tale Ultraviolet so fucking dull.

Secondly, which is why I had to wait and try and watch the episode again on iPlayer the night after the initial broadcast, what the fuck is up with sound editors these days? Does the BBC get a reduced rate by hiring people who had a screwdriver driven through their eardrums as a kiddie? Or do the composers sneak into the dubbing studios during the final mix and slip them a couple of quid?

Doctor Who is bad enough as it stands, but when Murray Gold’s bashing and crashing gets dialled up beyond eleven it renders the episodes unwatchable. Apparations isn’t helped by the almost deafening plinky-plonky stylings of ex–Dire Straits guitarist Hal Lindes, especially since the one time leper and now homosexual priest in training was a low talker. Having the demon spectres subtitled as they spew out Latin from the shadows is one thing but if the damn music gets louder the whole programme is going to need subtitles.


At 1:18 pm, Blogger potdoll said...

naughty plinky plonky!

At 6:45 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Plinky plonky turns it wonky!

;-) (winky)

At 3:06 pm, Blogger Wyndham said...

I can't help but agree with mostly everything you post. Thank you.


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