Saturday, 16 November 2013

16 - Great Horror TV of the Past

It’s Horror Television weekend this weekend, so here’s a rundown of some horror-related TV shows that are no longer with us. As always, this is not an all-inclusive list (there's only five entries!) and is not assembled in order of merit – in fact, I have actively avoided a couple of shows so I can keep the list nice and short.

BEING HUMAN (UK version)
I loved the pilot, recorded the first series and then didn’t watch it for ages – at which point I rocketed through it in a couple of days. No idea why I left it so long, probably wary after the show was almost completely recast following the pilot. 

If you’ve never seen the series, it tells the story of three friends sharing a house - Mitchell is a vampire battling with blood addiction, George is a reluctant werewolf, and Annie is a recently-revived ghost. It mixes comedy and horror to great effect, and doesn’t shy away from sex or violence – neither George nor Mitchell get on with others of their kind, which tends to bring conflict into their lives on a regular basis.

This trio starts to change through season three and four, and by season five we have a new ghost/vampire werewolf combo in a completely different house, but somehow they manage to pull it off. It would have been wonderful for the show to continue, but frankly I’m amazed it lasted as long as it did.

HORROR HIGH POINT: The Box Tunnel Massacre, season 2. I’m not going to tell you any more than that, you either remember it or you need to see it.

A drama miniseries rather than an ongoing, Dead Set has one of those great high concept/elevator pitches - “The Big Brother house during a zombie outbreak” – but manages to not only make it work but make it brilliant.

It’s not just about the Big Brother housemates, though – the lead character is a production runner on the show and we meet some of the crew. In addition, several real former housemates and the show’s then-presenter make appearances as themselves both pre-and-post zombification. The interplay between the housemates and production runner Kelly is the main element of the show, as they come to realise the scale of their situation. 

The real star isn’t the (impressive) zombie and gore effects, but magnificent bastard producer Patrick, played to perfection by Andy Nyman. Patrick is argumentative, abusive, self-obsessed and domineering. He’s also gloriously offensive, and gets almost every single one of the best lines in the piece.

If the blood and violence wasn’t enough, that line should also make it clear that there’s some high-quality swearing in this, a lot of it coming from Patrick. Thankfully, he also gets his comeuppance in a tribute to a classic movie death scene.

HORROR HIGH POINT: As much a gore scene as a horror one, but the zombie killed with a fire extinguisher at the end of episode one is pretty damn impressive.

An old-school murder-mystery style slasher as a 13 episode miniseries, Harper’s Island wasn’t exactly a success upon original broadcast – hence the lack of any follow-up. It’s the story of Abby Mills, a young woman returning to her childhood home for the wedding of her best friend – an island where, many years ago, a mass-murderer went on a killing spree. As these things tend to go, the murders start up again and everyone is a suspect – locals and wedding guests alike.

The show’s ambition exceeds its abilities at several points, but overall this is well worth a look for murder-mystery fans and early slasher addicts alike. There’s at least one death per episode, sometimes more.

HORROR HIGH POINT: Death by falling spade. It’s a surprising moment, and a surprising victim. To say more would spoil too much.

Horror with elements of comedy, comedy with elements of horror, black comedy, comedy of embarrassment, this show ran through them all. A huge cast played mainly by the three leads (Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss, who also all co-write the show with non-actor Jeremy Dyson) goes about their everyday lives in a small town in the north of England. Their bizarre, freakish and sometimes terrifying everyday lives. 

The first series is more sketch comedy based, series two is the same but has more of an over-arcing plot and season three hovers somewhere between sitcom, sketch show and interlinked one-off drama. Each is worth watching, start from the beginning to fully appreciate the show (and to understand the running jokes and callbacks). There was also a film, which is worth watching but is not essential, and a Christmas special which is like a missing Amicus portmanteau movie. 
I could have picked several other works by some of the creators – Jeremy Dyson’s thriller series Funland, Gatiss’ supernatural anthology Crooked House or Shearsmith and Pemberton’s even darker comedy series, Psychoville. But the League is where it all started, and where they worked best together.

HORROR HIGH POINTS: Pemberton’s Pop is the ultimate sleazy slumlord, Gatiss’ monologue as the guide in Stump Hole Cavern is chilling, as are Shearsmith’s appearances as circus owner Papa Lazarou, especially in the Christmas special.

It seems odd referring to this as a series, when it’s less than half the length of the miniseries Harper’s Island, but that’s British telly for you. It’s a series about vampire hunters that never once uses the V word, featuring various actors who went on to American success, including Jack Davenport of FlashForward and Smash, Idris Elba of The Wire and Stephen Moyer of True Blood playing a vampire long before he got to Bon Temps.

Much like True Blood there is a synthetic blood plotline. There are also modern versions of vampire hunting weapons, such as guns that shoot carbon bullets and have a video camera sight attached for vampire detection, and plotlines involving paedophilia, terminal illness and pregnancy – it’s not exactly a bundle of laughs, but it’s well written and acted.

HORROR HIGH POINT: – episode 4, the episode dealing with paedophilia, mixes real-world horror with vampirism with surprising results.

No comments:

Post a Comment