The Borgias – Boris Karloff is Back … and He’s Played by Jeremy Irons!

Okay, now I have to also admit to coming late to The Borgias, which was recommended by a colleague, Peter Kitson. Thanks, Peter.

I managed to consume the entire first season in about two or three nights and, while I won’t claim it was the best thing I have ever seen, it made for a fun-filled couple of nights, with more violence and nastiness than you could shake an incense burner at.

For those of you who don’t know their history, Papa Borgia was a Pope with lots of illegitimate children and mistresses, who played power politics and whose machinations involved also sorts of murderous plots.

Those of you who have heard or read my discussion of Edward G Robinson (a horror star during the 1940s) will already know that Little Caesar was associated with Borgia by critics in the 1930s, and the series clearly sought to cash-in on the success of The Soparnos. If this wasn’t marketed with the tagline, ‘the original crime family’, the world has surely gone mad. My guess would be that the show was specifically designed with that tagline in mind.


Which is not to say that it is merely a rip-off. It is the creation of Neil Jordan, who knows a thing or two about both horror and Catholicism; and it is a wonderfully crafted tale of bloody intrigue.

But the real treat (and people who know me won’t be expecting this one) is Jeremy Irons. Not because he is Jeremy Irons – yes, its another posh British actor playing a nasty, vicious aristocratic type – but rather because Irons is playing one of the greatest horror actors of all time, Boris Karloff.

Irons’ portrayal of Borgia is, from the very first moment, a magnificent homage or impersonation of a whole slew of Karloff heavies. He has the bushy, hooded eyebrows working overtime and that funny mouth thing going ten to the dozen.

The whole thing feels like a more explicit version (both in terms of violence and nudity) of something like Tower of London, except that Karloff (Irons) has now displaced Basil Rathbone’s King Richard and taken center stage. Actually, to be honest, the performance is less Karloff in Tower of London and more his grim presences in films such as Graft, The Old Dark House, The Walking Dead and particularly British Intelligence (Secret Enemy in the UK).

So, while its not perfect, its worth seeing, if only for the return of the late, great, Boris Karloff. How I have missed him!

Game of Thrones – It says everything you ever needed to know about the British Acting Profession

So, I have to admit to being a newcomer to Game of Thrones, although I am now completely hooked. Not sure why it took so long but now that I am here, I am loving all the plotting, intrigue and straightforward violence. Okay, so, given that it is the designed for a premium rate channel, there is rather more nudity than is strictly necessary, but I am not going to start complaining about this one minor flaw – if you can call it a flaw.

It’s also really refreshing to see an offering from a premium rate channel that doesn’t sell itself as ‘its not exactly a western … or cop show … or …’ Well, you know the routine. What is this supposed to be ‘not exactly Dungeons and Dragons’. If so, its a complete failure. It is absolutely packed with both dungeons and dragons!

But while I have been fascinated by the carnival of beastliness and brutality, I have also noticed that its chock full of British actors – its vast cast seems to feature everyone who ever came out of the British stage and screen. But what seems completely unsurprising is that the casting says everything that you ever needed to know about the British acting profession on the one hand, and British society on the other.

In other words, the cast seem to be neatly ranked along class lines, or rather they fall into two camps – aristocracy and peasants. And the peasants are pretty much all Northerners. Okay, so Mark Addy does play the king for a while but he is quickly knocked off – gored to death more like – and Sean Bean also plays a nobleman, but he is a rough Northern sort for whom the real aristocrats have nothing but contempt. And, of course, at the top of the pile, sneering contemptuously over everyone is Charles Dance.

So basically this is a world that is tormented by sadistic, blonde, foppish types, while gruff dark Northerners grunt and die. This is social realism, right?

The Munsters – Come Home

Sorry to have been away so long – its been a busy year with major changes going on. But I am back now and ready to talk about a show that I wish would also return.

The Munsters started life in 1964, and although it only lasted a short time before cancellation, it proved a success in syndication, which ensured its longevity. I remember seeing it both as a youth in the 1960s, when it was shown on the BBC and, in later life, as a student, when it was shown on Channel Four, in those early days when it recycled a lot of old cult shows… The Human Jungle was another great example that I might talk about in the near future.

The series is a sitcom about a family who find themselves caught up in comic situations on a weekly basis but, unlike other family comedies, this family was made up of monsters. Dad (Herman) looks like Frankenstein’s monster, recreating Jack Pierce’s classic make up from the Universal classics; Mum (Lily) is a vampiric female, with a ghoulishly pale face and a white streak through her long black hair, like Elsa Lanchesters’s bride of Frankenstein. Grandpa looks like Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula, and Herman and Lily’s son (Eddie) takes after Grandpa, even to the extent of featuring a widow’s peak. Only daughter Marilyn breaks from type, and is supposed to be a glamorous and attractive young woman, but she is the figure for whom the rest of the family feel sorry. They see her as an ‘ugly duckling’, and Herman often comments sadly on her ‘plain’ looks.

Of course, the central joke is that while they view themselves as normal and Marilyn as strange, the rest of the world sees things the other way around and continually misread the family, such misreadings being the root of many storylines. In this way, the series is a fish-out-of-water comedy that shares more in common with The Beverley Hillbillies than with The Addams Family, both of which were running at the same time. And I should add that while I love The Munsters, I was never very fond of either The Beverley Hillbillies or The Addams Family, although I did love the film versions with Christina Ricci.

But whatever the neighbors think, our sympathies are clearly with the Munster family, who are lovable and good-hearted, while the figures of ‘normality’ within the show are often presented as small-minded or mean-spirited. Indeed, if ‘normality’ is a problem, and the monster is sympathetic, the show can be seen as a response to the discourses of conformity within the period, and the family are not only associated with working class but also ethnic identity, at a time when conformity was about the celebration of middle class affluence and ethnic groups were being encouraged to assimilate. Herman not only has the body of a manual laborer but carries a lunch box to work each morning, while Grandpa is played by Jewish comedian Al Lewis. Similarly, Lily is played by Yvonne de Carlo, who, as her stage-name suggests, was associated with a rather non-specific notion of ethnic and exotic femininity.

Anyhow, what I want to know is this: if The Addams Family (and seemingly everything else) can have a film series reboot, why can’t The Munsters. It seem high time that The Munsters came home.

Christmas Shopping Horrors

Sorry, I have been so erratic lately but, once the REF was gone, Christmas appeared right around the corner! However, despite its stresses and strains, this year’s season of good-tidings has proved fascinating, horror-wise.

I’m not saying that I am now cool or anything, but, Great God, kids have changed. This year, when I asked friends and family what their kids wanted for Christmas, the responses that I got were repeatedly about things that harked back to my own (and once unpopular) fannish enthusiasms.

Most kids today, it seems, are into The Hunger Games, which looks pretty much like 1970s exploitation films (and their more mainstream Hollywood companions). In a futuristic world, kids are forced to battle it out TO THE DEATH as part of some evil, mass-mediated form of social control. It is part Death Race 2000, part Rollerball, part … well, part quite a lot of 1970s dystopian science fiction/horror.

In addition, many kids also seem to be into material that one friend summed up quite nicely with the phrase, ‘Gothic light’. For some of you, this term might summon up the terrible vision of Twilight, and certainly my niece, who is around ten says that this is her favorite book. However, not only is Twilight subject to quite unfair and completely contradictory criticisms (see my article and other pieces in a new collection on the subject) but there is a lot more to ‘Gothic light’, which sort of puts Twillight in a quite different light.

I had wanted to get one kid a copy of Eerie, Indiana, but it turns out that the show might be a bit old fashioned for them. Although, it turns out that my niece is really eager to watch Buffy, which is now back in vogue. Fantastic! Her favorite television show is also something called Wolfblood, which has completely passed me by and which I need to obviously check out.

But of course Christmas shopping was never going to be easy and, while the kids might love this stuff, their parents are, predictably, worried about it. The appeal to many kids is that these books, films and television series seem fascinatingly adult (for someone between eight and twelve) but that is precisely their problem for many parents.

I had thought about getting Warm Bodies, a wonderfully sweet, witty zombie/romance, with a killer performance by John Malkovich, but apparently the thought of a post-apocalyse zombie wasteland, however much it might be redeemed by love, might prove traumatizing to kids… Damn!

So, the encouragement was to go, instead, with something more appropriate to kids: Snow White and the Huntsman. This might have the star of the dreaded Twilight (who was once known as a fascinating androgenous child actor), and it may actually be darker and scarier, in my humble opinion, than Warm Bodies, but its based (however loosely) on a fairy tale and is therefore more appropriate for kids … apparently.

Of course, I would have thought that any child with half a brain cell would really want Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, if they knew anything about it, but if parents are going to object to Warm Bodies, they are never going to get over this joyous, endearing comic spatterfest – although what child could resist the charms of Tucker or Dale … I know that I can’t.

Ah well, maybe another Christmas.

Eerie, Indiana – Joe Dante Walks on Water!

So what can I say about Eerie, Indiana that isn’t covered by the announcement that it was a television show associated with the awesomeness that is Joe Dante. Yes, the man that brought us Piranha, Rock n Roll High School (with both the Ramones and exploding mice), The Howling, Police Squad, Gremlins, Explorers, Inner Space, Gremlins 2, Small Soldiers and so much more.

Well, if that doesn’t cover it, then watch the opening credits (above) … There! Now, what more need I say. Don’t you: a) want to watch it; or b) want to watch it again!

Yes, this was a show for everyone who ever loved horror and wasn’t ashamed to say so. It has everything. All your favorite horror plots, plus humor that is born out of love for the genre rather than embarassment with, or contempt for, it. And yet again, it is kids who keep saving the world, while the bloody adults can’t see what is right under their noses.

It also has the most wonderfully realized small town weirdness.

I may be known for regularly saying that this film or that television show is the greatest thing ever made … but, when I say that about Gremlins 2, I am actually being serious. Eerie Indiana might not quite be Gremlins 2 – surprise, surprise – but there is very little that comes close to it.

It may not always be magnificent but it is always an original. I really can’t think of much to which it could be compared. Its feel and tone and style have a quirkiness which isn’t forced or regulation (like so many contemporary indie movies today). They just have that Joe Dante touch.

And really, I don’t know why I am waffling on about this – you must be itching to watch it, even if you have already seen it before.