Strictly Come Dancing Halloween Special Part II: Let’s Do the Timewarp Again, If You Insist!

So, last week I noted that one of the interesting things about Strictly‘s Halloween night special was its sense of the key horror monsters and sub-genres, but it seems that I didn’t elaborate enough. So, let me be a bit clearer.

If this year was all very ‘Tim Burton’, the central feature is less about the director of Edward Sissorhands (and mate of David Cameron), but rather about a version of the Gothic that brings together the classic Universal monsters with fairy-tales and folklore.

As a result, there isn’t much Jigsaw (from Saw) or Freddie (from Nightmare on Elm Street) or Jason (from Friday the 13th) or even Michael Myers (from Halloween). In fact, there was a marked absence of serial killers altogether. Not even Norman Bates or Hannibal Lector get a look in.

Instead, Frankenstein’s monster was on hand to usher the dancers off stage, but Leatherface was nowhere to be seen.

Similarly, while last year was relatively free of the Tim Burton touches, it relied on the same conception. There was a Scooby Doo dance routine, and an mad scientist number. The classics were also evoked through a performance that featured circus freaks, and another with a hint of vampirism. Even when series winner, Louis Smith, gave us a zombie dance, it was less Night of the Living Dead and more the return of the Graveyard Ghoul. In other words, his zombie was a monster that was more closely associated with folklore than cinema. It is therefore striking that other routines also included another corpse-bride-type ghoul, a sinister warlock and a rather sexy Little Red Riding Hood, featuring Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh simultaneously attracting and rebuffing a sexually predatory wolf – or at least that was my reading of what was going on…

Nor were things so different this year. The association with black magic and zombies cropped up again in a voodoo-themed dance, while there was an absolutely baffling (to me) number involving scarecrows (okay so there are a few horror stories involving scary scarecrows, but these scarecrows were hardly scary and I wouldn’t say that the scarecrow had a particularly strong association with horror or Halloween … maybe its just me).

There was a female vampire from Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and a rather fabulous ‘lady from the lake’ routine, in which the clothing was suggestive of ghosts and/or the walking dead, but that was about it. In another dance sequence, ghostly, cobweb-covered portraits became animated, which is always nice, and we got yet more cases of graveyard dead. There was Dave Myers from the Hairy Bikers doing the Monster Mash in make up that made him look like Michael Keaton from Beetlejuice; and another Tim Burton film was referenced in a routine that drew heavily on Mars Attacks! But as so often happens most of the references in the other routines went straight over my head. Quite what the shirtless rugby player had to do with Halloween completely escaped me.  But then, just when we were feeling a bit confused, Susanna from the Breakfast News was chased by a werewolf, just to reassure us that we knew where we were again.

And of course everything is done with a sense of campy dress up which is less Tim Burton and more Rocky Horror.

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The Dead Zone (2002-2007) – There is Life in the King Story Yet

I didn’t know about The Dead Zone (the tv series) until quite recently, when it popped up in my amazon recommended list. Which isn’t always a recommendation. But I was intrigued, if only because it seems to have run for about six seasons and I hadn’t even heard of it. Also I had always been fond of the Cronenberg film version, which was always one of my favorite Cronenberg films: it has an emotional depth that is lacking in many of his yukky (but great) body-hororr classics and in his arty (and okay) later works. Also Christopher Walken’s performance really captured the lonely, doomed awkwardness of the novel’s central character, and the very presence of Herbert Lom, recreating his caring doctor from The Seventh Veil, by way of The Human Jungle, is a pleasure to relish. And unsurprisingly Lom delivers one of the most moving sequences in the film, when, armed with the insight that Johnny has given him, the elderly doctor wrestlies with whether or not to phone his mother that had formerly believed died during a Nazi purge in his childhood.

And of course the novel is one of my favorite Stephen King novel. I even remember (back in the 1980s) passengers on a London tube train slowly moving down to the other end of the carriage as I wept my eyes out while reading the last few pages of the novel.

In the series, however, Johnny Smith is played by Anthony Michael Hall, who is no Christopher Walken, and is best remembered (by me at least) for his role as the nerd in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and as the bad boyfriend in Edward Sissorhands. None of which is very encouraging. He also seems to specialize in one facial expression, a weird raised eyebrow that seems to imply: I am spooky; something weird is happening; I’m confused; I’m attracted to you; you’re going to die; its the end of the world! Almost anything really.

And yet, I actually like both him and the series, which was clearly filmed in Canada – it rains ALL the time. At one point, Johnny has to track down a serial killer who is triggered by rain, which basically means that the maniac is out almost every night. But even the rain-swept locations seem to work, although at one point, when Johnny heads off to NYC for an episode, the Big Apple looks suspiciously like small town America (or rather Canada).

Of course, Cronenberg’s film was also a Canadian effort, so the miserable weather only reminds one of the original film, and those involved in the series have done a quite neat job of littering the first series with stories from the novel, or vaguely recall stories in the novel, although these are padded out with other stories that were written for the series. By the end of series one, Johnny has even had his vision of the future that an evil political hopeful, Greg Stillson (played by Martin Sheen in the original movie), will bring into being, which brings the season to the edge of a nice cliffhanger and gives Johnny a major mission or story arc to take him through the next five season (presumably). After all, Smith dies in his final confrontation with Stillson in the book.

So, all in all, The Dead Zone ain’t half bad. Its sort of charming without being earth shattering, and I am actually quite looking forward to watching series two…