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.

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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!

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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.