Sunday, January 04, 2009


Carry On Demon-Hunting

I write about quite a few BBC shows here, but very few ITV ones… Largely because ITV1 is rubbish, while the BBC at least tries occasionally. However, ITV tried something interesting last night, albeit with half a million fewer viewers than the announcement of Matt Smith for Doctor Who. Demons is Gene Hunt’s Philip Glenister’s new vehicle, not a Quattro but a British attempt at Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can catch it again tonight at 8pm on ITV2, followed by the even more implausible Van Helsing – for classier horror pastiche, I’d turn to ITV3 at 7pm for Carry On Screaming (with Carry On Cleo following at 9pm). Oh, and if you spot this a bit later, both channels have a +1 shadow, so you can just add an hour to the time and tune in then.


Any thought that Demons was going to be a great success was demolished by three things in the first three minutes: the naff CGI gremlin of the pre-titles sequence; the even naffer opening titles, which appear to have been borrowed from a 1998 video game; and Mr Glenister’s hilarious American accent. For several minutes, listening to his cod drawl and looking at his ’40s gumshoe drag, I wondered if he was doing a murder mystery weekend or some other diegetic play-acting, but no, it seems to have just been for a bet. And, perhaps, because in American series Buffy the Vampire Slayer the wise old (actually middle-aged, but most of the cast look teenish) tutor Rupert Giles who tells pretty young Buffy her destiny, reveals the world of the undead and demons all around her and teaches her how to use her amazing natural abilities has a stereotyped ‘English’ accent, while in British series Demons the wise old (actually middle-aged, but most of the cast look teenish) tutor Rupert Galvin who tells pretty young Luke his destiny, reveals the world of the undead and demons all around him and teaches him how to use his amazing natural abilities has… You get the idea.

Young lead Christian Cooke as Luke Rutherford was in uniform as Ross in The Sontaran Stratagem from last year’s Doctor Who, and out of his clothes a lot in Echo Beach. Guess which option Demons goes for? Not many minutes have gone by before he’s wandering around his flat in a pair of tiny trunks, the camera crawling over his abs and lingering on his legs in a way that would make Sarah Michelle Gellar say, ‘Ooh, that’s a bit exploitative.’ Still, he’s quite pretty (if he could do with putting on a few years, stone and hairs). And life for him, his he-doesn’t-think-she’s-his-girlfriend and his unwitting mother (“Have you tried not being the Slayer?”) will never be the same once his long-missing godfather Rupert turns up. In a rare difference from Buffy – other than Buffy being a terrific series, and Demons a mediocre one – Luke is raised by his mother alone not because his father ran out on them, but because he died in a-not-in-fact-the-car-crash-they-were-told. In fact, Luke is now the last descendent of the Van Helsings, and Rupert’s turned up at the door to bond because, after years of innocence, the monsters have tracked him down and it’s time to give Luke his father’s lightsabre bring Luke to his father’s secret library, the Stacks (yet another thing to wind up Lawrence Miles).

Anyway, the CGI gremlin gives way to a misshapen demon-bloke in a big overcoat, apparently dragging up as the macho-dragged-up Mr Glenister, and then we get to meet the main villain behind him, who’s Mackenzie Crook dressed as a cockatoo. Gosh, and he’s invulnerable to one of Q Division’s magic demon-melting guns! Gosh, but not the other! At least Zoë Tapper’s much less anonymous than she was in Survivors. It’s got some potential, but the first week hasn’t delivered much on it. Charlie Brooker finds it a bit offputting, though it was the preview from elsewhere in this week’s Guardian Guide that put its finger on it:
“The end result… veers too much towards a splicing of Hollyoaks and Torchwood.”
Both of those are quite watchable, as far as I’m concerned, though I don’t find myself keeping up with either as religiously as I might, and don’t miss either when they’re not on. Let’s hope later episodes do a better job of making me watch with enthusiasm. In the meantime, I’m tempted to stick on some old episodes of Buffy or Ultraviolet, but I suspect that’ll make me rather less tempted to return to the apparently inferior new one.

Oh, yes, and Van Helsing to follow at 9pm… Van Helsing was a bookish, religious man who used his scientific and mythological learning to defeat vampires. So let’s make him a pumped-up walking armoury for the Pope! That’ll work. An attempt to launch the same sort of franchise as the film of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (we suspect Zoë Tapper’s character in Demons may have an unnatural amount in common with her namesake in ‘LXG’, too), this fails for much the same reasons, though is a rather worse film; instead of realising that the dumb bits got in the way of adapting a clever, witty and dark comic, this scoops out any bits that look clever or witty and just goes for a big dumb action flick. I do have a sneaking fondness for it, despite all that, thanks to a pretty good leading actor in the ludicrous title role and all its little homages to my beloved Universal monster movies of the ’30s and ’40s. I’d rather watch most of them, though.

Carry On Screaming / Carry On Cleo

The Carry On films are undoubtedly one of the greatest parts of Twentieth Century British culture, and I’ve written before that, rather than the Gordon Brown squeezing some joyless work ethic into a laboured definition of Britishness and boring kids to death with it, they should just show every child in the land Carry On Cleo and Carry On Up the Khyber, because they do a much better job of communicating what being British is all about than anything Hazel Blears wants to test us on.

The Carry Ons are, of course, a real mix – they run all the way from one of the greatest films ever made right down to pretty terrible. The best has to be Carry On Up the Khyber, and I’m sure there’s a mathematical formula somewhere that can predict the likely quality of a Carry On by looking at the strong correlation between the number of the regular ‘team’ working on each film and how good it is, with high weighting given to Kenneth Williams and Sid James, then Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Charles Hawtrey, Barbara Windsor, Bernard Bresslaw (controversially, I’d say the Carry On actor with the widest range) and so on. That’d make Carry On Loving the limit of the standard deviation, I suppose. But an easier way to do it is to say that, in common with my love of historicals, the ones with dressing up are generally better than the modern day ones. So, while the best of the ones set in ordinary life is probably Carry On Doctor, there are at least four films in the series that are quite a lot better. Gnashing at Khyber’s heels, I’d go in no particular order for Carry On… Don’t Lose Your Head, Carry On Screaming and Carry On Cleo. So it’s rather fun that two of them are on tonight, back-to-back.

Carry On Screaming was my favourite of the films when I was a little boy, and it’s easy to see why – it’s a Hammer spoof that was turning up on TV just as Doctor Who was doing the same sort of thing. It even sees Jon Pertwee gruesomely murdered, and who could complain about that? There’s no Sid, but manic detective Harry H Corbett is a fantastic replacement, whether paired in an hilarious double act with Peter Butterworth or acting opposite Fenella Fielding’s fabulously smouldering performance. The wordplay of the “Whereabouts?” “Hereabouts” and “Watt’s his name!” scene is utterly sublime, and Bernard Bresslaw’s toes are very rude. The film’s stolen, though, by Kenneth Williams’ reanimated Dr Watt, who’s having difficulty with his regeneration and even more with a mummy he wants to get moving.
“Frying tonight!”
Carry On Cleo is another cracker, spoofing (and borrowing expensive props from) Cleopatra with the perfect relationship between Sid and Kenneth as Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar. And the two of them supply far too many of my favourite lines:

“Ooh, I do feel queer!”

“Friends, Romans…”
“– Countrymen.”
“I know!”
And, of course, the famously nicked from Frank Muir and Denis Norden but unbeatably delivered by a phenomenally camp Kenneth Williams:
“Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”
All that, and Amanda Barrie’s poisonous asp, Jim Dale actually pulling off the heroic lead from Flintstones Britain, and a few Doctor Who connections. There are similar scenes and one of the same actors as in The Romans, actors who’ve appeared in half a dozen other Who stories, and at least two crossovers with The Key To Time series: Sosages, Captain of Cleopatra’s bodyguard, is no doubt the man from whom the Doctor learned his sword skills; and Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of The Stones of Blood carries a rare out-and-out in-joke on Jon Pertwee playing the soothsayer who warns Caesar about his assassination when the Doctor thinks to himself in an aside:
“He’d always got on very well with Julius Caesar, though you couldn’t really trust him. And, of course, he’d never listen to advice. Even when the Doctor had gone to all the trouble of dressing up as a soothsayer, and croaking ‘Beware the Ides of March’, old Julius wouldn’t listen.”

Of course, if you’re fed up with everything on all 637 channels, there’s always The Randomness Times (in an aside to the first ‘issue’ of which, Lawrence Miles notes that ITV is “ten years late with its Buffy homework”).

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It is very worrying indeed how similar, and yet slightly divergent, our tastes can be. I bought Van Helshit on DVD for the first five minutes - Sam West's SUBLIME Colin Clive impression was worth £6.99. I rarely watch past there, though. Not a big Hugh Jackman fancier.

We're trying to watch The Daemons right now (Benton and Yates just spotted huge great Azal footprints across the countryside) although small person keeps waking up and wanting to join in...
Oh, I think Mr Jackman does the best you could expect of anyone with that role. But you do like Shagg, don't you? ;-) Richard thinks I was too hard on it; you think I was too kind. But I'd still rather watch Colin Clive (Bride of Frankenstein: best film ever made).

Enjoy the huge footprints, and sorry it's taking small person past her bedtime! I stuck some chapters in if you have to stop, btw, and I hope the 'extras' aren't too rude...
I've told her she can watch some when she gets home from school ;)
Have you checked the crack of the door? There's where I used to watch from.
Good call, actually.

* presses pause and goes to do more tucking in *
Carry On Screaming is my favourite Carry On.

A great script, brilliantly acted, and a very accurate send up of Hammer Horror (which I also loved as a child)
Wonder what any mathematical formula would have come up with for Carry on Columbus, or whether they're using it for this Carry on London which seems to be forever in the planning.
I think they got their sums wrong on Carry On Columbus. And there's no-one left to be in Carry On London, surely? Not that it sounded very exciting; I remember a news story about a visit to the 'cast' (someone from Eastenders, I think?) from Iain Duncan-Smith when he was Tory leader, and how much they liked him...
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