16/01/10

Tetchy. Lovely word. I use it a lot. And I’ve even got a back-formed noun “tetch” which I like to use as well, but nobody seems to be with me on that one. How are you? Full of tetch. Tetched up. Riding the tetch express to irks-ville. Oh, you’ve gone away.

All of my dictionaries define tetchy as irritable, which is good since that’s how I’ve been using it, and they all refer back to an old French word tache meaning blemish. Good. Splendid. But how does that work? Blemished doesn’t mean the same as irritable. You can’t see, but I’m shrugging now. It’s a mystery.

Tetchy, great word to think about then, but a rubbish mood to be in…

Firstly. Car drivers: Indicator lights are to show other people you’re about to change direction. They are not just for turning on and off at random moments to remind you where the corners of your vehicle are.

Secondly. Tesco computer lady: It isn’t an unexpected item in the bagging area. It’s a bag. What were you expecting? A narwhal? A sousaphone? A spaceship in the shape of a scorpion from Battle Of The Planets? I repeat, it’s a bagging area. Of the spectrum of objects available to be placed in a bagging area I’d have thought that a bag was pretty much right at the “expected” end. But no, every time: Unexpected item in bagging area.

Thirdly and finally. Adrian Hodges: Survivors is not your idea. It was Terry Nation’s idea. Please go back to Primeval where the substantial artistic harm you do is at least limited to children, and we can always get more of them.

I can’t believe the BBC has gone ahead with a second series of Hodges’ remake, or reboot, or reimagining, or whatever you want to call it of Survivors.

The original Survivors ran for three years from 1975-77 (a scant 38 episodes) and it is absolutely bloody brilliant. An accidentally released man-made virus kills 99% plus of the world’s population. The rest try to survive. It is inescapably a product of its time, an era when instant species extinction was a real fear. There is some great British apocalyptic TV from the seventies and early eighties. Survivors is easily my favourite, but Barry Hines’ harrowing drama Threads about a limited nuclear strike on Britain is a close second. Of its time also undoubtedly, but as with Survivors engrossingly watchable these days.

What appeals to me about the original Survivors is the way that everything in the plot is so rigorously worked out. As the survivors find each other and come to terms with what has happened there are countless well-developed frictions and friendships, but ultimately two opposing philosophies emerge. Half the survivors want to start from scratch and build civilisation up again. The other half want to resume exactly where civilisation left off. They want to get back in to the dangerous, rat-infested, decaying cities and turn the electricity grid back on.

Over the thirty-eight episodes a lot happens, but some of it is not what would pass for drama in the current climate where only hectic will do. A lot of the episodes admittedly do concern themselves with conflict and there is a high character mortality rate. This is doubly shocking because not only do you have an emotional involvement with the characters, but also because each death counts for so much more in such a low population. Lots of drama then, but equally a lot of episodes have little happening other than the characters learning how to weave cloth and tend the land, that sort of thing. It’s a sort of cross between Outbreak and The Good Life.

There are things about it which might seem a bit laughable today, all of the survivors seem to be white middle class people for instance, but these are understandable in the context of the time in which it was made. It remains a thing of genius and I recommend it with all my warty little loveless heart.

The remake by comparison is a cluster fuck of kidney-clenching proportions.

My first problem with it is that the credits claim that it is created by Adrian Hodges, based on a novel by Terry Nation. Now Terry Nation did do a novelization based on the original series, but he also had the idea in the first place and wrote all the damn episodes in the first season. It is clearly and indisputably Terry Nation’s idea. I’m not sure what Adrian Hodges has brought to the picnic that enables him to think of himself as the creator. He even uses the same flipping character names.

My second problem is that it is a complete misunderstanding of what the original Survivors aspired to. That was a series which baldly asked what you would do if civilisation vanished, and presented some stark and worrying answers.

In the re-make people barely seem to notice that there’s been a worldwide cataclysm. They tool round in fast cars and helicopters shooting guns with limitless ammo. There seems to be a surviving arm of government and some sort of conspiratorial cabal of scientists. As far as I can see, we’re into the second series and no-one has devoted any thought at all to the long term preservation of the species. No time I suppose, what with all the shooting and shagging they have to do.

In the original the deterioration in standards was quick and brutal, and by series three everyone was in patched-up clothes and the men had beards of Brian Blessed proportions. In the re-make everyone is still pretty spiffily dressed and the guys have got a good grooming regime going on.

That’s another exasperating aspect of the new series. How hard everyone is trying to look cool. Leather jackets. Moody poses. Low husky voices. Furrowed brows and forlorn attempts at actoring, but it’s still that bloke off that soap opera and that bird off that other soap opera. It makes my colon tired.

All that can be said in its favour is that it is a degree better than Paradox, BBC’s pre-Christmas sci-fi show which was itself so mind-bogglingly bad that I still think I may have dreamt it. I’m not going to harp on about Paradox because it’s finished now and will never, ever, ever come back, but bloody hell did nobody actually read the scripts before they started filming it? It literally made no sense. Next to Paradox an episode of Quantum Leap looks like something that might have won the Nobel Prize for physics.

***

 

Friday The 13th (Sean Cunningham’s 1980 original) is another thing that stands as a monument to a bygone era. I’d never seen it before last night, but I had a lorry-load of preconceptions about it. It has, in my head, a reputation for being the film more than any other that was responsible for the slasher movie boom of the eighties. There were ten sequels for Christ’s sake so I’d marked it down as the progenitor (after Halloween of which it is so clearly a rip-off) of the subgenre. But having seen it, I think I was wrong, and that it’s actually the tail-end of a movement. Allow me to explain.

The following argument, by the way, is made of balsa wood and held together with paste made out of flour and water. It may be the single feeblest argument I have ever constructed. Please feel free to smash it to bits and bludgeon me with counterexamples.

I like horror movies. I watch loads of them. I like the way they make me scared, and then later on, when I’ve had a bit of a think, I like the way they hold a mirror up to the society of their time. I think they do this more than any other of genre of film. Again, please correct me if I am incorrect.

So in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and into the fifties you get a lot of “fear of the atom” films like Them, Tarantula, The Blob and so on. During the communist witch hunts you get a lot of movies about covert undetectable alien menaces within (The Thing From Another World, Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers).

I’m not sure about Vietnam. Claims are often made that Romero’s revolutionary Night Of The Living Dead is a Vietnam metaphor, but I don’t see it. It looks more like an indictment of racial and sexual stereotypes to me. Doesn’t matter, it’s still a terrifying movie. His second zombie movie Dawn Of The Dead is also brilliant, and works (again alone as far as I can see) as a swipe at disposable consumer culture.

So my argument falls during the Vietnam era. Were there movies that reflected the conflict, or was the real situation enough to not need embellishing?

In the seventies though horror movies (American horror movies) absolutely represented what was going on in the real world. In the shockingly choppy wake of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation the movies suddenly concerned themselves with unexpected domestic evil. The malign, often supernaturally malign, presence in your home. So we get The Exorcist, The Omen, Carrie and subsequently Halloween.

I adore the first Halloween film (John Carpenter, 1978). Not only did it reduce me to a state of whimpering terror the first time I saw it (I was in a house by myself), but it continues to do so every time I go back to it. Even when I know what’s coming I’m petrified.  My anxiety levels must be visible from space.

This is because Carpenter is a highly adept and cine-literate director. He’s quite at ease bringing in techniques and flourishes from classic film-makers in other genres (especially Westerns), but he has his own métier too. It’s not a cheapjack film just thrown together. It’s borderline genius.

By the time Cunningham got round to making Friday The 13th this domestic terror theme was already pretty worn out. A bunch of films like it came after it, but this was all the death throes of a dying beast. The eighties gave us proper body horror (thank you David Cronenberg) as an AIDS metaphor. The nineties and noughties gave us distant unwinnable wars on our TVs every night which resulted in the nihilistic, inescapable despairing tone of the Final Destination and Saw franchises and Eli Roth’s grimly detestable Hostel movies.

Friday The 13th, then. Not that novel when it first appeared and certainly not something that stands forensic inspection in this ironic, knowing era. Bunch of horny teens in a deserted camp where murdering once happened. And the date’s Friday the 13th. Nah, you should be OK, can’t see anything going wrong with that.

The script is fabulously poor, but the actors all give it their best shot. I’ve certainly seen far worse films in the name of entertainment. But what Friday The 13th has that elevated it at the time and continues to do so is the gory Tom Savini make-up effects which still look pretty convincing. Savini had worked in horror before of course. He actually appears as a deranged machete wielding biker in Dawn Of The Dead whose effects he also supervised. Friday The 13th though seems to mark some sort of breakthrough for him and his work is the only thing of note in what is otherwise a pretty ho-hum film.

No wonder I’m tetchy. I am cooped up still and craving fresh air and human company. Maybe tomorrow.

I’m still clearing recorded stuff out of my Sky box. Tonight it’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, a film about a girl trying to get a backstreet abortion in Communist Romania. What do we think? Smash hit, feelgood, singalong, family film of the summer?

3 comments on “16/01/10

  1. Savini was actually supposed to do Night of the Living Dead, but couldn’t as he was off to Nam. Which is why his gory make up effects are so damned good. War, what is it good for? That.

    In my hazy recollections Friday the 13th Part II is the better movie anyway. It’s the first with Jason, though no hockey mask, and it’s got Kevin Bacon in it.

    4 months, 3 weeks and 2 Days sound HILARIOUS. No wait, the opposite. I think I’ve seen maybe 3 Romanian films but they were all good so it should be alright by that limited sampling.

  2. Further support for my “21st century BBC sci fi is crap” stance. You will pleased to know I am waiting for the 80’s Triffids DVDs to drop through my letter box any day now.

    The first Friday the 13th is quite a bit like the first Nightmare on Elm Street film, that is to say quite good and vastly superior to it’s sequels. (Although Jason Takes Manhattan has a lot going for it, I think that was 8 if memory serves). I think I prefer the Elm Street films though. Number 6 – “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” which came before Scream, if memory serves, is particularly enjoyable with it’s slightly mental plot of Freddy Krueger “escaping” into the real world as he was no longer trapped in the stories. All the actors played themselves. Loads of fun.

    The only Romanian film I remember ever seeing was The Death of Mr Lazarescu which managed to be tragic and funny and touching and sad and uplifting all at once. A very satisfying experience that I would highly recommend.

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