Tuesday, 11 November 2008

TV :: Gory Gory Hallelujah

I had a couple of extraordinary viewing experiences over the weekend. I’d like to tell you about them. The first was Dead Set, Charlie Brooker’s Big Brother-zombie mash-up, which I finally managed to devour from start to finish, and absolutely loved. I’ve never been a great fan of zombies, I have to say. The occasional parody can be fun, but for me zombie horror always falls down on the shambling gait of its undead protagonists.

There’s just nothing scary about dead people shuffling over the brow of a hill like a whiff of pensioners in a post office queue. It hardly matters that they have the power to rip off your skullcap and devour your brains. Look at them. They’re shambling. Why, with only the most rudimentary ambling skills, you’d still be able to evade even the nimblest of them. Considering zombiedom is such a terrifying concept, the monsters themselves never really seemed as scary as they ought.

But in Dead Set the zombies don’t shamble; they sprint, and they’re dead fast, and proper hideous.

Keith disagrees with me on this and maintains that the old-style shambling was integral to the power of your traditional zombie in that it inspired creeping dread and a much more profound psychological discomfort. But I say bollocks to that. Give me in-your-face, balls-in-the-fire, sprinting death terror every time. Give me hell hurtling toward you with a jackhammer bite and apocalypse-blue eyes.

Brooker recognises that the rules changed with 28 Days Later, when the infected masses refused to bow down to the tyranny of tradition and got their arses in gear. I like that. I like to see the rules broken. I’d like to see it taken further though. I’d like to see a zombie film where the first word of the film was ‘zombies’, and the dead weren’t stupid but were reasoning and cogent, and in the scenes where they’re tearing their loved ones to pieces, they know exactly what they’re doing, and it’s killing them, and they’re sobbing as they rip the flesh from the bones of friends and relatives, but they just can’t help themselves. It’s a compulsion. An infection. That’s what it is to be a zombie. That’s the film I’d like to see. Although I must admit, it doesn’t sound like much fun. Dead Set on the other hand, was fantastic fun.

The humour was appropriately double-death dark and never really let up. The impotent rage of the zombie in a wheelchair (I know, I know, it’s really serious), baffled by forward propulsion, frustrated by the disabled, non-sprinting corpse it’s been saddled with, will stay with me forever. As will Davina McCall blatting her bolshy body against the same door for three episodes. But best of all was Big Brother producer, Patrick, part rapacious peddler of reality porn, part (one imagines) pitiless word-wizard and helpless misanthrope Brooker himself. Patrick was breathtakingly odious from start to sensationally gory finish and was given all the best lines.

The absolute best thing about Dead Set however – in my very most humble opinion – is the ending.

Spoiler alert.

As the tension mounts and the number of survivors continues to dwindle, the memory of the swimming pool scene clings like the smell of decaying flesh. These zombies have a weakness. Their weakness is water. The fear of an unwarranted happy ending creeps in and threatens everything. Will someone activate the sprinklers in the Big Brother house? Will their be a sudden purgative storm which washes the plague away?

I was certain there would be.

I was wrong.

Everyone dies.

No one is spared.

It’s so refreshing.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a mainstream television drama with the balls big enough not to pander to bland optimism. Dead Set was as unremittingly bleak as any zombie apocalypse ought to be. Totally unsanitised by knee-jerk philanthropy. Utterly, utterly hopeless. I was so pleased.

Then there was the portentous parable aspect. Oh yes there was.

Crap will eat itself.

In the Kingdom of the Bland, Vernon Kaye is King.

My second viewing pleasure was not quite so misanthropic.

I remember seeing Pollyanna at some stage when I was just a willowy wee boy, wrapped up in bed with my portable telly, and I can’t really remember it having that much of an effect on me. Except perhaps for cultivating in me an almighty crush on little Hayley Mills. You know, in The Parent Trap, there are two of her.

Thankfully, that crush has subsided.

When I happened across Pollyanna on Saturday afternoon however, all glum and gloomy and innocently avoiding sport, I remembered enough to stick with it a while. Sunny little Hayley reeled me in with her joyous smile.

There was darkness in my heart however, as I knew roughly what I was in for: saccharine, wholesome garbage, gingham, gospel, vapid all-conquering optimism and weak-chinned acceptance in the name of a loving God and a proud flag. And I was right. But what I hadn’t banked on how much it moved me.

Four times it reduced me to tears in the space of an hour. The last time I was wholly inconsolable.

And what it was was that I totally believed her. Little Hayley. Pollyanna. I believed entirely in her innocence and as such, it completely removed by cynicism. Like I’d had a cynisectomy. I was wholly purged by Pollyanna and I rejoiced in her simple, heartfelt message: not just that we should look on the bright side, but also, that we should look for the good in people.

She’s right.

And of course, her love of life is just as contagious as any cannibalistic, necromantic rage-plague.

Pollyanna brings joy and play and love where once there was merely sadness, and duty, and despair.

Nobody dies.

Everyone is spared.

Lessons are learned.

It’s so refreshing.

These are very strange times.

Mark my words.

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Selena said...

Pollyanna is one of my most favortie movies, and I guess that explains a lot.

FYI. After this movie I was completely obsessed, and still am to this day, with Rainbow Makers. Also, this movie has the most delicious looking yellow cake with chocolate frosting, ever! I so want a slice of that cake!!

Anonymous said...

I want to paint that last shot of Kelly looking up at the camera with a big clown's smile made of blood. And I still say Pollyanna leaves a huge question mark over your sexuality.

My question is this: why, in all zombie films, do the protagonists always find somewhere relatively secure, with an abundance of supplies, and then decide they need to make a run for it and go somewhere else? I wouldn't take my good fortune for granted and would be all about restarting the human race. World of Keith. The zombies'd shit out their own intestines in fear of my progeny.

And now I must fuck this packing lark and roll.

Holly Hall said...

So true this post, so true.

The strongest of emotions, at the base of things, love/hate, are really infectious. They can be like viruses, infecting and overtaking our natural defenses. I say, let the love breed heartily. This is what I chose to breed for me.


Luka said...

Dead Set was fantastic viewing, but you are quite, quite wrong about preferring speedy zombies. Zombies do not run. I'm with Simon Pegg all the way on this one, who pointed out that it's hard enough to run when you have a cold, let alone when you're actually dead. Death is a handicap not a super-power.

You'll be wanting vampires that sunbathe next.

Michael said...

Jamie Winstone is hot as fuck!

ian said...

Cynisectomy. I want (need) one. Meanwhile I'm stealing the word.

Tim Footman said...

Juliet Mills had better knockers.

Shimacat said...

You are worrying me. Are you doing this for us, your Greek chorus? First of all we fret that you're getting too negative and venomous after quaffing a bit too much from the overflowing cup of human kindness.

But Pollyanna? POLLYANNA?

Anonymous said...

I like running zombies because they are scarier.

The reason they decide they need to make a run for it is because it would be a pretty boring horror film if they stayed put, and the stupidity of the survivors is integral to move the story along.

Aiko said...

Dead Set was great, I really enjoyed it, I love gore and horror, blood and guts and all that kind of thing.
Patrick was a great character, great way with words and I have to say I've never seen anyone shit in a bucket on screen before. Foul and the epitome of his character. (sorry if I can't spell and am using the wrong word, had lots of morphine today, hopefully you know what I mean!)
Never seen Pollyanna. I think I may have read it as a child if it's the same story?

French Fancy said...

I completely forgot Dead Set was on. Since I decided to work my way through all the Sopranos series again, I keep forgetting to watch tv. Was it as good as Shaun of the Dead?

I also have the Hayley love, albeit from when I was no bigger than a cat's whisker.
She was our Shirley Temple only more special.

Jack said...

I was a zombie on Dead Set.

There was a lot of running.

There was even more tripping arse over tit.

Running + random pools of fake blood = not needing fake blood after about 5 goes.

Misssy M said...

I think the stumblingness of the zombie is one of the reasons I've never quite got the Zombie genre. Yet, I loved 28 Days Later and thoroughly enjoyed Dead Set. I like my Zombies manic, it seems.

One of the favourites of my students' films over the years as a college lecturer was a fake documentary about Zombies and How to Kill Them. A great deal of porridge oats were used as makeup as I remember. My student dealt with the running and the stumbling strain of the species. Perhaps his advice on how to deal with either might just save my life.

Roszs Bif said...

I have never seen the film of Pollyanna, as I was put off by reading one of the books at an impressionable age at the house of an aged relative where it was the only source of entertainment. I remember that all the children got a Christmas present at the church, and Pollyanna was last in line. She received an orthapeadic shoe or something ridiculous, but was happy because she "didn't need to use it".


Fred said...

D. W. Griffith had it right, as he did about so many things cinematic (he missed a few things culturally as we all know but his instincts in cinema are legend)

He said that the camera will reveal the character of an actor. Simple statement but one that Hollywood should pay more attention to. It seems impossible today, to find someone who can show the ordinary virtues on the screen. This is why we see them so seldom. It is easy to find someone who can play a hypocrite - someone who claims to virtuous and isn't. Thus we are only shown hypocrites and tend to think that is all there is.