TV Review – Horror Europa with Mark Gatiss, The History of the Modern World, Obama: What Happened to Hope?, Top of the Pops 1977, 50 Years of Bond Cars: A Top Gear Special, Red Dwarf X, Harry and Paul

Best Not To Worry

For some reason, Mark Gatiss likes horror movies. So do quite a few other dribbling freaks. I happen to know a few of them, and it was always with a sense of weary disappointment that I would tell these nutters that no, I haven’t got any horror films amongst my finely curated collection of DVDs. Why don’t you borrow O Brother, Where Art Thou? They would usually sneer at such things.

Did you see that? These weirdos would turn up their noses at one of the Coen brothers’ finest works because it doesn’t have blood and gore in it. Horror films are generally not objectively good films; they are cheap pieces of shit done by people who know they don’t have to try too hard. There’s always a Mark Gatiss to pay good money for it.

Horror Europa with Mark Gatiss (BBC4) displayed plenty of European examples of this sort of crap. Gatiss may have tried to eloquently defend the history of them but he was constantly undermined by the scenes he showed. They took the words out of his mouth. The earliest black and white films from Germany were hilariously histrionic, with Conrad Veidt’s acting technique mostly being about his magnificently bulging veins.

Post-war, France’s Eyes Without A Face showed a woman’s face being surgically removed with the sterility of a proper operation. Oddly, the enthusiasm for watching actual operations didn’t see a spike. The Italians went nuts in the sixties, masters of style even if the substance was mostly faceless men with leather gloves poking faceless women with various daggers. They brought in Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in the same way they later brought in Clint Eastwood to do their westerns.

On later films Gatiss is still more effusive, even if he has to offer the occasional caveat. On Dario Argento’s unintelligibly gory Suspiria, he says “it’s best not to worry if the plot’s coherent.” Never mind the whole thing’s badly made bollocks, here’s a woman freaking out whilst covered in blood!

The occasional gem of information is unearthed, such as “the master of Spanish exploitation cinema” (what a desirable title) once made a film called The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Even this made me not at all desirous to see the film or any of the others illustrated here, with the possible exception of Les Diaboliques, which isn’t a horror film anyway. Alfred Hitchcock, who stole a lot from that film, knew the difference between exploitative horror and gripping tension.

Throughout the show, Gatiss strides about the many continental locations for these films in a David Tennant blue suit. One hopes he and the crew went Easyjet, for the sake of licence payers. Someone else who’s been using not just Europe but the world as a backdrop is Andrew Marr for A History of the Modern World (BBC1).

In the latest episode, which covered the Industrial Revolution, you’d think he’d have to go no further than Stockton and Darlington. But no, there he was in Japan, Germany and Russia. Illustrated by terrible extras pointing at steam trains and mouthing conversations at each other which no-one pretends to listen to, Marr briefly touched on the terrible crimes the British were able to commit with the enabler of Industrialisation. But he prefers to concentrate on the deeds committed by two foreigners.

One was King Leopold of Belgium, who killed 10 million people in the Congo. Another was Arthur Zimmerman, First World War Germany’s version of Karl Rove, a would-be master manipulator. He sent arms to the Irish Nationalists, stirred up trouble amongst Muslim jihadists and sent a message to Mexico encouraging them to invade the USA. When the Americans found out, Zimmerman cheerfully admitted his subterfuge and the USA joined the war.

For an encore, he sent Lenin back to Russia to muck up the revolution. “It was like a syringe of poison being squirted across a continent,” says Marr. In a week when it was revealed that all but 22 of the nearly 200 countries in the world have been invaded by the British, I’m sure we could take a few British equivalents of Leopold and Arthur. Maybe not next week now that Downton’s finished. It might be too much of a culture shock.

A continent Andrew Marr looks more at home being squirted across is North America, and for the sakes of licence payers let’s wish Obama: What Happened to Hope? (BBC2) was filmed on the same Easyjet air miles as History of the Modern World. Aside from looking exactly like President Obama from the back, Marr is on safer ground with politics rather than history, although he spends an hour essentially saying hope died with the economy, stupid.

In a darker water of the BBC, the announcer announces “the one and only” Top of the Pops 1977 (BBC4), although you suspect a grimace was on her face as she said it. The episodes hosted by Jimmy Savile have been recently dropped for some reason, but the rest are hardly less tawdry. Dave Lee Travis presented with two (very) young lovelies on each arm. “Things are looking up here I tell yer!”

Nobody leers quite like Travis. Even Savile looked restrained in comparison. “There’s a wealth of beautiful ladies on the show,” says the once and future Hairy Cornflake. No Dave, they’re girls. Underage girls. The only ladies on Top of the Pops are Legs and Co. He later crosses all sorts of other queasy boundaries when he asks three black girls from the audience if they’re the Supremes.

Aside from its sleazy shortcomings, Top of the Pops 1977 is fascinating in retrospect. Music was still getting used to that whole naughty Sex Pistols thing, so there are plenty of fake punk bands like The Jam and the Boomtown Rats being used as gateways to this new-fangled stuff. Actual punk stuff never made it on. The Pistols were banned and others, like the Clash, the Damned or Siouxsie and the Banshees never sold enough to justify the invitation. The Clash pretended they’d turned them down until they were in the position to actually turn them down.

In one of the many programmes currently presented by Richard Hammond, 50 Years of Bond Cars: A Top Gear Special (BBC2), the host built a version of the Lotus Elise that Roger Moore dropped a fish out of on the way out of the sea. As is the way with these things, Hammond promised to build it half way through and threatened to sail it at the end. This was all somewhat pointless as he’d delivered a speech from the submerged car in one of the many trailers currently starring Richard Hammond.

Five episodes in and Red Dwarf X (Dave) has proven far better than it has any right to be. In the latest episode, Lister is down. “You’re missing the human race again aren’t you?” asks Kryten. Meanwhile, the ship’s computer is accusing Rimmer of dereliction of duty, mostly because he’s been dead for three million years. If found guilty, he’ll be demoted and have no-one to give orders to. Whilst he still can, he orders Kryten to help him. “Oh you know how I hate having to help you!” wails Kryten. The solution to this problem involves bribing the medi-com with the ship’s supply of toilet paper.

Red Dwarf has been going for over 20 years and been through many changes of direction, most of which didn’t work. The joy of this 10th series is its simplicity. Dave obviously didn’t have the resources of the BBC, so writer Doug Naylor has mothered some invention out of necessity, remembering that the show was supposed to be a comedy about four blokes in space and it’s obviously recharged his space batteries.

The new series of Harry and Paul (BBC2) featured Victoria Wood in an increasingly rare ‘just being funny’ role. She and Enfield played minor royals visiting a corner shop and treating the whole thing like a state visit, patronising the surly shopkeeper. “You’re so quick and instinctive,” Wood admired as a bottle of Dettol went through the scanner. “It’s as if you were born to be a shop girl.”

In a Question Time parody, where questions consisted of things like, “if the bankers, the bonuses, the bankers, the bonuses, the bankers. It’s disgusting,” Enfield did one of his increasingly rare impressions, famous for not looking or sounding anything like the person being done but utterly recognisable nevertheless. One of the panelists was only seen for one second and only said “anal sex” but you knew instantly it was a spot-on Jimmy Carr.

Cartoon – 27/4/11

"If he wasn't so dreamy, none of this would have happened"

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