Skip to main content

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers
5.7: The Living Dead

The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.


Mrs PeelDo you believe in ghosts, Steed?
SteedSomeone does.

Others to mention in the same breath are Castle De'ath (apparently spooky goings-on masking more nefarious ones) and Death at Bargain Prices (a plot to set off nuclear weapons in the country). The graveyard set, meanwhile, has been recycled from From Venus with Love. The haunting aspect is tenuous to say the least (it’s the presumed-dead previous Duke of Benedict – Edward Underdown, previously of 4.2: The Murder Market – thought lost in a mine cave-in; he's gone walkabout from a subsurface town that he and his fellows have been forced to build for an army set to take over the country, once the latter have rained down a nuclear holocaust). The currency in untoward undertakings underground wasn't just the stuff of extravagant plots by diabolical masterminds during this period; a few years later, Penda's Fen would feature a radical protagonist passionately holding forth on what lies beneath at the behest of the homegrown government.


Mandy McKayFOG believes that all ghosts are friendly. People have always been frightened of ghosts, but have you ever considered that they may be frightened of us?

The ghostly subplot introduces the most readily identifiable trad-Avengers ingredients of this particularly period: the eccentric supporting characters, here personified by the representatives of FOG and SMOG. The former is also The Living Dead's effective twist villain; it's pretty clear estate manager Masgard (Julian Glover, 4.11: Two's A Crowd) is a bad seed as soon as we clap eyes on him, but Mandy McKay (Pamela Ann Davy, 2.1: Mission to Montreal) really does appear to be a loony ghost obsessive ("Ghosts are all around us") who refers to them as "poor things" and is the purported representative of FOG (Friends of Ghosts). 


Davy's performance is suitably OTT and hyperventilating, such that it comes as a surprise when she turns a gun on Steed late in the day, revealing herself to be a cohort of the unnamed country at the centre of things. It's also something of a surprise that Steed earlier succumbs to her charms, ("If you think you can make me change my… that you can twist me around your… that by rolling those… beautiful blue eyes") unless he secretly wanted to. Less of a surprise that she should be ultimately dismantled by some judo chopping from Mrs Peel.


George SpencerThe society doesn't believe in ghosts, Mrs Peel. We fight legend with logic, folklore with facts. You may rest assured, the dead Duke of Burgundy does not walk this area.

Her (brief) adversary in opinions (as a fake FOG-er) is George Spencer (Vernon Dobtcheff, 4.9: Room Without a View), holding up the sceptics' position through SMOG (Scientific Measurement of Ghosts), who rather like James Randi's later CSICOP, deny the existence of "Ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night", as Mrs Peel puts it. Presumably FOG is a genuine body if he's aware of it, and Mandy's appropriating their colours. 


Also to be seen are drunk Kermit (Jack Woolgar, Staff Sergeant Arnold in The Web of Fear), gamekeeper Tom (Alistair Williamson, 1.1: Hot Snow) and publican Hopper (Jack Watson, 4.13: Silent Dust), the latter's presence instantly drawing suspicion if you saw his previous series appearance, although he turns out to be one of the good guys this time. 


SteedThe Duke's estate. Hotly defended by gamekeepers.
Mrs PeelIsn't that their job?
SteedYes, but not when they shoot at things out of season.
Mrs PeelWhat's out of season now?
SteedMe.

More than holding up the serious end amid all the silly spookiness is Glover, on particularly brutish form. We first see him laying hands on Steed after he has been shot at by the gamekeeper, much to the Avenger's casual disapproval ("You're in danger of ruffling my feathers" he responds to being told to stay away, hitting Masgard's hand with his bowler).  


It's Masgard's rashness that leads Steed to confirm his suspicions; finishing his claret, Steed compliments current Duke Geoffrey (Howard Marion Crawford, 4.22: What the Butler Saw) on his wine cellar and Masgard assumes he's actually visited it (MasgardCellar?! Do you mean he's been down… Do you mean you've..." Duke: He's referring to the wine). It should be noted that Glover's forced to wear a very silly red helmet at one point, which he quickly removes (ex of Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451). Most sensible. That kind of thing could kill a career.


Firing Squad CaptainIt is customary to ask. Do you have any last requests before you die?
SteedYes, would you cancel my milk?

Although Emma gets abducted at the midpoint, she ends up having to save Steed when he follows suit and is stood in front of a firing squad (the last occasion was 3.25: Esprit De Corps). Rather alarmingly, she machine guns the entire troop, the most wanton act of violence we've seen from her so far. There's no remorse whatsoever; she's ice cold, even given the act is justified ("For that, you definitely get a mention in my will" says Steed).


Mrs PeelDid your whole life flash before your eyes?
SteedYes. Infinitely enjoyable.

The subterranean set is impressively designed and effectively shot by director John Krish, who previously did a bang-up job with the time travel effects in Escape in Time. Brian Clemens wrote this one – most of this clutch come from him or Philip Levene – from an idea by Anthony "Public Eye" Marriot (Marriot protested his lack of credit), resulting in a daft story but agreeably so. The coda, in which Emma is working on the Bentley, continues the long-since exhausted vehicular motif I hoped we were rid of and also references the preceding story ("Ghosts in the engine"). And, of course, features drinking.




















Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Something something trident.

Aquaman (2018)
(SPOILERS) If Aquaman has a problem – although it actually has two – it’s the problem of the bloated blockbuster. There's just too much of it. And the more-more-more element eventual becomes wearing, even when most of that more-more-more is, on a scene-by-scene basis, terrifically executed. If there's one thing this movie proves above all else, it's that you can let director James Wan loose in any given sandpit and he’ll make an above-and-beyond castle out of it. Aquaman isn't a classic, but it isn’t for want of his trying.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984)
If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisions may be vi…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.

Scrooged (1988)
If attaching one’s name to classic properties can be a sign of star power on the wane (both for directors and actors), a proclivity for appearing in Christmas movies most definitely is. Just look at Vince Vaughn’s career. So was Bill Murray running on empty a mere 25 years ago? He’d gone to ground following the rejection of his straight-playing The Razor’s Edge by audiences and critics alike, meaning this was his first comedy lead since Ghostbusters four years earlier. Perhaps he thought he needed a sure-fire hit (with ghosts) to confirm he was still a marquee name. Perhaps his agent persuaded him. Either way, Scrooged was a success. Murray remained a star. But he looked like sell-out, sacrificing his comedy soul for a box office bonanza. He’d seem even more calculating seven months later when tired sequel Ghostbusters II emerged. Scrooged is guilty of exactly the kind of over-sized, commercially cynical production this modern retelling of A Christmas Carol (only partial…