Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Murder, She Wrote – the Legacy of Borbey House – review (TV episode)


Directed by: Walter Grauman

First aired: 1993

Contains spoilers

Okay – another 'vampires get everywhere' entry into the annals of Taliesin Meets the Vampires and I’ll start by admitting that I don’t personally see the draw of Murder, She Wrote – a little too homey and nicey for my tastes (especially as it’s a murder mystery). Give me Columbo or Holmes any day. That said it is a damn sight better than Diagnosis Murder.

hand from the graveThe show starts with a graveyard and a couple of teens wandering through it. Billy (Don Jeffcoat) clearly has romance in mind but Carla (Susan T Collins) is scared. They start hearing noises that Billy is, at first, dismissive of but eventually he seems nervous too. When they see a hand emerging from a grave they are well and truly freaked, she screams and they run. A man emerges from the grave, later we discover it is one Dr Sorenson (Roy Dotrice; Angel, Carmilla and Tales from the Darkside).

Angela Lansbury as JessicaJessica (Angela Lansbury) is in disarray, her plumbing and wiring have been condemned. She has a workman called Charlie (Richard Gilliand) round. He finds a note in his workbox – it is from Laurel his fiancé and it sounds as though she has been dead for 18 months (nothing spooky, just a box he hadn’t been in for a while) – actually, officially, she is missing. He gets a call from Larry Baker (David Birney) and the exchange is a little heated. He apologises to Jessica, but abandons her without electricity to go the Borley House, which Baker is having restored.

Christopher Neame as Peter JatichMolly Holt (Judith Jones) knocks at the Borley house door and it is answered by the servant Peter Jatich (Christopher Neame; Lust for a Vampire and Dracula AD 1972) – she says Mr Baker is expecting her. She has brought material catalogues for the man but he has dinner laid out – to have with her. She looks reluctant but agrees. When she gets home her father (Lawrence Pressman) shows his disapproval, she has broken a date with Dave (Gary Hershberger). She points out she has been making allowances for him for 18 months – it turns out he is Laurel’s brother and is still searching for his sister.

Baker is stakedIt turns out that Sorenson is researching a new book on Middle European supernatural phenomena in New England. He has discovered that the Borbey’s were rumoured to be vampires. Charlie has to drop Jessica as Baker wants a load-bearing wall removing and doubles his quote. Holt dislikes Baker as does Dave and Sorenson believes he is a vampire. Sorenson is, we see, in the house on the evening when Baker is killed – by stake through the heart. We also later discover that Jatich is an illegal immigrant and was an East German secret policeman. Who killed Baker?

mysterious liquidWell I am not going to reveal that but I will reveal the lore we get. Vampires must be killed by ash stake (the stake is not ash). They dislike sunlight – we see Baker put sunglasses on before opening a door in daytime and he has not been seen outside the house in daylight, he also has no mirrors in the house. Garlic on a grave keeps the dead in situ and Baker has a mysterious bottle with red liquid in it and a wolf etched into it. The grave of William Borbey is actually empty (and yet the Cabot Cove police do not arrest Sorenson for desecratng a grave).

picture of BorbeyIs Baker a vampire? The show remains inconclusive, he is of course dead but staking will kill a human as readily as a vampire. His aversion to sunlight (and dislike of mirrors and the glare they cause) is put down to photophobia. Baker is the English translation of Borbey and Baker seemed to have no official records and paid for the house in cash. Nothing is ever said about the red liquid and what it might be – a red herring for the audience no doubt. At the end of the show the town librarian finds an old book with Borbey in it – he looks suspiciously like Baker.

Roy Dotrice as SorensonActing wise I felt we had a mixed bag. David Birney was perfectly cast as the enigmatic stranger and had a, dare I say it, almost Barnabas Collins feel to him lending credence to the ‘he might be a vampire’ vibe. Christopher Neame was good but barely in it, a clear under use of Johnny Alucard himself. I like Roy Dotrice but he was a pantomime in this – not his fault but the fault of the script writers and director I am sure.

Columbo she isn'tYou see, where this falls down is in the fact it isn’t a real mystery show. Jessica solves the mystery with a couple of clues that appear towards the end that were neither here nor there. There was a lot of building who might be a killer (before the murder) and some fiddling with vampirism and the rules thereof but in the main there was a soap opera level to the proceedings that clearly served to distract the audience from the lack of any real depth within the show.

Better than Diagnosis Murder though. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Nicole_Hadaway said...

I had to stop by the blog today because I never, ever thought I'd see a review of Murder She Wrote on here! Wow, I was a regular Murder She Wrote watcher back in the day, and I missed this episode. I'll have to look at the date on this one, as the later eps tended to 'jump the shark' in terms of plots.

Murder She Wrote started off as a cozy mystery, and I think that was largely its appeal. Kinda like Rosemary and Thyme but without Rosemary ;)

Thanks for the review, Taliesin (it really is true that one learns something new everyday) and have a Happy New Year!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Nicole (and glad to see, over at yours, you had a lovely trip)

I think your description of "cosy" works really well - something that didn't fit the mystery genre that well, for me... by contrast Holmes or Columbo might be termed 'clever' and I much preferred them (as I mentioned). In similar terms, this is why I prefer original CSI (with Grissom) to Miami, NY or the new CSI when Gil has left...

That said, Diagnosis Murder... blurgh...

Getting back to this, it was season 10 - aired in the US on the date shown in the article, which should narrow it down for you.

Stop by later today, I have something fun going on...

Zahir Blue said...

I agree that David Birney actually made a good vampire (kinda/sorta). Murder She Wrote never really worked for me, not least because I couldn't quite believe the murder rate in such a small town!

This falls under the category of "Maybe Vampire" because of the deliberate effort to keep things ambiguous (Jeremy Brett's Holmes did it much better IMHO).

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Zahir, can't disagree - yes it was 'maybe vampire' (and Holmes was much better) but belief in someone being a vampire (whether they are or not) makes it part of the genre - to me at least.

Unknown said...

Just wanted to add that in the episode Jessica says that Borbey translates into Baker in Hungarian. This is actually incorrect, Borbey is Barber.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hey, thanks unknown - I love little facts like that :D