Monday, December 04, 2006

Vamp or Not? Urban Gothic – dead Meat (TV episode)


Urban Gothic was a two season TV series produced in the UK. Each episode was a horror story, each of a different subject matter and filming style. It was only at the final episode of season 1 that you discovered there was an actual common arc. The series is available with both seasons on a four disc DVD set.

The first episode of Season 1, directed by Andrew Morgan, was entitled Dead Meat and is a real mismatch of themes in itself and yet there was some definite undead overtones, at least, but was it vamp?

The film begins with two young friends, Leo (Ashley Morgan) and Nic (Jemima Rooper) meeting with drug dealer Lynch (Ian Burfield). He is offering them a (vividly green) powerful hallucinogen called Angel’s Blood. The small vial was worth £2000 and he asks if they want it.

We see them on the run, they have stolen the Angel’s Blood and they hide out in a warehouse. Leo is convinced he can hear something and looks through a peephole Kevin Molloy as Straker(we never discover what he sees) but they run and, in a darkened room, Leo trips. Nic opens the skylight and they discover that he tripped over a corpse. Now the corpse is that of a man called R Straker (Kevin Molloy) - though they don’t know it - and, as we have seen a sign to the effect, we know it is his warehouse. This makes an interesting, though possibly coincidental, genre connection as Richard Straker was the name of the vampire’s human servant in ‘Salem’s Lot (1979 & 2004).

the friends examine Straker's corpseThey bring a friend, Milton (William Mannering), to see the body and ask him what he believes he died of. He suggests they ask him and is actually suggesting that they perform a necromantic ritual to bring the corpse back. Milton, incidentally, is not a very nice guy. He does a frog in a blender moment at one point to see what would happen.

Milton has access to many occult papers in a library, due to his carnal arrangement with librarian Ms Withers (Janette Foggo) and takes a manuscript written by John Dee (and lets not get into why a smallish looking library would hold Elizabethan manuscripts, let alone those by Dee!) He discovers that there is an elixir of life that is needed to perform the ritual and part of its ingredients is the blood of a pure soul. They turn their attention to Leo’s new girlfriend, Kate (Claire Harman).

donating blood to raise the deadLeo asks her if she will help them and she refuses. They attempt the ritual anyway and she turns up offering her blood. Yet bizarrely they all grip the knife so all their blood is involved. Having performed the ritual, Milton notices occult tattoos on the man’s neck and realises he is ‘owned’ by something. Straker awakens and attacks Milton, biting his neck.

We then have the obligatory chase around the warehouse. We also have the murder of Lynch, who turns up to have his head ripped off, indicating that the resurrected Straker has superhuman strength. Having seen Straker kill by biting the neck we then see him eating flesh, which – whilst not unheard of in the genre – does feel more zombie or ghoul. In the end there is Leo and Kate who, as you do, go into the basement (the creepy basement with the Latin for “My time will come” daubed above the entrance.)

a stakingIn the basement they find an occult symbol with Straker’s name and Leo realises that all this has been pre-ordained. Straker attacks and is disabled by Leo forcing the vial of Angel’s blood into his mouth. He still manages to grab Kate, who stakes the corpse and then promptly dies herself. Of course, stopping the corpse by staking is pure vampire genre, disabling the corpse with hallucinogens is, well just bizarre.

Leo takes Kate upstairs to revive her with necromancy when Straker, none the worse for wear after his staking (which blows that theory) kills him.

We then see the four friends in the library, they are all wearing dark glasses and we wonder whether the entire thing was a bad trip on the drug. They leave but Milton is kept behind by Ms Withers, save some for us says Nic. Outside, Milton now back with the group, they remove their glasses to reveal they have strange looking eyes and Straker gestures to them – they are obviously his servants now.

flesh eatingAs I said at the head, there are vampiric elements. Straker is a character name from one of the most famous vampire books/mini series. There is the resurrection of a corpse, blood is involved. Straker does, at first, go for the neck but that might be a convenience factor, he eats flesh later. He does get staked, but it has no lasting effect. This definitely is about the undead, as a stand alone episode it is also a perfect example of too many concepts being pushed into 23 minutes. If the episode had been longer we might have had time for aspects to be expanded on and give us a better clue. By the end of the episode I had to err on the side of not vamp.

But the investigation does not end there, for I have said that in the finale of season 1, entitled “Thirteen”, we discover a common arc. The stories in Urban Gothic are the tales of the city and in the finale a young journalist, Jude Redfield (Sean Maguire), is looking for a story and one is provided by a mysterious man (Richard O’Brien), whom it is hinted is Samuel Pepes or one of his replacements, it is the story of the city itself. London has chosen Jude to be its new biographer; he is to be the ‘storyteller’.

Jude searches through old stories, all of which are the stories of the twelve preceding episodes. Milton returns in season 2He actually finds and meets Milton, who seems to be alone in Straker’s warehouse and surviving by eating pigeons. He explains a little more of what happened to them. He tells Jude that he raised a necromancer, Straker, and the necromancer thought it would be fun to kill the four friends and then raise them up as slaves. He hints that they were too unruly to work out as slaves, however. He attacks Jude, as pigeons taste horrible, but the mysterious man saves him by chopping off Milton’s head.

Later Milton reappears, his head now crudely reattached to his body and answers for us once and for all whether the episode “Dead Meat” is vamp or not. “Jude, Zombies are the Ikea furniture of the Netherworld. Quick Reassembly.” And so, my reaction at the end of the actual episode was the correct one, not vamp (though as I said elements from vampiric tales are used) but zombie. Yet, not exactly your standard Romero zombie. Dead, yes, but intelligent, with their own will and not rotting. However the reason for “vamp or not?”ing this stands as the actual Dead Meat episode contains some genre straddling and might be watched as a stand alone.

We should also note that the Milton character also recurs in the final episode of season 2.

The imdb page is here

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