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Ultraviolet (1998)

There appears to be a powerful public relations firm working for the classic cadre of creature feature monsters. Terrible undead things that stalk innocent people have become sex symbols; names scribbled on the notebooks of school girls surrounded by hearts. This trend is an abysmal one for horror fans that were brought up in a time when monsters were dangers, not just in the context of a bad relationship choice. This predilection to romanticize monsters is one that the stalwart horror fan cannot get on board with. Television has taken up this movement wholeheartedly most notably with teen oriented shows such as ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Supernatural’. Back in 1998, before this trend began to take hold, there was a series in Britain that offered a unique spin on vampires, ‘Ultraviolet’. This was a limited run series that depicted vampirism as a public health issue. Considering a common plot device in many vampire stories utilize a plot device that a human is turned by the bite of a vampire through the transmission of a potent virus. This show has been available on Region 1 DVD for several years now but considering the renewed hype of teen angst supernatural creatures due to the final installment of the widely popular ‘Twilight Saga’ it just felt like revisiting this cult classic was appropriate. The format of the story was a bit unusual, a limited run series; longer than a typical miniseries but shorter than an average season. The advantage of this is the themes and character developments are focused. The limited time allowed requires the creative minds behind the show to concentrate on telling the story avoiding the common downfall of many TV series, meandering into a quagmire of side stories and subplots. This format most closely resembles a well-constructed novel; quickly paced and directly on point. This series returns vampires to blood thirsty killers highly organized and deadly. There is one interesting note though that connects this show to one of the better modern vampire vehicles. Stephen Moyer, currently famous as the leading male vampire on HBO’s ‘True Blood’ appears in the beginning of the series as a police mortal police detective. For those not familiar with his work outside of ‘True Blood’ this talented actor is English and speaks with his real life scent here.

Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield (Jack Davenport) of the London police department is a worried man. His partner, Jack (Stephen Moyer) is missing. This would be serious under any circumstances but compounding the mystery is the fact that it happens to be the night before his wedding to his fiancée. Kirsty (Collette Brown). Michael secretly harbored mixed feelings about the impending nuptials since he has been attracted to Kirsty for quite a long time. As Michael digs deeper into the disappearance of his friend the investigation leads him down an unexpected path. It seems his partner might have been taken by supernatural forces, vampires. This results in his encountering an unusual group of people with a mandate that coincides with his own. They are vampire hunters unlike the ones we are accustomed to seeing. The military specialist of the group is Vaughn Rice (Idris Elba), expert in talking on the undead. A CSI approach is provided by Angela March (Susannah Harker), a scientist with a rather peculiar set of skills and expertise. Finally there is Pearse J Harman (Philip Quast), a priest with the Catholic Church. It turns out that the church has been aware of the existence of vampires for a very long time waging a secret war against them. Michael discovers that Jack has been turned into a vampire.

The series brings the professional vampire hunter into the modern, technological age. Crude wooden stakes and vials of holy water are replaced by advanced weaponry including automatic firearms loaded with special carbon bullets and sights designed specifically to differentiate vampires and humans. Gas grenades containing allicin, the active compounding garlic are standard equipment. There is no longer a need to wait until sunrise to disintegrate the creatures. Powerful lamps that emit ultraviolet do the job exceedingly well with incredible efficiency. When a vampire is taken down the remains are returned to the group’s headquarters for containment in high tech vaults to make certain they remain harmless.

The vampires are equally prone to embrace modern technology. They travel in vehicles sporting special windows proof against the deadly UV rays of sunlight. At rest they are protected by caskets closed with timer controlled locks similar to those used in bank vaults. Keeping with this modern approach the abilities of the vampires are explained in scientific terms avoiding the traditional supernatural terms, the always popular glamouring is a result of a neurochemical effect on the victim; a side effect of being bitten. Evil supernatural forces that turn a person into a vampire is replaced by pathogenic terms; an infection. This lays the foundation to treating the vampire as a public health concern, the perfect cover for the official investigations and a means to obtain government funding for the operation. Perhaps the most notable element in this story is the word vampire is never uttered. They cloak its use with a ‘code five’, ‘V’ being the Roman numeral for the number.

Each of the six individual episodes provides a piece to help explain the overall mystery at the core of the story. The vampire nation has a clearly definite agenda to further their nefarious goals. They have their own scientists working on genetic engineering to overcome their weaknesses and quickly propagate their kind. Ultimately they aim to increase the time they have to operate in the open.

The series exemplifies the ongoing commitment to excellence we have come to expect for science fiction originating from our British cousins. The episodes are tightly written, well-acted and expertly directed. This is exactly how the traditional vampire should be handled within the context of a modern, technologically driven society. It surrounds the supernatural with a sabot of scientific plausibility permitting the story to transcend the world of fantasy and perfectly coexist in a modern setting. It also ties the classic monster to the long enduring police procedural motifs and blazed a trail that helped lead into the currently infatuation with forensic investigations.

Posted 01/23/2013

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