Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Twisted Tales

SUPERNATURAL (1977)
INSIDE NO. 9 (2014 - )

SUPERNATURAL based two of its episodes around creepy dummies. After the death of her mother, and her father's re-marriage, a young girl becomes obsessed by a doll in the Peter Sasdy-directed VIKTORIA.

SUPERNATURAL was a BBC anthology devised by Robert Muller, who wrote seven of the eight tales. Muller intended the show to rekindle the flavour of early horror cinema, subtle tales of fear based around The Club of the Damned. Each week, a prospective member will tell a true tale of terror; if successful, they will be given lifetime membership, if they fail, murder awaits. It is certainly a series of two halves, with the first four stories suffering from verbal diarrhoea and two excruciatingly loopy lead performances by Robert Hardy (as a haunted actor in GHOST OF VENICE) and Jeremy Brett (who falls under the spell of Lesley-Anne Down in MR NIGHTINGALE). Amazingly the series then opens up considerably: Denholm Elliott and John Osborne expertly play brothers living with their paranoid mother in LADY SYBILL, and NIGHT OF THE MARIONETTES has Gordon Jackson a biographer of Byron and Shelly. Unfortunately this momentum is lost with DORABELLA, a straightforward Gothic where two travellers are ensnared to provide a new vampire blood line. The exterior scenes breath some fresh air, even though it relies heavily on matte shots from Hammer's SCARS OF DRACULA.

Inexplicably broadcast on BBC1 in the summer - and scheduled to clash with BBC2's popular Horror Double Bills - SUPERNATURAL was shot on then industry-standard videotape, and suffers from visible ghosting (the muted colours of the gloomy castles and Victoriana add to its tired fa├žade). Muller's intentions may well have been "to set the viewer's mind into action" with a set of archetypal examinations, but the series was not re-commissioned, despite strong supporting roles by Ian Hendry, Cathleen Nesbitt, Catherine Schell and Vladek Sheybal. The Club of the Damned is also disappointedly underdeveloped, with members displayed as stuffy armchair dwellers rather than bloodthirsty Turks all too eager to literally wield an axe.

Graham Humpreys' poster for THE HARROWING, the final episode of INSIDE NO. 9 series one. Here, a unsuspecting schoolgirl housesits a Gothic mansion, but is actually the centrepiece for a demonic transfer.

During the Radio 4 documentary HOUSES OF HORROR, the observation is made that the main difference between Hammer and Amicus is that Amicus's dour, modern settings were what is revealed after Hammer's large-bosomed damsels and mist-enveloped castles evaporate into your romantic mind's eye. One of its commentators, Reece Shearsmith, really takes this to heart for his INSIDE NO. 9 - co-written with Steve Pemberton - a series of stand-alone thirty minute dramas that feel like TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED melded to PLAY FOR TODAY. The twelve episodes so far have been noteworthy for their eloquently dark writing and almost cinematic staging, with stellar casts bringing to light every sickly twist and turn. The tone has also been refreshingly irrelevant; SARDINES, for example, sees Tim Key cast as a victim of paedophilia, exacting his revenge on his tormentor, family and associates while they are all locked in a wardrobe, while A QUIET NIGHT IN focusses on physical comedy. The highlight of the second series is THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTINE, a tight-as-a-drum emotional journey of a young woman beautifully played by Sheridan Smith.