Yorkshire Television produced this high-quality five-part horror anthology series in the mid-nineties. It saw screenwriter and novelist Stephen Gallagher join forces once more with director Lawrence Gordon Clark (the director of the BBC’s revered series of Christmas ghost story adaptations based on the short works of M.R. James), for the first time since they’d collaborated on the 1991 ITV mini-series adaptation of Gallagher’s early horror novel “Chimera”. Clark was also a producer on several episodes, along with “Frost” producers Peter Lover and David Reynolds. Shot entirely on 16mm film, the production values of the series reproduce the style of Hammer’s late forays into the television anthology format during the ‘80s (“Hammer House of Horror” and “Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense”), but with an air of mid-nineties modernity that gives the material a glossy, more ‘cinematic’ feel -- with a much more contemporary lighting style and the occasional staged set-piece that makes it look like there’s a bit more money behind the production than would ever have been the case during the days of Hammer’s ascendancy. The series’ memorable title sequence helped secure it a place in many viewers’ collective memories – the central tortured, screaming ghoul image anticipating a similar effect used on The Apex Twin’s 1997 video for “Come To Daddy”. The series also provided “Foyle’s War” creator and prolific children’s novelist Anthony Horowitz with a rare outing in the horror genre, one of his contributions to the anthology widely regarded as being the most disturbing film in the collection.
This opening story in the series was adapted by Stephen Gallagher from an early novel by crime writer Peter James. The bestselling author went on to buy himself out of his publishing contract just so as to be able to prevent his work being automatically bracketed in the horror genre -- preferring the much more lucrative label of crime novelist instead. “Prophecy” undoubtedly is a horror story though, and draws together recognisable elements from across the spectrum of classic Gothic literature, and rather expertly and efficiently combines them in a fifty minute story with motifs and themes then popular in some of the most well-known cinematic horror films of the last few decades. Aspects of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” and Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw” prove themselves suitable partners indeed for numerous sequences that recall the supernatural melodrama of “The Omen”, with the tale also later provoking a suggestion of the occult with the paranoid style of “Rosemary’s Baby”. The story inadvertently ends up foreshadowing the “Final Destination” franchise as well, all be it with a much more robustly plotted backstory. A modern London setting (the first shot is of a neon-lit Tower Bridge) provides the metropolitan backdrop for initial events that then set in motion the Swiss watch-engineered mechanism of the main storyline.
Francesca Monsanto (Sophie Ward) holds a séance with a group of her student friends in the cellar beneath the family-owned London café where she works as a waitress. The Ouija Board session spells out the Latin phrase, Non Omnis Moriar, or ‘I shall not altogether die’ – a quote attributable to the Roman poet Horace -- before making a cryptic prophecy relating to each participant’s individual futures. A few weeks later, in an apparently unrelated event, Fran witnesses the death of a woman in a fatal car accident just outside the café while she’s serving some customers. A further five years pass and Francesca has largely fallen out of touch with her former circle of friends; she’s now an archaeologist, and the narrative picks up the story again with her bumping into a handsome statistician and his young son at a train station. There is an instant attraction between Fran and Oliver Halkin (Nigel Havers), but neither one of them does anything about it. Time passes and Fran stumbles upon an advert in the personal column of “Private Eye” magazine, which turns out to have been placed by Oliver at the behest of his son Edward (Tom Piccin), who feels that it is time that his father moved on after the death of his wife (Edward’s mother). They meet on a date, but in the middle of it Francesca learns that two of her friends from the group that met for the séance five years previously have since met with sad ends, after an old acquaintance interrupts the meal.
Fran and Oliver begin a romantic liaison at the rambling country estate that has been the inherited Halkin home since the 1600s, when the family first moved there after fleeing London in the aftermath of the murder of its most infamous ancestor, the second Marquess, Francis Halkin (‘He was the black sheep to end all black sheep: a Satanist, a sadist and a paedophile, and those were just his good points!’ jokes Oliver). The Marquess’s family motto adorns the front of the house chapel, as well as a tapestry above the bed: Non Omnis Moriar!
The creepiness of this shocking coincidence is further enhanced by young Edward’s increasingly strange behaviour. He can sometimes be embarrassingly blunt in his demeanour and has a distressing habit of wandering in on Francesca in bed or when she’s half undressed, not seeming in the least bit fazed by such situations. Around this time more accidents and freak deaths seem to be occurring among the group of friends who attended the séance all those years ago, and they all seem to happen in ways that relate to the prophecy that was made for each of the participants. The group is getting ever-smaller, and the surviving members are somewhat jumpy. Then Edward makes an eerie confession to Sophie: he often has daydreams about awful things happening to people, which then all seem to come true. The first time it happened was when his mother died: In a car crash, outside a London café. ‘You were the waitress,’ Edward casually reveals!
Now convinced that there is some bizarre form of evil afoot relating to the dead occultist Francis Harkin, Fran discovers a scrapbook in Edward’s bedroom – all of the deaths of her friends are commemorated in it by way of a collection of newspaper clippings that the boy has evidently been keeping for years! A further revelation turns everything on its head again though, and Fran realises that events relate back to her, in a way she could have never foreseen.
Stylishly directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, with frequent nods to the modern form of cinematic genre horror, with its tendency towards hyper-kinetic episodes of attention-grabbing ‘spectacle’, ‘”Prophecy” represents the well-realised melding of traditional Gothic atmospheres with the slick ‘talking point’ set-pieces of mainstream horror. The ‘accidents’ that befall the victims in the episode are outlandishly orchestrated affairs in the style of “The Omen”. One victim even has a limb sliced off by a falling advertising placard during a scene which has been edited in a manner that recalls the famous sequence in the Richard Donner film involving David Warner and a falling plate of glass. Another victim is blown to smithereens in a massive fire-ball of a car explosion after her vehicle is hit head-on by an articulated lorry. While the initial car accident witnessed by Fran is an absurdly over-the-top spectacle in which the vehicle also smashes through a storefront window in slow motion after first ploughing into the unfortunate Mrs Halkin. The film also features a key climactic moment near the end that takes Francesca back to the property her family previously leased where the original séance was once held: Emmerdale actor Tony Haygarth appears here as a Catholic priest, attempting to perform a sort of exorcism-through-prayer ritual while the walls collapse all around him, in a scene that is highly reminiscent of a great many films released in the supernatural sub-genre by this point. The initial set-up, with each of the participants receiving a prediction from the spirit world about their fates, is very indicative of the Amicus anthology films of the 1960s, perhaps the only nod to this enjoyable roster of films, largely considered quaint by the mid-nineties when this series was originally broadcast.
The story works best though, not because of its attempts to replicate the bombastic modern elements of contemporary cinema, but more because of its numerous evocative allusions to the subtle atmosphere often found in the kind of traditional classics with which Lawrence Gordon Clark cemented his reputation back in the 1970s, particularly with the episode’s references to the classic Henry James ghost story and its ‘60s cinematic incarnation “The Innocents”. It does this with a clever play on the childhood innocence motif (is young Edward traumatised by the death of his mother like the child psychologists claim, or is he possessed by his long-dead perverted ancestor?) and the suggestion that Francesca’s past dabblings with the occult may actually be the source of the child’s corruption. The sedate and secluded manor house setting helps augment the atmosphere nicely, of course; the expansive oak-furnished interior is immaculate, despite there being apparently no staff about whatsoever, and helps to invoke the high class prestige of period-set TV in general. It’s exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find Nigel Havers hanging out as well, and true to form, he doesn’t get that much to do here other than rehash his mild-mannered charmer routine for the umpteenth time, although he does what’s required of him with his customary elegance and grace. Sophie Ward is perfectly cast as the typical heroine of the kind of Gothic ghost story literature being alluded to, i.e., a bit thinly written but nonetheless sympathetic and pretty in the delicate, floaty, ethereal way that’s expected of her character. Ultimately, “Prophecy” is a solid if somewhat predicable start to the series (you know where it’s going by the last act, although it keeps you guessing for a while before that), which manages to combine the modern and the traditional elements of the supernatural tale in an engaging and entertaining format and sets the tone for the rest of the tales to come, while not necessarily being as strong as some of the other episodes.
This memorably macabre thriller from “Taggart” creator Glenn Chandler stars Serena Gordon and Martin Clunes (who was at that time better known for playing one of the leads in Simon Nye’s successful sit-com “Men Behaving Badly”) as expectant parents Louise and Ray Knight. It’s an uncomfortable examination of the emotions of grief and guilt set in the form of a disturbing ghost story that pushes its delicate subject matter to its most awful extremes.
Louise loses her baby in a car accident while rushing to get home one night. Weeks later she and her husband move in to their new home, next door to an eccentric and cantankerous old lady called Mrs Leslie (Rosemary Leach) who lives alone with a house-full of cats. The old house has an attic room that was clearly once a nursery – there is a mobile hanging from the ceiling – but Ray reminds his wife that it is better if they don’t speak of their own tragedy. The standard themes of repression and guilt are already evident from the start, then.
Ray throws himself into his model railway hobby and has a whole room of the house set aside for it. Louise takes up painting in a room on the other side of the nursery. Tellingly, the ‘nursery’ is left empty and the mobile left hanging in the centre of the room above the spot the baby’s cot would have been. Soon, Louise announces that she is pregnant once more. It’s made evident in an early scene that the trauma of the experience of losing the first baby has left Louise unwilling to engage in sexual activity again, but somehow the couple both manage to sweep this rather stark fact under the carpet and set about preparing for the coming birth with excitement and fastidious care, they even furnish the nursery in anticipation. However, when Louise has a scan, it fails to detect any foetus. Louise, it seems, is not really pregnant after all.
But yet her belly continues to grow, getting ever bigger by the day, and she can feel the ‘baby’ kicking. A rift opens between Louise and Ray. He believes the Doctors and psychiatrists who say that the phantom pregnancy is a kind of wish-fulfilment to cover the grief and guilt of his wife’s loss. Louise refuses to believe the opinion of ‘experts’ and doctors though, turning instead to alternative, new age birthing techniques and the like. Soon it is time for the baby to be born – on the exact date her original terminated pregnancy would have been due!
Louise goes into labour, but of course there is no baby inside her to be born, although she experiences all the agonies of childbirth nonetheless. With the medical establishment at a loss to explain the event, Louise and Ray return home, hoping they can at least resume their life as normal. But it is not to be. Louise is tormented by faint cries in the night and notices the cot in the nursery swaying as though there really were a baby inside it. When she tries to get back into painting again, she finds one of her works ruined by a streak of blue paint splashed across it, while in the nursery a tiny blue handprint appears on the edge of the empty cot! Even worse, Louise begins to experience the sensation of breastfeeding, while in the day she’s driven half insane by a constant mewling and crying that only she can hear. Louise seeks solace in the advice of a spiritualist friend of Mrs Leslie – a Mr Canfield (Ralph Nossek) -- who tells her that ‘Toby’ is connected to her by a golden thread. ‘He just wants to be loved’, he tells the distraught woman. Eventually, Louise begins to act like there really is a baby in the house and a confused Ray insists on psychiatric help.
The confusion and trauma of the experience seems to be eased for both of them somewhat when Louise finally does become pregnant again. The scan confirms she really is to be a mother this time. Unfortunately, ‘Toby’ proves himself not so keen on his earthly rival …
This episode skilfully plays on just about every fear or doubt that could possibly be experienced about the mystery and nature of childbirth. It’s probably not the best thing to watch if you actually are pregnant. Relentlessly morbid and often bizarre, Chandler’s screenplay homes in like a laser on the parental anxiety, grief and the guilt that would naturally afflict anyone suffering from a bereavement of this nature, but casts the experience in strictly supernatural terms. The fear, the mother’s denial of the reality of the loss, and, eventually, the disturbing experience of feeling the unborn baby is being harmed, are all terrible emotions grimly invoked with forbidding potency throughout the harrowing fifty minutes. There’s a subtext skilfully running underneath the surface ghost story plotting that allows the tale to be read in more straightforwardly psychological terms (the couple pictured pursuing their individual hobbies on either side of an empty nursery, for instance, suggests they weren’t fully ready for parenthood to begin with – a fact that amplifies the guilt inherent in their loss), while that most independent of animals, the household cat, is a recurring motif throughout the piece: stray cats running in front of her car initially cause the accident that leads to the loss of Toby (the fact that he’s been named sometime before the birth seems to automatically endow the ghost with a reality at his parents’ behest) and Mrs Leslie’s cats invade Louise’s house, apparently in order to aid the ghostly unborn Toby in his quest to get rid of his unwanted brother. ‘Cats cause diseases that harm unborn babies,’ insists Louise, soon after she finds herself pregnant again. This is a downbeat episode that might be seen to teeter on the edge of absurdity in some sequences, but manages to get away with it thanks to compelling performances, from Serena Gordon in particular. Martin Clunes provides understated support as the confused male partner, who naturally leans more towards a tendency to bottle things up and not discuss issues than his more emotionally inclined wife, and Rosemary Leach is the amusingly forthright ‘old bag’ next door who provides some blackly comic relief from some distressing subject matter with her overweening concern for her cats, and very little interest in much else.
HERE COMES THE MIRROR MAN
This gritty tale, written by Stephen Gallagher and directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, downplays the supernatural emphasis of the previous episodes and largely replicates the form of the classic psycho thriller genre which came to prominence in its present form in the 1960s, (largely due to the persistent efforts of script writer Jimmy Sangster), but here with a stylish ‘90s veneer and a contemporary setting based around the day-to-day problems and issues inspired by attitudes towards modern social work.
A criminally young-looking, clearly up-and-coming John Simm plays Gary Kingston -- a disturbed young man who has previously been under psychiatric review, but attracts the attention of his social worker after he absconds -- we learn -- from the hostel at which he was meant to be living under a supervision order because of his potentially dangerous delusions. Kingston previously held the job of caretaker at an abandoned, largely derelict church in the centre of a large northern town (the episode looks like its set in Leeds in the mid-nineties), and his social worker guesses that the young man will probably eventually return there.
She is in fact quite correct, and Kingston has turned the place into his squat, camping out alone in the midst of cobwebbed crypts and the forbidding building’s damp stonework. It turns out that Kingston is still secretly tormented by a ‘demon’ he sees in mirrors called Michael (Paul Reynolds), who takes the form of an intense-looking man with a strong resemblance to Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. This ‘entity’ forces Gary to commit violent acts, mostly against his will. The malevolent apparition persuades the vulnerable squatter that he has to remain alone in the abandoned church because his social workers will lock him up if they ever discover that Michael is still around. The boy duly follows the unsuspecting social worker home and pushes her in front of a lorry on a busy street (yet another of the series’ many traffic accident-based deaths!). But the case is merely handed on to an unsuspecting but overly dedicated colleague of the dead woman, called Anna Spalinsky (Phyllis Logan). She also visits the church since it was the last place Kingston’s file says he worked, but Gary poses as the current caretaker and Anna asks for his help in tracking down her errant patient. Thereafter, the naive social worker unwittingly becomes the source of Gary’s obsessions; and after Anna is suspended pending an enquiry over the handling of another of the supposedly low-risk case she’s been assigned, which suddenly blows up into a major media story, she is drawn into an increasingly dangerous situation when she opts to unofficially continue her investigations into the whereabouts of the ‘missing’ man.
No doubt inspired by frequent and almost cyclical tabloid backlashes against social workers that occur seemingly every few years, whenever a case slips through the net and a tragedy takes place, the film is grounded in a relatively realistic portrait of a difficult job, staffed by people whose dedication verges on obsession. Gallagher’s screenplay brings to life the overworked, rushed atmosphere of this bureaucratic job led by frontline social issues, and colours it with all the mainstays of any normal office culture, such as the office joker, for instance, whose insensitive black humour (he prints a tyre track onto the cover of his dead colleague’s old case files) is his unique way of dealing with the stress of the job.
Anna is dedicated to the point of neglecting her relationship with a police officer (Mark Arden), and so is quite devastated when political expediency leads to her suspension for the sake of appearances, rather than due to her actually having done anything wrong. She goes on to steal case files from work, and has them spread all over her living room as her dedication spirals into obsession. It’s a form of obsession which is explicitly contrasted with that of Simm’s tormented character, who is placed in much more conventionally Gothic surroundings, such as the empty, crumbling church (wreathed in dry ice and with atmospheric lighting pouring in from the stain glass windows) and his mother’s childhood home on the Yorkshire moors, which he uses as a bolt-hole when things get too hot in the city, and which is otherwise now standing derelict and empty.
Nothing could highlight the man’s isolation and desolation more than these empty, decaying properties. The fact that the entity he refers to as a demon is named Michael (after the saint) makes the abandoned church setting he is confined to all the more bitingly poignant. The film plays out in a fairly predictable fashion though, following the conventions of the kind of psycho thriller Hammer might well have made several decades before. The incidental music even pastiches Bernard Hermann’s taught strings on “Psycho” on several occasions. The supernatural twist at the very end (in the very final seconds, in fact) is sign-posted well in advance, and one can’t help thinking that the entire plot relies on the unlikely idea that Anna wouldn’t have had any access to a photograph of her missing patient – something which seems rather unlikely. Nevertheless, good performances from Simm and former “Lovejoy” star Phyllis Logan, and strong direction from Clark, who makes the most of the contrast between the heightened Gothic ambience inside the church and the gritty urban thriller approach borne of the contemporary Yorkshire setting outside, keeps this relatively average supernatural thriller from stagnating completely.
THE MAN WHO DIDN’T BELIEVE IN GHOSTS
This Anthony Horowitz tale is probably the least successful out of the five films here, which is odd because on the surface the story seems like it has all the ingredients to make a sure-fire hit. It’s probably the most traditional episode overall, in that it really does follow many of the conventions Jimmy Sangster laid down and worked with in his 1960s thrillers, and in contrast to the other films in this series the episode feels like it would’ve fitted in amongst the kind of stories that had been previously penned for successful horror anthology shows like “Hammer House of Horror” in the early-eighties.
It starts by introducing the central character, Richard Cramer (Peter Egan), on a daytime TV show hosted by Angelia Rippon, a real-life ex-news reader and still a well-known face on daytime UK television. Cramer is a professional sceptic and debunker of the paranormal, who illustrates his point that the human mind can be very easily fooled, with a demonstration of a once-popular illusion of the Victorian stage in which a ‘ghost’ is made to appear to materialise inside an empty cabinet. Immediately after the item, Cramer collapses off air after having a sudden stroke. He recovers, although is left slightly paralysed down one side and now has to get about with the aid of a walking stick. He, his wife Sophie (Mel Martin) and his young son Matthew (Tobias Saunders) move into the sprawling mansion Windwhistle Hall, which was once owned by businessman called Peter Walker (Miles Anderson). He had to sell-up after his wife died and his business went under. Walker now works as an odd-job-man for a local firm, and, feeling sorry for him because he evidently still adores the place, Sophie invites him to the house for one of the family’s monthly dinner parties.
Cramer sets to work on his sceptical book about the paranormal and almost immediately strange things start happening in and around the house: Matthew keeps dreaming about a strange, masked woman; Richard’s book manuscript is inexplicably wiped from his computer; several unusual ‘accidents’ almost kill Sophie; a dinner party is ruined when the turkey dish spontaneously erupts with maggots; and the family pet is found drowned in the garden water feature! Sophie becomes adamant that they must leave the place for good as soon as possible, but Richard cannot allow himself to believe the place is really haunted; for one thing, his career would be over if it ever got out that the famous debunker of the paranormal had been driven out of his own home by a ghost! But after yet another improbable accident injures Matthew, Sophie vows that neither she nor her son will ever go near the place again. Cramer stubbornly stays put though, and launches an investigation into the house’s history, discovering that Peter Walker’s wife died there in very mysterious circumstances …
The episode follows a very over-familiar structure, which wouldn’t necessarily be all that bad if it were not so weakly plotted, with strange narrative omissions that leave important plot threads dangling all over the place, and which ultimately make it a rather unsatisfactory watch. It’s very easy to work out the trajectory the storyline is set to take from pretty early on in the proceedings, but Peter Egan’s performance as the apparently easy-going and reasonable debunker of superstition, who becomes increasingly flustered by his wife’s willingness to accept a belief he finds preposterous, is extremely well-handled by the veteran actor. The increasing distance between the couple is the main focus of the story, Egan’s character turning to drink and becoming apoplectically angry at the slightest suggestion of supernatural intervention, a fact which forces him to dismiss the increasingly potent threats to his wife’s well-being. The problem with it all comes in the handling of the resolution and in a weird and effective scene that occurs after Sophie is mysteriously locked in the freezer room while Richard is in the village researching Windwhistle Hall’s past history. Something happens, after Walker rescues her from an icy death at the last moment, which comes completely out of left-field and should by rights catapult the story into a whole new (and much more interesting and disturbing) area. But instead, the event is never referred to or mentioned again by anyone and seems to have no further repercussions on the plot. The finale seems rather clumsily handled too boot, and completely fails to adequately explain or make the huge chunks of backstory that lead up to it properly clear. Thus this tale seems more like a half-cooked episode of “Midsummer Murders” without a proper resolution, sporting a rather feeble ‘twist’ ending that lacks any real ‘oomph’ to it.
Anthony Horowitz’s second tale for the anthology suffers from similar problems to its predecessor, despite its subject matter gaining it the reputation of being a particularly disturbing episode. Instead, it’s a strongly compelling idea that strangely fails to take hold with the grip such potentially hard-hitting material should be expected to command. Kevin McNally -- once a regular face on British TV but now more familiar to audiences as Gibbs from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise – plays Jack Taylor: a homicide detective who suffers the usual personal problems associated with the lives of most literary and TV detectives. He’s separated from his wife, who lives in the same Yorkshire village as him (it’s never specified where this takes place, but the landscape is unmistakable), and only sees his young primary school-aged son twice a-week to ‘take him to the football and buy him a hamburger’. Once again the demands of the job have resulted in the breakdown of the marriage. Taylor is now seeing a pretty schoolteacher from his son’s school (Maggie O’Neil) who is worried about the strange atmosphere there. She has recently discovered that the school was built on an ancient druid site after a sacrificial knife was uncovered in local excavations. The children behave strangely and have taken to playing a game of ‘odd man out’ with an almost religious fervour to it that far outstrips the usual fads that sweep through the school playground on a regular basis.
Taylor and everyone else in the village are increasingly on-edge, though: five children have been murdered in this spot over the past two years, each of the killings occurring on the night of a full moon and the bodies then later discovered under oak trees in a nearby forest. The police are under pressure to make a breakthrough, but there seems little chance of that unless another, sixth murder takes place. A full moon is due in a couple of days’ time and parents are getting ever more jumpy; a local man previously convicted and imprisoned for offences against minors is being victimised, despite there being no evidence of him being involved with these crimes. A pall of paranoia and fear descends on the small rural village as the fateful day approaches. As he looks for clues in the pictures and paintings of the local schoolchildren, with the help of a sympathetic child psychologist (Don Warrington), Taylor’s son is secretly suffering nightmares at home and is being assailed by waking nightmares at school during the day involving the five murdered children, who materialize to him in visions and appear be lining him up as the sixth victim!
The concept of a traditional TV police procedural which then turns into a more supernaturally inclined tale halfway through is one loaded with potential, but also many pitfalls, since the two genres play by quite different rules. Unfortunately, “Number Six” fails into most of the traps. There is a strong set-up in the first act, with the climate of fear that grips this idyllic-looking village, as the night of the next full moon approaches, being nicely illustrated with a few deft images. The threat to Taylor’s own son is established early on, and the fact that there is something more to it than just an ‘ordinary’ serial killer of children brings about an air of foreboding since we know that Taylor’s rational investigation is therefore unlikely to produce any results. The frustration of the police, who end up being over-eager to target a known sex offender who is living nearby, for lack of any other lead to go on, is believably sketched. The prospect of there being some kind of pagan cult aspect to the murders is evocative, although Horowitz’s script chooses to unveil it with a clod-hopingly obvious’ info dump’ moment at the end of act one when Maggie O’Neil manages to figure everything out and connect it all to the excavations at the school with the aid of a big book she’s found in the local library.
The episode then errs slightly simply by over-egging the supernatural aspect in a series of contrived plot moves: Taylor’s son is to be the next victim, but a series of Omen-style accidents have to occur, one after the other, to leave the boy in a position to be picked up by the killer. This is achieved in a way that comes across as unsubtle and is consequently completely unbelievable. In order to kick off the chain of improbable circumstances, the boy’s mother (who works at the library) is required to behave in a noticeably unrealistic way that then breaks the viewer’s ability to suspend their disbelief in the tale at all. The fact is that if there really were a series of inexplicable child murders occurring every time there was a full moon, any parent would move hell and high water to be at that school gate come three o’ clock no matter what the circumstances. Come to think of it, after five of these killings, you’d probably end up keeping them at home all day locked in the broom cupboard, instead! This story is rather too full of people who behave throughout in an unbelievably casual manner in extraordinary circumstances. Worse still, the little boy playing Kevin McNally’s son can’t really act, and appears to have been cast simply because he has a perpetually hangdog, victim’s expression on his face, which is probably meant to encourage our sympathies. Worse still, as was the case with the previous episodes, there seem to be curiously large omissions in the plot, many things that are simply left unexplained -- not in a good way, that might encourage the imagination and create atmosphere, but in a poorly-written slap-dash way. The story leads up to a climax which one would expect to be immensely powerful and provide one with some sort of revelatory twist that explains everything, but instead it feels curiously anti-climactic and incomplete. It actually feels like there should be an extra ten minutes of plot that’s been hacked out of it, with the result being the viewer is left to feel oddly unfulfilled and cheated by the story.
It’s an unfortunate way to leave a series that starts with a lot of promise, with unusually high production values and several good episodes (“Toby” in particular is worth buying the set for) before fizzling out with two potentially strong ideas that seem poorly scripted and unsatisfactorily realised. Network’s 2-disc set features all five episodes with no extra features. None of them have been re-mastered but they look fine and the mono audio is clear and sharp. All episodes are framed in a rather odd aspect ratio that leaves thin black bars at the top and bottom of the screen as well as the usual thick ones on the left and right-hand-side, as you’d normally expect to see with any ordinary 1.33:1 framing. Not quite the classic it promised to be then, but there is enough of interest here to make the series worth visiting.
“Chiller” is another archive telly web exclusive from the redoubtable folks at Network. Go to www.networkdvd.net to order your copy.