It is a trademark of British fiction to take the mundane and shock, surprise or appal. The BFI is releasing all the British TV horror works produced by the BBC in the 70's and 80's and this was the first in the series. It is a well regarded piece of work and people said that it brought to mind the works of M.R. James, a prominent writer of Gothic tales.
The series itself ran during the Summer in late night slots in 1977 and added a dash of terror into the bright cheery festivities of the Queen's Silver Jubilee. It having been the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and also being Summer, a very cold and wet one though, I thought I'd dive in and view the series.
Supernatural is an anthology series in which the prospective Club of the Damned member is required to tell a horror story, their application for membership being judged on how frightening it was. There are 8 tales of varying quality; some stand the test of time better than others.
The settings of the stories vary from dark country houses, shadowy courtyards and crumbling ruins but all are home to horrid evils and terrors. Even though the show was shot in colour the dark muted tones of the sets lend it a imposing brooding air.
The first episode, Ghosts of Venice, has an old theatre actor who believes something has been stolen from him but he doesn't know quite what. The story has elements of a timeslip and when the actor meets the ghost of a former lover, things begin to come together. Out of all the stories I found this to be the most boring and tiresome.
Countess Iliona and The Werewolf Reunion are episodes two and three. The story involves a Countess inviting four former lovers to a remote Gothic castle for a mysterious reunion. The men are all very different characters and as the reunion goes on the wronged Countess exacts her revenge. This story is very good but to be honest its run time is too long, the story could have been compressed somewhat to make a tighter episode.
Episode four, Mr Nightingale, features Jeremy Brett, known to many as 80 TV's Sherlock Holmes. He plays a proper and boring businessman who is possessed by a doppelgänger, this leads to tragedy and death. Mr Brett shines in this episode as he goes into full crazy mode to give a nuanced unhinged performance. This is a good episode with some fine over-the-top acting.
In episode five, Lady Sybil, an old Widow is plagued by a stalker in her Victorian mansion, she believes it to be the ghost of her dreadful dead husband. She tries to convince her sons, one a respected doctor and the other a playboy musician, but they don't believe her, thinking her delusional. This episode is excellently actedand thetension is really cranked up as we find out who is doing the stalking. Oh, also there are more shots of a chameleon (the little green fellow) than you will ever see anywhere else in your life!
Episode six, Viktoria, centres on a family where the wife is disabled in a wheelchair following a riding accident. She has a daughter but is married to an uncaring man who wishes her dead. The situation is complicated with a domineering housekeeper and an old lady steeped in folklore. When the wife dies her spirit is transported into a doll which becomes attached to the daughter. Strange things then begin to happen after the man remarries and settles into a house in England. This is an interesting episode but the poor special effects make it laughable, a shame as the story itself is quite interesting. Kids are creepy!
Night of the Marionettes is episode seven. The story involves Gordon Jackson, a writer who is researching the life of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley. The writer, wife and his daughter settle in for a few nights in a secluded hotel and observe the hotels annual marionette show but the figures seem to be real humans. This is a good episode with lots of tension but the relationship between the father and daughter is a little incestuous and uncomfortable.
The final episode, Dorabella, is by far and away the jewel in the crown. It is the story of two friends who travel through Europe looking for adventure and excitement but after meeting an impossibly enchanting young woman, Dorabella, one of the men becomes besotted and the dynamics of the friendship change. The external shots, beautiful lighting and mood created make this a wonderful piece of work.
Having watched the whole series I can say that I liked the stories which had a payoff as well a certain level of eloquence and characterisation. In this case the stories that stand out are Countess Ilona/ The Werewolf Reunion, Lady Sybil and Dorabella. As a whole the series was worth a watch and I'm glad I did but don't trouble yourself with the whole set, the episodes I recommended above are the key ones to watch... or if you only have time for one watch Dorabella!