Share |

Reviews:
DVD reviews

Book reviews
Music reviews

Culture reviews

Features & Interviews

Galleries:
Cult Films & TV
Books & Comics

Burlesque
Ephemera & Toys

Video

Hate Mail

The Strange Things Boutique

FAQ
Links
Contact

 

 

SHADOWS OF FEAR
DVD region 2. Network.

Shadows of FearShadows of Fear is a one-off British TV series from 1971 that, like Thriller, Armchair Thriller and Tales of the Unexpected, sat on the edge of horror – not quite a genre show, but with stories that often had at least one foot in the horror camp, Eschewing any supernatural or fantasy thrills – though at least one episode comes close – it instead deals with psychological terror. If there is any connection between the stories, it’s one hinted at by the series title – all the stories deal with a (usually) secret fear, one that will be revealed as the story progresses. But it’s rarely as straightforward as it seems.

Creepy animated opening titles and off-kilter music by Roger Webb (both very much of their time) set the scene for a series of individual stories that are marked (mostly) by a straight-forward style more akin to kitchen sink dramas than tales of terror, notable for an intriguing use of subtlety - most episodes leave a lot to the imagination, not in terms of graphic horror but rather by not explaining fully what has happened; instead the audience has to fill in the gaps. It makes it all a lot creepier, and there are stories here that are more unsettling than most horror films, leaving you with a genuine sense of unease.

The opening story, Did You Lock Up? Is a slow moving start to the series, with Michael Craig as a man who becomes obsessed with revenge after a burglary at his house (future Taggart Mark McManus is one of the burglars). As he plans a way to bring the criminals to a form of justice, the story builds up to an obvious but satisfying twist.

Things get stranger and darker in Sugar and Spice, which manages to mix Ken Loach prosaicness with a slowly creeping sense of horror, as Sheila Hancock comes home from work to find her young son missing and her daughter claiming his father took him away after school. Then the father returns home and denies seeing him. There are some odd plot points - it’s hard to imagine them really arguing about whether or not to phone the police when a small child is still missing at 2AM – but the story is grimly domestic and disturbingly suggestive without actually telling us anything.

At Occupier’s Risk sees Gemma Jones dealing with decidedly odd hoteliers Anthony Bate and Annette Crosbie, who seem less than thrilled at her unexpected arrival to their otherwise empty hotel. This episode is marred by some shocking (and unnecessary) blue screen effects, but positively throbs with a sense of unease, and has a genuinely surprising twist at the end.

The Death Watcher
is less impressive, telling the story of arrogant woman doctor held hostage by mad pseudo scientist who wants to test his theory about life after death. A bit too overwrought and reliant on implausible plot turns, this lacks the edginess of other episodes, its shocks being all too obvious. There’s a brief suggestion at the end that a character really has returned from the dead, though this is sensibly not made explicit.

Repent at Leisure is possibly the most reminiscent of later series Thriller, with Elizabeth Sellars as a rich woman marries George Sewell, the steward she met on cruise, and then becomes convinced he’s trying to kill her. What follows is an interesting play on snobbery and paranoia, with plenty of misdirection to keep the viewer guessing.

George Cole shows his dramatic chops in Return of Favours, all repressed anger and barely controlled rage as the a man who uses a couple visiting his flat for afternoon liaisons (after being given a key by his estranged wife) to unwittingly help with his plans for revenge. Cole is impressively sinister, while Jenny Linden plays a hard-faced bitch effectively, and the story has neat, if predictable twists.

The Lesser of Two is the least horrific (though possibly the most horrible) of the stories – it’s effectively a dour domestic drama with Godfrey Quigley returning home after nine years in prison for a murder he may or may not have committed. His wife (Margery Mason) has to face her mixed feelings for him as well as the anger of her son (Geoffrey Hughes), who blames his father for his miserable life, and the vigilante actions of the local community. This interesting, bleak tale is a brutal indictment of mob justice and a study of forgiveness – the title only making sense at the very end.

White Walls and Olive Green Carpets comes nearer to horror, as a particularly twitchy, nervous and creepily intense Ian Bannen brings his mistress (Natasha Parry) to the house he shared with wife who, we’re told, has committed suicide after receiving an anonymous letter telling her about the affair (adultery is a recurring theme in this series). This dark story keeps you guessing, plays with your loyalties and has a particularly nasty twist, making it one of the highlights of the series.

On the other hand, Sour Grapes is a fairly ordinary story, riffing on Desperate Hours as an English couple (Daniel Massey and Isabel Dean) on holiday in an isolated Spanish villa are held hostage by German criminal Ray Smith (who looks like Uwe Boll). It’s probably the weakest of the stories, with no real twists or surprises – though the language barrier that prevents communication between gunman and hostages is briefly intriguing – and unfortunately Daniel Massey acts like he’s projecting to the back row, every line bellowed theatrically.

Come Into My Parlour cranks up the weirdness though, with a bizarre tale of nervous door to door cosmetics saleswoman Beth Harris and far too jolly male customer Peter Barkworth who is more interested in probing her life than buying stuff for his alleged fiancée – and then engages on a bout of psychological warfare against her. An edgy story with two twitchy misfits, it’s unsettlingly odd. This is the sole black and white episode – either because this is the only version still available or because of strike action by TV technicians at the time of broadcast, depending on whom you believe.

The final episode, The Party’s Over, feels rather out of place – it’s a period piece with adulterous husband (Edward Fox) planning to kill off his heart-conditioned wife (Suzanne Neve), and runs half the length of previous episodes. It was broadcast almost two years after the rest of the series (Come into My Parlour was broadcast in March 1971, but this episode didn’t appear until January 1973), and feels very much like a stand-alone play bolted onto the format – though the fact that this was a single season series hardly suggests that the show had a following that would remember it two years on. It’s not without interest, but feels more like a DVD extra from another show than an integral part of the series.

A couple of minor – though by no means uninteresting – episodes aside, this is a real surprise, given that the series was so obscure that it wasn’t even included in the exhaustive British horror TV guide that Kim Newman and myself compiled for Ten Years of Terror. The mix of subtle chills and social realism works very well (and would presumably make it more accessible to audiences put off by supernatural thrills), and for a programme shot on videotape in the early 1970s, the shows generally look very good – a few episodes have minor tape damage, but nothing major.

Kudos to Network for unearthing this lost series – hopefully this essential 3 disc DVD release will help the show finally find a loyal following. British TV really needs a series like this now..

DAVID FLINT

Available only from www.networkdvd.co.uk

 

 

 

Share |