Directed by: Various (TV)
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 400 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 18 November 2013
Cat No: BFIVD994
Hard of Hearing Subtitles: English
Screen ratio 1:1.33
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Cast: Robert Hardy , Gordon Jackson , Denholm Elliott , Billie Whitelaw , Vladek Sheybal , John Osborne , Sinead Cusack , Lesley-Anne Down , Jeremy Brett , Edward Hardwicke , Ian Hendry , Catherine Schell , Judy Cornwell , Jeremy Clyde
1970s British anthology horror series. In each episode a character tells a horror tale and if it is deemed scary enough by the ’Club of... Read More
Those wishing to join the gentlemen’s storytelling society, The Club of the Damned, must tell the gathered members a 'true life tale of terror' in order to gain entrance. But if the story fails to frighten this intimidating group of listeners, the storyteller must pay with his life…
So begins each instalment of Robert Muller’s BBC anthology series Supernatural: seven Gothic tales of vampires, werewolves, doppelgangers and ghosts - finally unearthed after languishing for 36 years in the crypt (or archive) to join the rest of those undead, BBC classics (Robin Redbreast, Dead of Night) now being revived on DVD for our terror and amusement.
If the framing device has a touch of the Amicus portmanteau film about it, the stories here conjure up the spirit of Hammer Studios. But this is Hammer horror of a cerebral kind, relying more for its thrills on literate scripts (all but one by Muller) and sterling performances than on bloodletting and conventional hysterics.
Indeed, where Hammer’s increasingly ersatz take on the genre had by the 1970s descended into parody (sometimes intentionally), Muller here succeeds in recapturing (and elegantly pastiching) the polysyllabic beauty of the classic Gothic text. In this he is aided by a remarkable parade of actors - Billie Whitelaw, Ian Hendry, Robert Hardy, Denholm Elliott, Jeremy Brett, Gordon Jackson, even John Osborne - who add further shine to the polished dialogue while skilfully raising dark veins of psychodrama.
With its castles and carriages and eerie forests, Supernatural does not shy away from the visual signifiers of the genre. But it draws much of its power from evoking an atmosphere of horror rather than explicitly showing it. As such, Muller’s objective for the series - namely, 'to set the viewer’s mind into action' - is effectively achieved.
In the 21st century, Robert Mueller’s scripts for this fondly remembered series now seem wordy and over-literate, and the horror elements are distinctly underplayed (not by accident, it has to be said -- the fact that we never see the werewolf in the ‘Werewolf Reunion’ episode is clearly an article of faith on the filmmakers’ part). Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see the material treated with such intelligence and sophistication, and the impressive roster of British acting talent in the series is a considerable plus. Werewolves, vampires and ghosts haunt the living in this much sought-after 1977 BBC horror anthology series devised by talented TV dramatist Robert Muller. Previously unavailable and much requested, it finally comes to DVD, referencing a rich vein of literary gothic stories, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, Supernatural presents seven unique tales (including the admired two-parter Countess Ilona and The Werewolf Reunion) across eight unsettling instalments. Each episode opens in the Club of the Damned, where prospective entrants are required to tell a story that will chill the blood of the assembled members. But much is at stake for the storyteller, as failure to induce terror in all who attend carries the price of certain death. The acting talent includes Billie Whitelaw, Jeremy Brett (massively over the top, as he often was), a similarly operatic Robert Hardy, Gordon Jackson, Denholm Elliot and Sinead Cusack.