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Supernatural (1977) Review

Review: Supernatural / Cert: 15 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Robert Muller / Starring: Denholm Elliott, Charles Kay, Ian Hendry, Jeremy Brett / Release Date: November 18th

No Sam and Dean, sorry. This is another Supernatural, an eight-part late night horror series dating from all the way back in 1977 and never repeated since. Now the BFI have hauled it out of the BBC vaults, stuck it on DVD and sent it out blinking into the light of day. So is it a terrifying sight to behold such as will chill your blood to the very core? Um, next question?

Not that it doesn't try. The scripts – all but one by Robert Muller, a writer who had a background in heavyweight literary adaptations – go all out for a heavy Gothic vibe. There's a hoary framing device of an institution called the Club of the Damned at which white-haired gents scare the willies out of each other with fireside tales, and the stories tip their hats to Mary Shelley, Sheridan Le Fanu and the like.

The undoubted highlight is Countess Ilona, a leisurely two-parter in which the titular countess invites a trio of past lovers – a philandering doctor, a greedy arms dealer and a diva-esque piano virtuoso – to her remote castle on the tenth anniversary of her husband's death... but is he really dead? What lifts this piece is the presence of top thesps Charles Kay and Ian (“pissholes in the snow”) Hendry, who play off each other to fine effect, having fun with Muller's plummy dialogue. Nearly as good is Night of the Marionettes, with the wonderful Gordon Jackson as a Shelley scholar who takes his family to an obscure alpine guest house only to discover there clues to the origins of the Frankenstein story. Meanwhile, in something of a class of its own is Mr Nightingale, a bizarre seriocomic doppelgänger tale about a repressed Englishman staying with a family in Hamburg and driven mad by the attentions of a pair of oversexed frauleins. It's packed full of crazy innuendo of a sort that presumably went right over people's heads back in the '70s, it ends in a fiery conflagration, and it boasts a bravura performance from Jeremy Brett. One to file under WTF, but a lot of fun.

Even the best of the stories, though, suffer from a lack of visual flair and an occasional long-windedness, and the worst pretty much sink under these defects. The show was shot on then-standard 1 inch video and, despite a clean DVD transfer, it still looks miserably drab and cardboardy, studio-bound production values don't help. One to pique the interest of addicts of old-fashioned horror or cult BBC TV shows, but everyone else is probably better off sticking with Sam and Dean.

Extras: Collector's booklet

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