• Schalcken The Painter

    Released by: BFI
    Released on: November 18th, 2013.
    Director: Leslie Megahey
    Cast: Jeremy Clyde, Maurice Denman, Cheryl Kennedy, John Justin, Charles Grey
    Year: 1979

    The Movie:

    This 1979 made for TV movie directed by Leslie Megahey, Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story (A Strange Event In The Life Of Schalken The Painter) is brought to life in this seventy minute feature in which Jeremy Clyde plays Godfried Schalcken, a painter by trade after serving as an apprentice to Gerrit Dou (Mauriace Denham). Schalcken is, for better or worse, quite in love with Rose (Cheryl Kennedy), his pretty blonde niece. Whatever aspirations he may have for her are quickly dashed when a wealthy older man named Vanderhausen (John Justin) purchases her wedding contract, much to her dismay.

    Schalcken figures the best way for him to deal with this is to get so good at his craft that he can quickly make enough money to buy Rose’s contract from Vanderhausen, though he refuses offers to paint portraits, not tempted by the lure of easy money. As he does this, his paintings begin to reflect what he is personally experiencing while Vanderhausen’s presence becomes even more unearthly. Before it’s all over, Schalcken will get what he wants, but not in the way he expected.

    This is a deliberately slow picture that, even at only seventy-minutes or so in length, takes its time. While very definitely a horror picture in both tone and content, it isn’t really until the finale that this becomes truly evident. What is more obvious is a dark current of sexuality that runs throughout the entire movie. Megahey sets us up for this early on in a scene where an aging male model with a skull in his hand poses beside a beautiful young woman who stands with her breasts exposed. From here, that current sifts through the narrative in strange ways, our attention having been piqued by that early scene the stage is set for the layers of the narrative to be peeled back as the finale gets closer.

    Visually the movie is interesting as the qualities of the paintings are reflected in the filmed storyline and vice versa. The choice to use candles to light most of the scenes adds some authenticity to the period setting, as does the quality of the costumes used in the production. There was obviously a lot of attention to detail here, while the performances, although very restrained, suit the movie very well. The narration from Charles Grey (who you simply cannot disassociate from his work on The Rocky Horror Picture Show) sets the tone nicely and fills in the blanks where the dialogue does not and also presents the story from Le Fanu’s point of view.


    The BFI presents Schalcken The Painter in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 fullscreen, which would seem to match the movie’s original broadcast aspect ratio. There isn’t much in the way of print damage to note but the image is pretty grainy, though not unnaturally so. The movie uses a lot of natural light and so we don’t quite get the depth some productions offer, but colors look very good here and there are no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. Black levels are good and skin tones nice and natural looking. This seems like a solid transfer that accurately replicates the source material.

    The only audio option on the disc is a PCM 2.0 Mono mix, in English, no alternate language options or subtitles are provided though English closed captioning is offered. The audio quality is fine – the dialogue stays clean and clear and the levels properly balanced. There are no issues with hiss or distortion and while it’s a bit flat, it sounds right for an older mono mix.

    The extras on this disc are quite interesting. First up is a twenty-seven minute short film entitled The Pit directed by Edward Abraham in 1967. Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit And The Pendulum, it’s an eerie and at times very surreal black and white horror picture which is presented in fullframe high definition. Complimenting this is a still gallery of original sketches for The Pit.

    The disc also includes another short film, 1982’s The Pledge directed by Digby Rumsey and running twenty-one minutes. This quick movie, presented in color and in widescreen, also in high definition, tells the story of a trio of criminals who try to free the soul of their fallen friend from the corpse in which it is trapped. Based on the story The Highwayman by Lord Dunsany, it’s an odd one and it fits right in alongside the feature and the Poe short.

    Look Into The Dark is a forty-minute featurette that contains interviews with writer/director Leslie Megahey who speaks at length about making this movie for the BBC. He’s joined by director of photography John Hooper, who offers up some insight into the technical side of the production and discusses the unique look that we see employed for the feature. Menus and chapter stops are included on the disc and all of the extras are presented in high definition.

    Inside the case is a color booklet that contains essays on the feature and the two additional shorts by authors Ben Hervey, James Bell and Vic Pratt as well as credits for each production and for the Blu-ray disc itself.

    The Final Word:

    An eerie, slow burn of a picture, Schalcken The Painter deals in sex and death and the correlation that seems to exist between them. It’s a very nicely shot feature, particularly given its made for TV roots, and it features some amazing atmosphere, excellent art direction and strong performances. The BFI’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds very good and rounds out the package quite nicely with some quality extras that both compliment and document the feature attraction.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Nice review, Ian. I love this dramatisation. I'm looking forward to the BFI Blu: I'm really looking forward to seeing a good presentation of it finally.