• Supernatural



    Supernatural
    Released by: BFI
    Released on: November 18th, 2013.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Robert Hardy, Billie Whitelaw, Ian Hendry, Sinéad Cusack, Jeremy Brett
    Year: 1977

    The Series:

    An eight episode anthology series produced by the BBC in 1977, Supernatural (not to be confused with the modern WB series of the same name!) ran for eight episodes, each of which featured a person applying for membership in a secret society dubbed ‘The Club Of The Damned.’ In order for their application to be considered, they would be required to tell a scary story. If their story wasn’t scary enough, they’d be killed… so there’s your basic setup. This premise allowed series’ creator Robert Muller to scribe some classic gothic style horror stories, the kind that had more in common with old traditional ghost stories or tales of monsters based on folklore more than the more confrontational horror pictures that were gracing the theaters of the day.

    Here’s a look at the episodes that make up the run of the series:

    DISC ONE:

    Ghosts Of Venice - Adrian Gall (Robert Hardy) is an aging British thespian who travels to Venice in hopes of reclaiming his career by once again performing Shakespeare. Shortly after his arrival he meets a former lover named Leonora (Sinead Cusack). Things seem to be going okay until in a performance of Macbeth, something goes awry and it looks like he may have committed murder. Given that shortly after this event takes place he starts to see a shadowy figure following him around wreaking havoc, it looks like returning to Venice may not have been the wisest of moves after all.

    Countess Ilona – The titular Countess Ilona (Billie Whitelaw) starts her story off by walking through a foggy forest with her hound to her home, a creepy old manor in the middle of nowhere. She used to share the home with her husband, but he’s passed away under some less than idyllic circumstances and now lives alone with Bela, her son, and their servant. Shortly after her return home, we learn that she’s invited three men to come visit, each one with ties to her past. Which leads us to…

    The Werewolf Reunion - …the second part of the story where she explains over dinner that her husband was killed by wolves, putting to rest the rumors that he died by her murderous hand. When she lets loose the information that Bela may not be the son of her late husband at all but in fact the offspring of one of the guests, the guests begin to become increasingly suspicious of all of this until a series of murders begins, all of which once again tie into their collective past.

    Mr. Nightingale – The Mr. Nightingale of the title (Jeremy Beck) is a man approaching middle age who travels to Germany where he boards with a family called the Steekebecks. He quickly catches the eye of their oldest daughter, Felizitas (Lesley-Anne Down), but is soon dismayed by the arrival of a doppelganger who has a knack for showing up just in time to cause trouble for him. As the doppelganger’s activity becomes increasingly unsettling it becomes clear that he has very sinister intentions.

    DISC TWO:

    Lady Sybil - Geoffrey Manners (Denholm Elliott) is a rich and privileged son of a wealthy woman named Lady Sybil (Cathleen Nesbitt). He has no ambition and spends most of his time hanging out with his pet lizard and his brother, Edward (John Osborne), who isn’t really much better. Sybil may or may not be playing with a full deck. She has a tendency to curse out the picture of her late husband that hangs on the wall and constantly complains that she’s hearing people in the house when no one else is around. All of this, it would seem, stems back to the family’s dark secret.

    Viktoria – A girl named Viktoria (Genevieve West) enjoys spending time with her European grandmother who reads her terrifying horror stories before bed each night. That may sound odd but it would seem to provide some escape from her home life where her mother, Elizabeth (Mia Nadasi), lies trapped in a wheelchair and her father, Paul (Lewis Fiander), shows no emotion towards anyone in the family. When Elizabeth turns up dead rather suddenly, Paul quickly remarries a woman named Theresa (Catherine Schell) while Viktoria finds comfort in the arms of her creepy doll.

    Night Of The Marionettes - Howard Lawrence (Gordon Jackson) is a successful author who has written a book that contains such strong and horrifying content that he can’t allow it to be published. It turns out that the origins of this book lay in a trip that he took to Switzerland with his wife and daughter where they stayed at the former home of Mary Shelley, the same home where she wrote Frankenstein.

    Dorabella – Last but not least we meet a singer named Dorabella (Ania Marson) who works with an artist named Amadeus (Jonathan Hyde). When she travels and stays at a hostel, she meets Walter (Jeremy Clyde) and his friend Philip (David Robb) who quickly realizes that Dorabella seems to have an unusual control over Walter. He also can’t help but notice that she stays inside during the day and only travels undercover of the darkness. When bodies start piling up wherever they go, it looks like Dorabella may be far more than she seems.

    You could make comparisons to The Twilight Zone, Chiller or even later fare like Tales From The Darkside and none of them would be too far off but Supernatural’s attempts to keep things strictly within what most would consider to be gothic horror does help to separate it from the pack a bit. The series is quite well written and while a few of the episodes are a little predictable, even those that are feature nice production values and generally very solid performances (often from some fun and recognizable cast members as well). For the most part, what’s here works well. Lots of great costumes and sets combined with some rock solid writing based on fairly traditional storytelling techniques is a formula that doesn’t really get old and one which the series exploits very effectively.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    All three stories are presented in fullframe, which is how they would have been originally broadcast. Some age related softness is inherent in the source materials but otherwise, the picture quality here is pretty decent. Colors hold up fairly well despite some occasional fading but there isn’t much in the way of print damage or dirt to note.

    The only audio option provided is an English language Dolby Digital Mono mix with optional English closed captioning provided. Clarity of each mix is fine, with the dialogue consistently easy to follow and understand. Sometimes things are just a bit flat compared to more modern material but you can’t really fault the disc for that. Levels are properly balanced and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to note.

    Outside of menus and chapter selection there are no extras in this set, at least not on the discs. Included with the discs, however, is a liner note booklet featuring an essay on the history of the series by Julian Upton and a biography of Robert Muller by writer Tise Vahimagi as well as some credits for the series and the DVD release.

    The Final Word:

    Supernatural is a welcome addition to the BFI’s increasingly eclectic home video library, a great collection of eerie ghost stories and well-made tales of the paranormal. The BFI’s presentation isn’t particularly fancy but it looks and sounds pretty decent and the inclusion of the liner notes adds some nice history to the package. Anyone who enjoys TV horror of the seventies would do well to give this set a shot, it’s well done, quite clever and occasionally even pretty creepy.