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3.9 out of 5 stars
Supernatural (2-disc DVD set)
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2013
Supernatural DVD

Just released by the British Film Institute we've got a double disc of the BBC TV series from 1977 called Supernatural. This has absolutely nothing to do with the more recent American TV series of the same name so if you are ordering the discs, make sure you get the right package. On the discs are all eight episodes of the series. No more were made which is a pity because just as it was getting good and interesting it was cut off in its prime. Having never been repeated on TV, the BFI is releasing the series as part of their Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film celebration.

In creating the series, Robert Muller, who devised and wrote most of the material, wanted to go back to drama similar to that of the Gothic material from the 1920s and 1930s which had a general absence of blood and violence as portrayed in the more modern thriller but encapsulated good acting, fear, romance and menace. It was a step away from the conventional horror movie of 1977 and probably a light year away from what is available today. If you go for this, don't expect bloody gore, you just won't see it. Compared to what is on offer today, it may come across as boring but the acting is a long way ahead of contemporary stuff.

What are the episodes all about? Well, in many respects it's a bit of a curate's egg with good and bad parts. The first disc of four episodes, while okay, is outshone by the second disc which has four stunning episodes. Most of the filming was done in the studio with outside work kept to a minimum except perhaps for the last episode, Dorabella. Running through the entire series we have an introduction and ending featuring the Club Of the Dammed. This is a Victorian upper-class gentleman's club, a stereotype of what we imagine it to be, with old guys in comfortable armchairs smoking cigars drinking brandy. They invite people to give them talks which have to be spine chilling and horrific and, if they don't think the tales are up to scratch, the person that delivers them gets killed. Just who would volunteer? Only people with exceptional stories or possibly only people who are stark raving mad!

The first episode, Ghosts of Venice, features Robert Hardy, a veteran of many fine performances including the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, and Sinead Cusack from Ireland who has been in many films, most recently Wrath of the Titans. Robert plays an old actor who believes something has been stolen from him but he doesn't know quite what. It's got to do with an event in the past but when he meets the ghost of a former lover, things begin to crystallise and make sense.

Episodes two and three, Countess Iliona and The Werewolf Reunion, really run together and frankly, despite the acting being good, should have been condensed into one episode. Basically it involves the Countess inviting four former lovers, all from Hungary, to a remote Gothic castle for a mysterious reunion. The four men are all of different character and nature and as the events progress, what you imagine will happen does actually happen. It's good but suspense is not really evident and the horror is muted.

Episode four, Mr Nightingale, features Jeremy Brett. Many will know him from TV's Sherlock Holmes. Visiting a family in Hamburg, he plays an eccentric man with a split personality. As time passes his personality becomes even more polarised, a Jekyll and Hyde character, which inexorably leads to tragedy and ruination. This is possibly the most disappointing of all the episodes.

Things get better with episode five, Lady Sybil, with the well-known actor Denholm Elliott and also playwright/actor John Osborne famous for, amongst other things, the 1956 play Look Back in Anger. We've also got Catherine Nesbit as Lady Sybil. A domineering aged mother is plagued by a stalker in her Victorian mansion. One of the sons is a respected doctor and the other a playboy musician. Excellent acting is accompanied by increasing tension as we get to the end to find who is actually doing the stalking.

The episodes get progressively better. Episode six, entitled Viktoria, is set in Hungary. Starring Catherine Schell and Judy Cornwell, it centres on a family where the woman is disabled in a wheelchair following a riding accident. She has a daughter but is married to an uncaring man who wishes her dead. The situation is complicated with a domineering housekeeper and an old lady steeped in folklore. When the lady dies her spirit is transported into a doll which becomes attached to the daughter. Strange things then begin to happen after the man remarries and settles into a house in England

Night of the Marionettes as episode seven transports us to Switzerland and Gordon Jackson playing a researcher into Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Along with his wife and daughter they find refuge in a secluded hotel where the owner seems to be rather peculiar. A spitting image of a vampire, Vladek Sheybal steals the show. Many will remember him from UFO as the psychologist and also the chess player in From Russia with Love. Every year the hotel puts on a marionette show but the life-size figures seem to be real humans. They begin to worry that this will be their own fate.

It's no surprise to discover that Dorabella is a vampire. In the last episode, which has quite a lot of outside scenes, she captivates a couple of men, Jeremy Clyde and John Justin. Incidentally, Jeremy Clyde is the leading actor in another BFI presentation soon to be released called Schalken the Painter. With increasing dread and horror she takes them across country through many villages until they reach the vampire's castle. Probably the best of the episodes, it stands as a classic which must be watched!

The original TV format typical of the 70s is retained so you'll get a black band down either side of your widescreen television. This is no deterrent. The package comes with a very interesting and comprehensive booklet containing an essay, episode notes, biographies and a list of the cast and credits. All in all, it's a very good package. Okay, a couple of episodes are maybe not up to scratch as regards sustained interest but most of them are really good and some are excellent. Throughout all the episodes the acting is absolutely first-class making this a package that can definitely be recommended.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This series was launched in June 1977 on BBC1 on Saturday nights with its florid dialogue,flamboyant characterisations and intrepid bursts of literary allusion.In thrall to all things gothic,from its opening credits of gargoyles and organ music to its environments of gloomy castles,secret rooms,shadowy European landscapes.A clever framing device,that potential entrants to the Club of the Damned have to submit `true life tales of terror'( to meet their deaths if they fail to convince or frighten members). Its cerebral,subtle approach avoids blood and gore.The use of sophisticated dialogue and character-driven dynamics is aided by the understated pace that draws you in.Side 1.Ghosts of Venice.This episode recounts the return to Venice of a retiredShakespearean actor,Robert Hardy,who is seeking justice for a robbery,he lost something following a performance of a play,it may have been a memory.The plot is weak but Robert Hardy's acting pulls you in.Was it all imaginary,and is he as he tells the story really dead?A ghost.

Next,a two-parter,Countess Ilona and the Werewolf Reunion,with Billy Whitelaw,the then wife of the writer of the series,Robert Muller,who after the mysterious death of her horrible husband,invites her ex-lovers all to the castle where she lives in Hungary.The question is just what are her motives,why are they here,what about the rumours of her dead husband,Count Tyrrh?This is great psychological drama with an atmospheric setting,as we get the ex-lovers both fearing for their lives,having to atone for their actions as to why they gave her up,and wondering why they can't escape.Mostly their reason is appalled by the existence of werewolves.The interplay between lovers and Whitelaw's sardonic coyness and self absorption and her relationship to her son,Bela,

My favourite episode on side 1 is Mr Nightingale(Jeremy Brett) in a part about alter-egos and doppelgangers. A quiet, shy man is slowly possessed by his rather vile alter-ego, with devastating consequences for his host family. One of the better episodes. A stunning performance from Jeremy Brett at his cackling, insane best, his flirtation with the daughters of the house, dragged to his death after failing to instil terror at the gentleman's club.All parts were superb,especially group scenes,shots often switched to black and white to show supernatural presence,or overlaid to create uncanniness.

Side 2 gets richer,more complex psychologically,with a whole series of high calibre actors portraying a more psychodynamic reality.Lady Sybil an elderly widow is plagued by strange sounds in the night.Excellently played by Catherine Nesbitt in her last role.Her two grown up ,spoiled sons(Denholm Elliott and John Osborne) claim she is going mad,hinting she desires the attack she claims to fear. An imagined stalking phantom (or is it? What are those wet footprints leading from the river?) is haunting Lady Sybil, but what do her sons have to do with all this? This one's a bit slow and meandering, hard to follow where it's going, and the ending is a real "huh?" moment. Still the performances are sublime, especially Denholm Elliott.There's also a tale of devious servants who run away and a symbolical cameo by a chameleon.

Viktoria's invalid mother dies suddenly and her cold.bullyiing father remarries and moves to England to start a new life,but, to her stepmother's distress,Viktoria grows ever more attached to Rosa,a doll which looks like her late mother.The doll seems possessed of evil forces as Viktoria has more intense conversations with it.The doll seems to be alive and tips the balance of forces in Viktoria's direction.She takes revenge on her debauched father and scheming governess.The storyteller is masked then reveals herself and the doll walking in in a chilling last scene.Superb music.

Night of the Marionettes benefits from an assured central performance by Gordon Jackson ,as a Mary Shelley scholar takes his family to Switzerland to research the origins of Frankenstein.They get too close to the source material,disturbed by the odd manners of their hosts in the isolated guest house,with its strange atmosphere.The interplay between father and daughter,who begins to channel Mary Shelley,finding the inspiration of this gothic masterpiece.The answer lies in a grotesque marionette show put on by the innkeeper(Vladek Sheybal),who won a horror award for this.Will the family escape?Who lives to tell the tale?

Dorabella,the one about vampires.Taking in both indoor inn and castle, and fine outdoor scenes in the countryside or by the sea. A friend watches helpless as he sees his friend become more and more obsessed with a sinister but alluring vampire. Can he escape the same fate himself?Why does she never travel with them by day and why is there an unexplained death at every hostelry?There are tilting camera angles,dark clouds and rattling door handles.Side 2 seems to excel itself in crowd scenes,each horror story a fine drama in itself,with a roll-call of 1st rate British actors.Robert Muller wrote every episode apart from Viktoria,to illustrate the myths of fears -vampires, werewolves,doppelgangers,ghosts,-the lifeblood of supernatural horror.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2013
'Supernatural' was essentially a respectful celebration of the gothic horror genre. The stories were, to some extent, derivative of the great nineteenth century classics but with a wealth of added value in the form of original back stories and human interest elements. Care was taken to evoke the most effective forms of imagery which had accumulated around this type of story while at the same time introducing some 1977 state of the art visual shocks.

The concept of the series was due to the distinguished television dramatist and adaptor, Robert Muller. Seven of the eight 50 minute episodes were of his creation. The influence of work that he had completed prior to this: notably 'The Suicide Club', 'A Man of Straw' and 'Frankenstein' is evident in the series. Unavoidably present also is a predominant theme of male fecklessness and infidelity. A common thread to the stories is that each is recounted by a petitioner to the 'Club of the Damned'. Each episode opens with the arrival of a new petitioner who then introduces himself and his story. A dramatic enactment accompanies the narrative. At the close of the story we return to the club and await, with the applicant, the members' decision. If the story is deemed worthy by all members present the applicant is granted membership. However, if there is a single dissenting voice membership is refused and the applicant is led away to be put to death. Whilst this device is an agreeable way to parcel the stories: roaring fires and liveried footmen serving claret, it does tax your credibility to its limit.

For a modern writer to produce convincing gothic fiction set in previous centuries is ambitious and, whilst generally successful, the results here are uneven. The presentation went out at a period when the studio set was seeing its heyday. The viewer will need to make the necessary allowances. A powerful plus, however, is the brilliant assemblage of actors who took part. A potential purchaser need only glance at the list to know that his money will be well spent.

'The Ghost of Venice': This is a traditional ghost story in the style of de Maupassant. Robert Hardy plays Adrian Gall, a retired Shakespearean actor who returns to Venice after many years to recoup an imagined loss. All the Venetian scenes have a dream like quality. The sets never begin to look real and the expressionistic miming of the masquers add to the feeling of Cormanesque fantasy. All Hardy's scenes entail the use of florid, overblown dialogue. This piece is perhaps the least digestible one of the set for the 21st century viewer.

'The Countess Ilona' and 'The Werewolf Reunion': These episodes comprise a two part werewolf story. Well acted, and with a distinguished cast led by Muller's wife Billie Whitelaw, this is a wordy tale of male weakness with terrible consequences for the guilty parties. Countess Ilona (Whitelaw) a former courtesan and now a widow invites four old lovers to her mansion for a special celebration. Each has wronged her grievously in the past. Although Ilona may walk her wolfhound through the surrounding woods with impunity the guests become aware of the presence of nightmare beast outside threatening their lives. The main impression is one of a superior quality Hammer film with too much dialogue and not enough werewolf. There is some near nudity. The story does work; it could hardly fail with a cast that includes Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Charles Kay and Edward Hardwicke.

'Mr Nightingale': Crotchety old Mr Nightingale (Jeremy Brett) attends the Club to relate a story from thirty years ago. At the time of his account Mr Nightingale is a middle aged, English bachelor whose life has come to a halt, because he is still a virgin, and also because he obsessively requires to know the date of his own death. Whilst visiting a gentile Danish family he encounters his doppleganger who proceeds to resolve both of these problems for him. Consequently he becomes increasingly boorish and repellent, damaging the lives of those around him. I won't reveal the conclusion It's a really quirky tale and extracts a virtuoso performance from Brett who clearly enjoyed every second. You may in time forget the story but you won't forget Brett's old Mr Nightingale.

'Lady Sybil': A delightful piece of hokum. The scene is a big old mansion set in woodland and permanently swathed in swirling mists. Occasional lightning bolts illuminate the scene. Lady Sybil (Kathleen Nesbitt) has two sons (Denholm Elliott and John Osborne) whose lives are dominated by their mother. It is hinted that some time past she drove her unfaithful husband to suicide by drowning in the brook outside; but now someone or something is creeping up from near the brook, late at night, and entering the house. Someone is trying to open Lady Sybil's bedroom door, perhaps to murder her. The police are summoned. Will the prowler be caught or will he save his hide (or should that read Hyde?). Denholm Elliott excels throughout but, in the battle for onscreen plaudits, is given a close run for his money by a chameleon.

'Viktoria' (written by Sue Lake): A veiled petitioner brings the story before the Club of the Damned and requests that the chairman read it out. It concerns an English family living in Budapest where the Man of the house has business connections. His wife is dying and, with his contrivance soon succumbs. Both have had secret lovers. The rest of the household consists of their daughter (Viktoria), a governess (Judy Cornwell) and an old Hungarian nurse (Susan Richards). After his wife's demise he moves the family back to England where he sets up house with a new wife. Viktoria brings with her a lifelike doll which was given to her as a parting gift by the nurse. She soon becomes more attached to the doll than to her human companions. The governess is troubled and suggests removing the doll. This is a dark tale of secret relationships which really requires longer than fifty minutes to do it justice. There are moments of genuine horror but ultimately the viewers credulity is tested to breaking point. It is an entertaining story with adult themes.

'Night of the Marionettes': Howard Lawrence (Gordon Jackson) is writing a literary biography of the poet Shelley and is pursuing his researches in Switzerland accompanied by his wife and daughter. They fetch up at an inn where they discover that they are the only guests. Lawrence is intrigued to find a book in his room that may have belonged to Shelley. In the absence of paying guests the innkeeper and his family (old circus folk) subsist by presenting a show featuring life size marionettes. The local gentry are drawn to the show in droves, undeterred by the fact that one of the puppets is revealed to be the innkeeper. It seems that the irresistible draw in the performance is the rape and murder of the heroine by a grotesque brute. The brute is ultimately defeated by an eastern wizard (the innkeeper) and dies...until the next show. The show is a great success with the male section of the audience but horrifies the women. Subsequently, Lawrence is shown the 'laboratory' where the marionettes are made. He discovers that Shelley and Mary Godwin stayed at this same inn on their way to meet Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati. This then was where Mary Shelley got the inspiration for her great gothic novel, F-----------. But now the genie is out of the bottle in more ways than one. Of course the story contains many subtle strands. It is more than a homage to Shelley's masterpiece.

'Dorabella': This is a wonderful piece to end with. Beautifully filmed (lots of outdoor scenes) it is dense with atmosphere. The inspiration for this appears to arise from three sources: 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' by Keats, 'Carmilla' by LeFanu and a famous novel by one Abraham S_____, though other influences are evident. Walter (Jeremy Clyde) and Philip (David Robb) are good friends, gentlemen seeking adventure before settling down. They fetch up at a wayside inn and meet the mesmeric Dorabella (Ania Marson); the rest is mystery. I'm not going to reveal the story. This episode, perhaps more than any of the others, addresses the eye. There are some startling effects; not comparable to those achievable today but they do work. Dorabella takes the two friends to her father's castle. It's Hammer without the bongos and snare drums. Great stuff to finish on.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2015
I'm afraid I have to concur with the reviewer who entitled this "rubbish". I, too, was encouraged by the good reviews. I enjoy old BBC type horror films and Hammers, and love the old fashioned style of film settings and acting - I have a good collection of BFI dvds. However, this left me regretting the time wasted watching it and wondering what on earth actors such as Robert Hardy got involved for. I have never seen him in anything so weak before. Perhaps if I had seen them first time around and had some nostalgic feeling towards them it might have felt better. If you are wanting one of those old British (slightly) scary films, this is not for you. It may be interesting for other reasons, but it is not "classic horror".
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2013
Anyone of a gothic turn of mind who remembers the summer of 1977 will have fond memories of Saturday nights when Supernatural was served up on BBC1 to be followed shortly after by a horror double bill on BBC2 under the title of "Dracula, Frankenstein - and Friends!"; happy days indeed, and it's splendid to see the BFI turning their hand to releasing this series after so long.

There are 8 hour-long dramas in the series, all excellently cast; by modern standards they may appear a little slow and studio-bound, but the best of them are superbly creepy. This was a series that got better and better as it went on, and the last 3 stories ("Viktoria", "Night of the Marionettes" and "Dorabella") are superb; indeed, "Dorabella" is one of the best vampire tales I've ever seen dramatised, with many unforgettable moments.

If you enjoyed Ghost Stories for Christmas then you should find much to savour in this set.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 19 November 2013
I am so glad B.F.I. is bringing out 1970's BBC drama. Supernatural was written by Robert Muller,who
also adapted Man of Straw (Derek Jacobi),A Legacy (Jenny Agutter) and Vienna 1900 (Robert Stephens)
for the BBC-I hope they also see the light of day (though at the rate 1970's drama emerges that will probably be later than sooner) as my memory of the series and single dramas of the 1970's is most
were very good. My favourite of Supernatural is Lady Sybil which I found both funny and macabre-
probably due to the late great Denholm Elliott. Amazon price was very reasonable.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This selection of unnerving stories isn't as immediately accessible as some supernatural classics, particularly Lawrence Gordon Clark's Ghost Stories for Christmas. The plays often have a melodramatic aspect and Victorian turn of phrase, and the supernatural element can be slow to arrive in some stories. They are however very rewarding. Superb acting, imaginative, intelligent and interesting stories together with impressive sets create an ultimately enjoyable series.

There are a range of settings, though with a tendency to set stories in central and eastern Europe. This suits the vampire and werewolf stories particularly well. The werewolf stories (Countess Illona/Werewolf Reunion) and the vampire tale (Dorabella) could almost be Hammer productions with their huge candelabras and fibreglass castles, though with some classic BBC overlighting.

The unique atmosphere of these plays is summed up in the rather unsettling "Night of the Marionettes", starring "Upstairs Downstairs" star Gordon Jackson and the wonderful Pauline Moran (best known as Miss Lemon from "Poirot"). An odd tale with a rather off kilter feel provided by the plot and slightly sinister characters. This one also cleverly weaves the backstory of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein into the plot.

All are original stories, but have the feel of a gothic classic. Some stories are much better than others, the Jeremy Brett episode "Mr Nightingale" in particular being a little dull and rather too odd for me. Overall however the subtle yet chilling approach of these rather more intellectual ghost stories works well.

There's a raft of wonderful actors appearing in this series. In addition to those already mentioned, we have Billie Whitelaw, Denholm Elliot, Robert Hardy, Sinead Cusack, Catherine Schell and even a rather young and handsome David Robb (Downton Abbey's Dr. Clarkson).

Picture quality is OK coming straight from the videotape. As always the BFI have produced an informative booklet giving background on the series.

A superb companion to the other superb recent ghost story releases. A more esoteric animal this one, but one that rewards a little time spent getting to know it.
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on 7 November 2014
This dvd is quite entertaining and at times scary. I gave it 4 stars because the stories, which are quite well-written, deserved better scenery. Mr Nightingale, I found the most fascinating, but unfortunately, Jeremy Brett's overacting made it more of a comedy rather than portray the character which is anything but funny. I am thinking of Mr Schalken's ghost which is excellent at creating an aura of evil. The other stories in the two dvds are fine. The author created the main characters with a lot of depth, but it could have been much better, unfortunately, something was missing. But I enjoyed it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 November 2014
Haven't seen this since it was on in the 70's and contrary to popular belief - The memory does not cheat, an excellent creepy anthology.
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on 21 January 2015
I think that 'Supernatural' is a very underrated BBC series. Unlike most supernatural anthologies on television the episodes are all original and not adaptations. The stories are slightly variable but generally strong and 'Night of the Marionettes' is especially good. There are excellent performances from an all star cast including Billie Whitelaw, Denholm Eliot and Gordon Jackson.
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