Donald Pleasence as Carnacki in The Horse of the Invisible by William Hope Hodgson
Adapted by Philip Mackie. Directed by Alan Cooke
Captain Hisgins (Tony Steedman) is a worried man. According to family tradition, if the first-born is a female then she will be haunted and ultimately killed by an invisible horse during her engagement. And for the first time in several generations, there is a first-born female. Mary (Michele Dotrice) has heard the horse and her fiance Charles Beaumont (Michael Johnson) injured his arm when he tried to protect her from the apparition.
Hisgins doesn’t want his daughter to die, so he calls on Carnacki (Donald Pleasence). Most detectives would raise an eyebrow at this story, but Carnacki is a ghost detective. He doesn’t discount the supernatural possibility, although he also concedes that it could all be achieved by trickery. But as he spends some time at the Hisgins home, the strange events come thick and fast ….
Thomas Carnacki was created by William Hope Hodgson and appeared in a number of short stories published between 1910 and 1912. These were collected together as Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and they can be read here.
The Horse of the Invisible is certainly different, that’s for sure. It’s pitched at such a level of melodrama (with suitably dramatic music) that it’s difficult to take it entirely seriously. The major saving grace is Donald Pleasence. He plays Carnacki in a slightly absent-minded, self-effacing way that’s very effective. When everyone around him is descending into hysteria, he’s very much the still point.
It’s fair to say that it’s a story that tries to have its cake and eat it – since it’s revealed that some of the hauntings were faked, but at the end we do witness a real ghost horse as well. And Carnacki is quite honest in admitting that whilst he can explain some of the events, others are a mystery to him.
The last five or ten minutes, when we discover the identity of the faker (and for good measure he’s dressed as a horse!) might be the point when many people lose patience with the tale. Quite why he went through all this rigmarole is something that’s never made that clear – surely there were easier ways for him to achieve his ends?
Michele Dotrice is suitably winsome as Mary, although Tony Steedman is slightly odd casting as her father. At the time he was only in his early forties and he’s obviously made up to be much older – complete with a false moustache and a white wig. This is a little distracting, and it begs the question as to why an older actor wasn’t cast.
The Horse of the Invisible is very watchable, thanks to Donald Pleasence, although it’s probably not a story that will appeal to all.
Next Episode – The Case of the Mirror of Portugal