Rare Chills collects together two spine-tingling tales. First up is The Fearmakers: The Shadow of Death. Easily the most obscure of the two, I’ve been able to track down very little information about it. The pilot for a proposed series, it was shot on location at Warwick Castle and featured just two actors – Jack Woolgar and Barry Stokes (Woolgar also introduced the story and was one of the producers, so he was clearly a man of many hats).
It’s an odd little piece. Every trick in the book is utilised in order to create an oppressive atmosphere – we’re at a deserted baronial house late at night, the wind is whistling and the thunder is crashing down – at the same time we are observing a man called Booth (Woolgar) searching for something.
Eventually he finds his prize (a diamond) but is later confronted by a younger man – Weaver (Stokes) – who also claims ownership. A brief tussle for supremacy then takes place, but the victor will have to face the supernatural forces which have been unleased by their actions ….
The Shadow of Death is content to take its time. Woolgar wanders around the house by himself for the first five minutes before finding anything and it’s only when Stokes turns up mid-way through that things really start moving. That it was made on a tight budget can be surmised by some of the shot choices, which don’t always match up to the previous ones (if the production ran out of time or money that would explain why they didn’t get all the coverage they wanted).
The plot is a little vague. If Booth stole the diamond sometime in the past, why did he hide it in the house? And how did Stokes know that Booth would return on that night? The mysterious shadow creature which stalks the house is never explained either.
The print quality is passable, although there’s intermittent damage on the right hand side. A decent time-waster then and worth watching for Woolgar and Stokes, but the story is rather thin.
Much more substantial and enjoyable is Mrs Amworth. It’s certainly loaded with talent – adapted by Hugh Whitemore from the story by E.F. Benson, directed by Alvin Rakoff and starring Glynis Johns (not a bad line-up at all). The original short story by Benson can be accessed here.
Johns gives a lovely performance as the titular Mrs Amworth, a charming lady who’s recently moved into a sleepy English village. A hit with the residents, she’s quickly become the talk of the town, although a recent epidemic has set Francis Urcombe (John Phillips) pondering.
It seems too fantastic to be true, but could the kindly Mrs Amworth really be a vampire – flitting from person to person and draining their blood? Less of a moody chiller than The Shadow of Death, Mrs Amworth still has a few shocks along the way (mixed in with a few amusing moments – or at least I assume they were intended to be amusing). The notion of a vampire hiding out in a bucolic English village is an irresistible one and with the likes of Derek Francis offering strong support, the thirty minute running time clips by most agreeably.
This production of Mrs Amworth will probably be familiar to many, since it escaped onto the internet a few years back. The DVD release does offer an upgrade in picture quality – although by no means pristine (the colours are rather washed out) it’s certainly the best presentation of the materials I’ve seen so far.
A mixed bag then. The Shadow of Death might be the rarer of the two, but it’s Mrs Amworth which really appeals and makes Rare Chills worth a look.
It’s slightly surprising that there’s no contextual information about these programmes supplied with the DVD. Network’s range of curated releases – under the banner of Forgotten Television drama – includes substantial viewing notes which places the programmes in context. Some sort of background on these two dramas – The Shadow of Death especially – would have been welcome. Who made them, how were they lost, how they were rediscovered, etc. Hopefully future releases will contain some info – even if it’s only a brief note on the interior of the DVD case.
Rare Chills is released today by Kaleidoscope, RRP £12.99. It can be ordered from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).