J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chiller: The Complete Yorkshire Horror Anthology

Yorkshire is known for its green hills and savory pudding.  However, the region is also rife with supernatural activity, if one can judge from a Yorkshire produced anthology series that aired in 1995.  While totaling only five episodes, it built up a cult following, so this should be a happy Christmas for fans now that Chiller—the Complete Television Series has just been released on DVD by Synapse.

ITV may not have done Chiller any scheduling favors, but the show maintained a surprisingly gritty, mature vibe.  Indeed, one of the striking consistencies throughout each installment is the rather grim, depressed look of the characters’ environment.  In fact, a bit of urban renewal kicks off a whole mess of trouble in the initial episode, Prophecy.

Francesca Monsanto’s family diner is about to face the wrecking ball, but not before some of her drunken hipster friends convince her to hold a séance in the basement.  It always creeped her out down there—with good reason. It was loads of laughs at the time, but one by one they suffer grisly accidents that were in some way foretold by the Ouija board.  Stranger still, the son of her fabulously wealthy new boyfriend seems to be involved somehow.  Featuring Chariots of Fire’s Nigel Havers as the well-heeled Oliver Halkin, Prophecy is one of the best of the series, cleverly blending all kinds of genre elements, including ancient evils and exorcisms.  It will also be of particular interest to teen horndogs for Sophie Ward’s fleeting nude scene as Monsanto.

In contrast, Toby, the second episode, is the weakest of the short-lived series.  Miscarrying after an auto accident, Louise Knight and her husband naturally move into a spooky old house with a macabre history, hoping to start over.  Before long, she appears to be pregnant again, but the ultrasound says otherwise.  Essentially, Toby recycles elements of Bradbury’s story “The Small Assassin” and scores of subsequent demonic baby films.

Here Comes the Mirror Man represents a return to atmospheric form for the series, capitalizing on the eeriness of the abandoned church where a young social services case is squatting with his homicidal imaginary friend, Michael.  Phyllis Logan (widely recognizable from Downton Abbey and Lovejoy) stars as Anna Spalinsky, the lucky caseworker who inherits Gary Kingston’s file when her predecessor dies an untimely death.

Beginning like the standard “skeptic learns the hard way” tale, The Man Who Didn’t Believe in Ghosts develops some interesting twists and ambiguities.  Richard Cramer is an Amazing Randy style writer whose books discredit paranormal humbug.  Suffering a stroke after a television appearance, he naturally relocates with his family to the big, spooky Windwhistle Hall, where the former owner’s wife died in a tragic “sleep-walking” accident.  Why doesn’t anyone ever want to recuperate in the city, with plenty of people around?  Nevertheless, the Cramers cannot resist the low asking price, only to be terrified by a series of mysterious accidents as soon as the move in.  Of course, Cramer is not going anywhere, lest he commit professional suicide.

Just as it began, Chiller ends with one of its strongest episodes.  Every full moon, a serial killer preys on the children of the aptly named burg of Helsby in Number Six, perhaps inspired by the ancient druid rituals once (and maybe still) practiced in the region.  Indeed, there may be both human and supernatural agencies involved.  Quite engaging as a police procedural, Number Six also boasts some of the series’ most sinister moments.

Arguably, Chiller makes perfect sense for Christmas viewing.   There is a big turkey dinner at the Cramers (which becomes magically infested with maggots), a mass is held (as part of an exorcism), and kids chant nursery rhymes (derived from old Druidic rites).  As a stocking stuffer for anyone who enjoys horror anthologies like Tales from the Crypt and Hammer House of Horror, Chiller is a solid bet.  Recommended for fans of British genre television, the short but complete series is now available on DVD from Synapse Films.

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