Anthology series can always be a mixed bag when it comes to delivering true entertainment value, and that’s mostly due to the fact that there’s very little thread to connect one story to another; as such, there’s usually some noticeable differences in quality storytelling and performances and direction from each hour (or half-hour) to the next. CHILLER: THE COMPLETE TELEVISION SERIES is a far cry from the glory days of the anthology format (THE TWILIGHT ZONE), and, at best, it serves up five respectable stories – mostly family-friendly, though there are a few splashes of blood here and there – that have been done before. Still, it’s a pretty benign way to kill roughly 265 minutes if you’re interested.
(NOTE: The following review may contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of characters and plot. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
The following is a summation of each story, along with some modest assessment, that appeared as part of CHILLER’s single season of existence on television:
PROPHECY tells the story of a group of friends who conduct a séance in the basement of a London café and what happens to them throughout the upcoming years. One by one, they’re being ‘eliminated,’ leading Francesca Monsanto (played by the lovely Sophie Ward) to believe they somehow allowed a malevolent spirit to cross into their world from the other side. Through a strange twist of fate, Francesca has the most personal connection to these occurrences, and, in the end, she races against time with a neighborhood priest to undo the damage. In short, PROPHECY is a good idea that gets marred by the fact that there’s no clear progression of time; two people see one another, then – in one scene later – there’s clearly been a significant passage of time, but there’s no mention by the characters or the script, leaving this viewer more than a bit confused. Still, the story had a good idea, though heavily flawed in execution. (Rating: two out of five stars)
TOBY – arguably the strongest tale in this whole season – tells the story of Louise Knight (Serena Gordon), a woman who loses her unborn son (she had planned to name Toby) in an automobile mishap. She and her husband, Ray (Martin Clunes), opt for a new home in their attempt to start over. It doesn’t take long before Louise receives the news that she’s pregnant again, but is she really? It’s a wicked, emotional, and psychological ride – penned by Glenn Chandler and directed by Bob Mahoney – and managed to create some solid dramatic tension between the characters. Also, there’s some smart camera work done – with nominal effects work – as Louise goes about caring for her ‘ghost’ child. It gets a bit listless when trying to build some tension between our leads and her cat-lady neighbor; most of that could’ve ended up on the cutting room floor, so far as this reviewer is concerned. As is the case with most stories of this ilk, don’t look for it to wrap up nicely in a bow. (Rating: four out of five stars)
HERE COMES THE MIRROR MAN has the singular distinction of having a young John Simm (from the stellar BBC production of LIFE ON MARS) in a lead role. Gary (Simm) is a troubled young man who draws the unwanted attention of his social worker. See, Gary doesn’t live inside his head by himself. He has a partner – Michael (Paul Reynolds) – a bully who makes Gary’s life a living Hell. However, Anna (the social worker as played by Phyllis Logan) might secretly be as screwed up as Gary is. If she isn’t careful, Mike might just have to pay her a visit … the hard way! At best, it’s a clever script, though there are a handful of secondary characters – love interests, other workers in the welfare office, etc. – who inevitably serve to slow down the main plot any time they’re on screen. What could’ve been something special instead ends up being largely ordinary. (Rating: three out of five stars)
THE MAN WHO DIDN’T BELIEVE IN GHOSTS sees paranormal debunking special Richard Cramer (Peter Egan) suffering a stroke that forces him into a career change. Taking up a new country residence with his wife (the lovely Mel Martin) and son (Tobias Saunders), Richard soon learns even more unfortunate news: his house – Windwhistle Hall – is haunted! Or is it? The chief problem with THE MAN is that the script tries too hard to establish some bona fide relationships of the principle players when, in reality, it should’ve spent more time engaging Mr. Cramer and his efforts to understand precisely what is afoot in his new residence. There’s a proper little coda that clarifies the true nature of Windwhistle, so make certain you watch until the very last frame, or you’ll miss it. (Rating: two out of five stars)
NUMBER SIX sacrifices a terrific premise for some relationship gobblety-gook that could’ve been spared audiences. Police inspector Jack Taylor (the reliable Kevin McNally) is hell bent to uncover just who is abducting and murdering innocent children under the light of a full moon. There have been five victims in the past two years, but does Taylor have what it takes to keep fate from seizing number six? It ends up dishing out more of a twist ending than, perhaps, the other tales involved in the single season, but so much of it gets mired down in scenes involving Taylor and his newest girlfriend when the real story should’ve stayed focused as much as possible on the ever creepier school children. (Rating: two out of five stars)
CHILLER: THE COMPLETE TELEVISION SERIES is produced by Yorkshire Television (YTV). DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Synapse Films. As for the technical specifications, there’s not a lot to get excited about here as most of these episodes have a modest hazy/grainy quality to them (though not awful, just not crisp in the slightest); most of the audio tracking is acceptable, at best, though there was an occasional dip when scenes were shot outdoors. Sadly – as can happen with some of these older series getting current release (the show originally aired in 1995) – there are no special features.
RECOMMENDED only if you’re a diehard fan of anthology shows because that’s really the only distinction CHILLER brings to the table. It isn’t an awful experience; there just wasn’t nearly as much ‘chill’ as I would’ve wanted.
In the interest of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Synapse Films provided me with a DVD screener copy of CHILLER: THE COMPLETE TELEVISION SERIES for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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