Tuesday 16 May 2017

The Frighteners (UK 1972 - London Weekend Television - various directors)

The oft quoted L.P. Hartley line 'the past is another country; they do things different there' may be overused, but is entirely apposite when trying to write about TV drama from the late 1960s/early 1970s. Network's release of the previously difficult to see London Weekend Television 1972 series The Frighteners is an extraordinary collection of thirteen half hour plays, where even the most straightforward example is quite unlike anything you'd see on TV in the 21st century.

Although each of the stories was written by different people, The Frighteners credits John Burke as script advisor. Outside of fan circles Burke, who died in 2011, was a relatively unknown but very influential figure in 'weird' television, a prolific author who wrote in the horror, science fiction and thriller genres under a host of aliases. He contributed to a number of similarly themed anthologies both on BBC and ITV including Late Night Horror (1968) and Tales of Unease (1970). Only fragments of these have so far surfaced, but based on the the emergence of The Frighteners I remain hopeful.

While the series name and opening titles suggest something more directly scary, the 'frights' in The Frighteners are subtle but sinister - in this the series has something in common with the ITV series Shadows of Fear dating from the same period - clearly something in the scriptwriting water at the time. But the setups, mainly focusing on tense 'two hander' exchanges between captor and captive or aggressor and victim, are strange indeed, and viewed back to back, have a cumulatively disturbing effect.

Series highlights include: the Mike (Get Carter) Hodges directed 'The Manipulators' in which a couple in a flat and a room full of people being tested for typing skills are observed for undisclosed reasons; Brian Phelan's 'The Disappearing Man' where a lonely commuter is convinced he's actually disappearing from the world; 'Bed and Breakfast' featuring a typically wobbly performance from Ian Hendry as a man who with his wife takes the phrase "you treat this house like a hotel" rather literally by forcing themselves into the home of a stranger and proceeding to do just that; and 'You Remind Me of Someone' where a lorry driver picks up a hitchhiker with a potentially sinister purpose.

The Frighteners is out now in a 2-disc set from Network Releasing.

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