Monday, 30 May 2016

Name That Unexpected Horror Tale


The wisdom of the crowds is needed. Because I'm stuck. This is personal rather than writing-related, though it ties in to my life-long love of horror.

Background

I recently watched my way through every episode of Tales Of The Unexpected. 112 episodes, originally shown on UK TV between 1979 and 1988. I'd seen some of them when I was a kid, and remembered a few vividly, such as the one where a man develops a machine to listen to plants (The Sound Machine [#41]) - then realises they are screaming when the lawn is cut, or a tree cut down. Most of the tales were dark, involving murder, and some of them were very dark e.g. The Flypaper [#26], about a girl trying to evade a suspected child-killer - I can't imagine that being filmed nowadays. Occasionally there would be a funny tale instead, such as Wink Three Times [#108] where a mixup leads two hotel guests to have sex with each other, both believing the other to be the prostitute they'd requested. Three key features define Tales Of The Unexpected for me.
  • Early episodes were introduced by Roald Dahl in full raconteur mode, sat by a fireplace telling anecdotes. I aspire to that persona.
  • Each episode ended with a twist of some kind. (For a modernised version of this, watch the 20 Seconds To Live series).
  • The unforgettable opening title and tune, involving various vaguely-horror elements and a dancing woman silhouette that scared me as a child.
There was a particular episode I was excited about seeing again. Every time another year went by and the pile of finished DVDs grew, I assumed the episode must be in the remaining and rapidly-diminishing pile.
I eventually reached the final episode, full of excitement. It must be this one!

It wasn't.

Argh!

This is where people of the world come in. Who can help me find out what programme I am thinking of, in the vague hopes that I can watch it again?

The Programme - A Mad Scientist Story

I'll give you as many details as I can. First is what I remember of the plot. Take each detail with a pinch of salt as to how well I remember it.

Three characters: a husband, wife, and some kind of mad scientist (a bit of a Peter Cushing type). Somehow the scientist captured the man and woman and kept them in a high-tech prison that had invisible, electrified walls. He was going to observe them. Towards the end the couple overpowered or tricked him and escaped, leaving him dead. They rushed back to their home. But as they closed the front door there was a click, and invisible forcefield beams blocked every window and door - they were trapped. The scientist must have set this up, perhaps intending to let them go home so he could observe them in a new location. However, because he was now dead, they would be trapped in the house until they died. End of programme.


It was a UK TV drama. It was most likely shown between 1978 and 1985, but there is a spread of possibility on each side. It could have been a repeat. If I had to take a best guess, I'd say 1979 while I lived at Cinnamon Brow.

I suspect some kind of series where each episode was a standalone story. There were many series like that, e.g. Play For Today (which ran 1970-1984, but I read every episode synopsis and don't think it was this); Screen Two (1985-1994); Play For Tomorrow (1982 – but again, none of those synopses fit); ITV Playhouse (1967 to 1983). I can't rule out the possibility of it actually being a story within some sort of portmanteau film.

I presume it was shown in the evening, some time between 7pm and 10pm. I think it lasted 30-60 minutes.

So, do any of you remember that story? Do you know what the programme was? I would love to see it again and find out the intricacies of the story and compare it to my memory of the time. Of course, even if we identify it, there might be no way to see it. The annoyance of copyright law is that things like programmes and computer games can disappear forever: we're not allowed to keep and share copies, then time moves on, companies change, technologies change, buyouts, collapses, and so on. Suddenly old computer games and TV programmes are not available anywhere, lost forever, culture fading away like the library of Alexandria. We can no longer watch old drama such as this or this.

... And The Woodsy Demon


While I'm thinking about half-remembered stories that had an effect on me, there is another that stuck in my mind. I'd also love to track this down and watch it again, to see if it was as effective as I remember. Being able to compare memories and reality in some areas can help to recalibrate  memory in others.

The story seemed to be a person wandering alone through some thick woodland. It was a sunny day but everything was filtered to bright greens by the foliage. The character may have been a hunter, or someone lost. Set in the UK. It was tense as they wandered through the thick woods, claustrophobic, and they soon began to feel that they were being followed. All shadows and hints and rustling branches whenever they turned round, but nothing concrete. Then near the end the camera panned behind them to show the horror that had tracked the character, just for a second - not human, but a hooded being with a wide mouth and big teeth. In my mind it was detailed and realistic, but maybe it really looked like a bad rubber mask ...

The reason it stands out in my mind is because my mother had a friend round and they were chatting away while I lay on the floor watching the programme, wide-eyed and tense. At the point when the stalking monster was revealed I started screaming in horrified shock, which terrified my mother and the visitor who had no idea what was going on, leading to spilt drinks and me being told off and sent to bed. I wasn’t allowed to watch the very end so don't know if anything else occurred after the monster's appearance, and I also wasn't allowed to watch future episodes of the programme.

The episode I watched was the first from a new series of specifically creepy/supernatural dramas, where each episode would be a different, standalone story. I don’t know how many were made – I saw the first episode, and the trailer for the second, but there may have only been two episodes ... or twenty. I was living in Winwick so would estimate the new series was shown between 1980 and 1987, maybe on Channel 4. The programme was shown during the evening, so some time between 7pm and 10pm. Based on the minimal plot I'd guess at a 30 minute episode.

In case it helps in identifying the series, I remember the trailer for the second episode was quite different. Lots of camera shots of a baby's pram, which looked abandoned on a flat grassy area – maybe mist, maybe a moor, maybe a cliff. I think it hinted that it was a ghost story, perhaps a ghost wanted to push the pram off a cliff, or the pram/baby was possessed.

Will I ever find out? Can you help identify either of these programmes?

Fingers crossed!

Update!!!!

We have answer #1! Thanks to the lovely people who shared the query on Twitter I had many people point out that the answer was The Silent Scream, 1980, from a Hammer House of Horror series. It fits: I used to watch the Hammer House of Horror double bill every Friday with the babysitter. Best bit of the week. I ordered the DVD so I can watch all those episodes, it's very exciting.

No idea on prog #2 yet. :-(
I had a suggestion of Thriller but I think that was too early (pre-1980). Still, the series sounds good, I have bought a copy to watch.
The other suggestion was: "I *think* the second one might have been an episode of the appalling Worlds Beyond." However, although I can't find a proper synopsis of it, none of the episode names rings a bell. Also their IMDB cast lists look too long - BUT it could be. I'll try and find a video. Or someone who has watched the series and can answer for sure!

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3 comments:

  1. The first one is an episode of the Hammer House of Horror series - called Silent Scream :) Details here - http://www.hammerhouseofhorrortvseries.co.uk/hhscream2.html

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  2. Many thanks Jim, it seems to have stuck in a lot of people's minds! I can't wait to watch it again. The second one is proving a lot trickier though.

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  3. PS, as first to comment, feel free to send me an email, Tweet DM, or FB message if you'd like a freebie book as a prize. (Links at the top).

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