Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (Fox Mystery Theater): In Possession

New Year and I have a new blogging impetus. This is not a new year's resolution, I should say, it has just happened on its own so stands a chance of not being abandoned in the second week of January. There are a few things I am thinking of doing as series of posts:

I have a lot of odd episodes of shows which may exist somewhere in toto but are not available and I thought this would be an interesting theme.

Similarly I have episodes of series which are available on the internet but have never been commercially released.

I have been reading Alex's Cox's book about The Prisoner and am interested (albeit far from convinced) in his idea that No 6 is a rocket scientist, so thought either a series of posts or one extended one examining this would be interesting.

I want to work through Hammer House of Horror at some point.

I was thinking of alternating between them but I think it would concentrate me better and make the blog more cohesive if I do them one at a time.

The reason I'm writing about Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense is because I have actually been watching through Hammer House of Horror - I knew I had this show but thought it was a Horror rather than a Mystery and Suspense so looked it out on my hard drive and have been inspired. Just because I have plans in mind doesn't mean I will stick to them, obviously.

As always I read around on the internet before writing a blog post and there is startlingly little about this episode online. Mystery and Suspense was always less popular than House of Horror, which is prolifically blogged about, for a start. I eventually found a number of reviews on IMDB, and I think I can truthfully say that opinion seems firmly divided on this one.

My own opinion is that this episode has the feel of a dream. Or rather the classic nightmare where something is terribly wrong: you might be locked out of your hotel room naked, you come back to find your hotel room is inhabited by someone else, and so on. Here it is cleverly combined with motifs of other people possibly playing pranks (with the bird cage) and the more explicitly occult idea of past events replaying or future events being seen in advance. This was the hay day of the stone tape theory and also of lots of experimentation with ESP and what have you. In fact the couple who are the protagonists theorise along these lines about the things they see instead of what they know to be reality. In fact as I am writing these words he is just saying 'It was a mutual dream'.

There's a difficulty with that though, because while the events of this episode feel very dream-like, the couple are definitely awake when they first find two unexpected women in their hotel room. They also see them out and about. You could see it as a plot weakness that the apparitions the couple see are apparently attached to them rather than their flat, while the resolution clearly attaches the reason for the apparitions to the flat rather than the people. Much of the criticism on IMDb is based around the way it is possible to see the plot as not very coherent in this and other ways. I wonder though whether this was a deliberate plot device to ramp up the level of mystery, which has gone wrong with some but not all of the viewers. I mean that I think the show was deliberately plotted to allow a number of different interpretations until the conclusion. I think it could have been tightened up a bit - for example they get advice from a parapsychologist and much more could have been made of that.

Visually this is excellent and the different ways we see the flat really play with the mind and set us up to expect a different resolution. As I was watching it I was thinking how much moving around of props was involved and how the protagonists spent a lot of time running up and down stairs in pyjamas!

I think a very valid criticism is that this episode comes across as quite cheaply made - or rather this impression may be because of the extensive time spent in the flat so that it almost feels like a bottle episode of a show, made when they've run out of money and are dependent on one set. There is also a possible plot weakness which feels rather unfair, because when you see this episode the first time it is genuinely mystifying. That said by 1984 we were well into the video recorder era so perhaps I'm being less unfair when I say that with repeat viewing and thinking about it there are only two ways this could resolve itself: either the things they see have already happened or they are in the future. My advice, as so often, would be to let it play its tricks on you and be horrified at the end. It's only fair when a show is setting out to horrify you, to suspend disbelief and be horrified.

If you want to see this without the significant expense of the boxed set, it's on Dailymotion in two parts.