Scorpion Tales: The Great Albert

You know you're in for something wonderful when the show starts with a child berating a picture of Jesus for not listening to him before signing off with his name and address so that Jesus knows who's talking to him. 

I honestly thought that Scorpion Tales had appeared here before, but it seems it hasn't. It's another 1970s anthology series of plays built on the earlier succcess of Thriller, in this case with each one having the common feature of a sting in the tale. It's been available commercially on DVD for a while now.

The premise is very simple, really: poor Matthew Ward is from a family where the only sensible adults are the staff. His (very superior) bookdealer father is very absent and his mother's emotional and physical neglect reaches positively Edina Monsoon levels of lack of awareness. It's not stated as such, but this is of course the situation of a lot of kids in rich families and this is of course a trauma which carries on through generations, because if you've never known anything other than emotional neglect you can't live differently unless something happens. WHat happens here is that Matthew's mother sacks the staff so he uses a mediaeval grimoire being sold by his bookdealer father to summon the devil and deal with this.

Although I've tended to be critical recently of suspenseful shows which last an hour as this one does, The Great Albert moves along at a fair pace and it's never boring for a moment. It is almost completely studio-bound except for short scenes in the garden, and all the sets are the Wards' house, which brings a great sense of claustrophobia.

I can't begin to say how well the emotional neglect, randiness and coldness of Matthew's mother is brought across clearly to the viewer. Even if you strongly disagreed with Matthew's approach to dealing with his parents, you would feel full sympathy for him because he's the only adult in the house. He was played by young actor Max Harris, who I see I must have seen in several other shows and not noticed. However he stands out in this play because noobody would ever say that this role would be easy. You'd have to be trained in saying the barbaric words of evocation, for a start. He plays the role very convincingly and without over-acting. Maddeningly, IMDB says that he is also a composer, however I have been unable to track him down because there are two other British composers called Max Harris, one too old and one too young.

I've chosen The Great Albert because it's overflowing with weird stuff which is bang up my street and also because I think its several ambivalent reviews online aren't deserved. The unappreciative reviews I've seen feel that this episode has an unclear ending and it's never made clear whether Matthew has objectively called up the devil, whether he thinks he has, what happens to the dad, and whether the mother's lover is actually the devil. Regular readers will not be surprised to find that I don't personally object to this: I think that this ambivalence makes us experience what Matthew would experience. If you work magic and what you want  actually happens, how would you know that it was the actual magic? You wouldn't! And the ambivalent ending gives us this feeling perfectly, so perhaps that is actually the scorpion. I think it is fairly clear that the mother's lover is behind the death but not what has actually happened. This is said to be the only episode of the series with a genuine supernatural theme, and the fact that the supernatural theme could even be called into question, is great stuff. This is really excellent writing by John Peacock by has a string of horror films to his credit.

Of course it's chock full of morals. The most obvious is perhaps not to have children if you can't provide for them in every way. However the most obvious one is to make a photocopy of the grimoire you're used to call up the devil so that you can do it again.

It's a schoolboy error not to.

The only criticism I have is that I feel it is slightly unrealistic to expect the police just to turn up when a child rings them and announces that the devil has killed his father. I think they'd be more likely to ring the number back and speak to mum.

I definitely think you should watch this before the devil forces you to...

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