SIMON BALL looks at Apparitions, a spooky yet short-lived supernatural drama with Martin Shaw
Things got Strange in the first Telly Tomb – Now my Spooky Island friends we are taking real turn for the scary with Apparitions
On first glance Apparitions has a lot in common with Strange. Both shows are led by a cleric who fights demons, both feature a sinister senior clergyman who may be part of a high level cover up and both involve director Joe Aherne. But Apparitions is a very different show. Where Strange, with its feet comfortably positioned in the Church of England makes for quite reassuring viewing, Apparitions comes from the same garden as The Exorcist and The Omen and is rooted in 2000 years of Roman Catholic dogma and ritual.
Based upon an original idea by actor Martin Shaw, Apparitions ran over a series of six episodes in 2008. The show was written by Joe Aherne, who also directed four of the episodes. Shaw plays Father Jacob Myers, a Catholic priest who works the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the body responsible for the canonisation of saints.
The scene is set in episode one: it’s 1998 and as Mother Teresa dies, she comes under demonic attack in a Calcutta hospitaland an exorcist is called in. Vimal, a young leper preys for her and at the moment of her death he has a seizure. Cut to 2008 the now cured Vimal is a priest at Jacob’s seminary in London. In Rome Mother Teresa’s application for sainthood on the basis of Vimal’s cure is turned down by the sinister Cardinal Bukovak.(John Shrapnel) and as Jacob leaves the Vatican he is approached by a Michael (Rick Warden), a homeless man who spooks him with a reference to one of Bukovak’s jokes.
Back in London, a young girl, asks Jacob to exorcise her demonically possessed father. Initially sceptical Jacob eventually agrees to do it, with the help of Monsignor Vincenzo, Rome’s chief exorcist. Meanwhile Vimal, has been who has been haunted by Michael threatening to take back his demon granted skin, is flayed alive at the very moment the demon is expelled. This involves some really gruesome prosthetics in one and a whole host of exploding lights in the other.
In the second episode Michael challenges Jacob to an exorcism off , with some pretty spectacular levitation on Michael’s part. The demon Astoruth is successfully cast out of Michael and back to Hell, but Jacob than discovers that Vincenzo has murdered his secretary, Sister Anne. Yes Vincenzo is batting for Satan, having switched sides when the Pope abandoned his family to the Nazis in the Holocaust. With the now amnesiac Michael taken into protection at Jacob’s seminary, Jacob frames Vincenzo for Vimal’s murder.
Episode 3 finds us at HM Prison Sandford, where convicted rapist Cory Wardell is apparently possessed, but not by a demon. No Cory’s bad enough on his own, he is possessed by a saint. In other news Cardinal Bukovak has appointed Sister Ruth as Jacob’s new secretary and seminary snitch.
Episode 4 takes us to an abortion clinic where a 70 year old woman and a 15 year old girl are seeking terminations for their demonic broods, the antichrist and Anti John the Baptist. Cue flying surgical instruments and an amazing set piece of a demon walking over a swimming pool as the water boils beneath his bare feet. Meanwhile Michael’s past as a British soldier in Bosnia begins to unravel and it ain’t pretty.
Things step up a gear in episode 5 when a Bosnian Muslim boy receives a vision of his father burning in Hell from the Virgin Mary. When the boy takes his Imam hostage, Bukovak forces Jacob to carry out an inverted exorcism to liberate the father’s soul from Hell. But what is released from Hell is Astoruth, who reunited with Michael actually turns out to be the boy’s real father, Michael having raped his mother while serving in Bosnia.
The final episode brings the conclusion of Astoruth’s plan to liberate all the damned from Hell by killing Pope John Paul II and its up to Jacob and Sister Ruth to stop him in an amazing set piece finale where Bukovak takes a bullet for the pontiff in a Vatican chapel shoot out, complete with levitating demon/Michael and a burning nun.
Apparitions is pretty strong stuff that touches not just upon demonic possession, but also upon the Catholic church’s role in the Holocaust and its attitudes towards abortion and homosexuality. Surprisingly the producers had the full cooperation of the church authorities and much of the filming took place in churches, including the reverse exorcism with its inverted crosses and black candles and Micheal/Astoruth’s final stand.
Shaw puts in a particularly powerful performance as the tortured Jacob, Shrapnel is magnificently creepy as Bukovak, who we never really discover whether he is on the side of Jacob or Satan and Rick Warden treads an uneasy balance between Michael’s innocence and Astoruth’s malevolence. The script is intelligent, minutely researched and cross referenced, the location shooting in Rome and at various churches in England brings a visual sumptuousness to the production along with the top quality lighting, sound and camera work. Coupled with gory prosthetics, brilliantly executed stunts and special effects and an atmospheric musical score, Apparitions will make you think as much as it makes you jump out of your skin.
Best of all – the ending has been left open, so will we ever see any more of Father Jacob? It’s up to you Mr Shaw.
Apparitions is available as a BBC DVD and digital download.
SIMON BALL is a freelance writer and Editor at Large with the Horror Hothouse website, You can follow him on Twitter @RealShipscook