Supernatural 1977 BBC TV EPISODE GUIDE

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Supernatural 1977 anthology horror series has much to interest fans of vintage spooky drama, writes RICHARD MARKWORTH

Supernatural 1977 TV Series

Supernatural was a television horror anthology broadcast on BBC1 between 11 June and 6 August 1977. 

The series was the brainchild of Robert Muller whose intention was to produce period tales of terror in the Gothic tradition, incorporating classic horror elements such as ghosts, vampires, and werewolves, and reliant on atmosphere and tone as opposed to bloodletting and graphic violence. Muller himself wrote 7 of the 8 instalments with only Episode 6, Viktoria, being penned by Sue Lake.

The framework of the programme involves a mysterious 19th century society named The Club of the Damned. At the club’s well-appointed mansion, monied gentlemen lounge on padded armchairs, attended to by be-wigged servants, and partake of brandy and cigars by candlelight.

Each new applicant to the association is required to relay a true tale of the supernatural to the gathered assembly. Approval of each initiate’s membership depends on their story succeeding in impressing all existing members. 

However, the club has an excessively strict “no time wasters” policy and, should a candidate fail to thrill even a solitary attendee with his account, he will be immediately killed. Nothing as simple as mere “black balling” will suffice for this institution whose application approval process makes even the Masons’ look positively slack in comparison.  

Format of Supernatural 1977 BBC TV Series

Each instalment introduces a club prospect whose individual stories form the basis of the relevant episode.  

While every segment deals with a different supernatural subject, there are common themes of Victorian sexual repression, punishment for past misdemeanours and the resurfacing of buried secrets, running throughout. Many of the protagonists are haunted as much by the consequences of their own actions as they are by any unworldly nemesis.

Supernatural 1977 wears its Gothic influences proudly. As well as featuring such mainstays as the undead (Dorabella) and the lycanthropic (Countess Ilona) there are clever spins on the literary classics Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, in the form of Night of the Marionettes and Lady Sybil respectively. 

The cast is a veritable who’s who of faces familiar to British audiences of the time, including such luminaries as Robert Hardy, Billie Whitelaw, Jeremy Brett and Denholm Elliot. Although some of the performers occasionally lean towards the wrong side of hamminess, the standard of acting across the series is mainly high, as is to be expected from such seasoned professionals. Whitelaw (Countess Ilona/The Werewolf Reunion), Elliot (Lady Sybil) and Jeremy Clyde (Dorabella) are notable standouts.

The production was clearly only granted a limited budget and other than using stock footage for exteriors, is a mainly studio bound affair. Although this lends a stagey feel to the drama, the set designers did manage to overcome any monetary restrictions and create commendably authentic looking environments, from Hungarian castle to British country mansion, in which to base the tales.

The episodes themselves generally move rather slowly but this unhurried presentation allows them to breathe and enables the characters and their motivations to become fully realised as the narratives progress. 

Although it is fair to say none of the stories are overtly scary, they certainly contain an inherent feeling of creepiness, particularly in such offerings as Viktoria with its sentient child’s doll and Mr Nightingale with Jeremy Brett troubled by a sinister doppelganger. This unsettling trait will undoubtably please enthusiasts of weird fiction.

Unfortunately, Supernatural 1977 did not prove a success at the time of broadcast and has never been repeated in full. Perhaps, audiences of the 1970s required redder meat in their horror diet and were not satisfied with such predominately bloodless fare with its emphasis on plot and mood. 

It is equally possible the transmission dates were a contributory factor in the programme failing to spark with the public. The series lends itself very well to viewing on dark, winter nights as opposed to the height of summer when it was released. 

Nonetheless, Supernatural 1977 is a fine attempt at invoking the spirit of the classic chiller and, although never reaching the heights of A Ghost Story For Christmas, has much to interest fans of vintage spooky drama. 

The basic concept of the Club of the Damned is an excellent one and surely ripe for revival. I for one would love to see how the likes of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton would tackle this following their success with Inside No 9. Who knows, perhaps Supernatural 1977 will one day rise from the televisual grave to which it has been consigned.

A brief guide to the series with links to my reviews on Spooky Isles can be found below.

Supernatural 1977 BBC TV Series Episode Guide

EpisodeTitle of EpisodeOriginal Air DateBrief Plot Summary
1Ghost of VeniceA tortured thespian encounters the spirit of a lost love.Review
2Countess IlonaAn enigmatic countess gathers four former lovers for a monstrous reunion in the first of a two-part story.Review
3The Werewolf ReunionSomething fierce is working its way through the guest list in the second part of the story began in Countess Ilona.Review
4Mr NightingaleAn Englishman abroad contends with an evil doppelganger.Review
5Lady SybilAn elderly matriarch is menaced by a phantom stalker.Review
6Viktoria A possessed doll seeks vengeance.Review
7Night of the MarionettesAn overly curious author stumbles across the true inspiration for Frankenstein.Review
8Dorabella A young man is bewitched by a beautiful female vampire.Review

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