Synapse // 1995 // 265 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mac McEntire // December 28th, 2012
Look deep into the face of fear.
From 1995 comes this short-lived British anthology series, a throwback to classics like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Only five episodes were made, and they're lurking on this two-disc set:
A group of friends hold a séance, asking about their futures. Years later, those answers come true in horrific ways.
A pregnant woman loses her unborn child in a car crash. She becomes pregnant again, even though doctors insist she is not.
* "Here Comes the Mirror Man"
A social worker works with a homeless man living in an abandoned church. She learns her predecessor died horribly and wonders if she will be next.
* "The Man Who Didn't Believe in Ghosts"
An expert who debunks paranormal claims moves into a new home with his family, only to encounter strange phenomena.
* "Number Six"
In a small town, police desperately search for a child killer, with all clues leading to an ancient druidic site.
British television often has a bad reputation, many thinking it dull and overly formal -- the stereotypical sitting room drama. Usually all it takes is a viewing of anything from Fawlty Towers to Sherlock to cure folks of that thinking. Chiller, on the other hand, is one of those shows that earned Brit TV its staid reputation. This is a "chatty" series, with characters chatting at the office, at home, at a café, and so on. Every scene is very stiff and formal. Actual scares are few and far between.
To be fair, the creators are going for an old-fashioned, cerebral type of horror, bringing to mind the slow burn of classics like Rosemary's Baby and even the original Halloween. I appreciate that, but the difference is that while Rosemary's Baby has a lot of long stretches of domestic normalcy, there is an overall sense of dread running through the whole thing that keeps you invested and wondering what will happen next. That's a tough thing to pull off, and it is lacking in Chiller. The show's writing and acting are so stodgy that I can't imagine today's fright fans will have the patience needed to sit through scene after scene of tea-sipping chat just to get to the occasional ghostly visage.
A few well-known faces show up in episodes, including Sophie Ward (Land Girls), Nigel Havers (Coronation Street), Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) and Kevin McNally (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), even if the scripts give them a lot of dialogue with so little to say. The series is nicely filmed, making the most of the London location shooting. There's no mere stock establishing shot of the British Museum, the actors are filmed in front of and inside the actual museum. Another standout is the scenes inside the abandoned church in "Here Comes the Mirror Man" full of dark, shadowy atmosphere, something the show could use more of. As such, the DVD presentation has razor-sharp visuals, looking so good I was surprised this dated back to the mid-1990s. The 2.0 mono isn't as good, flat and unimpressive. No extras.
Maybe you're not that into horror, and you want something more like a traditional drama with some spooky elements. That's what Chiller is shooting for, but even with that simple target in mind, the show just doesn't hit the mark.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 265 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated