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Case Number 18400

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Armchair Thriller: Set 2

Acorn Media // 1978 // 537 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // February 25th, 2010

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All Rise...

More thrilling stories about armchairs? Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is thrilled.

Editor's Note

Our review of Armchair Thriller: Set 1, published July 10th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

"Three murders in a fortnight. They'll have a field day!"

Opening Statement

A detective's call for answers in a wave of murders brings more than he bargained for in "The Chelsea Murders," one of three stories on Armchair Thriller: Set 2. Oddly, "The Chelsea Murders" never aired on Armchair Thriller, so it's a lost episode of a show you've probably never heard of. Naturally, Acorn Media saw that as a good thing, presenting two versions of it in this collection.

Facts of the Case

Armchair Thriller: Set 2 has three armchair thrillers on four discs:

Disc One
"The Chelsea Murders"
A film crew tosses a fake baby into the river during a shoot and finds a real body in the water, the latest in a string of murder victims in Chelsea. After a young detective comes up with a theory, which inadvertently leaks out, about a serial killer with a poetry obsession, the police start getting notes—and the body count escalates. Bicycle-riding local reporter Mary Mooney has a chance to go national—if she can solve the murders before the police. Lionel Davidson wrote the novel.

Disc Two
The Chelsea Murders
Again? Sort of. ITV didn't air the original serial version on Armchair Thriller. Instead, they cut it down into a TV movie. This would be that. Lionel Davidson still wrote the novel.

Disc Three
"The Circe Complex"
Cat Devlin was hired to break a jewel thief out of prison and seduced by the man's wife, but he wasn't planning on waking up next to the man's lifeless body with detectives hovering around. There's still that tricky question: What did Tom Foreman do with the jewels? Foreman's shady wife and equally shady shrink are looking for the answer. Desmond Cory wrote the novel.

Disc Four
"Quiet as a Nun"
Jemima Shore (Maria Aitken, A Fish Called Wanda), star reporter for "MTV" (the music video and reality show network didn't exist in 1979), is shocked to read about the starvation death of a nun who was a childhood friend. Soon, she's asked to return to the convent school to poke her nose in. Antonia Fraser wrote the novel.

The Evidence

The first mystery you might want answers to is why "The Chelsea Murders" never aired on Armchair Thriller. It could be the decapitation, but since that's not shown, only mentioned as briefly as possible, I doubt that. Perhaps it was just a disappointing thriller. It starts off promisingly, with a film crew in desperate need of funding finding a body, a man waking up after a blackout to find that the woman he was with has just been murdered, an eager young reporter sneaking past a police guard to get a story, and a policeman theorizing about a serial killer. However, it moves rather slowly, and I could see the need for some judicious editing a lot as I watched the six-part serial. The editing for the TV movie was rather choppy, though, obscuring a couple of minor plot points. Worse yet, the second time around, the obvious twists were even more so.

Better is "The Circe Complex," with its cat-and-mouse games sending the participants, and even the perpetrators, into confusion, if not madness. Beth Morris (Son of Dracula) manages to make the loving wife who's sleeping with everyone else in sight seem relatively innocent, for a while, and Alan David (The Green, Green Grass) as the shrink whose conspiracies eventually turn on him effectively conveys criminal cockiness turning into despair. The ending has a nice, creepy ambiguity, even though everything's been neatly laid out for you, at least in theory.

"Quiet as a Nun" seems ready-made for Armchair Thriller, with all the cliffhanger touches, with a mysterious "Black Nun" wandering around foretellling death, nasty bumps on the head for Jemima Shore, a crypt, and hidden passages. There are also good false alarms, like bats and a nun scarecrow. Even as her Jemima Shore walks into obvious traps, Maria Aitken adds the right notes of mourning and memories to ground the role of the plucky reporter who wanders towers and passages in search of answers. This one aired on Mystery!, so you might remember it. There's a slight upgrade for foreign sales, but it's mostly in the form of improved opening and closing titles. There was also a Jemima Shore series, with a different actress, but I'm not sure whether Mystery! aired it in the States.

The videotape hasn't held up perfectly. You'll find lots of flecks, lines, and other glitches on this transfer. Sound quality is decent, although you won't necessarily be impressed by the monotonous late-seventies score.

While Acorn has included "Where are they now?" text bios with some of its other releases, there's nothing like that on Armchair Thriller: Set 2. 'Tis a pity, since the stars aren't household names.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

The stories and performances are all at least serviceable, but do you really want to see them at the snail's pace of six-part serials, accompanied by the cheapness of videotape, reliance on obvious-looking sets, and that cheesy late-'70s score? You might get a few unintentional laughs from the masked killer in "The Chelsea Murders," but this set mostly avoids camp.

Closing Statement

Despite the cheapness, Armchair Thriller: Set 2 provides some reasonably good entertainment, although nothing you can't pass by. If you enjoyed the first volume, you'll probably like this one as well. However, appearances by Ian McKellan and other strong guest stars in Armchair Thriller: Set 1 make that first volume a slightly better choice.

The Verdict

Not guilty, even if it might have you watching any poets in your acquaintance very carefully.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 85
Extras: 0
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile

Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 537 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Foreign
• Mystery
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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