More thrilling stories about armchairs? Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is thrilled.
Our review of Armchair Thriller: Set 1, published July 10th, 2009, is also available.
"Three murders in a fortnight. They'll have a field day!"
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:
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.
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.
Not guilty, even if it might have you watching any poets in your acquaintance
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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