Appellate Judge James A. Stewart says the worst thing a ghost can be is dull.
"Six Mysterious Tales of the Paranormal"
Shades, of course, are ghosts. Thus, the word conjures up images of shadowy figures appearing in the dark of night, creepy old mansions and broken-down farmhouses, and strange noises. You'll get all of that in Shades of Darkness, a series of adaptations of classic ghost stories by Granada Television from the 1980s. Still, those things don't always mean chills and thrills.
Facts of the Case
This set contains six episodes of Shades of Darkness on two discs:
Hartley (Joanna David, Bleak House), a lady's maid, is thrilled to finally find employment after recovering from typhoid. If Mrs. Brympton's frailness and Mr. Brympton's surliness weren't enough to dampen her joy, the sight of her predecessor's ghost soon will be.
• "Afterward"—based on a story by Edith
That's what Ned (Michael J. Shannon, Night Watch) says when he first sees his new home, a British mansion seven miles from the nearest railway station. He and his wife Mary (Kate Harper, Night Watch) have come from America to retire in old-world style. Ned also may be seeking escape from an angry investor over a bad stock deal, but the deal may haunt him in his new home.
• "The Maze"—based on a story by C.H.B.
Catherine (Francesca Annis, Partners in Crime) doesn't like daughter Daisy's sudden fascination with the hedge maze, especially since it was the site of a gardener's fatal fall. Will the memories brought up by Daisy's claim that she saw a mysterious man in the maze destroy Catherine's marriage to Arthur (James Bolam, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads).
This time, the story centers around a farmhouse and an old hut. Claiming her husband has been put under a spell by a dead woman, Mrs. Rutledge (Eileen Atkins, Gosford Park) asks the minister and two other men to help her break the magic with a stake.
• "The Intercessor"—based on a story by May
Naturally, if a writer seeks a quiet room at a farmhouse so he can finish his book, there's got to be a ghost. Garvin (John Duttine, Touching Evil II) finds himself haunted by the spirit of a girl who drowned in a water tank. The local doctor, however, has a prescription.
• "The Demon Lover"—based on a story by Elizabeth
During World War I, a flyer vows to his love that "I shall be with you—sooner or later. You won't forget that. You need do nothing but wait." After he is reported missing in France, Kathleen (Dorothy Tutin, Scarlett) marries another, but on the 25th anniversary of his vow, it looks like the flyer will return. Hugh Grant appears in an early minor role.
A cynical viewer might dub this show Shades of Dullness. The 52-minute stories are about twice the length needed, so you're always a few steps ahead of the characters and the story. What you get is moody atmosphere and foreboding that doesn't lead much of anywhere. The camera tends to linger on those creepy, ivy-covered mansions and farmhouses, and the signs of menace within; these scenes, meant to make you edgy, instead have a sedative effect.
Every once in a while, you get an odd shot that does the job well, like scenes in "The Lady's Maid's Bell" that use the light coming in through the windows to contrast the dark, dank atmosphere of the old mansion, but there's too much pretentiousness in the camera work. You also get voiceovers from the main characters—preserving a fragment of the original writing from the short stories that form the series.
Viewers will dread the transfer. The show's full of shadowy shots that become murky here, so much so that in one scene, the form of a woman in a brown coat disappears against a door. Lighter shots at times have a washed-out quality. The result is that it's hard to read details in the picture. You'll also find the requisite grain and spots here and there. The sound loses a line or two at times, but is mostly okay; I checked online, but couldn't find out whether this one is in mono or stereo.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're interested in any of these short stories, you might like the faithfulness and attention to period detail. What's wrong with a few long, static shots of doors? A couple of these stories—"Afterward," "The Intercessor," and "The Demon Lover" seemed to be the best of the lot—have good performances or chilling moments, but they're buried in lots of atmospheric filler.
Perhaps these short-story retellings would have worked better in a half-hour format. Everyone's trying their best here, but the stories are just too stretched out to provide much suspense.
When I took on this review, I had a vague memory of having seen an episode or two of Shades of Darkness at some time years ago, but couldn't remember anything about the show. After a refresher, I can't see that much to remember.
Forgettable ghost stories? Forget it.
Shades of Darkness tries hard to bring classic ghost stories to television, but often is guilty of deadly dullness.
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