By Roy Mathur, on 2023-12-01, at 23:38:59--00:27:45 GMT, for Captain Roy's Rusty Rocket Radio Show
Welcome back to Castle Royenstein, fellow weirdos. Earlier today, I collected and tested my Christmas present, then gave it to Mum to wrap. Now I have to forget what I bought myself on their behalf. In the old days that would have meant numerous G and Ts. I also turned my Twitter into a hellscape, watched some of Mayfair Witches on iPlayer, and unstuffed my snooter with a Vocalzone. Weirdo.
Tonight, we are stepping into my vimana, currently parked at the corner of my studio, firing up the revisitation engine and warping back to 1980 to continue my revisit of Hammer House of Horror: Growing Pains, the fourth episode of the iconic British Horror anthology TV series from 1980.
If you want to follow along, the DVD is widely available and it can also be streamed free on ITVX in the UK.
Notable Cast: Barbara Kellerman as Laurie, also The White Witch (Jadis) in the BBC's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1988) TV miniseries and Desmond Ambrose of Channel 4's Desmonds as Mr Ngenko.
Director: Francis Megahy
Writer: Nicholas Palmer
Producer: Roy Skeggs; ex-Hammer Films, formed spin-off Cinema Arts, returned to Hammer Films, moved production to Buckinghamshire, and created Hammer House of Horror.
Locations: Various in and around Buckinghamshire in 1980. This episode used Norcott Court, Dudswell, Berkhamsted, in neighbouring Hertfordshire.
Production: Hammer Films, Cinema Arts, and ITC Entertainment Distribution: ITV Music: The memorable theme music was composed by ex-Jazz pianist Roger Webb. Broadcast: Episode 4 of 13, first broadcast 4 October 1980, 54 minute running time (about 1 hour long if you include ads), follows Rude Awakening covered in pod 509.
Media: DVD Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Collection (2002), Blu-ray Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series (2017), ITVX in the UK (2023).
The number one song in the UK was still the Police's Don't Stand So Close to Me. (OfficialCharts.com).Footballs facts! Actor Nick Mohammed (Ted Lasso) was born in Leeds and it is also Czech footballer (inc. Arsenal) Tomas Rosicky's birthday. (onthisday.com).
The mother character in tonight's revisit mentions she is involved in "Asian refugee" work. I'm not sure if this is just a throwaway line in the script to highlight her charitable work as a wealthy woman, or it is specifically referring to the Vietnamese so-called boat people, of whom 250,000 died escaping Vietnam, following the Vietcong victory in the 1975. Subsequently, 22,500 were admitted to the UK between 1978 and 1982 (freemovement.org), despite Margaret Thatcher's extreme reluctance and racist fear-mongering (The Guardian).
A boy wonders into a laboratory, nonchalantly consumes white powder from a flask, wretches, staggers about, flings his arms in the air and dies. Shortly thereafter, his body is found by his mother and father.
The mother, in return for a hefty contribution to a children's home, adopts an odd boy named James. Although an older child, he still clings to a dirty toy rabbit, and seems strangely blank and unemotional.
On the way home with James, the car almost crashes, when the steering wheel fails, as it passes the cemetery where William, their previous son, was buried. Other strange events occur, including maggots on their plates during dinner and the toy rabbit appearing bloodied.
The father, working on a plant-based protein substitute, and shows his miracle food to a pair of third world dignitaries.
Meanwhile, James takes the family Rottweiler, Nipper, for a walk. It goes berserk on reaching the grave of William, runs back to the lab, kills most of the rabbits, and disturbs the meeting. After they leave, the father poisons the dog.
James finds a notebook in which William writes sad poetry describing the neglect he suffers from his ambitious, busy parents. The mother is upset when she sees it.
Dead Nipper's ghostly howls are heard and William appears in the laboratory. He repeats his accusation of neglect and snaps the neck of the last surviving test specimen rabbit. He runs to the cemetery, pursued by his father, who is killed when he falls into an open grave. The mother finds James unconscious on William's grave. The gravestone has changed and now reads, "Terence Morton and his beloved son William". The food plant, shaped like a wreath, grows on the grave. Before the pair walk away, the mother says it is, "For all the unloved of this Earth".
It's hard to feel sorry for the stupendously oafish boy wondering about Dad's lab and helping himself to suspicious white power in a flask. The boy playing the shortly-to-be-dead-kid is a terrible actor, as he wretches, staggers, and waves his arms about, though he later redeems himself as a ghost. Child actors---bah! This reminds me of something I wanted to say for a while regarding my many rewatches of the Harry Potter series. I have come to the conclusion that child actors, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, are good, but not great. Given Rupert Grint's ascendance on the screen in recent times, I'd say he outshines them in Harry Potter, even though he's a bit of a third wheel.
Back on topic. Barbara Kellerman, a Mancunian, does beautiful, posh, cold, RP lady very well. It's no wonder she was later cast as evil Jadis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1988).
The mother and father are text book rich, neglectful parents. They are absolutely an object of dislike in the script. They are self-absorbed and incredibly cold and uncaring, not just to James and William, but also to their dog, who the father murders without compunction. They are terrible people and I would not have let the mother off so easily at the end if I was writing the script.
When the mother asks her husband to keep an eye on their second son, you just know he's going to be useless at doing this, after doing such a bang-up job keeping his first son out of an unlocked laboratory full of lethal chemicals. Come to think of it, he also leaves the lab unlocked, allowing the dog to raid it.
The chase and corralling of the berserk dog, included most of the cast running about in a hilariously Benny Hill-like way.
A little on-the-nose, but of course Nipper was a Rottweiler. A poodle would have hardly made a fitting undead hellhound.
I didn't like the way that the actor playing the father roughly handled the rabbits in the lab scenes. They did not seem at all happy being yanked up by the scruff of their necks.
The foreign dignitaries are walking talking stereotypes of a bush-savvy African and a superstitious Indian, but at least they are not entirely swayed by why the West should eat real food, while the third world should make do with chemicals. Mr Ngenko says:
Let the West eat cake. Her granaries are full. You have butter mountains, beef mountains, wine lakes. And in the meantime, let the starving Third World eat DL 83, which could presumably be grown on the Moon.Well said, Mr Ngenko!
This story did not go the way I thought it would. When the weirdly calm second son arrives, I was expecting him to be the spirit of vengeance, like the bird in Brothers Grimm's The Juniper Tree. I was expecting a science-fiction chemical reanimation of William from the grave as James, hence his cold dead demeanor because he was, in fact, dead. I was disappointed that did not happen, as that is how I would have written it. The bones are all there, but no one strung them together. Instead, we get a cop-out ending spiced up with a bit of purple.
Talking of fairytales, the father warning James for stay out of the lab was a little Charles Perrault's Bluebeard.
Had poor William survived, he would have been around about my age today. This is interesting because James, who I assume is supposed to be around the same age, has a room redecorated to look a lot like my childhood room, albeit on a council estate, not a country house. He has biplane wallpaper, mine was Action Man. He has a Hornby train set box, I had, and still have, a whole Hornby train set. There's a copy of Victor comic in a drawer and I too used to read Victor.
The funniest scene in story is the clumsy death scene of the father falling into an open grave. It is comedic because the sound of his fading cry suggests a very deep hole, but you immediately see the body in a shallow grave. The supposed tragedy made me laugh uproariously.
Verdict? This is the poorest of the series so far and not one I will be re-revisiting. Lacklustre, with hateable characters, and a limp ending. It sticks out as starkly less engaging than episodes 1--3. 2 undead hellhounds out of 5 only (I include this stupid and one-time only episode rating in irony). Good points? I liked the car and Mr Ngenko's speech, and the boy's bedroom made me feel nostalgic. Also, Barbara Kellerman is hot stuff, but that was negated by the appalling person she played.
The gorgeous black with gold trim Ford Capri, almost driven off the road by the mother, is a 3 litre S MK2, untaxed since 1984, according the UK registration database, so I don't know what happened to it. I always wanted a Capri and having one like that, with some horror provenance, would be cool. This trivial fact is included here because we are currently frantically car shopping.
If you enjoyed Hammer House of Horror, you might also like my ongoing classic Doctor Who revisit and my all-media SFFH show. Next up on the latter is New Who's Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder, simply because Doctor Who is currently foremost in nerddom. I talk other SFFH too, so please subscribe. Recent reviews include Totally Killer in 512.
My butler, Herr Fygor Gestalt will be literally beside himself with joy if you were to join us. (Fygor; formerly of the University of Ingolstadt, though I shouldn't be talking about that, what with pesky extradition treaties, Europol, etc. There, there, poor Fygor, sorry to have brought it up, my friend).
RIP Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, who died on the 30th, and who, towards the end of his life, appeared to be ageing in reverse.
Their fantastic cover of Dirty Old Town was written about Salford, but could absolutely be the hellhole I grew up in. Together with Fairytale of New York, those, and other Pogue songs, have been responsible for untold damage to my little great cells and an uncharacteristic amount of unruliness on my part.