The Supernatural On Film Part 1


Last night I saw ‘Hereditary’ in a cinema with broken-down air-conditioning, such was my desperation to catch it. I’m addicted to good supernatural films, ie. not the bump-and-jump scare tactics of anything that says ‘From the producers of ‘The Conjuring’. But there’s a paradox at the heart of every supernatural film. To truly work it needs a psychological underpinning, which buffets against the thrill-ride many expect from the genre. Although it’s not true to say that such films never win Oscars (both ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist’ did) they rarely offer good actors a chance to behave with realism.

This isn’t true of ‘Hereditary’, which gains much of its momentum from Toni Collette’s powerful, honest performance as a mother with some serious family issues. The film’s first-time director borrows liberally from supernatural cinema, notably from ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘The Devil Rides Out’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, and like ‘Get Out’ before it, succeeds right up until the last ten minutes undermines it.

The problem, as ever, is that supernatural events require the one thing that let them down – explanations. Ideally, the perfect supernatural film would be one without closure or explanation, but it would be unsatisfying. What works on the page (ie. Elizabeth Jane Howard’s ‘Three Miles Up’) can’t work on film. We don’t just want an ending, we want a fully fleshed-out resolution. But turning the lights on in a darkened room releases us from fear.

‘Hereditary’ works for the most part on an original idea; that a family can never escape its past. It’s shot like a European film – disturbing events often happen in silence or from a distance – and is filled (probably too much) with neat editorial tricks. But it’s frightening not because of what we see, but because of how we learn about terrible events. The information comes to us secondhand from people who are over-familiar with what happened, as it would in real life. So Toni Colette tells a story about something that occurred recently and makes it sound quite casual, whereas we viewers, coming new to something she has long since adjusted to, are appalled.

It’s an intriguing notion, that we eventually adjust to the most terrible circumstances, and one that has been proven throughout history. That’s all we need to believe in ghosts. Unfortunately the film then goes on to flesh out those psychological monsters with effects we’ve seen before – but for a while it feels like the most powerful supernatural tale in years.

Clearly, this isn’t the first film to explore the power of the supernatural by looking through the prism of human behaviour. But searching out such films takes us off the beaten track of hit movies, looking in nooks and crannies. I’ll be looking at some tomorrow.

54 comments on “The Supernatural On Film Part 1”

  1. SteveB says:

    Dont mention Turn of the Screw…

    I like films that feel like they could be supernatural but arent. Like the Go-Between.

    The not-normal becoming normal is JG Ballard territory – the opening sentence of High Rise.

    The Carnacki short stories are maybe a good mix of different approaches to the supernatural?

    And for some reason the decision to show the demon in Casting the Runes cones to mund. How would that film have looked without the demon?

  2. SteveB says:

    Comes to mind not cones to mund…

  3. Rachel Green says:

    My teenager loved ‘Hereditary’ I hated the cop-out ending and it caused arguments. I hated ‘The Witch’ too. “It was the devil all along and not human psychoses” is my least favourite genre. My teen refuses to watch the films I rate highly, like ‘The Exorcist’.

  4. Jan says:

    I thought “Hereditary” was such rubbish it was neither consistently suspenseful or frightening.

    Was one if those films where you sort of thought this should have worked, this bits good . There were good touches but it just didn’t come off in the end. Everybody in the Ladies said so. Five of us and the Cleaner agreed!!

    Best thing about it probably being the publicity campaign and adverts. Hope the same won’t be true of this “Mamma Mia 2” ……. but judging by the publicity onslaught it’s not looking that good. Think you sort of fell for the tricks of your old trade there Mr. F!! I certainly did.

    “Night of the Demon” (Think “Casting the Runes” may have been the American title.) sort of rewrote the rules. It goes against what you would normally think is right showing the scariest bit first. Surely that can’t work? But it did work in that you sort of bought in to what needed to be done to stop that same fate befalling the Dana Andrews character for the rest of the film. A building of suspense as D.A.’s character goes from total non believer to realising he might be in the shit and sinking deeper. The first scene precludes the audience from being non believers.
    Very clever touch for me that. I know there are different opinions on this. Even the director wanted it to be done differently I think. Wonder how it would have gone if the audience shared Dana’s doubts? Scarier, more mysterious or too complex?

    I love that picture. That scene in the woods with the light shining through the trees – sort of like Steven Spielberg but 35 years earlier. Was it Jacques Tournier the director or photographic/ lighting director?

    I’m no film buff I just like good scary stuff.

    I saw some film once “Twilight Zone” or something equally lowbrow and right at the start two guys were sat next to each other in a truck or car and all of a sudden one of them does something totally unexpected and frightening. The cinema roof nearly came off with the screaming. Was so clever but the rest of the film just couldn’t measure up. ” Night of the Demon” does make a rule breaker work – an achievement really.

  5. SteveB says:

    Hi Jan, Thanks for your thoughts. Casting the Runes was just me misremembering!!!
    Yes Jacques Tournier was director.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Surveying Ladies’ room opinion is definitely the way to get a good take on a film.

  7. Jan says:

    Tell you what though Helen it works a treat.

    I would love some cleaners to put their insider knowledge together and provide the public with the definitive wot the audience really thought of the film/show! Queuing for the loos is a definite honesty moment. Everyone’s just seen the same thing having spent their dosh + made their choice. There’s no one to impress, or conceal your real opinion from, you can admit you wasted your dosh because you have all made the same mistake or made a good choice.

    The cleaner @ Dorch said to me everyone came out of that “Hereditary” saying it set off well but lost its hold over the audience along the way. Spot on.

    The day of the Cleaner critic is approaching. Forget the paid specialist whose agenda may
    not be purely straightforward. Step forward the person with the bucket and rubber gloves!

  8. Brooke says:

    Overheard: cleaning staff describing Evita (Madonna/Banderas)–“She sing, she sing, she die.” Clear and to the point.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    But that summary would be true of Aida, Carmen, Madama Butterfly,and a few others, Brooke.

  10. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – ‘Night Of The Demon’ is my all-time favourite movie. Producer Hal E. Chester made the decision to show the Demon, and I have no problem with it. However, it is nowhere near as frightening than the rattling, coruscating ball of fire that chases the hero through the woods near Lufford Hall. This movie also has possibly the most disquieting seance scene of any movie, as different voices are dubbed onto the medium’s dialogue, so she says the words, but totally incongruous voices are heard, including Maurice Denham’s terrified: “It’s in the trees!”, which was later sampled by Kate Bush, as the intro for her song ‘Hounds Of Love’. The whole look of the film is disquieting, and I would have loved to have been at the first showing, just to see the audience reaction when the revived Brian Wilde screams directly into the camera, and throws himself out of a high window. It still makes me jump, even when I know it’s coming. Karswell’s death is better, too – in the original story, an item in a newspaper mentions that he was killed when a coping stone falls on him from an ancient temple. Here, he’s raked with red-hot Demon claws, and dropped from a height onto railway tracks, left as a smouldering pile of something once human, that most witnesses would swear was hit by a speeding express train. A great movie, often overlooked in the pantheon of British horror movies.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – One of the guys in the ‘Twilight Zone’ movie segment you mention was Dan Aykroyd. The scene was parodied in the early Tim Burton movie ‘Peewee’s Big Adventure’ (a guilty pleasure of mine), as Peewee Herman hitches a lift with trucker ‘Large Marge’. It always makes me laugh.

  12. Jan says:

    Yes Ian the whole film is sort of a bit off kilter – not in a bad way – its just piled up with really scary stuff. The scene with the medical students in the very old fashioned lecture/operating theatre and the guy who has had /going to have some version of a lobotomy that’s terrifying in a totally different way from the woods scene. It’s like the director and his buddies worked out half a dozen various ways to really unsettle the audience. Then having thought this will put the wind up them, then we’ll hit them with …this is how the scenes come at you. Always building up to the runes needing to be given back.

    It’s as if at the same time Dana Andrews character slowly realises the trouble he is in even though his situation defies logic we the audience experience the same sense of being unable to trust reality the twisting of everyday things a distortion of what makes sense.

    I nearly mentioned yesterday the scene when D.A. gets back to the hall after being chased in the woods and when he has the conversation with the Magician the Masonic lodge type chequered floor distorts its just happening not quite in the corner of your eye but just in the background.( Like a Flash floor cleaning advert of old on acid.) Dana experiences this as we see it and he seems to be trying to put it down to his exhaustion and his fear. Like the audience though he is starting to twig it’s more than that.

    Could carry on talking about this film forever. The kids party clown sequence with the weather changing everything. Disquieting is good description really Ian it does that and more…

    Incidentally a word on behalf of our sponsor The Fowler. Have you ever read “Rune” one of his early works with appearances by pre detective fiction Bryant + May, Janice and her then boyfriend Ian Hargreaves ( if I remember his name correctly )? It’s very good Fowls acknowledges his inspiration to the film. Once of the best paragraphs he has ever written in my opinion features in that book. Describing the history of the Runes.

    I never twigged that was Dan Ackroyd! It is a gr8 little sequence in itself. Will look out for PeeWee Hermans Big adventure.
    Dan Ackroyd practically cornered the 1980s movie market of large,trusting bloke being scared

  13. Jan says:

    H when you think about it that more than adequate precis of Evita covers about 80% of opera.
    That’s no fault of our new found super critics more a critique of the art form itself!

    My eldest nephew is having trouble adjusting to a life without football. He was really very upset when we went out to Croatia I didn’t realise how hacked off he was poor lad. A lifetime of watching us try and fail has left lots of us more stoic. The poor bugger actually thought we would try and succeed. You forget theres generations of people grown up with no direct memory of our big win in the olden days of the 1960s. Was a real revelation to them our teams exploits in Russia. It’s was a few weeks with hope.

    Will be a memory for a whole generation though this glorious summer and our semifinals place. Like a version of “Camelot” they will dream about after some early exit from the Euros in 2030 something.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – I love ‘Rune’ – it’s a book that I couldn’t put down until I had devoured every last word. Also, if I remember properly, it’s Dan Aykroyd who asks: “Do you want to see something really scary?” But yes, ‘Night Of The Demon’ is full of touches that are just a little off-kilter, even down to the jagged edged typeface used for the title, which jars a little (on purpose) when overlaid on Stonehenge, and soundtracked by Dana Andrews’ ominous voiceover. Things like the shot of the station clock moving to one minute past midnight, after Karswell dies, is basically a full stop. It’s over. Other things, that are never explained, but add another layer of ‘wrongness’ to things: the ‘telescoping’ hotel corridor, as seen from Dr. Dunning’s P.O.V., and the shimmering Karswell, as he leaves the British Museum. Most British of all, and proving Karswell to be an utter blackguard, is his refusal to his mother in her request if Dr Dunning would like a cup of tea: “He won’t be staying long enough.” It’s quite fun to write completely innocent words in Runic or Futhorc on strips of baking parchment and leave them in books you’ve borrowed… But remember, on no account accept anything from somebody who says to you: “May I give you this? I think it should be yours…”

  15. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – Peewee’s big adventure is a really odd movie – Tim Burton’s first ‘proper’ movie, in fact, but go with it. It’s what I’d describe as a ‘Marmite’ movie – I love it for it’s out there weirdness, and childish fun. Roger Ebert called it a ‘guilty pleasure’ and I’m with him all the way.

  16. Helen Martin says:

    Right, adding Rune to my list of “search on the Internet for” items. It’s summer so looking for Night of the Demon at the library would not be a bad idea. I must have been frightened sufficiently as a child because I don’t seem to need excessive adrenalin producing sights now.
    Since opera is built on the basic 4 voices and tragedy lends itself to dramatic song it’s not surprising that there are plot patterns. It’s mostly about the music anyway. I never thought much about the acting, sets, or costumes because I grew up hearing the Metropolitan Opera Broadcast on Saturday afternoon with a voice over summary of the action and informative speakers in the intervals, except for the second interval which was the opera quizz, often with Tony Randal as a participant. “Name three operas in which the soprano’s big aria is interrupted violently.” That sort of thing. It was accompanied by the smell of the Saturday roast and its accompanying apple pie. The broadcast was followed by “Hot Air” at 5pm, a program of jazz. (That is still being broadcast, by the way.) Then we had dinner. My mother wanted to make sure we didn’t grow up like “hicks”.

  17. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – it might help if you were to look for the movie by it’s (I know you live in Canada), American title: “Curse Of The Demon”. It’s very slightly different to the UK version, but there is a DVD with both versions available. I’d love to know what happened to the Demon model after filming – I have a feeling that, like a lot of the coolest film props in history (and despite being hated by a lot of people, not me, I might add, as it is a beautiful thing, frightening like it had crawled from a mediaeval Doom painting), it was acquired by Forrest J Ackerman, or Bob Burns. Whatever, if you manage to watch it, I hope you enjoy it.

  18. Helen Martin says:

    My library doesn’t have it, but Vancouver does and it appears to be the double version you mention. It has both titles on the cover insert. It’s at a branch I’ve never seen before, in the middle of a park between Midlothian and Peveril St. would you believe? I’ll see if Ken is up to going there after he’s finished track laying tomorrow.

  19. Jan says:


    You know if you look inside lots of well read library books there are little “runic” signs inside the rear endpapers. I had often noticed these when I examined library books. (Which I always do for some reason. All books I do this to – not that I have ever bought many. Just to examine the way that a book is put together.)

    I wondered what these little signs were about till me dear old dad explained this mystery to me. At least the was true @ our local libraries. Where all the oldies, pensioners and housebound who did lots of reading would often mark a book to remind themselves they had read it. People tend to enjoy reading the same type of books and voracious readers can find they are getting into a plot then thinking hang on I have read this before. So as a self reminder they would place their marker inside the back of the book.

    Back in the day we had a couple of librarians whose previous trades probably included playing opposition to St George (and firebreathing) so it was too risky to use your initials. Little signs were therefore adopted. Over time and library chats people learnt to recognise each other’s signs. Therefore a secondary use of symbols became to identify “a good read” if she enjoyed it I’ll probably like this story. Particularly useful system for folk choosing books for a housebound partner.

    Isn’t that great? I love stuff like that.

  20. Jan says:


    Hope you really enjoy the film. Which Steve B christened. “Casting the Runes” the other day I thought that was a great title but that may also have been the title of a short story – by H P Lovecraft maybe? Can’t quite remember. Maybe by the same bloke who wrote “Whistle + I’ll come to you” (and other dog tales/tails. No sorry only joking. Very scary story in truth.)

    You’ll start to watch it and think what are these numpties on about? It’s IS old – an antique this model Ian’s talking about will be.

    Stick with it though H it’s a great picture. Some of the cinematography is decades before it’s time.

    The baddy – whose name I can never remember – despite being told it previously on this blog. Was a great Irish actor who never put in a better performance. It will scare you it’s “feary” – an old Manchester word. Almost faery. Gets to you. Slowly reels you in

    Nicholas Cage will try and remake it one day and totally nause it up probably. One of my most
    bestest scariest films ever. I will disappear off to work soon – and grammar escapes me at the very thought if it. As you can tell.

    Have nice weekend.


    sorry to disillusion you but I reckon the scary monster was purchased at a knockoff price by Gerry Anderson and transformed into an aquaphibian. Tritons slaves in “Stingray”. Inspired the whole aquaphibian race so he did. Specially Tritons crown of little Godzilla type triangular crests. Of course Triton himself was enthralled by the prophetic fish God Troiful. “Trifle?” I used to think as a kid “that’s a funny name for a fish…”

    Although the fish men were a scaled down version (geddit?) the resemblance is there.

    Gotta go gotta stop putting moment off.

  21. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – you might be right, although generally, all Gerry Anderson’s puppets were created in house, the earlier ones being created by a man called John Blundell. The work of Gerry Anderson is a bit of an obsession of mine. ‘Fanderson’ is the only fan club I’ve ever cared to belong to.
    ‘Casting The Runes’, the basis for ‘Night Of The Demon’, is a short story by Montague Rhodes James, commonly shortened to M.R. James, who wrote some of the most beautiful, terrifying, and downright horrid ghost and horror stories you will ever read. Fact. He writes stories about things he knew, the Church, Academia, local history. Most of his ‘heroes’ are dull, stuffy, but good people, who find themselves way out of their comfort zones whilst on holiday, or visiting an old friend. Some of these characters’ stories are told from the point of found documents, as the character did not survive. I’ve read an awful lot of supernatural tales, but always return to M.R. James. He was a senior cleric at Cambridge University, and regarded by everyone who met him, as a nice and gentle man. When asked what made him write such horrid stories, he replied that they “Just came to me.” So if you like the idea of someone chasing something down a beach, and that something leaves skeletal footprints in the sand; a tree full of huge venomous spiders; something really nasty in a well; two children with their hearts cut out; binoculars that show the past; a hunter with his face removed; something invisible that screams into your ear; a garden maze with something nasty at the centre, or a hairy demon from the time of King Solomon, then he’s the writer for you. And if you like him, you’ll love ‘Nocturnes’ by John Connolly.

  22. Ian Luck says:

    Oh, Jan – Julian Karswell was played, brilliantly, by Niall McGuinness, who imbued him with tremendous charm, as well as a great darkness. The only other person to succeed in a characterization like that, was Charles Gray, as Mocata, in Hammer’s ‘The Devil Rides Out’ (1967).

  23. Ian Luck says:

    Oh, Jan – Julian Karswell was played, brilliantly, by Niall McGinness, who imbued him with tremendous charm, as well as a great darkness. The only other person to succeed in a characterization like that, was Charles Gray, as Mocata, in Hammer’s ‘The Devil Rides Out’ (1967).

  24. Jan says:

    Ian yes I do like MR James work he wrote a few stories set around the Welsh marches that I found really interesting. Just couldn’t get to his name this morning. Think he used to visit the widow of a friend he had known in the first war over there. A Vicars wife I think. Phil Rickman refers to James friendship with this lady and his visits to the Marches in one his Merrily Watkins novels. Might be she lived near Garway this widow – am not sure.

    Must admit I am really a fan of Gerry Andersons work. Was only pulling your leg this morning ‘re that weird old puppet/model.

    Who was Gerry Andersons special effects guy who went on to work on James Bond movies and big sci fi films? Am I right remembering him as Geoffrey Unsworth or have I mixed him up somewhere along the line. Probably have. Am tired.

    If my memory isn’t deceiving me this chap died of cancer at a relatively young age. He was a really good looking man. Very talented. Think there was an end tribute to him was it in one of the Superman films?
    Brilliant special effects technician. So much talent came out of that little studio on an industrial estate in Slough.

    One of the (many, many) interesting things about Anderson was his fraught relationship with his first wife. Sylvia. All the faces of the female puppets – the early female leads – were modelled on her face you know. Venus from Fireball XL5, Marina from Stingray (and Atlanta to a point.) Lady Penelope and Tin Tin from Thunderbirds. They all have Sylvias features. Of course when the relationship soured and the construction of the puppets changed this stopped. When you look at photographs of Sylvia even in old age you can see she inspired these puppets. Very beautiful woman.

    You won’t believe this but I very nearly went to one of the big auction houses in London to put in a bid for the Marina puppet back in late ’80s early 90s when it came up for sale! Think it went for about,£12,000 even then – Might in fact have been a lot more. I couldn’t have afforded it!! Saved from debt by being on night duty.

    Sylvia Anderson also voiced Lady Penelope. She did a guest voiceover in one of the recent animated New Zealand Thunderbirds episodes. She was far better than the present actress.

    Incidentally Lois Maxwell the first Miss Moneypenny voiced Atlanta in “Stingray”.

    Ray Barrett. A popular 60s tv actor did voice overs in “Stingray” whether he was Atlanta’s dad or Troy Tempest I cannot remember. He may have done both “Bones” Tempests sidekick had a great voice.

    Out of the two series I very much preferred “Stingray” There were far fewer characters and the stories were amazing. Pink Ice, Raptures of the Deep, Tom Thumb Tempest. Oh and I just liked the song at the end.

  25. snowy says:

    Derek Meddings and his crew, did the effects. And given the limitations in technology available, budget and time pressures, what they did was absolutely remarkable.

    There are documentaries about how the effects were created, quick poke about the internet will find them.

    [And at the risk of causing this message thread to collapse in on itself, in a sort of recursive self-referencing loop. A bit of bonus trivia, Derek Meddings has one and only one acting credit; in a film starring …… Dan Ackroyd.]

  26. Jan says:

    That was the name Derek Meddings !!

  27. Jan says:

    That’s well weird that he ends up being in a film with Dan Ackroyd. Strange. As you say Snowy it’s like we are being caught within a recurring twisting trivia loop…..

    It’s all the odd bits that are interesting in Anderson’s work – was the lemon squeezer part of Thunderbird 1? (probably not the luck I am having with recollection of facts at present)

    I have read somewhere that part of the reason Anderson’s early shows were so popular with kids was that the puppets themselves were child like. They had large heads and small bodies.

    Both shows featured quite complex launch sequences that even as a kid you were aware were being constantly repeated but there was something quite reassuring and powerful in that. A good portion if each show involved repeating set sequences. The palm trees dropping down when Thunderbird 2 launched. The Tracey island swimming pool peeling away at the launch of Thunderbird 1.

    Similarly Marineville disappearing underground when battlestations were sounded. The long tunnel like launch sequence of Stingray.

    Think that I have written this on this site before that if the UK was to have created a Disneyland type theme park it should have been centered around the work of the late Gerry Anderson. Wonderful part of many ’60s and ’70s childhoods. Really magical this beautiful bright world he created. Where people were good and helped each other.

    One further bit of trivia (resistance is futile) Q what’s was the first British tv programme made in colour? A Stingray made in colour to be sold in the US not to be watched in the home market.

    I thank you!

  28. snowy says:

    Here is a tip if you want to spot the lemon squeezer. It is on the back of the launch bay, above a pair of Reyrolle sockets.

    It’s visible as the rocket emerges from the arch marked in black and white checks.

    [If the rocket goes woosh, you have missed it.]

  29. Jan says:

    Cheers snowy

  30. Helen Martin says:

    Oh how I wish I shared these series! The repeating sequences are important as repetition builds security for a child. Think how many children’s stories and rhymes have repetitive phrases. “The Little Red Hen asked, “Who will help me plant the seeds?” “Not I,” etc. etc. They like routines, so repeated sequences are good. A lemon squeezer!

  31. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – the lemon squeezer also sits between two toy periscopes. Derek Meddings once said that he would go into the local branch of Woolworths, and look in the housewares section for items with interesting shapes. In both Stingray and Thunderbirds, you will see emergency sirens in buildings, which are nothing more than a plastic washing-up bowl with a washing machine strainer fixed to the bottom, and painted a neutral colour. Reg Hill, who used to design the sets, used toothpaste tube lids as switches, for example. Special effects man, Brian Johnson (formerly Johncock) would buy hundreds of Airfix model kits, of all kinds, to dress models. There is an entire branch of geekdom that can tell you from which kit a certain ‘Greebly’ (for that is what these bits are known as), came from. To my shame, over the years, I have recognized many such Greeblies. However, they can tell you, at a glance, how big a certain model is. The most used Greebly can be found on the front of Thunderbird 2’s pods – there are four square panels either side of the pod door. They come from the Airfix Girder Bridge, made for model railways. They appear everywhere in Stingray and Thunderbirds – possibly, because once divorced from their original function, they don’t look like anything else. You’ll also have noticed that nothing is pristine and shiny – everything is weathered somewhat, and that’s because Derek Meddings noticed that when lit and filmed, clean things look decidedly toy-like. Draw on panel lines, and give them a patina of wear, and they look huge, and real – like they’ve actually done some work. In the Thunderbirds episode ‘Desperate Intruder’, the yellow Thunderbird 4 is absolutely filthy, as it searches for the Hood’s mini-sub in Lake Anasta, and it looks superb, far bigger than the model it is.

  32. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – If you do a youtube search for ‘Thunderbirds launch sequences’, then you’ll find what we’re talking about. Similarly, there are videos of opening title sequences for Gerry Anderson shows. The editing is superb on all of them, and they really grab the viewer, Thunderbirds, especially. Try in this order: Fireball XL5; Stingray; Thunderbirds; Captain Scarlet; Joe 90; UFO; Space: 1999. Captain Scarlet is incredibly atmospheric and creepy – and remember, this was a children’s show. Joe 90 is ‘none more 1968’, if you excuse my English. The last two shows are live action, and not really for kids. There is another show between Joe 90 and UFO, and that is called The Secret Service. It’s an odd show, as it stars Stanley Unwin, who often spoke in gobbledegook, and this is why the show was cancelled – not because it isn’t any good – it definitely is, full of sly jokes and beautiful cinematography, but because Lord Grade, Gerry Anderson’s backer, said that most Americans wouldn’t understand Unwin. So, instead of the usual 32 episodes, there are just 13. It’s a pity, as it has some great ideas, and is weird in the same sort of way that Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner (another show I adore) was weird. And remember, no CGI was used in any of Gerry Anderson’s classic shows. I’ve told kids, and they refuse to believe me.

  33. Ian Luck says:

    I think that the current voice artiste for ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ is Rosamund Pike, who was so chillingly good in the movie ‘Gone Girl’.

  34. Ian Luck says:

    I meant to say ‘For Lady Penelope’ after ‘Voice artiste’. It’s the hot weather. I’m losing my faculties…

  35. Jan says:


    Didn’t Rosamund Pike actually star as Lady P in the film version of “Thunderbirds” as directed by Jonathan Frakes ( Picards sidekick from Star Trek TNG? ) a good few years ago. I am pretty sure she was Lady P she was obviously much younger in the film + plumper in the face .

    She was a bit of a disappointing casting to me. Joanna Lumley was born to play Lady P. She would have been excellent. I am having another memory fade out here + cannot recall name of actor who played Parker.( its working with Alzeimers patients I am getting to think it’s catching) The character of Penelope was older even as a kid I sort of knew that she was mid 40s to early 50s maybe.

    As an adult looking back at the series there was a definite suggestion that Parker was Lady P’s bit of rough. Obviously it was understated cos it was for kids but it was always there. A possibility lurking in the background.

    If u listen to Sylvia Anderson as Lady P she is much better – more of a posh drawl. Not clipped a different voice altogether.
    The guy who played Parker crops up in a few films but he was great as Parker. I just can’t recall his name.

    I always thought the story of how they found Parkers voice was great. Gerry Anderson heard a waiter taking orders in a Berni inn near the Slough studio or somewhere similar. He loved the voice and took the voice over guy destined to play Parker to the restaurant where this old boy served them they both listened to him and decided this WAS the right voice.

    After this post when you hear the character say “Yes m’lady” it will never be the same again!

    Sorry Helen I should have sugfested to look on you tube. Well worth a look.

  36. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – The 2004 Lady Penelope was played by Sophia Myles, and Parker by Ron Cook. Sophia Myles was also Madame De Pompadour, in the Doctor Who story ‘ The Girl In The Fireplace’, Ron Cook appeared as the ‘Wire’ controlled electrical shop owner, in the Doctor Who story ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’.

  37. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – in the original Thunderbirds, Parker only has eyes for Lil, the cook. In one episode, he has a day off, and appears dressed in fashionable summer gear, complete with straw boater. He says to Lady Penelope: “I thought I’d take cook out for a punt…” If you were a child, it suggests a pleasant afternoon on the river. To an adult viewer, it sounds suspiciously like a euphemism. I think we’ll leave it there.

  38. Jan says:

    Sophie Myles it was I checked AFTER I e mailed!

    Still Joanna Lumley was still robbed.

    Parker and Lady P seem to have enjoyed a very open relationship. The old safe cracker / chauffeur obviously got about.

  39. Wayne Mook says:

    curse of the Demon, the US version is 13 minutes shorter and some of the shots differ. I would watch the UK version, night of the Demon, it’s the better version.

    As a side note I saw MR James stories on Jackanory, Lost Hearts with the drawings of the children has always stuck with me.

    I even enjoyed the newer Gerry Anderson Like Terrahawks with Winsor Davies as as Sergeant Major Zero a robot ball.


  40. Helen Martin says:

    Absolutely fascinating and I will definitely follow the utube suggestions. I don’t know the Lady P character but I can certainly imagine Joanne Lumley playing that sort of character. I remember the Girl in the Fireplace story well, very good it was.

  41. Jan says:

    Promise one final Gerry Anderson post. (For the moment) (fingers Xed) Fowler with head in hands thinking I wanted to discuss a film – a current film – and this lot have wandered well off piste. Why do I bother?

    I am so bloody old I can faintly remember two earlier Gerry Anderson series
    Four feather Falls which was non sci fi – a Western with a puppet horse would you believe.

    And “Supercar” definitely sci fi. With the leading puppet dark haired long face and pointy chin. (Like a puppet Jimmy Hill but without a beard) think he was called Mike.

    Elements of Thunderbirds were there in that show. There was a brainy bloke puppet Mike’s adviser/ boss (sort of ) called Professor Beaker. Who HONESTLY looked just like a secondary school teacher I met later on in childhood. Mr Unsworth our history teacher. It was uncanny. I was astounded. I can remember thinking in history lessons the last time I saw this bloke he was puppet. Not just me who spotted this. Whole class full of 11 year olds entranced. Looking for his strings.

    There was another show called “Torchy the Battery boy” but I only remember the title cos it sounded so good. No recollections of the actual show.

    Now i hesitate to tell you this next story cos you will become even more doubtful regarding my grasp on reality. Its true though or at least it’s how I’ve chosen to remember events. In the 1970s Gerry Anderson was let loose on proper actors. Real people. He described the commissioning of this particular show which was SPACE1999 and said he practically danced out of the office when Lew Grade gave the show the go ahead.

    He got serious actors including JOHN LANDAU – an established sci fi actor – to play the commander of the space station which was in fact the moon which broke away from earth’s orbit and slid out of the galaxy off on its travels. With a space station crew onboard.

    Landis cropped up in the X Files many years later and he did lots of sci fi. Think he won an Oscar. Also think his real life Mrs at the time played his 2nd in command + wife in the show. Tall woman blonde chin length Bob side parting. I don’t have a clue as to her name. But the pair of them spoke so slowly. God it slowed the action down when they went into this slo mo speech. Bit boring.

    Anderson should have employed a few more voice over artists and let those 2 just move their lips.

    Anyway cut to the chase. In one SPACE1999 episode up pops a very young Ian Mcshane later to become a very famous actor. However at this early stage in his acting career he was just another handsome face. He sounded a good bit different back then though he’s a northerner Mcshane. His dad who I think was Harry M played football for Mcr City or United. You could hear the Manchester in his voice. Until suddenly in this particular episode he was with another guy who had this really amazing deep throated posh but pleasant voice. Now here it comes..

    Towards the end of the episode the story of which I know nowt. Ian Mcshane starts to talk JUST LIKE THE THE OTHER FELLA. It was uncanny made even weirder in that his acting buddy had no more dialogue whatsoever. I was left with the distinct impression Mcshane had pinched this other actors voice. Honestly it was bloody strange so it was. Forever more this guy’s dulcet tones would come out Mcshanes mouth.

    I know it’s crackers but that’s how I remember it. Mcshane was obviously just developing as an actor and took inspiration from his fellow thespian. But it was SO WEIRD.

    I actually met Ian Mcshane many, many years later a mate of mine knew him and introduced us. Mcshane had wandered down to a corner shop in Kensington to buy a pint of milk and a Sunday paper wearing just his dressing gown! Very attractive man but short. Obviously not that worried about what folk thought of him. Was very comical. We were just going to have a cuppa with him when events intervened.

    Right that’s me done. Except for one last thing.

    When my nephews were little I used to take them on holiday to N Wales for a fortnight each summer. Back then “Thunderbirds” used to be shown mid morning on bbc2 in the long summer break.

    At first the nephews were very sceptical, scornful even. “It’s SUPERMARIONATION” I used to tell them “Its just puppets Jan” Was the reply. We got there though. As the tv episodes went on the crocodiles made into giants on the Amazon, the Mole, crab logger, FAB1. I used to watch two little figures leave their toys and get closer to the telly. When their dad came to pick them up at the end of the hols he said “Do you like Thunderbirds then it’s just old fashioned puppets” “It’s supermarionation dad” came Tom’s reply. That’s my boy.

  42. snowy says:

    If you want to relive the experience, pop over to; you know where and put in ‘Force of Life’ and lose yourself for 52 minutes. [He gets ~~~ possessed ~~~ by an alien being, which might explain the vocal shift.]

    [The episode was directed by David Tomblin a name some people will recognise from The Prisoner.]

    I don’t think we will get too badly told off for talking about the work of a film-maker.

    The films/tv shows are as important as social documents as they are piece of entertainment for children.

    Stingray and Thunderbirds could have functioned as stories entirely for boys, but had prominent female characters when these were otherwise thin on the ground.

    They didn’t insert any black characters, [until Lt Green in Captain Scarlet] for fear that it would damage American sales.

    Though something went terribly awry when they scripted the Thunderbirds film, it is very strange, it’s as if somebody in Marketing had insisted that it must appeal to older children, particularly older sisters of the target audience. Since there is really no other explanation for Cliff Richard and The Shadows popping up to do a musical number, [in puppet form].

  43. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – The episode with Ian McShane is from Series 1, and called ‘Force Of Life’. McShane plays a Moonbase Alpha technician called Anton Zoref, who comes into contact with an alien life form that craves heat, drawing it out of anyone he touches, and unwillingly kills several crewmembers. The need for more heat, more energy, finally drives him to access the Moonbase’s atomic reactor. Having worked out that his energy needs are growing at an exponential rate, he cannot be allowed to access the reactor core. Zoref attacks the guards, but is shot by several laser blasts which reduce Zoref’s body to a charred ruin (my brother and I would be watching this at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. No warnings, no edits. Excellent. I was 12, and my brother was 5), and the burn effects are as good and horrid as you might expect. Zoref forces his way into the reactor core. There’s an explosion, and a ball of light is seen emerging from the Moonbase, and shooting into space.

  44. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – I’d also look for the Space: 1999 episode ‘Dragon’s Domain’. Again, watched on a Saturday morning, but this time with our kid gripping my arm in a vice like grip. If you have never seen this episode… It’s possibly one of the most utterly terrifying episodes of any show, ever. I’m not elaborating, you need to watch it, as TV execs obviously didn’t, before putting it in a kid’s TV slot. It’s creepy, and sad, as Commander Koenig thinks that his old friend, Tony Cellini, is suffering a mental breakdown, following a failed mission several years before, that left Cellini a wreck, and his career in tatters, as he would insist that his outlandish story is the truth… Give it a watch, and wonder how many children who watched it, slept properly afterwards.

  45. Jan says:

    I will try and find both these episodes. Thanks Ian.

    Now you have explained the story to me which I’ll be honest I had no recollection of at all as you say the voice change makes a lot of sense.

    These alien entities have a habit of knocking out elocution lessons to people they possess this seems to be a common theme in quite a few sci fi shows! Noticed it before. Like mediums taking on a strange seance voices. That seems to be the inspiration behind this idea.

    Snowy’s point about the two early big hit shows having elements that made them popular with girls is very interesting. This helped with marketing the programmes but seems to have been brought about largely through Sylvias input. She was a strong determined woman his Mrs. She seemed to play a big part in the creation of the early shows. Maybe not in the technology but in the characters.

    I read once that there had been profiles written of all the “Stingray” characters + they all had a backstory. Like Commander Shore being in the hover wheelchair. Do you remember the pretend Peter Lorre fishman agent X 2 zero? My grandad told me he was modelled on(!) Peter Lorre. My grandad had quite poor eyesight and probably thought it WAS Lorre for a fair few episodes. Big eyes e had like Lorre.

    Do you recall in the 1960s Disney films alternated in their pictures in what stories and characterswould be of interest to boys + girls? Classic marketing. This basic idea here is still in evidence but things are different now in that lots of kids films interest both sexes. Monsters Inc, Toy Story are for everyone. Pocahontas with that lovely “Colours of the Wind” song is primarily for girlies I think and although I am struggling to recall one this morning I know there’s been lads films.

    I love the new bright clean looking computer animation. Watched Minions last Saturday marvellous!

    Talking of Captain Scarlet that was a bloody Creepy old show. As you say Ian very dark themes for kids. The actor whose face I can see maybe Paul something? But whose name I don’t remember turned up in Morecombe + Wise shows later in his career.
    He did such a rip off of Cary Grants voice even I as a youngster sort of grasped it.

    ( At least it’s obvious I can’t be bothered Googling this stuff instead relying on my largely unreliable memory.. that’s obvious at least.)

    Anyroad moving on… he was such a flawed hero Capt Scarlet you always had a few doubts about him. Didn’t he actually fake still being under Mysteron influence in at least one episode? Capt Green was a good guy, Capt Blue and Colonel White. But here’s where I lost a bit of sympathy with this set up. Where were the lady captains? Those bloody aggravating Angels were just Barbie dolls with big tits flying planes. It wasn’t right I was miffed. Destiny Angel my arse.

    On this same theme have you noticed that the Asian female in the new NZ Thunderbird show is a far more proactive dynamic figure than the passive puppet character she is no doubt based on. The early version was subservient to her dad, the Tracy’s and her crazy mad uncle in the Anderson show. Lady P was liberated through age and social status not this girl whose name I cannot fully recall but it began with a “K”. Another swiz.

    You are right Snowy they were social documents of their times. Bit deep for me really – but I can see the truth in that.

    Those programmes MADE US in a way though. They don’t effect some basic things Like Ian scarily knowing all about the greeblys in quite worrying depth. Or to my knowing the fluffy-faffy stuff about the voiceover artistes and having retrospective opinions about Lady Penelopes taste in men. ( They were you know her and Parker – at it for years I reckon.)
    But those shows contributed to impressionable children’s view of life. And what they wanted from it. Made impressions on us three didn’t they?

    Do you remember the Comic Century 21? Seemed an age away then the 21st century.

    What was that weird much later show Anderson made about those sort of strange round creatures living on the moon or some equally barren place. Was it Zelda ? They all had like Tina Turner haircuts circa 1985 and bounced around a lot. Very odd. No memory of “Secret Service” Ian was that puppets? Sorry supermarionated!

  46. Jan says:

    Tin Tin Kyrano- her surname began with a K ! Hands up just googled that.

    I reckon The Fowler’s expression when he looks these comments is very like the expression on Toni Collettes face at ten top of this thread.

  47. Jan says:

    Above post should read actor voicing captain Scarlet.

  48. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – Captain Scarlet was voiced by Francis Matthews, who was encouraged to use his Cary Grant voice for the character, after he used it for fun during an audition. As Captain Scarlet was often paired with Captain Blue, who was voiced by American actor Ed Bishop, the very English accent worked very well against it. All the Angel pilots had the rank of Captain – they were picked for their flying abilities, and some were military, some civilian. Every character from ‘Supercar’ onwards has had detailed backstories. These were given out to TV companies with promotional guides. They got more and more detailed, to the point of the stars of UFO and Space: 1999 writing their own characters’ backstories. The show you’re thinking of is ‘Terrahawks’ from 1983. An odd show, but one I have great affection for. It became a Sunday afternoon ritual – a load of us, punks, goths, skins, etc.,would crowd into a mate’s house, and watch it, every week, without fail. ‘The Secret Service’ was a mix of live action and puppets, so skilfully done that where one ended, and the other began, was sometimes difficult. If you can find it anywhere, it’s worth a watch.

  49. Jan says:

    Them Angels might have been awarded the rank of Captain but they were still flying Barbies/ bimbos to me. That might be my own prejudices talking.

    My “Stingray” book (yes I confess ) informs me that after Stingray they never worked out such detailed backstories for characters again, they just never bothered. That fault might be with the Stingray biographer. Mind you the character backstories appear IN THE BOOK. Which was pretty impressive.

    I always wanted to be Marina. I was very taken with Troy Tempest as a 7 year old. I don’t think I quite got it that he was a puppet. I just thought he was a very wooden actor. Sorry I couldn’t resist that. Been bubbling away for days that one has. Mind he was a two timing swine.

    I was thinking about that Ed Bishop a couple of nights back. Meant to ask u about him. Didn’t he star in a live action show for Anderson sometime after Space 1999? In this particular show he was the head if some organization, drove a well flash car and had a very improbable white blonde hairstyle with a fierce old fringe.

    After an appropriate recovery time from this hairdo(about 2 decades later) he appeared in a fair bit of British tv.
    Thinking on it that would have been UFO he starred in. Was a good series.

    Ian we really ought to wind this up now. It’s mainly my fault this discussion I know. It’s like a class “A” drug is Fanderson. Totally addictive. Day before yesterday I said, well implied, I would make no further contributions…..couldn’t resist it beyond help


  50. snowy says:

    As you say Jan it is a bit complicated, children tend to function in absolutes and stories aimed at them tend to accentuate this.

    Running about saving people is how we would like the world to be.

    Things collapsing/crashing/sinking are what we fear from the world as it really is.

    There are other parts of Thunderbirds that should raise concerns or at least eyebrows, [even if none of the cast are capable].

    Why does a humanitarian organisation dedicated to the saving of lives, have a private assassin on their books? While the boys are playing with their toys, Lady P is running about breaking and entering, stealing things, machine-gunning people in her Rolls and running them off the road into handily placed ravines?

    [ I see a way to crowbar this back to the supernatural, here goes! ]

    Captain Scarlet isn’t human, his human form was destroyed, it it’s place is a golem created to take revenge on the people of Earth. This is set up as the premise in the first episode and then completely ignored for most of the rest of the series.

    The Angels, whatever one might think of their vital statistics are still cutting about in fighter jets, armed to the teeth. These are not flimsy little cherubs, but Angels in whose wake comes death and destruction. [There is probably a proper name for Avenging Angels, but it escapes me.]

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