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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Armchair Thriller: Set 2
Armchair Thriller: Set 2
Acorn Media // Unrated // March 16, 2010
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 9, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Series:
I really enjoyed the first set of Armchair Thriller episodes that Acorn released last summer and was excited to see the second set arrive on my doorstep.  Like the first collection, this set presents three stories from this serialized anthology program.  Each story if 4 or 6 episodes long, each running a little less than half an hour.  Presenting intriguing mysteries and captivating tales of suspense, the set is quite a fun to watch.  The main complaint is that Acorn does not present the shows in order, but rather the set skips around taking stories from both seasons of the show.
The tales presented are:
The Chelsea Murders (six episodes; planned for the second season but never broadcast):  The set starts out with an anomaly.  This six part story was written and filmed for the series, but never broadcast.  I'm not sure why they replaced this with two shows made by another production company (Dead Man's Kit and High Tide neither one included in this set and it's unlikely they'll be in future volumes since another company owns the rights) but they did.  These six episodes were later stitched together and broadcast in the UK as a feature movie.
The story, based on the novel of the same name by Lionel Davidson, involves a serial killer stalking the town of Chelsea.  He's killed three without leaving a clue, and the police are trying to solve the crimes before the press realizes that the murders are related.  Their first big break comes when a fourth victim survives the attack.  She even got a good look at the killer.  The only problem is that he was wearing a clown mask and coat, and looks just like a character in a student film.  As the police start following their leads, clues from the film, they start noticing that the killings are somehow related to literary figures that once lived in the town.
While watching this story I couldn't help but imagine that the book would be better.  The script was fine and executed well, but it didn't build the tension as well as it could have.  I was never totally engrossed in the mystery the way a great novel can pull you in, although this story had all the right elements. 
The acting was fine for the most part, though some of the actors (the film students for example) played their roles up a bit too much and that almost made they seem campy.  This is one of those shows that works for the most part, but with just a little bit of tweaking could have been much better.
This set also includes the feature-length version of the story, and that works a bit better.  No longer hampered by having to come up with a cliff hanger to end every half-hour show, the story evolves a bit better, but still missed the mark slightly.
The Circle Complex (six episodes; season two, story six):  This is the last story broadcast as half-hour episodes.  (The feature version of The Chelsea Murders would air nearly a year after this serial started.)
Tom Forman (Trevor Martin) pulls off a daring crime and steals a half a million British Pounds worth of jewels.  A policeman is killed during the robbery however, and Tom is caught and sent to jail for a long time, but the gems are never recovered.
In jail Tom has therapy sessions with a psychiatrist, Ollie Morton, who just happens to be having an affair with Tom's wife, Val.  Ollie and Val come up with a plan to break Tom out of jail so that he can lead them to the fortune in jewels that he's hidden away.  Tom's not stupid however, and things don't go quite according to plan.
I really enjoyed this story.  The love triangle was nicely done and the ending (which I won't reveal) worked particularly well.  While the story does drag just a bit in places and the synthesizer background music is very dated, the plot is well constructed and develops nicely to a good payoff.
Quite as a Nun (six episodes; season one, story four):  The only first season story in this collection is the highlight of this set.
When investigative reporter Jemima Shore (Maria Aitken) finds out that an old friend has died, she decides to look into it.  She returns to her old school, The Convent of the Blessed Eleanor, where her friend, a nun named Sister Miriam, lived.  Digging into the death, Jemima discovers that Miriam was actually a wealthy heiress, and owned a significant amount of land in London, as well as the grounds of the Convent itself.  There are whispers that Miriam was going to change her will and leave her fortune to a group of radical leftists, which may have been enough reason for her to be murdered.  When another nun turns up dead, Jemima is sure she's on to something.
This was a great story.  The show is filled with atmosphere and the medieval convent itself comes across as a very creepy.  The interiors are dimly lit and filled with shadows that really add a lot to the feeling of the show.  The tales the children tell of the Black Nun, a faceless woman who appears before each death, adds some chills, especially when Jemima climbs to the top of a tower one night and sees the faceless apparition.
While I did enjoy the show immensely, I will admit that some aspects were overdone.  The nuns were too secretive and there were so many conspiracy plots flying around that everyone seemed to be guilty.  The plot is also a bit slower than current shows, but I didn't mind that at all.  Though there were a couple of problems, this was an excellent show.
The DVD:

Each of these three stories comes on its own DVD with the movie version of The Chelsea Murders getting its own disc too.  The four discs are housed in separate thinpak cases, and the set comes in a nice slipcase.
The original mono audio track is provided on these shows, and it does the job.  The accents get a bit heavy at times and can be hard to understand, but usually only for minor characters.  The audio isn't as crisp and lacks the range of a recent show (most evident in the opening and closing music which isn't as full as it should be,) but the dialog is easy enough to hear.   There is a bit of background hiss, but it's never overpowering.
These DVDs preserve the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the show.  The video is on par with other BBC shows from the late 70's.  It's a bit soft, and the detail isn't the greatest but the image is fairly clear.  The colors are a bit muted but it doesn't distract from the show.  The prints are generally in good shape, though there are some spots and the occasional horizontal line pops up once in a while.
There is one more thing to note about the transfer:  these shows all have cue dots included.  These are small squares that appear in the upper right-hand side of the frame that are filled with moving diagonal lines.  This was a device used in Britain to tell the broadcasters that a commercial break was coming up.  While it is a bit distracting, it only appears briefly.
Though it's listed as a feature, there's also a feature-length version of The Chelsea Murders included in the set.  That particular story was never show during Armchair Thriller's two season run, but over a year after the last regular broadcast those six episodes were edited together and broadcast as a movie.  I enjoyed this version a bit better and was glad that that Acorn included it.
Final Thoughts:
These were excellent stories.  Gripping, intelligent, and often suspenseful Armchair Thriller Set Two is a wonderful set.  I only wish that they had released the shows in order, but that's a small complaint.  Run out and pick this one up.  Highly Recommended.
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