For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the first episode of this 1971-1973 series about non-Holmes detectives of the Victorian and Edwardian Ages click HERE
Episode: THE HORSE OF THE INVISIBLE (October 18th, 1971)
Detective: Thomas Carnacki, created by William Hope Hodgson. The first Carnacki story was published in 1910.
Review: Thomas Carnacki was an Edwardian detective who investigated the paranormal in 9 stories written by William Hope Hodgson, famous for the horror tale The House on the Borderlands. The fun of the Carnacki mysteries came from the way that sometimes the supernatural elements were being faked by human malefactors. The hero would solve the case either way.
In a fortuitous bit of casting which helps make this episode timeless, Donald Pleasence starred as Thomas Carnacki. Pleasence’s role of Doctor Loomis in the Halloween series of slasher films makes him a familiar face even to viewers unfamiliar with his loooong body of work.
Given that this program is titled The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes the best way to describe The Horse of the Invisible would be as a hybrid of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Speckled Band crossed with the John Silence series of occult mysteries.
Renowned “Ghost Detective” Thomas Carnacki is hired by the patriarch of the Hisgins family to safeguard his soon-to-be-wed daughter Mary from a spectre which has haunted the family for centuries. That spectre is the titular horse, a ghostly mare which has murdered the first-born child of each successive lord of Hisgins Hall … when that first-born child has been female.
The Horse of the Invisible has never struck until that female child is set to be married. Nor has the supernatural equine ever failed in its mission. Even if the Hisgins female in question flees Hisgins Hall or England itself, the ghost still finds and kills its intended target.
Captain Hisgins (Tony Steedman) and his family had come to dismiss the legend as an old superstition until recently. His daughter Mary – the first female first-born to a Hisgins in a century – is set to be married soon and the spectral horse has reared its insubstantial head once again.
Carnacki gathers up his quaint, vintage “ghost-hunting” equipment and temporarily moves in to Hisgins Hall. The family’s fortune isn’t what it once was but they do their best to keep up appearances. Our detective meets more of the story’s list of suspects:
Lieutenant Charles Beaumont of the Royal Navy (Michael Johnson), Mary’s dashing young fiancee. He’s already been wounded in his right arm while protecting his intended from one of the ghostly horse’s attacks. But he is ambidextrous, as we learn.
Cornelia Hisgins (Aimee Delamain), the widowed Captain’s elderly sister, who isn’t quite as deaf or as senile as she pretends to be.
Harry Parsket (Geoffrey Whitehead), Mary’s jaunty cousin who starts out very skeptical of the notion of ghosts and old family curses but grows warier as the story proceeds.
March (Arthur White), the long-time family butler, who at times seems a bit weary of being servile to the Hisgins patriarch, considering the clan isn’t technically that much wealthier than he himself is.
Mary Hisgins (Michelle Dotrice), the intended bride. Mary seems to be the only person at the Hall who is above suspicion since she’s the target of the homicidal spectre.
Amid formal dinners, brandy, cigars and assorted British manor behavior, Carnacki and the others periodically clash with the Horse of the Invisible. They succeed at safeguarding Mary from the ghost each time, but just barely and there is sometimes collateral damage.
After each manifestation our hero compiles more clues about what’s going on.
In the finale, our characters hunker down, converting Hisgins Hall into a virtual bunker with Mary kept locked away inside an “electronic pentagram.” (Only Donald Pleasence’s air of authority could keep such a device from seeming totally ridiculous. As it is it’s just mostly ridiculous.)
I won’t spoil the resolution of the mystery but I will say that all around this is near the bottom for me when it comes to these first-season episodes of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Its entertainment value would be much higher around Halloween, of course.
Pleasence as Carnacki is the best part of the production. His Doctor Loomis years make him seem reassuringly natural going into battle against sinister forces.
The Horse of the Invisible is certainly different from the rest of the series, but not even a Gothic Horror fan like me was all that impressed by it. +++
I’ll review the next episode soon. Keep checking back.
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