Mad Death (The)
R2 - United Kingdom - Simply Media
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (13th May 2018).
The Show

The Mad Death is a television serial made by BBC Scotland. It was filmed in 1982 and transmitted 1 year later in 1983. The three-part series examined the effects of an outbreak of rabies in the United Kingdom and was noted for its occasionally chilling content. It has been described by at least one reference book as being one of the most bleak and disturbing drama series ever attempted. A French visitor to Scotland smuggles her cat into the country, sparking a terrifying outbreak of rabies which threatens to engulf an entire community. When a pet cat, affected by rabies is smuggled into Britain, the spread of the disease among the animal population goes undetected - until the first human falls victim to the terrible Mad Death.

Video

For the most part it this classic, fondly remembered BBC serial was well made with good performances and good use of locations. The theme tune and opening credits were extremely creepy and very well done and the score was also effective.

However, the script was uneven with the whole love triangle aspect completely unecessary and it cheaped the production somehow. The direction was OK most of the time but had bits where scenes felt awkward; mainly in action scenes and where location interiors seemed to be used with poor, echoey sound.

The story was also driven very much by human stupidity which after the first incident was annoying; the French idiot who brought the cat into the UK, the philandering idiot who picked up a fox from the side of the road and didn’t take it straight to a vet and finally the dog-cat lady idiot who was a total caricature.

The script could’ve done with more intelligence and depth in the writing and the lead was also a bit of an unlovable cock which didn’t help my emotional involvement at times. This is based on novel that I suspect was of the pulp variety which may explain some of the sillier aspects. However, overall I did think it was a solid serial neither the best nor the worst of it’s era.

This disc itself was of acceptable quality with the BBC masters just plonked onto disc warts and all. I noticed a couple of video blips in episodes one and two that lasted for a fraction of a second and sadly 22 seconds are missing in episode three from the scene where the Scottish minister gives our hero a glass of scotch.

The image is fairly typical of a production shot on 16mm film and this is actually an all-film production which was usually only reserved for more prestigious efforts. Workaday productions made by the BBC in the early ‘80s where usually mixtures of PAL high band broadcast standard video for all studio interiors and 16mm film for location shoots. Sometimes outside broadcast video would be used and indeed within a few years would supplant 16mm almost entirely for location work. By the mid to late ‘90s filmisation would be used to convert all video to look like film.

Colours are fairly robust but naturalistic but occasionally there is the odd moment of bleed. I suspect that devices like the PAL transform decoder haven’t been used. black levels are satisfyingly deep but crush is evident whenever lowlight conditions are present. This is especially noticeable in outdoor night scenes which were shot at night. Contrast is fairly ordinary but that is also typical of standard definition masters dating from the time.

I could see no signs of digital tinkering, and beyond the blips mentioned earlier I saw no signs of video artefacts or other issues.

What we have is a decent standard definition transfer without any work having been done to curate it or bring it up to speed ala the recent DVD of Threads (1984) also released by Simply Media. This is a shame.

Also, as I said with my Threads review it would’ve been a great opportunity to remaster this serial for HD and make a Blu-ray available

1.33:1 / Play All (151:12 - ought to run 151:34)
“Part 1” (54:44), “Part 2” (48:51), “Part 3” (47:37 - ought to run 47:59)

Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English HoH

Pretty standard mono mix typical of an early ‘80s BBC TV serial. No real range, occasional distortions but overall it’s a decent listen. Music isn’t overused like modern TV and thus dialogue never gets lost in the mix.

Subtitles are very welcome.

Extras

None. Very disappointing because as was fairly typical of the time promotional interviews would given to raise the profile of a prestigious production like this and nothing has been dug out of the archives. A Kim Newman or Jonathan Rigby commentary would’ve been wonderful as would one of Andrew Pixley’s meticulously researched liner notes booklets.

Sadly, nothing like that is on this or with this disc.

Overall

A decent, barebones release from Simply Media who should be applauded for bringing this classic serial back into the public limelight for new generations to discover. I highly recommend this disc despite any flaws - because vintage telly releases like this need to be supported, and frankly the price is right - so stop reading this and go buy it!

The Show: B- Video: C+ Audio: C+ Extras: F- Overall: B-

 


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