The Mad Death,
Directed by Robert Young,
Starring Richard Heffer, Barbara Kellerman, Richard Morant, Ed Bishop, Valerie Holliman, Jimmy Logan
If you were around in the late seventies and early eighties, you’ll probably remember the whole scare around Rabies getting into the UK at the time. Based on the novel of the same name by Nigel Slater, this series – let’s be honest – exploited that public fear of a potential epidemic outbreak, and to quite alarming effect. Make no mistake, in places, this is not an easy watch.
Even before we get to the story itself, this is already creepy and disturbing viewing, thanks to the weird opening credits which feature a child reciting the first few lines of All Things Bright and Beautiful over distorted imagery of a leering fox. It’s a simple idea but works to produce a very unsettling atmosphere right from the start.
The story begins with a cat being smuggled into Scotland from abroad, and a business man who’s juggling his job and a few extra-marital affairs. This first episode takes its time as it moves all the pieces into place. It is also a fascinating, and scary, exploration into how easily a disease can spreadthrugh a population and get so far along before anyone notices. The busy business man I mentioned is played by none other than Ed Bishop – he of Gerry Anderson’s UFO fame. And man, is he good as the first human to contract Rabies. His hallucinations are brilliantly done and the stuff of nightmares.
In fact, this whole show is the stuff of nightmares. It is brilliant, even essential viewing, but it is bleak. Now, I know you hear that a lot. This is bleak, that is bleak… but those things have nothing on this. Do those other shows have, for example, a 7 or 8 minute sequence that is just dogs being shot? No, thought not. And there is added horror because the viewer knows that we are all of us vulnerable to such diseases. It’s not likely most of us will ever contract any of them, but we could and that is a terrifying thought.
This is a real classic of early 1980s bleak (there’s that word again) sci-fi thrillers. You should really seek this out and watch it. But be warned, you’ll probably have to watch Threads after, just to cheer yourself up again.
The Mad Death is out now on DVD from Simply Media