Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Devil Cat written by Mark Thomas Passmore and directed by David Darlington & Darren Gross

What's it about: 'Only we could get lost in the English countryside and find ourselves trapped in The Wicker Man!' While on vacation in England, detective Tony Peterson and the witch Cassandra visit Tony's estranged cousin Lord Trent Malkin and his wife Ruby. The two couples team up to investigate the disappearance of a maid from the manor and a series of murders by an ancient cat cult. Complicating things are hostile villagers, an unfriendly vicar and amateur sleuth, Miss Emma Simon. Who can be trusted in the village of Little Bascombe? And if the legend of a Devil Cat wandering the countryside in search of souls to devour is true, are Tony and Cassandra about to face the greatest threat of their lives?

PI: It's also nice to catch up with family members of regular characters because it allows us to see them in a whole new light and a fresh dynamic. Trent and Tony have never been close and he only told him he was coming to England out of courtesy. He has lingering feelings of jealousy about his cousin because he was always made to feel as though he was better than Tony. He was often blamed for Trent's misdemeanours to the point where even his parents would collar him for things that he never did. When his dad died and his mum wasn't coping, Tony felt as though his Aunt Claire could have done more to help her sister. All these things have been brewing in the back of his mind for sometime and the result is a general ambivalence and resentment about his cousin. He comes from a long line of stubborn idiots who can't leave things alone even if they should. Tony is in love with Cassandra and his feelings are out in the open now, whether either of them want them to be or not.

Witch: As annoying as she can be, there isn't anyone that Tony would rather have watch his back in a crisis because she knows how to take care of herself. Cassandra is an expert in practically everything that Tony isn't. Tony might be drunk ( he claims not) but he means every word he says about Cassandra and how beautiful music reminds him of her. You can't help but wish that she would lower her defences and let him in...they are clearly meant to be together. It is a long time since she has been in a church. Tony believes he has a clear picture of the woman that Cassandra should have and would have been...and he is sure that she can be that person with his help. Spending time with him, pretending to be that woman has brought her out. Being away from Collinwood and Barnabas was what allowed Cassandra to develop...and now she has been dragged home and back into his clutches. Where will this leave her relationship with Tony? With her memory of her recent time with him erased, I can't wait to find out!

Standout Performance: Well well lovely to hear Sarah Sutton playing something other than a prudish orphan girl from Traken. Whilst I am pleased that the Dark Shadows range has avoided the temptation to fill its releases with performers from Doctor Who (it gives the series an identity of its own), the odd appearance of a well known voice is a most welcome treat. Sutton proves how versatile she really is, bringing to life an elderly investigator in the Miss Marple vein. She is portrayed as such an innocent doddery old spinster that I had her pegged as the villain of the piece from her first appearance. What a surprise when she turns out to be nothing of the sort! And what another surprise when she turns out to be playing another role entirely. More twists and turns than a visit to Alton Towers!

Great Ideas: Malevolent forces are gathering, scheming to destroy the friendship that has built up between Tony and Cassandra. I like the idea of the supernatural investigators skipping across to England to solve a case in a foreign clime. With the succubus' warning leading Tony and Cassandra to their next case, this particular thread of the Dark Shadows audios is starting to feel a little serialised but not in away that makes buying individual releases difficult to follow. A missing maid and reports of a black cat parading the grounds...surely the two must be connected? One of my big complaints with American television is that they often go down the most stereotypical route possible with their depiction of the British. It's either appalling cockney of upper class toffs. With a Dark Shadows audio that is technically set in the US but being made in the UK and featuring two American leads there is something of a wink to the audience in the depiction of Trent and Ruby. They are clearly well bred and speak with alarming alacrity and manners...but if this was being made overseas I think I would be the first person to complain about how awfully awfully their accents are. Maybe the protection of our cultural identity is in built and only comes out when somebody seems to be taking the piss... It seems to Cassandra that wherever they go there are people exploiting each other for their own gain...however Tony has a more romantic view of things and sees love at every juncture they visit. That says a lot about both of their characters. Trent's father was the leader of the coven and he has taken over in his place. Interestingly it appears that Trent was just as jealous as Tony was, hearing tales about how smart, supportive and caring he was. Reciprocal family resentment. Trent killed his own parents and made it look like an accident. For once the most obvious suspects really are the culprits whilst those who appear innocent really are innocent. I am so used to being hoodwinked that I forget that sometimes things can genuinely pan out this way...which in a wonderfully traditional way managed to surprise me! Cassandra makes a terrible choice at the climax to save Tony's life...a choice that is going to have terrible consequences for their relationship. Is Cassandra really dead and buried? Really?

Audio Landscape: The car swerving off the road, a mewing cat, a shouting mob, birdsong, a terrifying scream, crackling flames, music playing over dinner, rumbling thunder, lightning tearing through the sky.

Musical Cues: Lovely, maniacal music from David Darlington when the secrets have all been spilled. He's like a mad musician, bashing away on a church organ to stress the melodrama of the climax. 

Standout Scene: The moment we have been waiting for ever since the Tony and Cassandra turned up in the Dark Shadows audios has finally looks as though they might finally drop their barriers and share a kiss. The music is especially wonderful in this scene, the performances even more so.

Result: 'We never finished our dance...' A delightful departure from the norm for the Tony & Cassandra thread of Dark Shadows, this is a satisfying hybrid of Agatha Christie and supernatural horror set in rural England. Mix together old family wounds, a dotty old spinster with an eye for detail, the developing relationship between the leads, a supernatural feline that has developed a mythology of its own and some seriously dodgy cult action you have a hugely entertaining adventure to enjoy. One that traverses genres with some skill. I knew with a title like that there would be at least one sequence with hissing, squealing cats and I was dreading angry cat attacking is one of the most terrifying things imaginable (the most frightening moment in Ghostwatch is the climax with the chorus of angry moggies). I have two cats thank you very much Mr Passmore for making me eye them suspiciously tonight! What really satisfied me though was the consummation of Tony and Cassandra's relationship. Dangerous events seem to bring them closer together and they have now confessed their feelings for each other. The story itself deserves a solid 8 but because of the dramatic last minute developments that threatens to tear the two lovers apart forever, I award The Devil Cat two thumbs up in the form of: 9/10

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