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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

The Horse of the Invisible

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Can Carnacki make any claim to be taken seriously as a detective? If he solves anything it is by force of will, rather than the application of deductive powers. He is no Sherlockian ironist, no high-domed mental traveller. He stands as close to Holmes as Mike Hammer does to Philip Marlowe. His methods are enthusiastic but basic: good old-fashioned head-in-the-door stuff. He is not so much a “ghostbuster” as a self-starting lightning rod for psychic phenomena that has not yet been housebroken.

Thus Iain Sinclair in a typically acerbic afterword to the 1991 Grafton paperback of Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder by William Hope Hodgson. Holmes would indeed look askance at Carnacki’s methods but that didn’t prevent the occult investigator being drafted as one of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes in the first television series of that name in 1971. I was reminded of this dramatisation following last week’s discussion of Hodgsonian cinema; I’ve known about the episode for years—notable for having Donald Pleasence in the role of Thomas Carnacki—but hadn’t watched it until this week courtesy of YouTube.

Philip Mackie wrote the script for The Horse of the Invisible, and Alan Cooke was the director. Their adaptation is interesting mostly for seeing a Hodgson story dramatised; as a piece of television the presentation is serious and well-acted but looks rather creaky today, suffering from the over-lit artificiality that always blighted studio-shot productions attempting to create any kind of atmosphere. Donald Pleasence is his typical lugubrious self which doesn’t really suit Carnacki’s bull-headed enthusiasm but I don’t mind that, Pleasence was a good actor so it’s a treat to see him play the part. And we do get to see Carnacki’s “electric pentacle” in action (Carnacki enjoys his Edwardian gadgets) in the midst of which the beleagured Michele Dotrice is forced to spend the night. The most successful Carnacki stories are those that play to Hodgson’s strengths as a writer of supernatural dread, stories such as The Gateway of the Monster or The Hog. The Horse of the Invisible doesn’t attain the heights of those tales but then it would be a doomed venture trying to conjure Hodgson’s cosmic horrors on a limited budget. With this story you get a taste of the supernatural, which no doubt sets it apart from the other “Rivals”, whilst staying within the bounds of credibility.

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There’s one curious detail worth mentioning: in both the story and the dramatisation the character of the fiancé is named “Charles Beaumont”. There was a real Charles Beaumont, a screenwriter responsible for many scripts for The Twilight Zone TV series, as well as for some of the superior American horror films of the 1960s, including Night of the Eagle, The Haunted Palace (Roger Corman’s adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) and The Masque of the Red Death. In last week’s discussion I mentioned John Carpenter’s The Fog as a good example of Hodgsonian cinema on account of its ghost pirates. My memory may be playing tricks but I’m sure that Carpenter has a reference to a “Charlie Beaumont” in either The Fog or Halloween, both films being littered with significant character names. (There’s a “Mr Machen” in The Fog). Donald Pleasence was in Halloween, of course, playing a doctor with a name lifted from Psycho. I’ve searched in vain for the Beaumont reference; does this ring a bell for any Carpenter-philes?

Both series of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes are available from Network DVD.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tentacles #2: The Lost Continent
Tentacles #1: The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’
Hodgson versus Houdini
Weekend links: Hodgson edition
“The game is afoot!”
Druillet meets Hodgson

 


 

Posted in {books}, {film}, {horror}, {television}.

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3 comments or trackbacks

  1. #2 posted by G

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    I finally got around to watching this today. I really enjoyed it, especially Carnacki getting drunk on his host’s brandy at the end. Other than that I don’t have much to add.

    While “The Hog” is really great (Hodgson really didn’t trust pigs.), out of all the Carnacki stories I’d have to say “The Whistling Room” is my personal favorite. I never put together that the hand in “Gateway of the Monster” was supposed to be large until today…maybe it mentions that in the story but its been around and I remember imagining it more like “Thing” from the Addams Family. Do you think that was inspired by the ghost in “The Castle of Otranto?”

  2. #3 posted by John

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    Hodgson may have derived something from the Gothics but I always think that in many of those stories he was simply writing quickly and inventing things on the go. He was very much a jobbing fictioneer in later years so the invention occasionally flags. I find the spectral hand a let-down but the build-up is what he often excels at, that story being a good example. In The Hog and his other first-rate pieces he manages to deliver a climax that matches the build-up. The climax often defeated Lovecraft as well, it’s not an uncommon problem.

 


 

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