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Koch Vision presents
Shades of Darkness (2006)

"Understand me: it's not a cheerful place I'm sending you to. The house is big and gloomy; my niece is nervous, vaporish. Her husband, well, he's generally away, and the two children are dead."
- Hartley (Joanna David)

Review By: Ross Johnson   
Published: February 02, 2007

Stars: Amanda Waring, Arabella Weir, Hugh Grant
Other Stars: Miranda Richardson, Angela Thorne
Director: Peter Hammond, Simon Langton, John Glenister

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Release Date: December 05, 2006
UPC: 741952643098
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-C+B D-

DVD Review

Shades of Darkness comprises six hour-long, episodes of the PBS Mystery series, all from the mid-1980s. They certainly won't be for every taste, though if you're in the right cast of mind you may well find them chilling. These stories have a particularly English flavor (even the three written by New Yorker Edith Wharton), and almost all center around women in lonely, misty, turn-of-the-century manors, all with secrets and sins that they have yet to face. In most of the stories, the ghosts are almost secondary; there's a story to be told regardless of some ghoulish visitor—the ghost just makes sure that things done in the dark will be brought out into the open before all is done.

In The Lady's Maid's Bell, a Wharton story, a new maid at an English country manor confronts an old ghost. It seems the previous lady's maid isn't quite finished with the household, and is determined that old secrets do not remain hidden. This is among the best stories of the lot, faithful to the Wharton tale, and genuinely creepy in a few spots. Afterward is another Wharton story, also taking place at an English country manor. A young couple trying to escape from city life buy an old house, hoping for a haunting as part of the package. It seems that the manor ghost only makes itself known as a spirit well after you've seen it. The Maze takes place… well, you've got it by now. Little girl Daisy keeps meeting a strange man in the hedge maze that no one else can see. It would seem that Daisy's mother Catherine has a years-old secret having to do with the maze, and the man may not be much of a stranger after all.

Disc 2 has two stories involving men becoming overly familiar with visitors from the other side, Bewitched and the aptly named Demon Lover (guest-starring a very young Hugh Grant). In the first, a woman becomes convinced that her husband is cheating on her with a local ghost, while in the last a couple vow to reunite after a young man is enlisted to fight during World War I. They do, though not under quite the circumstances they might have hoped. The middle story of Disc 2, The Intercessor brings us back to the manor house with a man trying to escape the bustle of the city, and particularly the children that constantly interrupt his work. It's not long before he hears the voice of a crying child…

These stories certainly would not be classified as "horror" these days. There's no gore, very little blood, and their intent is less to terrify than to unsettle. In that, most of them work quite well. The direction varies and is often rather static but mostly effective, while the acting is consistently quite good. The lack of any type of special effects actually works to their advantage on that score. A mysterious visitor sighted down the hallway or in the garden could just be a stranger come to visit. There's no "tell" that we're seeing ghosts: no unearthly glow, no spectral transparency. I find that rather more chilling than the more typical ghost presentation. The polite gentleman that you've just had an unsettling conversation with could very easily be a spirit of the past, someone no longer living come to call you to account for sins from years before. These ghosts are patient, with little need to scream or taunt or attack you with an axe. They will get their due, though, and it'll be too late once you realize it.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: I'm not sure how much of it is due to the quality of the source material, but these six stories look... not great. Watchable, yes, without any major compression artifacts or other DVD-ish problems, but the colors are a bit washed out and there's a fair amount of grain throughout.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital Mono track on these episodes is just fine for the material. Dialogue and sound effects are clear throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Packaging: unknown double keepcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: None.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Though certainly not for every taste, these two discs contain six mostly quite effective ghost tales. It's not what I'd call horror, but if slow-building stories of buried secrets and ghostly visitors on the lonely English countryside are your thing, these are worth a look. The picture and audio transfers are merely so-so, but the stories themselves are well done and nicely creepy.


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