Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Hospice (1987)

I keep intending to review some more mainstream (or at least accessible) fare on this site but then delicious obscurities like this keep coming my way. THE HOSPICE was made in 1987 by HTV West as part of a co-production deal with a European company to make a series called 'Night Voices', and is an adaptation of the Robert Aickman story of the same name. Despite some of them being included in the Fontana Books of Great Ghost Stories that he edited, Aickman's stories are difficult to classify and certainly deserve the label 'strange'. THE HOSPICE is no exception. Jack Shepherd gets lost in the countryside and eventually, after passing a statue that resembles Christ which turns its head in the direction he takes, he runs out of petrol and ends up at a country house. He's invited in and finds himself part of a large dinner party whose members resemble OAP versions of the cast of the movies of David Lynch, John Waters and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Full of soup and spaghetti he declines the huge roast dinner and brimming flagon of gravy that's placed before him, only to incur such displeasure in his waitress that she throws the whole lot on the floor. Alan Dobie plays the deliciously sinister supervisor of the proceedings who tells Shepherd not to worry and offers him a room for the night once he has explained that they have no petrol (an ancient-looking minibus runs on 'Diesel Only', or at least that's what the handwriting over the petrol cap says). And so Shepherd has to spend the night in a Robert Aickman House, which means he ends up having to share an overheated bedroom with nervous pathetic Jonathan Cecil who has a large model bird above his bed that he can operate the wings of to help him sleep, and who doesn't want the light switched off. Earlier in the evening Shepherd has met sexy Marthe Keller who has dropped an earring she presumably wants returned and so off he goes on a nightmare journey to find her, only to come across a photograph depicting her in period dress and dated 1938. We finally make it to morning, only for Shepherd to be informed that 'someone' has died during the night. They are rather efficiently already in their coffin, and as he is told that the only way he can leave is to accompany it we are treated to a final shot of Shepherd crammed into the back of a hearse as it leaves the mansion.
           Atmospheric, enigmatic and nightmarishly disorientating. THE HOSPICE works very well as a 50 minute adaptation of an Aickman story. Performances, location and music are all excellent, but perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that it was directed by Domenique Othenin-Girard who was responsible for the forgettable HALLOWEEN 5 and the regrettable OMEN IV - THE AWAKENING. On the basis of those two movies I had been anticipating something far more workmanlike and uninspired and THE HOSPICE is neither. In fact I would highly recommend it. Now to track down the other episodes in this series.


  1. I really want to own this and see the other Aickman adaptations too...at least it seems possible. What I can't imagine is the chance of a soundtrack becoming available, which is a real shame as the music was excellent in its own right.

  2. I have no idea who composed it. Interesting that the other film shown, 'Three Miles Up' also had excellent music and that was by Harry Gregson-Williams presumably before he went to Hollywood.

  3. Wow, this is great stuff.

    Good addition to my wants list along with Night Voices of course. Hopefully Network releases this in DVD.

    As for Aickman, I remember watching his short story 3 Miles Up as part of the BBC 1990s TV horror anthology called Ghosts. Excellent anthology. I liked all the eps. Memorable was the episode Chemistry Lesson, and the excellent nude body of the obscure English actress Louise Rea.

    Another good adaptation is a Canadian Radio show Nightfall ep. called Ringing the Changes based on the Aickman story.

  4. Great review, John! Anon, I should point out that "Three Miles Up" is by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

  5. Ooops. Thought 3 miles up was Aickmann.

    Anyways Ringing the Changes is still good. Would love to see the Late Night Horror ep. if it still every exists.

  6. Thanks Ramsey! Yes indeed, Three Miles Up is Elizabeth Jane Howard but it's certainly quite Aickmanesque.

    Anon - There was a very good radio adaptation of Ringing the Changes a few years ago by Jeremy Dyson & Mark Gatiss

  7. Excellent, will be looking for that one(Ringing the Changes radio show).

    Anyways, I also watched the Hunger ep. adapted from a work of his called Swords directed by Tony Scott...OK piece, other than being surreal.

    However I did like the acting of Baltazar Getty...he was also great in the underrated horror movie with Peter Weller...Shadow Hours...


  8. Yeah, Omen IV and Halloween V...watched Omen IV, waste of time...never watched Halloween V and probably will never watch it.

  9. I actually saw OMEN IV on the big screen on its initial UK release - the only Omen movie I've seen at the cinema. I don't think I shall be writing about it on here ;->

  10. Omen IV was only a TV movie in the states. I saw it on laserdisc in the Philippines in the mid 90s.


    As for the other Omena movies...Omen III was also hilarious...watched it on the big screen in Tokyo. I found the star wars ending in the end, with the catholic sermons to be funny.

    I like Sam Neil though, great actor.

    The latest Omen remake, ppphegh...nice effects, creepy antichrist other than that...nada.

    I liked Omen 1 though...great acting by everybody...I liked David Warner and Billie Warlock makes a great witch.

  11. I was one of the (small part) actors in that film (The hospice) with Jack Shepherd and wondered if you still had a copy of it that I could see? I'd be more than happy to supply a blank DVD/ CD / VHS tape and pay for return postage if possible.

    I met Dominique before filming and Jack Shepherd in the make-up room prior to our scene. I was the 'punk' type youth with long blond hair on the bicycle who jack shepherd knocked of his bike as he came out of a garage. He then asked me where some place was, and I had to ride down the road and away.

    It was a very rememberable experience, and I never got to see the completed film and would love to see it, I do hope you can help me,

    my email address is: cathorse23 (at) gmail.com

  12. Yeah 'The Hospice' is indeed a long-hidden gem and one I'm so glad I got my hands on last year alongside one of the two other non-Aickman adaptations form the same series 'The Hands of Orlac'. However, eager as I am to get my hands on the other three Aickman episodes from the 'Night Voices' series I do it is prudent to point out that two of them might well be dubbed, the two in question being 'The Inner Room' and 'The Trains' both of them productions that were made abroad with nigh-on full European casts and directors. Now this in itself need not be too distracting provided the dubbing is reasonably done. However this is not the case for 'Hands of Orlac' sadly which, to put it bluntly, is rather an embarrassing mess, at least in that regard. With its English director (Peter Duffell) and full English cast, 'Hand in Glove' will at least avoid this particular pitfall but as for the others well that's anyones guess.

  13. Of course a lot of European productions from that era suffered from indifferent dubbing, in fact if you're a fan of such far you tend to learn to ignore it after a while! I didn't know that the some of the Aickmans were non-UK productions in this series, though - thanks for that.

  14. Yes as far as I can tell it was very much a 50/50 split. 'Succubus', 'The Hospice' and 'Hand in Glove', although touched here and there by the European influence (they were all co-productions after all) are nevertheless near fully acted by recognisable UK actors and actresses. However 'Hands of Orlac', 'The Trains' and 'The Inner Room' are quite the opposite and as far as I know there were only two known actors between the three; the UK's Nicola Cowper and the USA's Carol Kane ( star of 'When A Stranger Calls'). In the latters case, this does make sense as 'The Inner Room' was I think made in France by Didier Haudepin and Carol Kane, the star of the piece, speaks fluent French. Therefore I fear that all three of these will be dubbed but nevertheless I would still like to see them, particularly 'The Inner Room' which I happened to notice got a rather positive review on some website or other (Dutch I think though I can't bring the title of it to mind right now).
    A closing point to all this would be to mention that enquiries to made to both ITN Source and Granada Viewers Response revealed that not only do they hold both 'Hand in Glove' and 'The Inner Room but for the princely sum of £245 pound, you can be the proud owner of mint copies of both. Yeah I reckon i might just wait for that commercial release instead. Unless of course anyone out there happened to make further copies of the 'Night Voices' series when they went out in the Nineties and they still hold them........

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