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  Mad Death, The Rabid Following
Year: 1983
Director: Robert Young
Stars: Richard Heffer, Barbara Kellerman, Richard Morant, Brenda Bruce, Jimmy Logan, Paul Brooke, Debbi Blythe, Bob Docherty, Jack McKenzie, Marianne Lawrence, Ed Bishop, Valerie Holliman, Alec Heggie, Bill Denniston, Leon Sinden, Peter Finlay, Tom Watson
Genre: Horror, Drama, TV SeriesBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Britain has not been afflicted by rabies for many years thanks to its stringent policies of quarantine and taking care of any possible threat, but there is always the concern of one person flaunting the rules and allowing a diseased animal into the country. This happens when one society woman has arrived from France and has taken her pet Siamese cat with her; unbeknownst to her, the cat is bitten by a rabid fox and when she smuggles the animal back into Britain, she starts a chain of events that sees the entire nation placed in danger. First, it's the cat, then it's a fox it bites, then it's an American businessman (Ed Bishop) who falls victim, and soon the virus is spreading like wildfire...

Throughout the nineteen-seventies, the fear of rabies arriving on British shores spawned some high profile public health campaigns, including some memorable public information films that were broadcast on television. There was also the odd book on the subject, including Nigel Slater's The Mad Death (not the same Nigel Slater who became a celebrity cook), and that in turn begat this early eighties television series that did over three episodes what those brief announcements did in a couple of minutes. This put the wind up a generation who stayed up late to have the wits scared out of them, the thought of a rabies outbreak consequently considered the ultimate health crisis.

Or it was until AIDS started making headlines that decade, and as there were no cases of rabies to grab those headlines The Mad Death seemed less relevant, and more one of those television serials that were quasi-fondly remembered as provoking nightmares and much dread-filled chat around the playground and the working day's lunch break. Since it lacked a supernatural angle, the "hauntology" theme was not a hook here, though much of the story took place in a rural location, in this case the Scottish countryside (this was a BBC Scotland production), so you could argue it sneaked into that category of unease-based pop culture by default, but it was probably overshadowed by Threads.

That was a nuclear war-based centre of TV terror, but the notion that humanity, or just Britain, was facing doomsday, was a potent one and continues to attract interest to this day. In The Mad Death, whose title was nothing if not sensationalist, we didn't have shots of the populace roaming the streets with foam-flecked mouths baring teeth, so it was a far cry from David Cronenberg's Rabid, it was largely the animals that we were intended to be afraid of as the human victims simply languished in hospital and were contorted in hydrophobic agony (Bishop among them, getting the most elaborate of the deaths). This gave rise to the programme's real issue, that Britain was a nation of animal lovers, and this could be their undoing if they allowed that love to cloud their judgement about their personal danger.

Therefore we had the hero, scientist Michael Hilliard (Richard Heffer), merrily gunning down a lot of pooches in the countryside with a grim-featured sense of purpose, while on the other hand Barbara Kellerman as his professional and romantic partner Anne Maitland was the doctor who looked anguished at the cost to human and animal life. The most blatant endorsement of pragmatism against sentimentality was the character of Mrs Stonecroft (Brenda Bruce), a pet hoarder who is possibly insane, and lets out dozens of infected animals from their enclosure so they can be "free"; she also traps Anne in her mansion with a rabid cat in the final episode. Earlier on Michael had been menaced by ferret-wielding pub goers, suggesting the love of fauna veered towards mania when they were under threat. Throw in a Land Rover speeding through an East Kilbride shopping centre and an action-packed slaughter (of beasts) for the denouement, and you had a television horror show that some felt didn't go far enough: the kids of 1983 would disagree, they still recall the fox stalking around the car. Music by Phil Sawyer (memorable in the title sequence).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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