Carpathian Eagle - Pierce Brosnan in Hammer House of Horror

Five years after they stopped producing feature films for the cinema, Hammer switched to television production in the early eighties and one of the results was Hammer House of Horror, a fondly remembered series of horror mysteries which ran in 1980 for 13 episodes.
One advantage this had over the later Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense was that the episodes were not dragged out into feature length and so felt somewhat more compact. There are one or two duds but it remains an enjoyable series with a great theme tune and a memorable title sequence.
The series was contemporary and set in the present day (well, 1980) in a deliberate move to make it feel like it not was riding on past Hammer glories too much. The perms, old cars and comical fashions add to the fun. I believe it was planned to have some period episodes in the second series (more in the old Hammer spirit of cobblestones, horse drawn carriages, witchcraft, buxom wenches in old inns, gothic castles etc) but sadly they never made any more after this.
Hammer House of Horror is rife with famous faces and remains agreeable late night fun. I would recommend this series (and the later Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense) for anyone who loves British horror, Hammer, or just anthology shows in general.
It's far from perfect but very entertaining with the famous faces, eighties trappings, and evocative theme music and titles. At its best it stacks up relatively well against similar things like Night Gallery and Tales From the Darkside.
Carpathian Eagle was broadcast on the 8th of November 1980. The locations used in the episode include Great Hampden and Great Missenden. Great Hampden is in Buckinghamshire and Hampden House was the headquarters for Hammer. They made much use of its gothic atmosphere - including of course the spooky title sequence for the series.
Francis Megahy, a frequent documentary filmmaker, took the director's chair. Megahy would go on to direct episodes of Minder, Lovejoy, and Dempsey and Makepeace amongst others. Megahy also directed Pierce Brosnan in 1988's action nonsense Taffin. Writer Bernie Cooper had written for Man in a Suitcase, Minder and Target. His last credit was Auf Wiedersehen Pet in 1984.
The music is by William Josephs. Wilfred Josephs was a respected television and film composer whose work included I Claudius, The Prisoner, Callan, Swallows and Amazons, All Creatures Great and Small, and The Uncanny.
Lead actor Anthony Valentine was best known for playing Toby Meres in Callan and Major Horst Mohn in Colditz. He was a prolific television actor for the duration of his career, appearing in everything from Space: 1999 to Lovejoy. His motion picture roles included parts in The Monster Club and Escape To Athena.
Lead actress Suzanne Danielle was a popular glamour girl of the seventies and eighties and had blink and you'll miss them bit parts in The Stud, The Wild Geese and The Professionals before being cast as the female lead in the last gasp (mostly forgotten) Carry On Emmannuelle - where she played the bed hopping wife of Kenny Williams as the French Ambassador to Britain.
She went on to appear in Doctor Who before being cast in Carpathian Eagle. Danielle later worked with Mike Yarwood and featured in The Boys in Blue with Cannon and Ball before marrying diminutive mustached golfer Sam Torrance and retiring to concentrate on family life.

And what is the premise of Carpathian Eagle? A gruesome series of murders which mimic those of a Carpathian countess legend are puzzling the police. In each case, the victim's heart has been removed and the murderer (or in this case murderess) appears to be a woman who posed as a lover to these men before she killed them.
Detective Inspector Clifford (Anthony Valentine) is charged with solving this case and seeks out an authoress named Natalie Bell (Suzanne Danielle) when he hears her discussing her latest book on the radio.
Natalie is an expert on a mad countess who performed similar murders a long time ago and may be able to put him in touch with an ancestor...
Carpathian Eagle is more of a detective murder thriller than a horror story and tends to be regarded as a middling Hammer House of Horror episode as a consequence. It doesn't feel like out and out horror and - the final twist aside perhaps - lacks some of the edge and atmosphere of the better episodes in the series.
The mystery of who is doing the murders is given away fairly early so the tension comes from whether or not Inspector Clifford will work it for himself. Honestly, even if they hadn't telegraphed the murderer you would have figured it out in about ten seconds anyway.
One wonders if they didn't consider whipping the rug out from underneath the viewer more and make us look in the wrong direction. The red herrings, such as they are, are patently nonsense.
What's good about the episode though? I love the very English Anthony Valentine in this. Valentine was sort of known for playing villains but he had a very likeable and relaxed screen presence in more 'normal' roles. As ever the locations are fun too. Hammer House of Horror has a strangely unique look with its 35mm and home counties locales.
Vintage glamour girl Suzanne Danielle can't act her way out of a wet paper bag but then she wasn't really cast for her thesping prowess in this or anything else. She's there to look good in the bedroom scenes (which are deliberately amusing at times).
Away from the bedroom, Danielle is not terribly convincing as the dowdy academic author Natalie, replete with spectacles and comically bad perm. And that's a young Pierce Brosnan in a minor part as one of the murder victims. He's a jogger who falls prey to Danielle dressed like Marina from Last of the Summer Wine.

Brosnan was around 25 at the time. 1980 was an important year for him because he had his first film role as the IRA killer in the gangster classic The Long Good Friday. In Carpathian Eagle, Brosnan is first seen jogging down a hill in a terrible blue sweatshirt and tracksuit bottoms combo. He spies Danielle in unconvincing blonde wig and pink cardigan dress (or something) and stops to rub his stomach as if he's anticipating a hearty meal.
The Brozzer jogs over and there's a small scene of them by some swings where Brosnan's character is basically - right, love, let's go round to my place and look at my stamp collection. Brosnan's accent is rather bizarre. He starts off very Irish, then he goes mockney, and then he morphs into his normal non specific voice.
Brosnan's final contribution to Carpathian Eagle is a scene where they are about to go in his digs and he tells Danielle that his landlady is a pain in the bottom. It's interesting to look at these early roles for Brosnan. The Long Good Friday, Carpathian Eagle, and also a small part in The Professionals where he's in the back of a van with Bodie on a survelliance mission.
Out of the three, Carpathian Eagle is the least likely to make you think Brosnan has a pretty good career ahead of him and a stint as James Bond. In 'The Long Good Friday' he's a silent assassin and in The Professionals he's on a mission with Lewis Collins. In Carpathian Eagle he's a jogger sitting on a swing.
Brosnan is rather thin and gangly in his younger years but obviously a handsome fellow. You can see why Cubby Broccoli saw Bond potential in Brosnan when he (apparently) met him on the set of For Your Eyes Only.
The mythology investigated in the episode is mildly interesting but it doesn't really drag it up to the Hammer House of Horror top table. This story might have benefited from a more supernatural angle perhaps and even presented Anthony Valentine as more of a Carl Kolchak. A detective who has stumbled into a strange curse.
As the resolution of Carpathian Eagle is predictable this episode sometimes has the unavoidable feeling of treading water as we amble towards the last act. This is a story that never ventures too far from where we think we are heading. It's a recurring aspect of Hammer's television years that is interesting to muse on. The frequent disinclination to go for twist endings that take us by surprise.
Carpathian Eagle is perfectly watchable and by no means a waste of time but it never really goes much further with its premise than it has to and so - consequently - never surprises or thrills the viewer in the way that one hopes. It's worth watching though for Anthony Valentine, the chance to see Brosnan in one of his first roles, and a strong supporting cast that includes Dame Siān Phillips.
- Jake

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