FULL PLOT (warning, contains spoilers):
Lord Edward Makepeace has always been curious about the esoteric arts. His position and wealth have
enabled him to amass an unrivalled collection of obscure scrolls and arcane tomes, and the isolated location of his estate, on the edge of Puddleglum Marsh, has allowed him to experiment unhindered - although, as a gentleman, he has always been careful to avoid the darker side of the occult.
The opening scene shows Lord Makepeace proposing marriage to the local schoolteacher, Miss Roberta Cunningham, whilst the two enjoy a candlelit supper at his mansion. All seems wonderful for the young couple, but tragedy soon strikes.
After supper he whisks her up to his laboratory to show her the result of his latest experiment - he has finally managed to successfully cast a magic spell, a conjuration of glowing orbs of marsh light, and is eager to show off his prowess. But far from being enchanted by the effect, Roberta is terrified and, whimpering with fear and crossing herself repeatedly, stumbles backwards through the doorway and falls heavily down the steep flight of stairs outside. Edward rushes out to her aid, but it is too late, she is dead.
With her loss, Lord Edward becomes bitter and cynical, and a darkness descends on his spirit. Even his great friend and fellow scholar, Dr Thackeray from the village, cannot get through to him and becomes increasingly concerned by his behaviour, as in his grief Edward, the once quiet and upright gentleman, turns to strong drink and opium, and the company of women of easy virtue.
Thackeray, thinking to cheer up his friend and distract him from his grief, visits a dealer in antiquities in London to buy him a gift. The trader has just received a case containing a bunch of mixed scrolls from the ruins of a South American temple, and Dr Thackeray jumps at the chance. These could be just the thing to bring Lord Edward out of himself. He orders the scrolls to be delivered to his friend and goes about his business in the city.
On his return to the countryside a week later, he is pleased and astounded by the improvement in Lord Edward. Gone is the bitterness and the wild parties are a thing of the past. Lord Edward slaps his friend on the back and tells him he can't thank him enough. If he seems a little too feverish in his enthusiasm, well then it is still an improvement. Little is Dr Thackeray to know that the unsorted scrolls he sent his friend contained a copy of the lost ritual of Shan K'tanee, a dark and terrible sorcery which is supposed to bring back the dead, and that Edward is even now preparing to attempt the ritual, using the hapless village whore Flossie as his sacrifice.
Lord Edward plies Flossie with whisky and lures her up to his laboratory. For a moment he feels a pang of conscience, but steels himself and ties her to the lab bench. Her titillated giggles turn to screams as he picks up the ceremonial dagger and, muttering a gutteral incantation, plunges it into her heart. The second he has done it, remorse overcomes him and he hides his face in his hands. But the creak of the door opening behind him rouses him from his fugue and he turns to see the figure of his fiance standing there. Edward rushes up and takes her into his arms, not noticing in his joy that she remains impassive and unresponsive.
Over the days that follow, Lord Edward explains her presence to his friends by telling them that she is the sister of his fiance, come from the town beyond the marshes to visit him so that they can console each other.
"Remember," he tells her, "you are not Roberta, not any more. You come from over the marsh."
"Yes. You are right, I am not Roberta, not any more. I am the Marsh Thing", she replies in the expressionless tone that is the only one she uses now.
Edward laughs at what he takes to be her cute misunderstanding, and gives her a fond kiss.
As soon as it is seemly, their wedding is announced. Meanwhile, Edward at last has become disquieted by the character of his fiance and on the morning of the wedding day asks Dr Thackeray to look over the scrolls with him - purely as an academic exercise, of course. With the help of his friend, Edward finds a passage that he has missed out. It turns out that without this, the spirit of the dead will not return and the void will be filled by calling the nearest nature spirit (in this case, it seems, a spirit from the marshes that surround his estate) and binding it to the control of the caster. Reading on, he discovers that the knife that was used to perform the ritual should be destroyed so that this can be reversed and the proper spirit called.
Dr Thackeray is not a stupid man and now realises the truth. The two argue, and the doctor snatches up the scrolls and storms out, saying that he will have to decide what to do about this. Edward barely notices him leave - he is intent on going to his laboratory immediately in order to destroy the knife.
In his carriage on the way back to town, Dr Thackeray reads through the scroll again and realises that they have mistranslated the final sentence - destroying the knife will not reverse the process, but only free the bound spirit from the control of the enchanter. He immediately calls to his coachman to to turn around and head back towards Lord Edward's mansion, but it is already too late...
...in his laboratory Edward drops the knife into a vat of acid. He looks to the doorway and the figure of his fiance is again standing there, dressed in her wedding gown. As she glides towards him without speaking, he realises that something is not right and nervously asks her to step back. "I cannot go back," she says, and raises her hands, calling vines to bind him, grow around and finally through
, his body in a hideous and painful revenge for her prior enslavement.
as Roberta Cunningham/The Marsh Thing
as Lord Edward Makepeace
as Dr Thackeray
Made in 1982 by Dumnonii-Cornovii Ltd
Directed by Andrew Ashton
Written by Meredith Price
The Marsh Thing was not a proper full length movie, but the final episode of six hour-long
programmes filmed specially for the revamp of the series in 1982. The production company (Dumnonii-Cornovii Ltd) had
noted the success of several recent horror and mystery series, such as Surprising Stories and The Hall of Mirrors, and
thought that The Book of the Lost was an ideal vehicle for its own stab at the genre.
Sadly, by the time that The Marsh Thing was made, Dumnonii-Cornovii was on the rocks financially, and realising that this
might well be his swansong, producer Gerald Cumberland determined to pull out all the stops. Promising ridiculously high
payments that he knew he'd never make good on, he went after the very best.
He secured for the two leads those stalwarts of British horror, Paul Devereux and Ursula Florentine*, and managed to
enlist noted fantasy director Andrew Ashton (Dragon of the Moon, Lord Dryk's Revenge). Sound effects were provided
by Kemper Norton, famous for his work with the Sonic Garage, and the Italian master of animatronics, Paolo Sala, was
persuaded to lend his expertise in designing some particularly gruesome special effects (the final scene, where vines destroy
Lord Edward, which finishes with one vine springing out through his eye socket with the bloodied eyeball waving gently on
the end of it, drew several letters of complaint from sensitive viewers).
The story itself was provided by that grande dame of the romantic horror novel, Meredith Price, in her first (and last)
foray into script writing. Whilst the veteran cast and crew were disappointed (but not really surprised) when the promised
vast payment never arrived, Miss Price took it personally. The story goes that at the 1985 British Horror Awards she was
heard to remark loudly to her companion that "if that Gerald Cumberland ever crosses my path again, I'll rip his c*ck off."