Starring: Lionel Fanthorp
Duration: 580 mins
BBFC Certification: 18
Cast your mind back to 1997; the UK had a Labour government, Cool Britannia and Britpop were all the rage and folks were positively lapping up all things supernatural and weird thanks to prestige TV drama like The X-Files. Channel 4 and production company Rapido Television decided to take advantage of this fad with their magazine series, Fortean TV, a name associated with paranormal researcher Charles Fort and directly evocative of the still in publication magazine Fortean Times. Presented by the cuddly biker priest Lionel Fanthorp and aired weekly in a late evening timeslot, Fortean TV was a prime example of late 90’s Channel 4 programming.
Revisiting the show 25 years later thanks to this complete collection, released on DVD by Network, proves to be a real window to the past and what was perhaps a more innocent and quaint time. This very much pre-internet show presents its segments as edited interviews with subjects, liked with inserts from the frankly adorably enthusiastic Lionel Fanthorp. Fortean TV seeks to inform the very much not online viewer about not only supernatural things like aliens, ghosts and the elusive Chupacabra, it also takes a look at other weird things that are clearly more explainable like bizarre medical treatments and people who are convinced they’re vampires.
It’s a fascinating watch in 2022, not only for the slightly cheeky tone it adopts that is oh-so-90’s, but also for when it manages to serve you a curveball with grim imagery accompanying some of the reports such as shots of animal corpses during the Chupacabra report and the rather squirm inducing sight of maggots being used to treat wounds, as well as the usual bit of casual Channel 4 nudity on occasion. Sat alongside Rapido’s other, rather more famous magazine show, Eurotrash, Fortean TV is far less extreme but is very much clearly from the same production house.
Despite the rather innocent nature to a lot of the stories, however, there are some fascinating pieces to be found in the shows such as the excavation of the set from the Ten Commandments that Cecil B. DeMille buried in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes following production of the film, or the frankly bewildering “Hell House” an American right wing church to this day still holds every Halloween to attempt to deter teenagers from “sinful” activities. There is, however, a slightly exploitative nature to some of the reports which lend some segments a slightly “freak show” esque air of the producers parading weirdos and potentially troubled individuals for public consumption. It’s also fun seeing how many of the stories have been debunked using our new tool – the internet and how many “figures” of the time like Uri Geller are prominently featured who have now very much fallen out of favour
This box set presents the complete collection of Fortean TV episodes, with Series 1 comprising 9 main episodes as well as a “Best of” which repeats many of the series more popular stories. Series 2 reduces the episode count to 8, while the 4 episode series 3, titled Fortean TV Uncut is effectively a “greatest hits” collection with additional footage considered too much for the programmes earlier screening time – this seems a bit of a stretch given how grim some of the stories in the main series could get, but there’s certainly some rather more uncomfortable material on display in these episodes, such as graphic depictions of embalming, self flagellation and more extreme medical conditions. Rounding out the set is The XMas Files, an hour long special focussed on strange Christmas traditions and bizarre festive goings on, a genuinely interesting and unique standalone episode.
Sadly there are no bonus features on offer in this box set, meaning that you’re only picking this one up for the episodes. Despite being a DVD release, the quality of the episodes isn’t bad and the £15 RRP isn’t terrible for nearly 10 hours worth of content, however this is really only an essential purchase for fans of the show from its original run.