Nightmare at Grimm Fen (also the Face of Fear) (1976-1977)

Sample Images (as) Nightmare at Grimm Fen

Plot 

(As) Nightmare at Grimm Fen

The following year, Patty is having nightmares of a curse falling on Grimmford and Robert le Mal walking again. Mark is sceptical about this, but agrees to come back to Grimmford with her to check up things. They are surprised to find the brass rubbing survived and Dad picked it up. 

They find Grimmford has become utterly inhospitable. There is that flapping sound again, and Dad breaks his leg. There’s nobody to care for him but Patty and Mark. As they investigate, they find nobody around, Grimmford is a ghost town, and a radio broadcast informs them Grimmford has been evacuated because of freak tidal conditions. Upon their return to the boat, they find Dad in a weird state, saying he saw a man with burning-coal eyes and bones for a face. Patty is convinced it was Robert le Mal Dad saw. 

A tidal wave comes, but they manage to ride it out like a surfboard. They wash up at Robert le Mal’s castle, and Patty is convinced Robert le Mal brought them there. Inside, they learn more about Robert le Mal. He was a practitioner of black magic and had power over dark birds, which he used to terrorise the neighbourhood. The people rose up against him and bowmen shot him full of arrows. But as he died, he laid his curse that he would return. And when he did, he would have power over birds, beasts of the forest and field, and men, and they would set him to rule over the land. The people were so terrified of his power they refused to bury him in the church; the brass there was just a memorial. His body was laid to rest in the deepest dungeon of his castle, with chains wrapped around his coffin. 

The party are then attacked by the dark birds. They have to retreat to the dungeon to get away from them, where they discover the chains around Robert le Mal’s coffin are broken and his body is gone. At this, Mark, who has had a hard time believing the whole thing, finally does. Then comes another attack, this time from local fishermen under the power of Robert le Mal. Their dog Wulfstan, who found another entrance made by crumbling ruins, shows them the way out. They make a getaway by dinghy, but Robert le Mal’s black birds puncture the dinghy. Fortunately they land in a spot where they get picked by men from Tideswell Power Station and Dad can get treatment for his broken leg. 

But Robert le Mal’s black birds soon catch up, and so do his fishermen, who chant “Power! Power! The Master needs power!” Moreover, the power station workers are now under his control as well. Although his curse never said anything about electricity, air waves and power lines, he has somehow discovered that taking control of them will spread his power even further and faster. So now he is out to seize the power station. The Stephenses are trapped. However, under Dad’s guidance, they seize a lorry and smash their way out, running the gauntlet with a fierce attack from Robert le Mal’s army. 

Back at the power station, Robert le Mal starts his transmissions. As the Stephenses make their getaway, they see Robert le Mal’s power transmitting along the power lines and there’s a giant image of him towering over the power station. His message can be heard on the power lines: “Follow me – and you shall have untold wealth and power.” The moment anyone hears it they fall under his power. Robert le Mal even discovers how to make use of the big screen and takes command of the airwaves and television. Soon he is broadcasting himself everywhere, playing on the dark side of human nature (greed, jealousy, power lust, etc) to control people: “Follow me – and you shall have untold wealth and power.” As soon as anyone sees or even just hears his broadcast they start chanting “Master! Master!” This causes the whole town of Market Fenham to go beserk and start a riot, smashing and destruction of property, looting and arson. 

The Stephenses wonder why they are immune to Robert le Mal’s influence, and Patty figures it has something to do with making the brass rubbing. They try to destroy it, but soon discover it won’t be destroyed. They decide their only course of action is to head back where it all began – Grimm Fen. Along the way they find a boatman, Mr Cuttridge, who is obliged to believe their story after seeing what is happening in the town, and he agrees to help them. But the dark birds catch up and cause Mr Cuttridge to fall under Robert le Mal’s power. The Stephenses have to lock themselves in the cabin.

Then Patty has a brainwave. From the recesses of the cabin she uses a torch to show Mr Cuttridge the brass rubbing of Robert le Mal. Somehow, seeing his master as a pathetic skeletal figure wrapped in a shroud causes Mr Cuttridge to snap out of Robert le Mal’s power. Patty seems to have discovered a weakness. It also explains their immunity, as they saw Robert le Mal this way by making the rubbing. So they head back to the church and take the brass itself, hoping that it will act as a shield of truth to make everyone see Robert le Mal as he is.

Meanwhile, things are growing worse and worse under Robert le Mal. He is broadcasting himself on big public screens to spread his power even further and issue commands to his followers. Anyone who didn’t fall under his power is strung up in chains. Robert le Mal demands tributes, which the mob acquires by more looting. The local army is now under his power as well. Whitehall is soon alerted, bringing in a government minister into the situation.

The fishermen approach the church. The Stephenses show them the rubbing and yell he’s nothing more than than that and a dead corpse, but it only works briefly. A fenman, convinced Robert le Mal has genuinely returned, puts them back under the spell with his ravings. They capture the Stephens family, along with the rubbing, and take them to the power station. 

Meanwhile, the army (ones not under the spell) and the minister are planning to move the evacuees back to Grimm Fen now the threat of the tidal wave has passed, but then they hear reports, including ones from roughed-up army officers, about the havoc Robert Le Mal is causing in the vicinity. They realise there is a pattern and the power station is in the dead centre of it, and head straight out there. They arrive in time to intercept the fishermen who captured the Stephenses and free them. Patty explains to the minister what happened, which he has a little trouble fully believing. Stung by this, Robert le Mal appears over the power station as a 50-foot giant knight. He has the power of electricity from the station at his fingertips, which he uses to zap those who don’t believe in him. He then demands Patty bow down to him.

Figuring that believing in Robert le Mal and allowing him to play on the evil in people’s minds is what makes him so powerful, Patty continues to yell that he’s dead and no more than a phantom. It is soon apparent that the electricity is also giving him his power, because a workers’ strike suddenly disrupts the power supply and he begins to weaken. 

They head for the control room where Robert le Mal must be drawing on his last power reserves. In the control room they find Robert le Mal as powerful as ever on the screen. However, Patty maintains his power only exists in people’s minds. She confronts Robert le Mal with the brass image and yells that it’s his true face, he only exists in their minds, he has no power anymore, and go back to the dust he belongs to. Robert le Mal’s answer is to raise his hand to strike Patty down. Instead, a bolt of lightning (somehow bending at a 90-degree angle) strikes, destroying the brass, the screen, and the power of Robert le Mal. Mark reckons the brass must have acted as some sort of conductor and reacted with something in the glass screen. Maybe…but remember how the brass rubbing also got hit by lightning? 

What happened to the brass rubbing is not recorded, but there is definitely no more brass rubbing for Patty and Mark. 

Thoughts

This story is off to a brilliant pace with atmosphere, right from the creepy setting in the church and Patty sensing something is waiting to be unleashed. Even the sense of the church being locked up and they have to sneak in feels like a warning to stay away, something has to remained sealed within. The ensuing storm is so terrible we know it isn’t an ordinary one. It continues with the unsettling sight of the ghost town Grimmford has been reduced to, and the hints it gives off that they are not welcome. And of course we get real chills when our heroes wash up at none other than Robert le Mal’s castle. 

Adding to the terror are Robert le Mal’s followers and how their numbers swell along the way. Dark birds are always guaranteed to be frightening in any horror setup, especially when they go on the offensive and attack in swarms. These birds are no exception. Also, their wings enable them to serve as aerial spies as much as attackers. Through them, Robert le Mal can not only spread his influence but keep up the pursuit on the Stephenses as well. It is also how he discovers the power station once our heroes take refuge there. The hatching on the faces of the fishermen, their gargoyle-like features and the staring looks in their eyes make them really scary. Things get even more worrying when he gains control over the army. After all, a 20th century army has far more dangerous and powerful weapons than the knights and bowmen of his own time, and if he got control over all the forces in Britain, there is no telling what this could trigger for the world. 

And when those bewitched townsfolk go beserk, turn into crazy mobs and start wrecking the town on a scale with the LA riots, it’s really terrifying. We can imagine the anarchy the whole country could descend into if he gets into more power stations. Oddly, we don’t see him exercise his power over beasts of the forest and field as promised. It would have made the story even more powerful if he had. Imagine lifestock, forest animals, or even your own pets going crazy and start attacking as well. 

Adding to the drama, thrills and chills is the pain and distress over Dad breaking his leg. The Stephenses have to fight Robert le Mal through the pain Dad’s leg is giving and no chance of proper treatment because they are being constantly chased by Robert le Mal and his followers. This increases the danger of Dad’s leg injury leading to serious complications such as infection or fever, which makes things even more worrying. 

You have to be impressed with how a medieval knight – even one with dark powers – fast learns how to turn 20th century technology to his advantage once he discovers it, and use it to spread his power in ways that he himself could never have imagined in his own time. We can see what would happen if Robert le Mal had emerged in the 21st century. He could use the Internet and computer networks to spread his power like a computer virus and turn everyone in the whole world into an instant Robert le Mal follower through their computers, iPhones, apps and so forth. Now that would be some serial!

It is ironic that Patty (the believer) and Mark (the sceptic) are both right in their own ways about Robert le Mal. Patty was right in believing Robert le Mal had returned, but so was Mark in not believing in him, because believing in him and allowing him to exist in their minds was what gave him strength. Laughing at him and calling him a long-dead corpse in a shroud was the key to bringing him down.It is also ironic that the brass that started the whole thing was also the key to destroying Robert le Mal. People only had to look at how Robert le Mal is depicted on it – which, after all, does not jive with how he appears on the screen, in flashback, or as the 50-foot giant towering over the power station – for him to lose his power over them. It has you wonder if the brass was set up to be more than just a memorial. And if Mark is right about it acting as a conductor for the lightning bolt that destroyed Robert le Mal, it was the key to destroying him in more ways than one. At any rate, we are reminded of the old adage: evil will be destroyed by evil. 

2 thoughts on “Nightmare at Grimm Fen (also the Face of Fear) (1976-1977)

    1. They never explained that, did they? Maybe they thought the saint would offer some protection against the evil knight.

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