The Thirteenth Reunion (1980)

Posted by Mrs Giggles on May 10, 2017 in 3 Oogies, Idiot Box Reviews, Series: Hammer House of Horror

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Rude Awakening (1980)
Rude Awakening (1980)

Main cast: Julia Foster (Ruth), Dinah Sheridan (Gwen), Richard Pearson (Sir Humphrey Chesterton), Norman Bird (Basil), George Innes (Cedric), James Cosmos (Willis), Warren Clarke (Ben), and Gerrard Kelly (Andrew)
Director: Peter Sasdy

Unlike the previous episode Witching Time, The Thirteenth Reunion has a far better defined protagonist and a less typical story, but at the same time, it lacks the atmosphere and suspenseful build up of the other episode. In fact, Jeremy Burnham’s script is determined to remove all suspense altogether – the first scene in the episode lets me know very early that we will be dealing with a bunch of cultured cannibals.

Ruth is assigned to go undercover as a participant of the weight loss program called Think Thin. This program is pretty successful, but it subjects participants to public shaming on top of a regime of soul-destroying insults and mockery by the instructors. She will experience the whole thing firsthand for an article. Ruth is initially annoyed, because she’s not that overweight and she’d rather be writing about something with more impactful. Her editor points out that if Ruth is tired of writing about potted plants and fashion shows, then she should resign and do her own thing. After all, Ruth’s job is simply to increase the readership of female readers, and that means giving those readers what they want. So off Ruth goes, with a sigh.

Think Thin is pretty bad, as Ruth gets to witness firsthand how verbally abusive the whole program can be. Still, she meets a fellow participant, Ben, who shares her cynicism. They have much in common, and there seem to be an attraction there… and then Ben dies in a car accident. Subsequently, a new staff member at the funeral parlor, Andrew, alerts Ruth that there is something shady about Think Thin: every six months or so, a participant dies (“a plump-sized one”) in a car accident, and the bosses Basil and Cedric always happen to be ones who stumble upon those bodies. Also, the two men dress the body up themselves. Nobody else is allowed to see or touch the body. What is going on here?

Ruth wonders whether all this is simply coincidental, but Andrew is determined to look into this matter further, and she finds herself going along for the ride. But what will she find? Or, to be more accurate, how long will it take for her to learn that the ringleaders behind Thin Think are cooking up and enjoying the dead fatties? She only learns of it in the last act of the episode, of course, so for the most part, it’s just waiting for her to catch up with the viewer.

Still, Ruth has a dry wit and her feminist ideals are never played up for laughs or mockery. At first she feels like a genuine, likable person trapped in a morbid story and is way out of her depths. Unfortunately, as the episode progresses, she becomes increasingly silly, often in an out of character manner, in order to facilitate the “twist” that everyone sees coming from the very opening act.

That’s not to say that the episode is a complete loss. The final act is actually entertaining, as it introduces a bunch of unexpectedly likable cannibals that indulge in some amusing banters with Ruth. It’s just too bad that Ruth is such a twit in that scene. She would have fit just right in.

The Thirteenth Reunion has some memorable characters and some good lines to go with that, but I can’t help feeling that it gives way the twist way too early and loses a lot of its impact as a result. The whole cultured cannibal thing has been done way better in the past, such as the original 1959 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Speciality of the House.

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