What do you get when you put writer Snoo Wilson and director Phillip Saville (Crash: The Mystery of Flight 1501), two Shakespearean-trained and BBC-TV nurtured chaps, into a room to create a project for an always worth the price-of-admission Patick Macnee? You get an obscurity that had its last television showing in its native U.K. on Channel Four in April 1998; in Australia in 1996. As with the recently reviewed Mill Creek The Excellent Eighties box set programmer, Blunt, the Fourth Man (1987), Shadey was part of Channel Four’s efforts in making movies for television and theatrical release.
So, with a touch of David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) and a pinch of Videodrome (1983), and a soupçon of Brian De Palma The Fury (1978), and, why not, a dash of Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm (1983), we get Oliver Shadey: a sexually-frustrated, lonely car mechanic-owner of a bankrupt garage who decides to cash-in on his ESP abilities.
Our man Shadey (Antony Sher, from Monty Python’s Erik the Viking to Joe Johnson’s The Wolfman) isn’t your run-of-the-mill clairvoyant: he can visualize anything happening in the world — as well as see into the future — and transfer those images to film. So Shadey makes a deal with Sir Cyril Landau (Patrick Macnee), a wealthy British industrialist — who subsequently sells him out to British Intelligence for his own person gain. Oh, and it’s not just personal and business bankruptcy that drives Shadey’s greed: he needs the money for a sex change operation.
Oh, by the way: this is a comedy.
We know this is a comedy, not because of the sex change operation angle, but because Shadey runs around with a camera strapped to the side of his head. And because the film opens with aerobics porn. And there’s a goth-punk band video shoot with shapely women swingin’ hoola-hoops — while adorned in gas masks. And Sir Landau may be in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. And Shady cross-dresses and dates an older man. And the film co-stars noted U.S television actress Katherine Helmond (Soap, Who’s the Boss, and Everybody Loves Raymond), who’s not exactly know for her work in serious, dramatic roles.
So, what’s with the camera and how did Shadey and Sir Landau get into business? Well, by way of his abilities, Shadey’s discovered a new, Russian diamond field excavation in the heart of Siberia. And Shadey “knows” how much Sir Landau loves his diamonds. Once the word is out on Shadey’s gift, he’s on the run with the MI5 the CIA hot pursuit — evil government psychologist Doctor Cloud (Billie Whitelaw, 1976’s The Omen to 2007’s Hot Fuzz), in particular — as we are left questioning what is real and what is hallucination in our reluctant-spy’s mind. Helping Shadey are Macnee’s agoraphobic-looney wife (Helmond) and materialistic model daughter (Leslie Ash, The Who’s Quadrophenia and Curse of the Pink Panther).
Since we are dealing with a movie created by two classically-trained BBC filmmakers, the proceedings are assembled well-enough, there’s a couple laughs amid the seriousness, and the acting from all quarters is solid — that’s played straight against the comedy.
You know what?
Forget the comedic Cronenberg inference: this is sounding all a wee-bit like a John Carpenter joint. Celluloid project with me: Instead of British actor Antony Sher: Chevy Chase stars as Shadey and Daryl Hannah stars as our evil operative instead of Billie Whitelaw, as we foreshadow the sci-fi black comedy bomb that was Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). “North by Northwest meets Starman,” indeed, John. Indeed.
Since those late ’90s TV airings, Shadey has since turned up on DVD (DVD Planet Store and DVD Lady are two outlets), but caveat your regions and emptor your grey-market DVR discs, dear readers. Shop smart. You can also find copies of Shadey on Amazon Prime UK (again, region and grey alerts).
You can watch Shadey online via a with-ads stream on You Tube as a sign-in view courtesy of FilmRise Features (there’s a lot of eclectic uploads on their page, so check ’em out) or as a (very clean) VOD on Amazon Prime US.
Hey, Mill Creek! Give us Shadey on a DVD — even on a box set. Hey, Shout! Factory, do for Shadey what you did for that Chevy Chase stinkeroo. We, the denizens of the video fringe, demand it.