Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tales from the Darkside: Heretic

Does "Heretic" condone the methods of the Spanish Inquisition?

Like many anthology horrors, "Heretic" is a just desserts story in which the guilty are punished by supernatural means, and in this case, the method of punishment is torture by inquisitors. Am I supposed to cheer this on and feel good because the wicked character gets what he deserves?

I'm reading too much into it. "Heretic" tells the story of an immoral art dealer named Harte who comes into possession of a valuable painting from the 16th century stolen from a Spanish church. The painting depicts a heretic being tortured by the Inquisition. When Harte tries to sell it, the figures in the painting come to life and pull him into the painting where they offer him a chance of redemption, informing him he must return the stolen artwork.

For a low-budget TV show, "Heretic" crafts an impressive representation of an Inquisition dungeon. The Inquisitor is suitably gaunt and twisted (it's Old Man Marley from Home Alone!), and the prison bars and fires add a creepy, toiled atmosphere. I also liked how the outside sunlight streamed the windows. It reminded me of Hellraiser

The episode's problem is Harte himself. Early on, he's a smug, magnificent bastard who doesn't hide his cynicism or greed, so he's interesting, and the idea that he will be put on trial for his nature is a nice setup. Will he be defiant? Remorseful? Something else?

But his final actions don't make sense, and I'm not sure what he wanted to accomplish. If there were a scene in which he attributed his experience to a dream or hallucination, that would have been one thing, but there's no explanation for what he does. He goes from the Inquisition and repenting to trying to sell the painting and then attempting to burn it before his final fate plays out.

Ultimately, Harte proves to be the worst of both worlds: unsympathetic and stupid.

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