The Pied Piper Reviews
Both Demy and Donovan realize the problem with the pop star's acting, and thus he is given few lines. More often, he's singing songs (three of them) with an acoustic guitar or blowing melodies in character on his pipe. Otherwise, most dialogue centers on the good/evil battle within the townspeople, as all struggle to combat the apocalyptic outbreak of the plague. Michael Hordern plays Melius, an alchemist who hopes to whip up a solution in his cluttered hovel. Jack Wild (a couple of years after his much-loved work on "HR Pufnstuf") plays Melius's lame assistant, showing mostly that he's quite good at scuttling around on a crutch. Donald Pleasance is the corrupt burgermeister, while John Hurt plays a privileged jerk aiming to marry a young -- very young -- ingenue (Cathryn Harrison, so fascinating a few years later in "Black Moon"). A posse of intolerant cardinals also storms about, and you're starting to picture scenes from a concurrent Monty Python sketch, you're easily forgiven. Except there is little, if any, humor in this tale.
Surprisingly, Demy's "Piper" is not so well-suited for children. The visuals are unavoidably short on dazzle since it's a story not about kings and castles but about a poor, rat-infested village. Also, the ending is quite downbeat, and includes a character being burned at the stake, the failed attempt to stop the plague and, of course, the piper luring away all the town's children. Demy soft-pedals the latter by not suggesting the kids have been led to death and (strangely) not even depicting the townspeople's anguished discovery of the abduction. But still, this is hardly a "happily ever after" finish.