Movie Review (And Analysis): The Menu

I was feeling a little bored the other day and was looking for something to watch. Preferably something a bit light-hearted and amusing. There I was, just randomly scrolling through Disney+ and saw the thumbnail for The Menu. Now, before I do get into this, The Menu is definitely a film that you are better off going into as blind as possible. I had managed to avoid any and everything about this film, I hadn’t even seen a trailer. I’d even suggest not reading reviews, especially spoilery ones.

This review that I’m going to do here will be crammed with spoilers. However, I’m not getting into that just yet as I want to give you a rough idea of what the film is about before I really get into it. So, this is safe to read here and I will be offering a pre-warning before I do get to the spoilers. Look, I’d even suggest that you don’t click on the trailer that I am linking to right now.

Anyway, back to my build-up. I was just looking through Disney+ and saw the thumbnail for this film. I used to be a chef for over 25 years. I’m glad that I left the trade behind me as it was slowly killing me, but I still find myself drawn to shows and movies about it. So, feeling bored, I thought I’d watch a film about cooking and remind myself of the job that I learned to hate. As I said, I had no idea what the film was about and I didn’t even read the little synopsis that you get on Disney+ before pressing play, I just pressed play.

My first assumption of The Menu was that it was perhaps going to be a fictionalised drama of a Gordon Ramsay-type chef. World-famous, top-class food and a tale of a young boy growing to become a major player in the food business. In some ways, The Menu kind of is about that but it is also about something completely different. It’s okay, still no spoilers yet. I’m just going to do a brief synopsis of the flick before I do really delve into this (literally) course by course.


So, The Menu tells the story of Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) an absolute master of his craft and chef known for creating some of the world’s greatest food and pushing the whole dining experience. He doesn’t just make food, he crafts theatre. Slowik has a very exclusive, very expensive restaurant called Hawthorn. The restaurant is on its very own private island and the only way to get to the restaurant is by boat and by very select invitation. Hawthorn is an exclusive restaurant for the rich and famous that only 1% of the 1% get to experience. After creating his latest menu, Chef Slowik invites a very select clientele to try his new creations. And that’s the basic, non-spoilery plot.

After I had finished watching The Menu, I was pretty much undecided. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to bother reviewing it. I didn’t dislike the film but I didn’t really enjoy it either. I was just very unsure. The film surprised me in a great many ways, but I could not honestly say that I outright liked it. Then, I just sat on my opinion for a few days and realised that the film just would not get out of my head as I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It must’ve had some kind of an impression on me, I just wasn’t sure what that impression was. I needed to re-watch it and form a better opinion. So I did. After the second watch and knowing the plot, I found myself spotting things that I had missed the first time around. After the credits rolled for the second time, I really appreciated what the film was, what it did and how well made it was. I really, really liked The Menu on subsequent viewings. It was far and away from what I was expecting and it really did hit me with some big surprises. That’s my spoiler-free review.


And now, I do need to get into the SPOILER part of my review. From this point on, I will be giving away massive plot points and story details. If you have not yet seen the film and do want to be surprised, stop reading now. SPOILERS ahead as my lengthy course-by-course look at The Menu begins… [CLAP] now.

The film opens up with us being introduced to Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy). Tyler is a dedicated foodie who has been lucky enough to get an invite from Chef Slowik to try out his new menu. He’s the kind of person who uses the word ‘mouth-feel’ as a descriptive. A bit of a prick, but he seems to know his stuff when it comes to gourmet food. The other invitees are famed food critic Lillian (Janet McTeer) and her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein). Wealthy regulars to the restaurant, Richard (Reed Birney) and his wife Anne (Judith Light). Second-rate and struggling movie actor George (John Leguizamo) and his PA Felicity (Aimee Carrero). Then there is the trio of business partners Soren (Arturo Castro), Dave (Mark St. Cyr) and Bryce (Rob Yang).

When arriving at the island, the rather curt and direct maître d’hôtel, Elsa (Hong Chau) makes note that Margot was not originally invited. Tyler had someone else as his +1 but that didn’t work out, so he invited Margot instead. Following a short tour of the island, Elsa leads the guests to Hawthorn where they are sat at their designated tables and served the first course. Hawthorn has an open-plan kitchen and the guests are invited to watch the chefs work, but they are told to not take pictures of the food. This is when Tyler decides to talk to the sous-chef and throw a few ‘chefy words’ around to show off that the knows what he is talking about.



The first course impresses everyone, everyone except Margot. She struggles to see what all the fuss is about. Tiny portions of poncy ingredients, severed to look like a piece of art on a plate and not food. This is where you get to know the other characters a little as snippets of their stories and personalities are drip feed to you. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Elsa tells Chef Slowik that Margot is not an original invitee.

Compressed and pickled cucumber melon, milk snow, charred lace.


Chef Slowik introduces himself to his guests before this course is served. The pretension is laid on thick as he tells his guest not to eat, but to taste, savour and relish the food. Tyler embarrasses himself a tad by talking as Slowik is describing his food and feels bad about it too. But, he sneaks a few naughty photos of the dish anyway, showing disrespect to the rules.

Raw diver scallop, pickled local seaweeds and algae.


After giving a speech on bread and its history, Slowik introduces the next course, a breadless bread plate. Several flavoured ‘dips’ that you may have otherwise eaten with bread… but here without bread. Trust me, the pomp and pretentiousness have only just begun. The trio of business partners, Soren, Dave and Bryce ask Elsa for some bread to enjoy with their emulsion drips on the plate. Only to be met with a direct and plain ‘no’. The trio play the ‘do you know who we are’ card and say that they work with (for) a Mr Verrick, a massive business magnate with a lot of sway. Still, Elsa tells them ‘no’. It’s about here when something just feels ‘off’ about this film.


Over at Tyler and Margot’s table, she’s still not ‘getting’ the food and has not eaten a thing. Tyler makes a fool of himself (again) by reaching over to grab Margot’s plate, knocking off and smashing a wine glass on the floor. Chef Slowik comes over and questions Margot on why she has not yet tried any of his food. She says that there is no ‘food’ to try. She seems the be the only one who sees through all the bullshit of the menu. This annoys Tyler and he claims that Margot is making him look like a fool (when he’s actually doing a perfectly good job of that himself). Slowik leaves the couple to argue as he turns his attention to an old woman, sitting alone drinking wine in the corner of the restaurant.

No bread, savoury accompaniments.


At Richard and his wife Anne’s table, Anne thinks that she recognises Margot from somewhere, but can’t quite place her. Two-bit and washed-up actor George and his PA Felicity are having a bit of a disagreement over the fact that Felicity wants to move on to bigger and better things. She doesn’t want to be stuck as a PA for an ageing actor who can’t find any decent roles, doesn’t care anymore and she feels that her career isn’t going anywhere.


This course is a deconstructed high-end taco made with very special tortillas. As Chef Slowik explains, the tortillas have been branded using a laser, to give each one a unique print on them, specific to each guest. Slowik says the reason this one is called ‘Memory’ is because he used to have tacos on Tuesday, (Taco Tuesday). This is when he tells his guests that the old woman drinking wine on her own is his mother. Slowik then goes on the tell a story from his past about his abusive father and how he stabbed him in the thigh. Perhaps a rather strange anecdote to bring up during a $1,200+ per-head exclusive, multi-course dinner, but hey-ho. Slowik’s mother continues the get drunk on wine, on her own. Some of the guests question the point of Chef Slowik’s abusive father story, and it is quickly brushed off as ‘theatrics’ and part of the dining experience.

The meal is served and the guests notice the individually, laser-printed images on their tortillas. Food critic Lillian has pictures of several restaurants on hers, restaurants that she helped close down via her reviews. Married, elderly couple and regulars to the restaurant, Richard and Anne have various pictures of their life. Including one of Richard with another woman. Tyler has pictures of him taking pictures of the food that were taken just a few minutes earlier. Proof that he has broken one of Chef Slowik’s cardinal rules… and that these chefs work really damn fast. This, to coin a phrase, is where the plot thickens, as there seems to be an ulterior motive for these guests being invited. This is about much more than just tasting a new menu.


If you need further suggestion that something sinister is going on. George has a poster for one of his big movie flops (Calling Doctor Sunshine) on his tortillas, a swift reminder that his a bit of a flake and phoney. Though George laughs it off as a personal joke between friends, saying that he and Slowik are buddies. The trio of business guys tortillas? Well, they have documents of proof that they have been embezzling money for Mr Verrick the business magnate. Calling Elsa over the explain what the tortillas are, she does just that in her own unique way. The trio (suspecting that some kind of blackmail is going on) claim that they will have the place closed down in the morning, flexing their ‘do you know who we are’ card once more. This does not phase Elsa one bit. The trio realise that they are safe though because if Chef Slowik tries to turn them in for embezzlement, he would be turning Mr Verrick in and well, Mr Verrick is the one who actually owns the island and the restaurant that Slowik runs. Ergo, if Mr Verrick goes down, so does Slowik.

Margot goes to the toilet, still not having eaten anything, where she is confronted by Slowik. Noting that he knows that she has not yet eaten anything, Slowik questions why. He also reveals that he knows that Margot was not an original invitee and questions just who she is and tells her that she shouldn’t be here.

House-smoked Bresse chicken thigh al pastor, tortillas made with heirloom masa, green salsa cubes.


Chef Slowik introduces his sous-chef, Jeremy Louden (Adam Aalderks) as the creator of this next course. Bringing him out to the restaurant in full view of all the guests. Slowik goes on the tell his guests that Jeremy is a good chef… just not great and that he will never be as great as Slowik is. After a bit of, what seems like ‘berating with love’ from Slowik, Jeremy pulls out a gun, places it in his mouth and blows the back of his head out. Yup, a chef just committed suicide in full view of these very exclusive guests. Who are (mostly and rightfully) shocked. If the previous course did not clue you in that something strange was going on, then this course most definitely does.


After the initial shock of seeing someone blow the back of their head out, Chef Slowik tells them that it is part of the ‘show’ and the guest begin to question if it is just more ‘theatrics’. The guests continue with their meal, except for Margot. Richard tells Anne that he has had enough and that they are leaving. Only, the staff won’t allow that and cut one of his fingers off… this is no ‘theatrics’ and this film about a menu is definitely taking a very bizarre and bloody twist. The realisation that this is real begins to set in and the other guests panic. Chef Slowik and his crew are quite insane.

Margot decides to go and confront Slowik in his kitchen. He reveals that everyone is going to die tonight. Everyone including himself and his crew. He also says that he needs to know what side Margot is on, the pompous guests or the (let’s be honest) psychotic chefs. She still has to die, it just depends on which side she chooses to die on and gives her just 15 minutes to decide who she will side with.

Pressure-cooked vegetables, roasted fillet, potato confit, beef jus, bone marrow. R.I.P. Jeremy Louden.


George talks to the embezzling trio and suggests that they storm the kitchen and overpower Chef Slowik and his staff. Even though they are vastly outnumbered. Hey, it worked in one of his films. A little slice of evidence that perhaps George is not exactly in touch with the real world. George also reveals that he and Slowik aren’t friends at all, just bullshit from a desperate actor seeking attention and trying to stay relevant. While serving the palate cleanser of tea, Slowik asks his guests if they have any questions. The obvious one being ‘what the fuck is going on?’. Tyler asks if he can taste bergamot in the tea, seemingly oblivious to the violence and death that is going on around him and another excuse for him to show off his extensive food knowledge.


Finally, someone asks ‘what the fuck is going on?’ and Slowik reveals his reasons for inviting the guests and why they all have to die. Food critic Lillian has to die because she ruined multiple livelihoods with her negative reviews that closed so many restaurants and her editor Ted, allowed it to happen. Regulars Richard and his wife Anne have to die because, even though they have been to the restaurant multiple times and have eaten Chef Slowik’s food, they have no idea what they’ve eaten and can not name a single dish that Slowik has ever cooked for them. They don’t care about the food, just the prestige of being invited to eat and such an exclusive restaurant. A massive insult to Slowik and his staff.

Slowik even admits that he is part of the problem for allowing the restaurant to be used by such shallow people as a means to further their own social status. That is when one of the business trio says that it is not his restaurant. The truth is that their boss, Mr Verrick owns the island and restaurant. Slowik admits that Mr Verrick ‘owns’ him, but only until very recently. Slowik reveals that he and his team have kidnapped Mr Verrick and then drowns him in the water around the island in full view of his guests.


Time is up for Margot and Slowik asks to see her in his office so she can decide whose side she dies on. Slowik sees right through Margot and knows that she is not who she claims to be. He has noticed that she has been looking at Richard and that she knows who he is. Margot tells Slowik that she is actually an escort called Erin and that she has ‘serviced’ Richard in the past. Back in the restaurant, Slowik takes everyone outside.

Wild bergamot and clover tea.


Now outside, Chef Slowik introduces another of his sous-chefs, Katherine (Christina Brucato) the creator of this course. Katherine reveals that Slowik has sexually harassed her multiple times in the past. He allows Katherine to get some payback and she stabs him in the thigh. Slowik then gives the men the chance to escape by giving them a 45-second head start before his staff comes after them. Katherine invites the women back inside to eat the next dish, while the men do their best to escape. Taking this as an opportunity to try and soften up one of the staff, the women praise Katherine for her food and she cries. Katherine soon snaps back into chef mode and tells the women that killing everyone was actually her idea as the finale for the menu. Margot tells everyone that she really is Erin.


Meanwhile, all of the men make an attempt to escape… except for Tyler. He hangs around the outside of the restaurant until he is ‘caught’ and brought back. None of them do manage to escape and all are eventually rounded up and marched back to Hawthorn, Chef Slowik and their inevitable deaths. Felicity tells George that she has been stealing money from him, already making this struggling to find work as an actor even worse. George already knew that she was stealing money from him and she knew that he knew too.

Dungeness crab, fermented yoghurt whey, dried sea lettuce, umeboshi, kelp.


As Lillian’s editor, Ted is the last of the men to be caught, he’s given a bonus dish to ‘enjoy’.

Egg, crème fraîche, and maple (a special bite for the last guest to be caught).


Chef Slowik can’t continue with his carefully planned menu until he sorts out a bit of an issue. He decides to test just how much Tyler knows about food and allows him to cook in his kitchen. Complete carte blanche to create whatever he wants. But first, Slowik wants to know why he invited Erin when she was not part of the original plan. It turns out that Tyler was made fully aware of Slowik’s plan to kill everyone because Slowik told him and swore him to secrecy. Tyler was still happy to come and eat the world’s greatest food, knowing that he would be killed at the end of the night. That is how much of a dedicated foodie he is, he was willing to die as long as he got to eat Chef Slowik’s food.


Originally, Tyler was going to bring his girlfriend but they broke up before the big night and aware that Slowik does not offer single-seatings, he hired Mergot/Erin’s escort services knowing that she would die. Obviously, Erin does not take that bit of information well and tries to beat the shit out of Tyler, but is restrained by Slowik’s staff. This is when Chef Slowik invites Tyler to prove his foodie chops by letting him cook in his kitchen. Tyler makes a complete mess of it as Slowik embarrasses Tyler in front of his staff and guests and shows that the so-called foodie actually knows very little about food. Tyler is a complete fake and has signed Margot/Erin’s death warrant too. Not a nice fella at all.

After trying the inedible food, Slowik leans over and whispers into Tyler’s ear. Tyler leaves the kitchen and heads to the back of house, removing his tie as he goes. Chef Slowik, during a break in the perfect plan of his menu, asks to talk to Erin in the back of house. Slowik tells Erin that he needs a barrel for his finale, that it needs to be collected and that Elsa forgot to get it. So, he asks Erin to get the barrel from the smokehouse, outside of the restaurant and elsewhere on the island. Slowik showing that he trusts and thinks of Erin as one of his own and not one of the pompous, shallow guests. As Erin leaves to get the barrel, she discovers Tyler’s body after he has hung himself with his own tie.


In the restaurant, before Chef Slowik can introduce the next course, he is interrupted by George. George wants to know why he has to die. Slowik tells George that he saw his movie, Calling Doctor Sunshine and that he didn’t like it. Not only that but he saw the film on his only day off in several months and how it ruined his day. Slowik says that George has to die because he is an artist who has lost his drive and passion for what he does, he’s a washed-up actor who does not care about the quality of the film he makes as long as he gets paid.

While getting the barrel, Erin explores outside of the restaurant and she finds Chef Slowik’s living quarters. Before she can snoop around, Elsa appears and attacks her, out of jealousy of Slowik favouring Erin and making her one of them. In the fight, Erin accidentally stabs Elsa in the neck and kills her. While looking around Slowik’s abode, Erin finds photos of his illustrious career, going back years. One photo shows a teenage Slowik working in a low-rent burger joint flipping burgers. It’s also the only photo where Slowik is smiling. Erin also finds a short-wave radio and calls for help. After a while, Erin returns to the restaurant with the barrel.


Chef Slowik further explains why he is doing all of this. Why everyone, including himself, has to die. He says that he is a monster, a whore and that what he is doing is an act of purification. everyone at the restaurant (except for Erin) is guilty of something and they need to pay for their sins. Just then, a coastguard boat arrives and Slowik knows that Erin has betrayed his trust and called in help via his radio. The restaurant and guests are quickly cleaned up so as to not arouse the suspicion of the coastguard and make out that everything is fine. The coastguard recognises George as he is a fan of his films and asks for an autograph. George takes this opportunity to write ‘help us’ to clue the coastguard in that something is very wrong. Believing that they are now safe, that is when it is revealed that the coastguard is actually one of Chef Slowik’s line chefs. Slowik tells Erin that she can’t be trusted and is one of ‘them’ and will die as one of ‘them’, a taker.

Undercooked lamb, inedible shallot-leek butter sauce; utter lack of cohesion.


Before the final course can be served, Erin tells Slowik that she doesn’t like his food. She says that he has taken the joy out of eating and that his food tastes like it was made without love. She says that Chef Slowik has failed to serve worthy food and that even worse, she is still hungry. She asks for a cheeseburger, nothing fancy or pretentious, no ‘deconstructed avant-bullshit’.  Just a cheeseburger. Chef Slowik grants her wish and makes her the best cheeseburger that she will ever eat, for just $9.95. A bit of a step down from the $1,200+ per head that he is used to charging for his food. As he cooks the burger, Slowik smiles, he’s enjoying cooking for the first time in years. He’s taken back to when he was a teenager flipping burgers at a burger joint, one of the last times he was truly happy.


Very satisfied with his food, he personally serves it to Erin. She takes a bite and enjoys his food for the first time. Erin then says that she can’t eat the whole thing right now and asks for it ‘to go’. Chef Slowik boxes up her food and allows her to leave. Her reward for reminding Slowik that he once loved making food, even a simple cheeseburger. Everyone else though? They’re still going to die.

Just a well-made cheeseburger.


The final course. A callback to simple childhood days, the s’more. Slowik tells his guests that they represent the ruin of his art, his passion for cooking and his life in some way. Graham crackers are spread around the restaurant, along with several dozen litres of flammable alcohol. The guests are adorned with shawls made of marshmallows and chocolate hats. The s’more, ‘the most offensive assault on the human palate ever contrived’ Chef Slowi says. To complete his version of the s’more, Slowik grabs a red hot coal from his chargrill, walks into the middle of the restaurant and drops it onto all that flammable alcohol. Everyone in the restaurant burns to death (including Slowik’s very drunk mother). The chefs in the kitchen turn the gas on and combined with the barrel that Slowik asked Erin to get for him, the whole place explodes killing everyone.


Marshmallow, chocolate, graham cracker, customers, staff, restaurant.

Erin has found a boat and makes her escape. She stops and watches the restaurant burn while enjoying her cheeseburger and wiping her mouth with a copy of Chef Slowik’s menu. End credits.

My Take On This

Okay then, so the first thing I need to address with this film is that (in case you’ve not yet worked it out) it is not a fictionalised drama of a Gordon Ramsay-type chef as I thought I might be. This is an out-and-out horror film. Not only that it’s a horror film about food that manages to side-step the most overused food-horror film trope of serving dead bodies to customers. There’s no cheeky Sweeny Todd-inspired angle here. The food is all ‘proper’ food that one would most probably find at an exclusive, top-notch and very expensive restaurant (and a cheeseburger). I honestly have to give The Menu credit for doing something very different with a tired, old format.

As I said, this isn’t a fictionalised drama of a Gordon Ramsay-type chef. It is more of a ‘imagine if Jim Jones was a top, world-famous chef’ film. Chef Slowik is a straight-up cult leader hellbent on killing… well everyone and even his own brigade of chefs and waiting staff are in on it. The Hawthorn restaurant and the island that it is on is basically Jonestown. Now, while this is most definitely a horror film, it’s a horror film with a great sense of humour. It is very, very black humour but still humour nonetheless. This was something that I overlooked when I watched The Menu for the first time.


Watching this film for the second time had me noticing things I didn’t the first time. There are some great little details, such as in the opening. Tyler berates Margot for smoking and tells her that it ruins tastebuds and that she won’t be able to taste the food. Then later in the film, we see the food critic, Lillian smoking. A suggestion that her tastebuds are screwed, that all those bad reviews she wrote and closed restaurants with were not because the food was bad, but because she can’t taste anything properly. There are allusions to the seven deadly sins and more.

In our world, what Chef Slowik does is bat-shit insane. In the world of the film though, it makes a lot of sense and yeah, his guests did deserve to die. They are pompous pricks who have, in some way, destroyed Slowik’s life and career. Or they have contributed to the downfall of the people connected to them.

There’s a sub-genre of horror film that has become popular in recent years, elevated horror. For those not in the know, elevated horror are films that are less about dumb teenagers being killed by someone in a mask and wielding a large knife. They are horror films that don’t rely on cheap jump scares or throw buckets of blood at the screen. An elevated horror film is one that focuses on style, character psychology and other deeper or artistic themes. Basically, they are seen as horror films for those with an IQ. A bit on the pretentious side.


Now, The Menu is most definitely an elevated horror flick. However, it’s also aware of what it is and has fun with it. You know how the original Scream exposed the slasher film genre and pointed a satirical finger at it? Well, The Menu does the same for the elevated horror genre but in a very different way. This is a film that highlights pomp and pretention, to then destroy it. All of the guests who die in the film have that ‘holier than thou’ attitude. They think they are above ‘normal’ people and use Chef Slowik, his food and his restaurant to further their own egos and social status. They are shallow, pretentious and selfish. ‘Takers’ as Slowik calls them. All of them are like this… except Margot/Erin.

That’s why she survived. She’s not ‘one of them’ and sees through all the pomp and ceremony. She didn’t eat the food because it wasn’t ‘food’. The cheeseburger saved her life because, just for a few minutes, she took Chef Slowik back to his roots. Before the fame, before the renown, before the pressure of outdoing himself each and every time to appease his peers. Slowik appreciated that, he saw that she wasn’t a ‘taker’ and gave him (even if only for a while) a bit of his humanity back. Elevated horror eh? Deeper than you think.


However, I also think that the cheeseburger represented something more. Just going back to the whole elevated horror label. Again, they can be a bit ‘la-di-da’ and many people who watch them love to dump on ‘lesser’ horror films. I’ve read recent reviews for some elevated horror flicks that praise the depth and meaning of them, while choosing to call out the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th as examples of poor and shallow horror films. Opinions are opinions and all that, but do reviewers really need to make themselves feel superior by belittling ‘leaser’ films to help praise another? I saw The Menu as a dig as those kinds of reviewers. The film is calling out pretension and does so by having its death-sentenced characters be the ‘do you know who I am’ types. The Menu may satirise the elevated horror genre but it does it in a respectful way, like Scream before it with the slasher genre. Also, I felt that the guests invited to the restaurant were basically representative of snobbish film reviewers who can’t help themselves by making out that the classics are shit because they are not ‘intelligent’ enough.

As for that cheeseburger? Well, there’s room in the world for Michelin-star food and all the pretension that comes with it. But, you know what? There’s nothing wrong with a good, well-made cheeseburger. Have all the snooty elevated horror that you want. There’s still a place for the Freddy Kruegers and Jason Voorhees of the world. Enjoy your deep, psychological character examinations and ‘arty’ blood in a film. You can still get a major kick out of Lionel in Brandead slaughtering zombies with a lawnmower and spraying gallons of claret all over the screen.


Oh, and Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik and Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot/Erin were awesome. Brilliant performances and wonderful chemistry between them. I definitely recommend The Menu for a watch, maybe even more than one so you can pick up on some of the more subtle background details.

Inside No. 9: A Perversely Humorous Retrospective – A Spoiler-rific Look At Dead Line

Straight off the bat, and if the title of this article hasn’t already clued you in. This is a massive spoilery look at the Halloween special Dead Line episode of Inside No. 9. So, you have been warned. My synopsis of this one (copy & paste from the main retrospective) said:

“Arthur (Steve Pemberton) comes home on Halloween after finding a mobile phone in a graveyard while out shopping. The phone rings, Arthur answers it and he can hear strange and ominous voices but can’t quite understand what is being said. The call soon disconnects. Wanting to find the owner of the phone, Arthur redials the last number called and it is answered by Moira (Stephanie Cole), Arthur explains the situation and Moira agrees to contact the rightful owner of the phone for him. Later, Arthur gets a visit from the local Reverend (Reece Shearsmith) and that is when things begin to take a turn for the worst.”


So yeah, that is the setup for this one… a phone. That and the fact that this was an episode that was broadcast live… or was it? I’ll get into the whole ‘live’ thing soon enough, as I initially had doubts. So, what happens here is that when the Reverend turns up at Arthur’s house to try and help with getting the phone back to its rightful owner, the sound fails. The visuals are fine and the two characters talk, but we can not hear what they are saying. A BBC continuity announcer interrupts the episode and tells us that there are problems with the live broadcast and that they are working on getting the sound fixed. The episode comes back on and everything is fine, for a while. The sound cuts out again.

Whoops, the whole live thing has failed miserably as technical issues plague the broadcast. The continuity announcer interrupts once more to say that this live show can not go ahead and a repeat of the A Quiet Night In episode from series one will be shown instead. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s efforts to ‘get us’ with a live Halloween special have been let down by technical issues. Live TV eh? What a fucker, all that effort for nothing, at least we get to re-watch one of the great episodes though.


Of course, Pemberton and Shearsmith haven’t failed. The ‘technical problems’ are part of the episode itself. They are in full control and as you sit there watching the ‘repeat’ of  A Quiet Night In, that is when things get seriously messed up. What this Dead Line Halloween special live episode explores is the ‘real’ story of a ghost haunting the studio from where the episode is being broadcast live from. Archive footage of actual real events, accidents (Bobby Davro falling flat on his face and breaking his nose, due to a prop error), an episode of Most Haunted looking a the rumours that the Coronation Street set is haunted and more are shown. What follows is this mix of real events that actually happened in our universe and snippets of what is happening on the set in the fictional world of Inside No. 9.

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith sit in the make-up room really pissed off that their live episode has failed, but still see the funny side of things. Stephanie Cole walks around the set not sure what is going on or even what TV show she is doing (some comedy show, she says). From the point of view of the actors (who are acting as actors), everything has gone wrong and BBC are showing a repeat of the A Quiet Night In episode. Only, we the viewer are not watching the A Quiet Night In episode. We are watching the actors of Inside No. 9 via security cameras (correct time stamps and everything) around the studio and we get to see the whole thing basically turn into The Blair Witch Project, as the ghost haunting the studio kills everyone for ‘real’.


See, this folks, this is why I said (in the main retrospective) that this episode is both one of the best and most uninteresting episodes of the show so far. It does just become a blatant The Blair Witch Project copy, and I’ve never liked The Blair Witch Project. However, there is one factor of that film that I do adore, the marketing. The way that (for a while) people believed that The Blair Witch Project was a real film, that people really did die. IMDb had the actors listed as ‘missing’ for a while. There were ‘real’ lost persons posters made. There was a website that set up the entire background and a history of the ‘real’ Blair Witch and everything. Despite the fact that I’m no fan of the film itself, I think that the marketing for The Blair Witch Project was amazing. And that is exactly what Pemberton and Shearsmith did expertly for this episode too. They really fucked with the intended audience.

Now, I do need to tell you how I have been watching all of these episodes for this retrospective. I did say at the very start of this whole thing that I only got into Inside No. 9 very recently. I have had to watch all of the episodes on BBC iPlayer (though they have recently been removed. Why BBC?). They had already been broadcast and so, I have been watching them via catch-up. This is exactly why this episode did not work for me. See, if you watch the episodes from start to finish, back-to-back as I have over the last few weeks, you notice things. The fact that every episode just starts on BBC iPlayer, the intro to the show begins and away you go. With this episode, it started with a BBC continuity announcer telling you that it is a live episode… why? I know that it’s not live as I am watching it on catch-up. So, why would a recording of a TV show need an announcer to tell the viewer that it is live when it isn’t? Straight away, my suspicious mind was working overtime. I have been fooled by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith multiple times already. I knew, right from that continuity announcer telling me that this is a live episode, I knew right there and then that it was all a ruse. Then, when the sound cut out, I just was not surprised. In fact, I was kind of expecting it or something like it.


So, for me watching on catch-up ruined the aim of this episode. This one really was something that you had to watch live to ‘get it’. However, that does not mean that I still didn’t enjoy the episode. Quite the opposite actually. No, I wasn’t fooled, but knowing how a magic trick is done always makes me enjoy the trick so much more. I adore watching Penn and Teller, I think they are the greatest magicians on the planet. When they, not only show you a magic trick, but then show you how that magic trick was done, it just makes me adore Penn and Teller, their craft, their dedication and their hard work even more so. The Dead Line episode of Inside No. 9 is Pemberton and Shearsmith doing a Penn and Teller… and doing it really fucking well too.

Immediately after watching this episode, I was on the internet researching how it was done. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith outdid The Blair Witch Project in terms of how this was marketed. They did interviews before this episode aired and had whole backstories and synopsis ready for what the episode was about, even if none of it existed in the final product. They explained how this episode was about Arthur and the phone, when it really wasn’t. Here’s a great interview with Pemberton and Shearsmith where they talk about the episode and what it was about before it aired. There was even a clip of this interview used in the episode itself.

Within the episode, there is ‘rehearsal footage’ that kind of explains what the episode (without the faux technical problems) would’ve been like. It’s brilliant too as it adds a layer of reality to the whole thing and you can work out the plot, even though you never see that story play out. You see behind the scenes as the actors act like they have no idea what is going on There are some genuinely creepy things going on too, hidden ghosts to find and more. Stephanie Cole getting possessed by the evil and slitting her own throat was truly horrific. The way she looked directly at the camera and at us, the viewer, was very disturbing.


Then there was the use of Twitter. See, as this was a live episode, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith very rightly predicted that people would be on Twitter commenting when the sound cut out. So, they had a gag where Shearsmith would comment live on Twitter as everything was going wrong. You can even see how the whole thing played out on Twitter right here. There were people falling for the sound cutting out, people saying it was part of the show. Then you had BBC 2 apologising for the technical issues on Twitter, which then added a layer of doubt to those sure it was all part of the episode. When Shearsmith Tweeted to ask if they were live on BBC 2, that was just the icing on the cake and all bets were off at that point. Honestly, clicking through all the Tweets and seeing how people reacted at the time that this episode aired is a wonderful diary of events. After the episode aired, Stephanie Cole, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith were all declared as dying at the TV studio on Wikipedia too. I don’t know if that was officially announced or if a fan had edited it.


I’d really love to read an in-depth dissection of just how this one was made. I did find this interview where more details are mentioned, but it is still very light compared to the sheer amount of work that would’ve gone into it. There must be rehearsal footage, behind-the-scenes stuff, table reads, the planning and so on. I think they could make a documentary out of just how this episode was made, and I’d watch it too. Just like Penn and Teller telling you how they do the cup & balls trick and being mesmerised by their skill. I want to see just how Pemberton, Shearsmith and everyone else on the crew pulled off this slice of magic.

I did say at the start that I had doubts that this was an actual live episode. Because, when you think about it, the whole thing could’ve been recorded (to avoid any actual technical problems or live mishaps) and nobody would be any the wiser. The only scene that I think that possibly would have had to have been live was the bit in the make-up room when Reece Shearsmith sent the live Tweet. However, he really could’ve been at home, Tweet already written and ready to send and then he just sent it when his on-screen version did. Then there was the flicking between the TV channels (BBC only though) to show the news, and it was the actual live news that was on at the time too. That could’ve possibly been done with some live post-production with a second or two delay. It was possible to fake it as being live, is my point.


So yeah, for a while I did doubt just how live this ‘live’ broadcast was. I even doubted that the only scene that I think would’ve been live, actually was live. But it turns out that any and everything that could conceivably be live was actually live. Obviously, archive footage was recorded, Bobby Davro’s fall, the Most Haunted episode and so on. But everything else was live, even the stunt work. I think that even the fake, pre-recorded rehearsal footage was live too and that is fucking awesomely meta in itself.

Look, I didn’t like the plot of Dead Line, it was a bit too The Blair Witch Project for me. But I can hardly put into words just how much I loved how the episode turned out. How much I admire the work that must’ve gone into it. How the logistics of doing something like this must’ve taken so many man-hours to plan and execute. In short, I just have to doff my cap to Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and the entire crew. This was genius TV, especially in this day and age when everything is spoiled via social media. The fact that Pemberton and Shearsmith pulled this off, and pulled it off in front of everyone while doing interviews about the episode and how they used Twitter against people who use Twitter. This was fucking amazing TV. Simply genius.

Inside No. 9: A Perversely Humorous Retrospective – Series Two And Three

Series Two

This series was shown between the 26th of March and the 29th of April 2015. Coming off the back of the first series and now a little wiser to Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s style of writing and aim with this show, I find myself a little wary of what to expect. Getting things underway with an episode that takes place in a train carriage.

La Couchette


Maxwell (Reece Shearsmith) is a doctor heading to France for an important job interview, while trying to get some sleep in a small and shared train carriage. A drunk a rather ‘windy’ German named Jorg (Steve Pemberton) keeps disturbing Maxwell from his sleep. More people enter the carriage for the overnight trip. Kath (Julie Hesmondhalgh) and Les (Mark Benton) are a couple travelling to France for their daughter’s wedding. Shona (Jessica Gunning) is on a sightseeing tour around Europe and she brings Hugo (Jack Whitehall) to the carriage for a bit of nookie, creating more disruption… which annoys Maxwell. When a dead body is discovered in one of the beds, everyone needs to decide if they should let the train staff know and delay the trip, making everyone late or just leave the body where it is.

This one is kind of similar to the Sardines episode from series one, in that it takes place in a cramped location and feels very claustrophobic with characters introduced as the story unravels. However, it does lean on comedy a lot more and even gets a bit scatological, you’ll never see a shoebox in the same way again. Pemberton and Shearsmith do a cracking job of not just the tight and funny writing, but they also put in great acting performances. The ending is a good one and feels very Hitchcockian too.

The 12 Days of Christine

Christine (Sheridan Smith) comes home to her flat after a New Year’s Eve party with Adam (Tom Riley), after only just meeting for the first time. It then jumps ahead to Valentine’s Day, Christine and Tom’s relationship has blossomed. Onto Mother’s Day and Christine’s mother, Marion (Michele Dotrice) meets Tom and thinks he is great. Fast forwarding to Easter the following year, Tom has moved in with Christine. A few months later, Christine and Tom are married, with Christine now pregnant. Just over a year later, Christine and Tom have a baby boy to care for. Just over another year later and Christine is celebrating her 30th birthday and the relationship between her and Tom seems to be decaying as Tom turns his attention to a work colleague. Fast forward another year and while packing for a family holiday, it becomes clear that the couple’s relationship is breaking down. Jumping forward in time again, Christine and Tom are now divorced. Everything eventually leads up to Christmas and as Christine sits down to enjoy a traditional family Christmas dinner, something is not right.


To put this as simply as possible, this is one of the finest pieces of TV that you are likely to see. Sheridan Smith playing Christine is astonishing and the writing is wonderful. The continual time skips make little sense at the time and even Christine seems to be getting more and more confused as the story unfolds, while everyone around her is seemingly fine. Then when this one reaches its finale, you understand exactly why time is jumping forwards and why Christine is getting confused. The great thing about this one is the many clues that are running throughout that actually give the end away before the reveal. But the beauty is that the clues only really make sense when you already know the ending and re-watch the episode again. For me, this is the best episode so far with fantastic acting and even better writing.

The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge

Set in the 17th century. Mr Clarke (Steve Pemberton) and Mr Warren (Reece Shearsmith) are a couple of witch-finders hired by Sir Andrew Pike (David Warner) to determine if a local woman is a witch or not. The woman, Elizabeth Gadge (Ruth Sheen) is put on trial in front of the village as several of its residents offer proof of her witchcraft, including her own daughter and son-in-law. While Sir Andrew Pike and Mr Warren are 100% sure that the accused is a witch, Mr Clarke seems to be less convinced.

This one is really an out-and-out comedy that pokes fun at the stupidity of the witch trials of the time. Imagine if the Monty Python team had ever made a Hammer Horror-styled film and you would probably have something like this episode. This very much evokes the whole ‘she’s a witch’ scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and ramps it up tenfold. Even though this is an episode that does lean more towards the comedic, it also highlights some of the idiotic methods used to try to seek out witches and does have at least one foot planted in reality, and that does add a certain strand of horror in all the comedy. I quite liked this episode and it really displays how this show can flip-flop from one style of storytelling to the other following The 12 Days of Christine episode.

Cold Comfort

Following the death of his sister, Andy (Steve Pemberton) decides to try and help other people who are feeling depressed. Landing a volunteer job at Comfort Support Line (CSL), a Samaritans-like crisis hotline, Andy is talked through how things work by George (Reece Shearsmith), the manager of CSL. Liz (Jane Horrocks) is one of the other volunteer workers and offers her own brand of help in any way she can. Andy gets a call from a 16-year-old girl called Chloe who says that she has had enough of her life and has taken an overdose of pills. Andy tries to help her and insists that she calls for an ambulance but she refuses. The two continue to talk until Chloe is no longer on the line, with Andy helplessly listening as she dies. Frustrated that he couldn’t do anything to help Chloe and being reminded of the death of his sister, Andy takes it out on the next caller.


The way this one is filmed is great as you see everything through CCTV cameras (see the above picture). Save for a scene showing Andy turning up on his first day at the very start, the entire episode is played out with you, the viewer, watching multiple camera feeds at the same time and it all feels very ominous. Why you need to be watching multiple cameras is not made clear at first but once the ending is revealed, you’ll want to go back and re-watch to see if you missed anything on one of the other screens… and you most probably did. A well-written drama with just the right amount of comedy to break things up and it all leads to an ending that you won’t see coming.

Nana’s Party

Angela (Claire Skinner) is anxiously putting the final touches to a birthday party at her home for her mother, Maggie (Elsie Kelly). Angela’s husband, Jim (Steve Pemberton) wants to pull a practical joke on Pat (Reece Shearsmith), who can’t help but pull jokes on everyone he meets. Jim’s practical joke revenge doesn’t work out how he wants and so, he tries to rope Angela into helping him. A decision that has the potential of destroying not only the party but Angela and Jim’s marriage. Especially when Angela’s sister, Carol (Lorraine Ashbourne), a recovering alcoholic, begins to sneak off to enjoy her ‘suntan lotion’.

This one begins with a paramedic rushing to the house, before cutting back to earlier in the day as we, the viewer, are taken on a journey to see just what the paramedic was rushing to. Another episode that relies on comedy but uses class divide and a metaphorical ticking time bomb that is set to explode. Various secrets of the family are revealed as this episode plays out. From Jim’s ‘Countdown‘ tapes to far more damaging issues that could tear this typical family unit apart. Often, this episode feels like a high-wire act as you just watch and wait for everything to come crashing down. With some great and sharp writing, we know that things are going to go very badly… even if we don’t know exactly how or when.

Séance Time


Tina (Sophie McShera) arrives at a house to take part in a séance. Greeted by Hives (Reece Shearsmith), who takes Tina to meet Madam Talbot (Alison Steadman) and the séance begins. Tina steadily becomes scared but before things go too far, it is revealed that Tina is taking part in a hidden camera TV show called Scaredy Cam and that the séance is fake. The show is hosted by Terry who was playing the character of Hives and Madam Talbot is really just an actress called Anne The production crew of the show appear including the director Gemma (Cariad Lloyd), Amanda (Alice Lowe) the make-up artist and an actor portraying a demon (Dan Starkey). The fake séance set is re-prepared and the room is made ready for the next ‘victim’. Enter Pete (Steve Pemberton) who swears too much for TV and doesn’t seem to be falling for the prank in the same way that Tina did. When the ‘demon’ appears, Pete punches it, not knowing it’s just an actor in make-up and the fake séance begins to go awry from that point on.

This is a great episode that deals with horror and the meta idea of making a TV show… within a TV show. With several scenes that would not feel out of place in a horror film. Even though we know that the séance is fake and part of a TV show, this still manages to pack in a few genuine scares and surprises. I did feel that the ending was a bit too predictable and I don’t think that anyone will be surprised by where this one goes. Still, this one is more about the journey than the destination and the journey is a great one and a worthy finale to the series.

Series Three

This series began on the 27th of December of 2016 and ended on the 21st of March 2017. Even though I have definitely got a feel for Pemberton Shearsmith’s writing after two series, I also know that they still had the skills to subvert expectations and I am certainly expecting some big rug pulls with series three. The great thing about this one starting in late December meant that they could have a Christmas episode… at Christmas.

The Devil of Christmas


Starting out with a TV slate letting us know that we are watching a TV show called The Devil of Christmas. The episode begins and is set in the 1970s complete with film grain, low-quality props and so on. Julian (Steve Pemberton), his wife Kathy (Jessica Raine), their son Toby (George Bedford) and Julian’s mother, Celia (Rula Lenska) all arrive at a chalet in snowy Austria for a Christmas break. They are joined by Klaus (Reece Shearsmith), a guide who tells the family the story of the Krampus. A kind of anti-Father Christmas who kidnaps naughty children. As the episode of the TV show that we are watching continues, the director (voiced by Derek Jacobi) speaks up asking for the footage to be rewound so he can point out a continuity error. That is when it is made clear that we, the viewer, are watching a recording of someone else watching The Devil of Christmas. It all then gets very, very meta.

It is painfully clear from this episode just how much love and respect that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have for classic anthology TV shows with this episode. You are essentially watching a fictional director (in our universe) provide commentary on a real TV episode that he made (in his universe) and it is handled with an amazing attention to detail, to the point where this does feel like we are watching a genuine documentation of a real TV show, even though we know it is not. Things like the director calling out the previously mentioned continuity error, actors flubbing lines, missing marks and more. This episode was even shot with genuine 1970s cameras and the studio was retro-fitted out with 70s tech just so this episode would look like typical 1970s TV. I seriously have to praise Pemberton and Shearsmith and the rest of the (real) TV crew for going to this much effort, because it worked very well. As for the actual story of the episode? It is fantastically well done and works on two levels. It works as a fictional story that we are watching as an episode of Inside No. 9 and a great little Christmas scary yarn. It also works as a story within the story being told. The ending is just chef’s kiss-perfect too and will leave you gobsmacked. This episode doesn’t break the fourth wall, it obliterates it, and all with a wonderful style and panache.

The Bill

Set in an ‘up north’ restaurant in England. Three friends, Archie (Reece Shearsmith), Malcolm (Steve Pemberton), and Kevin (Jason Watkins) have taken Londoner Craig (Philip Glenister) out for a meal after a game of badminton. They are the only customers in the restaurant too as it’s getting late. The restaurant has been closed by the waitress Anya (Ellie White) and she presents the quartet with the bill. Just who will pay for the meal results in an argument as they can’t decide if they should split it four ways, two people split the bill two ways or if one person should pay for the lot. As their guest, none of them wants Craig to pay, even though he is far better off than any of them. Each of the friends wants to outdo the other and none of them can agree on how the bill should be paid or who should pay it. Meanwhile, Anya just wants to go home after a long shift and does her best to get the bill paid for.


This is one of those claustrophobic-type episodes with a small cast in a small location, covering a small story. How something as simple as paying a bill for a meal could descend into the madness shown in the episode is wonderfully realised and very darkly humoured. Lies, betrayal, straight-up bullshit and more are all thrown in as these four characters battle it out to do something as basic as pay for a meal. It’s a simple and shallow premise that really shouldn’t work. And yet, it does. The way that the four main actors play off each other is a joy to witness. I do have a niggle and that is that there is a very final sting after the twist is revealed that just felt utterly superfluous. The twist reveal before it is great though and I kind of wish the episode just ended there with a layer of ambiguity. But it goes on for one more scene that, for me, fell flat. Other than that though, this is a great episode that shows some deft writing to pull off a great story from such a plain premise.

The Riddle of the Sphinx

Nina (Alexandra Roach) lets herself into a room at the University of Cambridge on a stormy night. The room belongs to Professor Nigel Squires (Steve Pemberton), who finds Nina snooping around his belongings. Nigel questions Nina on why she is in his room late at night. It turns out that Nina’s boyfriend is a big fan of cryptic crosswords and she wants to impress her boyfriend with her crossword skills… only she is utterly useless at them. The Professor just so happens to write cryptic crosswords under the name of the Sphinx. Nina has sought out the Sphinx to teach her how to read and work out cryptic clues so she can solve the puzzle the following day and show her boyfriend that she isn’t as clueless as she seems.


In terms of writing and story structure, this is one of the best episodes of Inside No. 9 so far. I did say that I wasn’t going to do spoilers here, and I am sticking to that too. But it’s a great shame as there is so much to digest and analyse here that I just can’t get into. How this one plays out is pure genius and how the crossword clues and answers play into the narrative of the story is sublime. It is unbelievably dark and bleak, but so thoroughly clever too. Complex with so many layers that must’ve taken an inordinate amount of planning. I’m not even a crossword fan and yet, this one drew me into its web of words like no other episode up to this point. The ending is an absolute corker too. I watched this one three times, one immediately after the other and I spotted something new each time, and I still think that there’s more to see or hear with the carefully placed props and skilfully worded dialogue. Oh, and the crossword in this episode actually appeared in The Guardian newspaper and was created by Steve Pemberton himself.

Empty Orchestra

Set in a karaoke booth, a group of work colleagues celebrate one of them getting promoted. Greg (Reece Shearsmith) is the first to arrive and he sets about getting the party started. Connie (Tamzin Outhwaite) turns up next and the two share a passionate kiss. That is when Fran (Sarah Hadland) enters the karaoke booth, Greg and Connie quickly end their kiss as Fran is Greg’s girlfriend, so Greg and Connie are up to some naughties. Roger (Steve Pemberton) and Janet (Emily Howlett) are next to arrive. Roger is the one who has been promoted, Janet his assistant is deaf. Lastly, Duane (Javone Prince) turns up and everyone starts to enjoy the party, everyone except for Roger. Greg does a bit of detective work and believes that Roger is planning on sacking one of them and sets about to find out who.

This episode feels very different from any of the others so far. There’s no horror here, no bleak comedy, no grim darkness. In fact, this one is very upbeat with a happy ending. It still has its twists as the plot may not go down the route that it first seems to be heading. This is a down-to-earth drama that uses the music and singing of the karaoke to great effect, as the songs picked do foreshadow and clue you into the plot. There’s no blood and gore, no macabre or gruesome finale. What you get is an interesting yarn about trust and communication.

Diddle Diddle Dumpling


David (Reece Shearsmith) is a stay-at-home dad who looks after his daughter Sally (Rosa Strudwick), while his wife, Louise (Keeley Hawes) goes to work. One morning, when out for a jog, David finds a shoe left on the street. The shoe looks pretty new and David begins to wonder who it belongs to, as it doesn’t seem to have been thrown away. He takes the shoe home and sets out to try to find its owner. As the weeks and months pass, Louise begins to worry about David’s mental state as his obsession with the shoe grows and grows. When someone finally comes forward to claim the shoe, it seems like all is well… but it isn’t.

Okay, so… this episode is wonderfully fucked up. The story is split into the four seasons of the year and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is used to denote the changing of those seasons too. But what you have here is a tale about a man finding a shoe and that should be a really dull premise to base a story on. Yet, this is amazing. Again, my not going into spoilers means that I can’t really get into this one as much as I would love to. The way it is shot with fantastic uses of pairing symbolism works well, with subtle clues that all is not well. Reece Shearsmith puts in a stunning performance as the overly obsessed David as the lone shoe begins to take over his life. The ending is utterly gut-wrenching, depending on how you choose to look at it. There is a layer of ambiguity to the finale and I saw two possibilities, one was fucked up and the other was really, really fucked up. This is a story about a man finding a shoe and that is a banal plot point. Yet, it works as a testament to Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s expert writing, that they could pull off such a twisted piece of storytelling from that bland set-up.

Private View

A group of complete strangers are invited to attend a new art exhibit called ‘Fragments’ in a basement gallery. Bea (Montserrat Lombard) is the dry and sarcastic greeter and drink server. Carrie (Morgana Robinson), a clueless z-lister celebrity, with an IQ in the same region as her shoe size, is the first to arrive. Maurice (Reece Shearsmith), a snooty art critic is next and he can’t wait to get stuck into the art. The short-tempered and utterly humourless Kenneth Williams (Steve Pemberton) arrives, as does Jean (Fiona Shaw), a dinner lady who knows very little about art. Then Patricia (Felicity Kendal) is the last to arrive, a visually impaired, but not blind, writer of low-quality erotic fiction. With all of the invitees in place, the exhibit can begin and when one of the art pieces includes a dead nurse called Neil (Peter Kay), it soon becomes clear that this art exhibit is not all that it seems.


Have you ever watched the classic Vincent Price horror flick Theatre of Blood or his Dr. Phibes films? Those are what this episode put me in mind of, with a bit of an Agatha Christie, ‘whodunit?’ thrown in for good measure. This is a bloody piece of horror but with that dark sense of humour that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith pull off so damn well. You go from characters making Carry On jokes at the expense of the humourless Kenneth Williams character, played by Pemberton, to straight-up bloody gore and horror without missing a beat. You just don’t know what to expect here and why all of these characters have been brought together for the art exhibit. It is a twisted look at ‘modern art’ and leads to a resolve that (honestly) I kind of knew was coming, but still managed to surprise me with the details in the end.


Still now, three series in, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have the talent to surprise me. I like to think of myself as being rather clued in when it comes to twists and stings in stories. I genuinely am a fan of the classic anthology TV shows that Pemberton and Shearsmith are also clearly big fans of. And yet, they have fooled me multiple times through series two and three. It’s hard to know exactly what kind of story you are going to get now. It could be a nice drama about communication and relationships, that leads to a happy ending like the Empty Orchestra episode. Or it could be a real kick in the balls The 12 Days of Christine type of yarn. Then again, it could be a well-observed and wonderful recantation and fourth-wall-breaking look at 70s film-making as with The Devil of Christmas. Maybe you’ll be thrown into a brilliantly conceived and written The Riddle of the Sphinx-type episode that is beyond clever and incredibly inventive.

Honestly, as I write this conclusion to series two and three, I have no idea what to expect… and I love it. Series four and five are next and I am genuinely excited to be fooled again and again.

Movie Review: The Halloween Legacy Trilogy

Okay so, I’m a massive John Carpenter fan. He’s one of the great storytellers and filmmakers of my generation. They Live, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, In the Mouth of Madness and so on. I do love me a bit of JC. However and time for a confession, I’ve never really been much of a fan of Halloween. It’s just a very average slasher flick with a very memorable Donald Pleasence performance. I respect the film and what it did for the horror genre but given the choice, I’d rather watch something else.

When the recent Halloween legacy sequels came out, I just let them slide by without even so much as a sideways glance. Well, there’s a new Halloween legacy sequel out now and one that is said to be the definitive end to the story… until they decide to reboot it again in a couple of years. ‘Tis the season of Halloween, there’s a new Halloween film out and I always do a Halloween special for my blog. Plus, I did do a Halloween retrospective back in 2018. So, in order to finish what I started, I guess I have to take a look at the last three films as one of my Halloween specials this year. Oh yeah, I have more than one Halloween special coming for your eyes. But first, my view of the three Halloween legacy sequels.



This flick, while the eleventh in the franchise, ignores all of the sequels and is a direct sequel to the 1978 original. Michael Myers, following his Haddonfield killing spree in 1978, has been locked away at the  Smith’s Grove Psychiatric Hospital for the last four decades where he has never so much as said a single word. Aaron and Dana, two real crime ‘investigators’ (read: annoying podcasters) visit Micheal, wanting to interview him about his murderous ways. Not getting anywhere as Michael Myers is not saying a word, Aaron pulls out Michael’s original mask that he wore for his killing spree, hoping to get some kind of a response. Nothing.

In Haddonfield, Laurie Strode has become a recluse and a bit of a cliché. She drinks, has a strained relationship with her daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson and lives in a heavily fortified home as she awaits the return of Michael Myers. Still haunted by visions of what happened that night and suffering from PTSD. As they got nowhere with Micheal, Aaron and Dana interview Laurie instead and don’t get a great deal out of her either. When Michael Myers is being transferred from the Smith’s Grove Psychiatric Hospital to a high-security prison, the bus that he is being transferred on crashes and Michael escapes on October the 30th. Of course, Michael Myers is freed, gets his mask back and makes his way to Haddonfield to finish what he started 40 years before.


My View

As a sequel to the original film, this works really damn well. One of my issues with the first film is the lack of any actual plot. It really is just a killer murdering annoying babysitters. Like totally. Here, there is a plot. You have Laurie struggling with her past and her family, who think she is going nuts. There’s Frank Hawkins, the officer who supposedly stopped and arrested Michael Myers back in 1978 and he seems to be the only one on Laurie’s side. Then, of course, there is all of the killing. Michael himself is genuinely creepy and feels like he did in the first film. If you have ever watched any of the fucking atrocious sequels, you’ll know what I mean.

Halloween has a great sense of atmosphere and dread running throughout. There are some well-done nods and references to the sequels (that no longer exist in this timeline), such as the clearing up of Laurie being Michael’s sister. The infamous masks from Halloween III: Season of the Witch and more. This is a film that was clearly made by people who had a passion for the original. It gets a bit cliché now and again, naughty babysitters obviously going to be killed, people falling over nothing for no reason as Michael Myers chases them. You know, all the typical slasher movie tropes, but they work and feel right. There are zero surprises here (except for maybe one character’s motivations). From the moment the film opens up, you know exactly where it is going. But there’s nowt wrong with that. Halloween doesn’t try to be pretentious and it knows what it is. I have watched all of the Halloween films and despite me not being a gargantuan fan of the original and that I don’t hold it up as the messiah of slasher films, like so many others do, I still have a huge amount of respect for it. I felt that this was way better than the original.

There’s an actual plot and the characters are not all annoying pricks. It is well-shot and has a genuinely unnerving tone. Of all of the Halloween films (discounting Halloween III as it is more of a stand-alone thing), this is my favourite. Jamie Lee Curtis is awesome and kicks some bum-cheeks as the ageing, but still very capable pensioner with a gun. Judy Greer as Laurie’s estranged daughter is great too. Then there is Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter, or ‘Laurie II’, she does very well. The three make a believable and very watchable trio. Halloween is a great start to this legacy trilogy and I am genuinely excited to see the next two.

Halloween Kills


Starting out with a flashback to 1978 and showing just how Frank Hawkins ‘captured’ Michael Myers after the events of the original film. The film then jumps to the present time and picks up just minutes after the ending of the previous film. A party is being held, by Tommy Doyle, as a celebration of 40 years since Michael Myers was captured and sent to the Smith’s Grove Psychiatric Hospital. Joining Tommy in the celebration are some survivors of Michael’s 1978 killing spree. Back at Laurie’s house, firefighters turn up and try to put out the fire that Laurie started to kill Michael at the end of the previous film. The firefighters accidentally set Michael Myers free and he does what he does. Kills the firefighters and gets back to terrorising Haddonfield on Halloween.

Meanwhile, Laurie, Karen and Allyson are at the hospital and being taken care of after their run-in with Michael Myers. Also at the hospital is Frank Hawkins, following his own run-in with Michael during the events of Halloween (2018). News of Michael’s latest killing spree reaches Tommy Doyle and the other survivors and they decide to form a mob and hunt down Michael Myers themselves. Back at the hospital, Laurie and Frank reminisce about the old days while Karen learns that Michael is still alive.


My View

Halloween (2018) really was a fantastic legacy sequel that improved on the original, told a great story and continued Laurie Strode’s history. Halloween Kills shits on all of that. Laurie is unconscious/in a hospital bed for 85% of this film. The other 15%? She gets to walk around the hospital for a bit (before going back to her room), and that is a massive waste of Jamie Lee Curtis and her character. Seriously, you could edit Laurie out of the film completely and it would not affect the plot in any way. The mob, led by Tommy, is just fucking annoying and gets way more screen time than they deserve. I think the idea of having Laurie in the hospital for the entire film was a reference to Halloween II, in which Laurie is in hospital for the entire film (just without the bad wig). I personally think it would have been better to have had Laurie actually doing something in the film other than lying in a hospital bed. ‘Cos, you know, she is the main character.

There are some great references to the original flick and even some of the original actors coming back to reprise the roles that they played over 40 years ago (and some recasts). Halloween Kills is a pretty bloody film too. But, you know what? It’s not scary, it lacks atmosphere and that sense of dread that was running through Halloween (2018) is gone. This almost feels like the filmmakers set out to make a bad horror sequel to a good flick to (meta) highlight that bad horror sequels to good flicks exist. Though I’m sure that was not the intent. As a continuation of Laurie Strode’s story, this fails. As a sequel to a good first film, it fails. As an example of how to not make a film, it works. When I finished watching Halloween, I said how I was genuinely excited to see the next two. After this, I just hope the next one isn’t this bad. I’d even settle for an ‘okay’ film at this point.

Halloween Ends


Well, this it is, the finale. It’s Halloween 2019 and Corey is babysitting Jeremy… which does not end well at all. Three years later and Michael Myers’ killing spree of 2018 is still felt through Haddonfield, though Michael himself has disappeared. Laurie has moved into a house, a normal and everyday house. No fortifications, no hidden safe rooms, a house. Now living with her granddaughter, Allyson. In her downtime, Laurie is writing a memoir of her experiences with Michael Myers. Corey crosses paths with some local bullies and ends up with an injury. Laurie stops the bullies and takes Corey to the hospital, where Allyson is now working at. Corey and Allyson hit it off and strike up a relationship.

The couple agree to go to a Halloween party together. After seeing someone from his past, Corey leaves the party and crosses paths with the bullies, again. This time, they throw him off a bridge. He survives, but is taken into the sewers by ‘someone’. After regaining consciousness, Corey is confronted by Michael Myers, who has been living in the sewers since his murderous ways of Halloween night 2018. However, Michael doesn’t kill Corey, he lets him go. But why?


My View

I tell you something, the opening of this film is amazing. Really moody and feels very Halloween and has quite a surprise outcome. Then, it all goes downhill and keeps going downhill. This is atrocious. I can see that the filmmakers wanted to try something different and subvert the fan’s expectations, but it really doesn’t work at all. Michael Myers is hardly in this, absolute bare minimum. And I don’t mean that he is underused to great effect like the shark in Jaws or even Michael Myers in the original Halloween. I mean that he is so underused that Michael may as well not even be in the film. This is kind of what they did with the previous film with Laurie by having her in a hospital and doing a whole lot of nothing. It’s now Michael’s turn to be in a film and do a whole lot of nothing.

Outside of the opening 10 minutes or so, there are no scares, no atmosphere and no surprises. It has very little to do with Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, 40 years of build-up for a finale that is nothing more than a damp squib. I mean, they basically stole the plot from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, just without the surprises. I’m actively trying to avoid spoilers here, but you know exactly where this film is going to go before it even reaches the halfway point. Yeah, Laurie finally kills Michael (again) but even that feels like a tacked-on idea just to give this bore-fest some kind of closure and tie it in with the franchise. This could’ve been a 20-minute short just to tie up loose ends following the events of Halloween Kills and yet, it drags on for almost 2 hours. This is dull, woefully dull. The only positive, outside of the opening, is that Jamie Lee Curtis actually has some stuff to do here (despite the little screen time that she has) and isn’t stuck in a hospital doing nothing for the entire film.


If you are looking for a good Halloween film to watch this scary season, watch the 1978 original Halloween and then watch the 2018 sequel afterwards. Then, just leave it at that. The 2018 flick did such a fantastic job of bringing Laurie and Michael back that, I guess the only way to go was down. The last two films of this trilogy are awful, lets just pretend that they don’t exist.

But is this truly the end of the Halloween franchise? Nope, they’ll bring it back somehow. Whether another remake, another reboot or of they leave it 40 years and do another legacy sequel with Andi Matichak retuning as Laurie’s granddaughter. Halloween, as a franchise, has not ended. Laurie even writes a line in her memoir at the end of Halloween Ends that hints that it is not over. Michael Myers is definitively dead at the end of Halloween Ends, no doubt about it. He doesn’t suffer one of those ‘well maybe he survived’ deaths. There is absolutely no way that he could’ve survived… but the film still hints that it is not over. They’re leaving their options open for more.

Movie Review: Hellraiser (2022)

Well, here we are, the Hellraiser remake. A film that has been a long time coming. I remember hearing of an up-and-coming Hellraiser remake around 10 years ago. It has been a long, long wait from then until now and the big question is, was it worth it?

Just for context, I kind of have to do this review because, a few years b?ck, I did an entire Hellraiser retrospective for the original film’s 30th anniversary as a Halloween special. So, I’m back with the latest film in the long-running franchise and on Halloween too. I just can not get away from these films, can I? Still, this can kind of be a Halloween special for this year, even though I already have something more substantial coming soon.

So then, synopsis time. Hellraiser (2022) begins with Joey (Kit Clarke) opening the famed puzzle box. He is stabbed in the hand by the box and is taken by the Cenobites. Several years later and Riley (Odessa A’zion), is a young woman struggling with drug addiction. She comes across the puzzle box and opens it but does not get stabbed, and so avoids the wrath of the Cenobites who tell her to find another to pass the box onto. Matt (Brandon Flynn), Riley’s brother, thinks that Riley is relapsing and using drugs again as she tries to tell her story about being visited by the Cenobites. Matt ends up cutting himself on the box and so, the Cenobites take him instead. Riley is offered a deal, solve more configurations of the box and use her own friends as bait, in exchange for getting her brother back. There is a bit more going on, but I don’t want to get into spoilers here, that is just the general gist of the plot.


I have been thinking about how best to sum this film up. It took me a while, but I eventually got it. This is the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake all over again. A really great and interesting take on a horror icon (hey, I enjoyed Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy) but put in a film devoid of anything worthy of note. The main characters in this are instantly forgettable. I watched Hellraiser three times for this review. I watched it once just to watch it, again to take notes for this review and a third time to refresh my noodle as I sat down to write the review proper. Even then, even after watching this three times, I still had to look up the characters’ names on IMDb. Everything about the main characters is just so ‘cookie-cutter’,bland and taken from just about every horror film made in the last 20 years. I had the exact same problem with the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake too.

Just going back to the original flick for a second. Those characters were memorable. Uncle Frank, Julia (one of the best villainesses ever), Larry and of course, the awesome Kirsty. Even the delivery men hoofing the bed up the stairs. They’re memorable because they were well-written and acted. Here though, nothing. Just very bland, very forgettable characters. What you have are just some really annoying people who scream and run a lot, with IQs lower than your average TikTok user.


Still, as I already said, I did like Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy in the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and I can say the same about Jamie Clayton as ‘Pinhead’ in this. Just to make this clear, she’s (if the Cenobites have a gender and is a she) not actually called Pinhead in the film, the character is credited as being The Priest, even though everyone is just going to call her Pinhead, if she is meant to be female. Anyway, I liked Clayton in the role and thought that the performance was good enough. Filling Doug Bradley’s shoes is impossible and not even worth trying (see the last two Hellraiser sequels for proof). Still, this new version of Pinhead (that’s not Pinhead) was good enough and one of the few things I actually enjoyed about the film.

The other Cenobites are used well too. They are kind of underused well in the first half of the film, but they begin to take centre stage as the film progresses and builds to its finale. There’s some great effects work here and it does get rather bloody and gruesome at times. That is, if you can see what is going on. This film is just too damn dark and I don’t mean for atmosphere or aesthetic reasons either. There is just poor lighting throughout the film. The opening scene with two characters talking, no horror, no Cenobites, etc. Just two people talking, it was really hard to make out what was going on. The entire film is like this too, just dark for no reason. Did the director not know that films can use lighting setups? Even so, this never feels as visceral or raw as the original film. It is bloody, but it is subdued gore.


I did kind of enjoy how the lore of the puzzle box was done here. It is different to the original films and admittedly, it does do something interesting with the mythology. It is just a shame that it was used in a  film with really shitty characters that I didn’t care for. I would even say that there is actually too much going in here. There’s about two or three films worth of plot squeezed into 120 minutes and as a result, this film drags a lot because it gets weighed down by exposition. Then there are times when a whole lot of nothing happens. This is a Hellraiser flick it doesn’t need to be 2 hours long an doesn’t need to be this heavy with exposition. I don’t really understand why this is even a remake. Outside of its use of the box and the Cenobites, it has nothing to do with the original film. To the point where it could’ve just been another low-quality sequel that the franchise became known for. Seriously, slip this somewhere in between Hellraiser: Hellworld and Hellraiser: Judgment and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.


Look, I’m not saying that I expected a beat-for-beat recreation of the original. It is more a case of the fact that things are so vastly different here that it really does feel like one of the latter sequels over a remake (just wait for someone to tell me that it is not a remake and is a re-adaption of the novella). Good effects work, good make-up and they did the right thing by using the original Hellraiser music too. But the final product is a very bland and ‘meh’ experience. This film is okay, at best. Of course, it sequel-baits like crazy at the end (because a film can’t just be a film these days, it has to set up a franchise). But after this, I really don’t want another. Please stop making Hellraiser films for me to write about. At this point, my suffering is legendary, even in Hell.