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

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.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTINE

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.

COLD COMFORT

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

SEANCE 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

THE DEVIL OF CHRITMAS

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.

THE BILL

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.

RIDDLE OF THE SPINX

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

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.

PRIVATE VIEW

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.


Overall

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.

Inside No. 9: A Perversely Humorous Retrospective – Introduction And Series One

I have always had a bit of a penchant for anthology storytelling in movies and TV shows. A couple of Halloweens ago, I did a big Creepshow retrospective looking at all the films, the first season of the TV show and everything in between. Before that, I did a longer retrospective looking at all of the Amicus anthology films of the 60s through to the 80s. So, I wanted to cover some more anthology stories with my Halloween special this year.

The truth is that, I actually began doing a full retrospective of the awesome 90s (though it started in 1989) TV show, Tales From the Crypt. I got three seasons in and decided to take a break. For that break, I watched the first series of Inside No. 9 and well, let’s just say that I got very, very distracted. My Tales From the Crypt retrospective was put on the back burner (maybe next year?) as I got completely lost in Inside No. 9 instead. Now, just what is Inside No. 9 I don’t hear you ask? Well then, allow me to fill you in.

INSIDE NO.9 STEVE REECE

Inside No. 9 is a British anthology show massively inspired by the likes of Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone, Armchair Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the like. Not always 100% horror but certainly stories with a dark, macabre vein of perverse humour. Yarns with twists or stings in the tail that can surprise, entertain and even outright bemuse or just straight up unsettle you. The show is the brainchild of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith who not only write every single episode, but at least one of them also appears in every single episode, either as a main character or just a supporting one.

The title of the show comes from the fact that every episode takes place in somewhere numbered or connected to 9. A train carriage, a house, etc. It is also partly influenced by the Hammer House of Horror episode called The Mark of Satan, which featured a character obsessed with the number 9 (apparently). Each episode is self-contained and because they usually take place in one confined place, they really feel more like short plays than TV show episodes. There is no direct connection between any of the stories, except for a small ornament of a hare in the background that you can try to spot for fun. Episodes vary in style and tone too from family dramas to black comedies and even straight-up horror stories. It also features some really clever and inventive filming techniques and ideas, of which I will cover as I go through the episodes. Speaking of which…

INSIDE NO.9 DOOR

Oh yeah, before I do get into this. I’m purposely not going to be doing spoilers here. Though I will be looking at each individual episode, I am not exploring the endings and I won’t be going into detail (except for one particular episode that I will look at in a separate very spoiler-rific article). So, this should be safe to read if you’ve not yet watched the show. Still, I do recommend that you just watch Inside No. 9 without reading this, if you’re not familiar with the show yet.

Before I forget and just for clarity. This intro that you are reading right now, I wrote after watching all of the series and every episode. However, for the coverage of each series and the episodes themselves, I wrote them as and when I watched them (except for series one, which I watched before I decided to write this). So, I never knew what was coming with each series and the episodes at the time… if that makes sense. Let’s crack on.

Series One

First shown between the 5th of February to the 12th of March 2014. This series started with an episode that was far from being horror-centric, but it did serve as a great introduction to the bizarre, unusual and confined style of storytelling that Inside No. 9 creators, writers and actors, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, would use for every single episode.

Sardines

SARDINES

At a party to celebrate their engagement, Rebecca (Katherine Parkinson) and Jeremy (Ben Willbond) decide to play a game of sardines with their guests. Sardines being a variation on hide-and-seek where one person hides but when found, the finder then hides with the hider in the same place. Ian (Tim Key) is the initial hider and when Rebecca finds him hiding in a wardrobe, she joins him. More and more guests find the wardrobe hiding place and climb inside. This is when the various guests (both in and outside of the wardrobe) begin to chat and numerous secrets and pasts of the party members are slowly revealed.

Having the entire episode filmed inside and around a wardrobe is a perfect example of the confined style of tales that would be the show’s selling point. A small-ish cast (though this episode featured one of the show’s biggest casts) in small locations dealing with intimate storytelling. The secrets of the various guests that are revealed really do venture into some dark places at times too, leading to an ending that certainly has a sting in the tail.

A Quiet Night In

Taking place at a very expensive-looking and very modernist house. Gerald (Denis Lawson) sits down to enjoy a bowl of soup. Listening to some Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gerald is unaware of two burglars (Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith) trying to break into his home, who are aiming to steal a very expensive painting. Gerald is seemingly having a few relationship issues with his partner Sabrina (Oona Chaplin). As the couple bicker and argue, they fail to notice the two burglars claim their prize. However, getting out of the house unnoticed with the painting will prove to be a lot harder than getting in without it.

A QUIET NIGHT IN

The genius element of this episode is that it is mostly silent with pretty much zero dialogue. The fact that Oona Chaplin (the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin) was cast to be in a silent episode was genius. Then there is the fact that A Quiet Night In is very slapstick comedy-like, something else that Charlie Chaplin was famed for. However, the slapstick here is far, far more macabre and disturbing than anything that Chaplin ever did. I mean, there is this bit with a Yorkshire Terrier dog and an umbrella stand. There are a lot of surprises here and just when you think you know where the episode is going, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith pull the rug from under your feet with some deft writing. Definitely one of the darker episodes of the show and one of the better episodes too with plenty of unsuspecting twists from the start to the end.

Tom & Gerri

Tom (Reece Shearsmith) is a primary school teacher who really doesn’t enjoy his job and dreams of being a writer. Tom lives with Gerri (Gemma Arterton), a struggling actress who has just landed a part in a play and is often away rehearsing. Tom becomes preoccupied with a homeless man called Migg (Steve Pemberton) who has been hanging around outside of his flat. Migg knocks on Tom’s door saying that he has found Tom’s wallet and wants to return it. Tom invites Migg into his flat and the two start an unusual friendship. Meanwhile, Gerri begins to worry about Tom’s mental state as he quits his teaching job, spends all day in his flat with Migg and becomes very withdrawn from his own life.

This is what I adore about Inside No. 9, we just came from the slapstick (but dark) comedy of the last episode involving two bumbling burglars and straight into one bereft of comedy and an episode that focuses on mental health and depression. This one is just bleak and has no respite, with an ending that is a complete downer but wonderfully realised. This may not be a 100% accurate depiction of real-life mental illness and depression issues, but it really does make for an excellent slice of TV using it as a theme. This was an episode that certainly wrong-footed me too as I thought that I had guessed where it was going before the halfway point. But no, my guess on the plot direction was wrong and by the time the credits rolled, I was dumbfounded. Both Pemberton and Shearsmith put in amazing acting performances too.

Last Gasp

THE LAST GASP

Terminally ill Tamsin (Lucy Hutchinson) is celebrating her 9th birthday. Her parents, Jan (Sophie Thompson) and Graham (Steve Pemberton) have arranged for a charity to organise a very special surprise for their daughter, a visit from famed singer Frankie J Parsons (David Bedella). When Frankie dies while blowing up a balloon for Tamsin, a plot to try to sell his last gasp of breath, which is in the balloon, is hatched. The grown-ups of Tamsin’s parents, charity worker Sally (Tamsin Greig) and Frankie’s assistant Si (Adam Deacon) begin to fight over just who owns the dead man’s breath.

This episode, with the grim nature of selling a dead person’s dying breath, is loaded with dark comedy and is very watchable. Plus, it really is a twisted look at pointless celeb culture, worship and adulation, while mixing in an interesting narrative on greed and human nature. Lucy Hutchinson playing the terminally ill 9 year old steals the show as she watches the supposed ‘adults’ bicker like children over something as pathetic as a balloon.

The Understudy

Tony (Steve Pemberton) is an overbearing stage actor currently appearing as Macbeth in a production of Shakespeare’s famed play. Jim (Reece Shearsmith) is Tony’s understudy who often dreams of becoming the star of the show. During a performance of Macbeth, Tony gets drunk between acts, Jim is poised to take his place and is encouraged by his girlfriend (Lyndsey Marshal) to do so. However, Tony insists that he goes on, meaning that Jim misses his big chance to take over and play the lead role. When Tony drunkenly falls off the stage during the performance, Jim finally gets his chance to become a leading actor… but at what cost?

TEH UNDERSTUDY

The structure of this episode is split into five acts, following the standard for theatrical productions. It also heavily borrows from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to tell its story too, though you really don’t need to have knowledge of Macbeth to follow the plot. In fact, it’s probably best that you don’t know much about Macbeth to get the most out of this one and not spoil any of the surprises. Though you will most probably miss out on most of the in-jokes and references. This episode definitely takes a statical swipe at actors and I do adore it when people (in this case, actors) can have a pop at themselves. The story is deliciously dark, twisted and it leads to a great resolve.

The Harrowing

Schoolgirl Katy (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) is hired to housesit a stately mansion owned by Hector (Reece Shearsmith) and Tabitha (Helen McCrory) while they attend an event. The house is kept at a frosty −3°C as Andras (Sean Buckley), who is Hector and Tabitha’s disabled brother, needs it to be set at that temperature to be conformable. Andras will ring a bell if he needs anything, though Hector and Tabitha say he never uses it anyway and then, Katy is left alone. Shell (Poppy Rush), a friend of Katy, turns up at the house to offer her some help and support…. then the bell rings.

This is the most overtly horror-centric episode of this series, with a gloriously gothic tone throughout. Harking back to classic horror films of the 50s and 60s with the likes of House on Haunted Hill but with a modern edge. This one really is more like a short horror film that really does lean on the macabre more so than any other episode so far. There is some comedy here but it is jet-black comedy that even makes the A Quiet Night In episode look positively jovial… which it isn’t. An episode that really does hit home a much more horror perspective and showcases just how dark Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith can get with their writing.


Overall

Series one of Inside No. 9 is a great mix of genres and writing styles. This is what I love about anthology storytelling, you can say and do pretty much anything and only be limited by your own imagination. Imagination is something that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith seem to have by the truckload too. There are dark comedy, slapstick comedy and stories with zero comedy here. Tales that look at serious issues such as mental illness and ones that are just outright stupidly silly for the sake of entertainment.

While I have always been aware of Inside No. 9, as a fan of these types of shows, I never really got into it until this year when I decided to take a break from my (now unfinished) Tales From the Crypt retrospective. And do you know what? I’m glad about that too. This first series is a great start and I honestly can not wait to get everything else watched and written up.

THE INVENTORS

Before I move on to the rest of the series. There was a special Internet-only and interactive webisode called The Inventors from 2014. I believe it used to be on the BBC site but isn’t any longer. I’ve not seen this one and the show’s creators and writers, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, weren’t even involved in it (so I don’t count it as canon). I did find this article that covers what it was all about though. Plus there is a YouTube video that you can watch, though it (obviously) has lost its interactive USP. And with that out of the way, series two and three.

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.

Halloween

HALLOWEEN 2018

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.

HALLOWEEN 2018 2

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

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.

HALLOWEEN KILLS 2

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

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?

HALLOWEEN ENDS 2

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.


LAURIE

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.

HELLRAISER SCREEN 4

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.

HELLRAISER SCREEN 3

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.

HELLRAISER SCREEN 2

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.

HELLRAISER SCREEN 5

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.

Movie Review: Blonde

Okay, so truth be told. I watched this a while back and have been sitting on my review for several days now. At first, I really wasn’t sure of what to make of this one. Here we go with yet another biopic of a major star. These things are ten a penny at the moment and are becoming tiresome. Honestly, I really wasn’t in the mood to sit through another biopic and part of me really didn’t want to watch this at all. I kind of went into it with a preconception and a basic idea that I really wasn’t going to enjoy it.

So, I sat it out for a few days, just to see what other people had to say about this. Not critics, not professional reviewers, but just the general consensus from the public. The public really seems to dislike it too. I’ve read articles about viewers switching off after 20 minutes and being ‘horrified’ by the film. It’s been called ‘unwatchable’ and described as being a ‘hate letter’ about Marilyn Monroe. I read these articles and smiled, I’m not alone… even if I don’t necessarily agree with their sentiment.

“A look at the rise to fame and the epic demise of actress Marilyn Monroe, one of the biggest stars in the world.”

That brief synopsis does the job of summing up the film perfectly and still manages to not describe the film as well as it truly deserves. Before I get into the (none spoiler) review proper, this is not a biopic. At least, not in the traditional sense. Blonde is actually based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Now, the novel is not a faithful retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s life. The novel is more of a fictional take on Monroe’s life, set within her real life… if that makes any sense? Yes, the events in the book and film happened, but not necessarily as they did in real life. This is fiction with one foot in reality. And it is very important to know this before you get into the film because this is a major factor that a lot of the negative viewers just don’t get.

BLONDE SCREEN 1

There is another major factor that you need to keep in mind. As I said, this is not a biopic, this is a straight-up horror film. This is a movie that does not sugarcoat anything. It is a harsh, brutal, vivid and very graphic horror film that is based around a fictional take on Marilyn Monroe’s life. Blonde explores issues such as child abuse and trauma, rape, mental illness and so much more. If you are looking for a nice, flowery flick that paints Monroe as an all-American icon and international mega-star, you’re not going to find that here. Blonde is bleak, it is negative, it is depressing and it is amazing for it too.

There’s a very good reason that Blonde got a controversial NC-17 rating (18 here in the UK), because this is not an easy watch at all. People are being horrified by the film because it is a horror film and a completely unapologetic one too. I’m not going to get into spoilers here, so I do have to be careful with what I do and do not say. But, as no surprise to anyone, Blonde tells the life of Norma Jeane Mortenson (soon to become Marilyn Monroe) from her childhood and right through to her death in 1962 at just 32-years-old. The film explores her meteoric rise from an unknown actress to one of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars at the time. The many men in her life, her insatiable appetite for sex and her many issues that would eventually lead to her questionable death. Again, this is still fiction but set in the very real world of Marilyn Monroe’s life.

BLONDE SCREEN 2

Watching Blonde put me more in mind of classic horror flicks such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and similar psychological horror films that followed it. Blonde’s writer/director Andrew Dominik has got to have been a fan of similar films too because this really does feel very much like a 1960s horror flick, but with a much more modern edge. Ana de Armas is amazing as Marilyn Monroe and she does not really play Monroe as she was in real life, the performance is more like a perceived version of what Marilyn Monroe was like. This is what I think is rubbing a lot of people up the wrong way. They think they are going to get an accurate Marilyn Monroe biopic. You’re not, you are going to get a deeply disturbing psychological horror with an impossible-to-believe depiction of Marilyn Monroe.

Some of the scenes here are very difficult to watch and I can honestly see how and why people have a lot of issues with what is shown in the film. Still, it does have the high age rating for a very good reason… trust me. Blonde is very graphic in its horror and often hits you in the face with a sledgehammer repeatedly, but it can be amazingly subtle too. This is a film about a person’s life completely crumbling and falling down around them. The fact that person is Marilyn Monroe should be largely irrelevant and once you do get that into your head, the more enjoyable the film is.

BLONDE SCREEN 3

As long as you don’t go into this thinking that you are going to watch a sweet Marilyn Monroe biopic and ready yourself for a bleak and graphic horror film, you’re in for a good time. Blonde is brutal and disgusting… but that’s the point, a point that a lot of viewers are massively missing. This film isn’t ‘woke’, far from it. It’s not for all the snowflakes either. I initially went into this not watching to sit through yet another biopic and I came out if it pleasantly surprised because it was exactly what I didn’t want it to be. As the film ended, I felt like I needed a shower. I didn’t have one though, I just watched the film again instead. One of the best films I have seen this year.