Fearful Symmetry

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Pauline Quirk in 'Special Offer'

Pauline Quirk in 'Special Offer'

Beasts is a series of plays with a horror theme written by Nigel Kneale, most famous for originating Quatermass. I’ve know about them for some time and their release on DVD gave me an opportunity to see if they are as good as their reputation. On the whole they do hold up well, given some consideration that they were made back in a time when special effects were not so special; plus the direction can be pedestrian and acting a bit over the top at times. But though things might be a bit creaky round the edges they do hold up well. Things actually work best when things are left more to the viewers imaginations, as is often the case with very low budget horror, such as the episode ‘Special Offer’. A very young looking Pauline Quirk plays a check-out assistant in a small supermarket who thinks she keep seeing the supermarket’s mascot, a rabbit-like animal, Billy. As she is disbelieved and sees the manager flirting with a pretty rival the appearances of Billy start to have a physical effect with cans flying off the shelves. The viewer never actually seems Billy and whole thing is an interesting investigation of poltergeist activity in a ‘modern’ setting (thought the supermarket will look very old-fashioned to modern eyes).

‘Barty’s Party’ is another episode that is effective by the fact you never see the ‘beast’. Or beasts in this case. A middle class couple are isolated in their house by a plague of rats. Very James Herbert. This is let down slightly by a too rapid change of tone from the quietly menacing to complete terror – at first there’s more than a hint that the woman might just be having a nervous breakdown and imagining things and more could have been made of that. The concept of phone-in radio show providing background detail – the ‘Barty’s Party’ does not really work too well either – perhaps it just needed a different voice for the DJ. Though the episode makes up for its flaws with a nicely horrific ending.

Martin Shaw in 'Buddy Boy'

Martin Shaw in 'Buddy Boy'

With ‘Buddy Boy’ you can’t see the monster either, since it’s the ’spirit’ of an above-average intelligence dolphin that haunts its old aquarium. This sounds completely bonkers and basically it is. But Kneale just about the pulls of the concept in his story of ambition and animal cruelty. There’s a nice performance by Martin Shaw in pre-Professionals days.

You run into problems with an episode like ‘Baby’ where a truly chilling concept and execution is spoiled by the final appearance of its ‘beast’. A young couple move into a farmhouse that has been cursed so that nothing can breed in or near it. Of course the woman is pregnant. Things become twisted when a mummified ‘thing’ is found in one of the walls. Perhaps you need to have spent some time out in the countryside, for the true menace of the episode to sink in, but bits of it are really creepy. It’s a real pity that the last few seconds are a let down… only a little bit of tweaking would have created a masterpiece.

Patrick Magee in 'What Big Eyes'

Patrick Magee in 'What Big Eyes'

In ‘What Big Eyes’ an RSPCA inspector investigates the purchase of some wolves. It turns out a pet-shop owner has been performing experiments with their blood. Well given the title it’s not to difficult to guess where this is heading but what could have been a slight tale is enhanced by a great goggle-eyed performance by Patrick Magee.

The final story is a slight let down. A ‘monster’ actor gets a bit too close to the monster he plays and goes mad, killing his rival. Although there’s some nice tension in the piece and ‘behind the scenes of movie making’ stories always have some interest it’s a familiar spin on the ‘there is a beast in all of us’ theme. And ‘The Dummy’ has a crap monster costume as well.

As well as the ‘Beast’ motif running through the series there’s also some interesting themes on animal cruelly, class revelries and the conflicts between town and country, science and the supernatural, and conservatism and progress running through all the episodes. It’s not in the same league as Quatermass or even The Stone Tape but if you are have seen and enjoyed those then Beasts is worth seeking out.

Against The Crowds: Murrain

Against The Crowds: Murrain

Also included on the on the DVD is the play Against the Crowds: Murrain, a real gem, just about worth the price of purchase (or rental) on its own. A vet comes to the aid of an old woman being persecuted by local farmers. They accuse her of witchcraft — but surely she’s just a bit eccentric and lonely, talking to her cat a bit too much? Or are they right? Staring Bernard ‘M from the Bond films’ Lee, it shows just what you can do when a brilliant script and quality acting out-weight any budget limitations. It’s an oft written cliché – but it’s just a real pity we don’t see more of the like today.


Written by Fearful Symmetry

June 30, 2009 at 11:05 am

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