When the BBC offered Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton a Christmas special for their macabre mystery comedy Psychoville they accepted, on one condition – that it would be a Halloween special instead. So, last night we were treated to an hour in the company of their characters such as David and Mr Jelly, who are slowly starting to rank alongside some of the favourites from The League of Gentlemen.
The episode was an anthology of scary tales in the tradition of horror classics Dead of Night and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, much like The League of Gentlemen’s 2000 Christmas special. Four vignettes are framed within the story of the location manager of a new series, “Dale Winton’s Overnight Ghost Hunt” (which apparently isn’t anything like Most Haunted), walking around Ravenhill Hospital, a potential subject for the show. He is joined by Drew, who visited the Hospital as a child and recounts stories about some of the former patients.
The first is a simple yarn about Mr Jelly trying to enjoy a Halloween night in with a DVD and a visit from “Busty Janet” when he turns away some demonic trick-or-treaters, who soon get their revenge. His Quality Street turns into cockroaches, his pipe of Pringles contains a rat, and as for what happens when Janet gets under the blanket, well… he won’t be refusing to hand out the treats in future, anyway. This was the most fun of all the stories and packed in the most laughs, but still managed to be suitably creepy.
The next part saw Dawn French return as Joy, the midwife who thinks her toy baby is real. Her inability to keep the house clear of her “child’s” toys and paintings infuriated her husband while he was trying to sell their house. While much of this went over familiar ground for these characters, there was some fun to be had with a complicated array of recycling bins and the story ended with a memorably gruesome twist on the traditional Jack-o’-lantern, the most disturbing moment of the programme.
The third chilling tale features blind toy collector Oscar Lomax in a nod to Hong Kong horror film The Eye, as his sight is restored in an eye transplant but starts to see the last things the donor saw. This was probably my favourite of the four stories, featuring a clever twist which included a brilliant use of the EastEnders theme tune.
The final story, a nightmare David had while incarcerated in Ravenhill, was probably the weakest. It began with some promise, as David and his mother Maureen were having to hitch-hike their way to a fancy dress party with a serial killer on the loose, but the ending – with Maureen turning into a werewolf – came a little out of nowhere and failed to work as a pay-off, although the special effects make-up was impressive.
Shearsmith and Pemberton have remarked that Psychoville has been partly inspired by American series such as Lost, where a larger mystery develops over time and cliffhangers are used to keep viewers coming back, and the Halloween special is no different. We find that the events in the hospital have been occurring at the same time as the final moments of the first series, ending in the explosion. Suddenly, we cut to the bright-lit headquarters of a mysterious organisation led by none other than Imelda Staunton. It is revealed that four people were killed in the blast (let the speculation commence!) and Staunton is after the mysterious locket which you might remember is currently with pantomime dwarf Robert, who wasn’t seen in the special. This nicely sets up the second series, coming next year.
Although it was something of a mixed bag (as this kind of thing tends to be), it was a great chance to play with these characters in a more fantastical setting and really whet the appetite for the second series.