A series of six effective and concise chillers commissioned by ATV from producer Nicholas Palmer and writer Nigel Kneale - who had just left as a staff writer for the BBC - transmitted on ... See full summary »
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A series of six effective and concise chillers commissioned by ATV from producer Nicholas Palmer and writer Nigel Kneale - who had just left as a staff writer for the BBC - transmitted on Saturday nights. The plays all had a minimal feel with the stories taking place in ordinary locations such as a farm house, a supermarket or a front room. Written by
I only recall seeing 2 episodes of this six-part series - "Buddyboy" & "Baby". The first of these, a tale of an old aquarium haunted by the spirit of a dolphin(!) was entertaining enough - but the latter was the one that stayed with me. "Baby" features a young couple who move into a centuries-old farmhouse and in the process of renovation uncover some kind of mummified farmyard freak walled up in an old chimney breast (IIRC). From this point on, the atmosphere of tension and unease mounts as more and more peculiar things begin to occur in their new home. The climax comes when the expectant mother wakes up one night having heard something downstairs... When I saw this particular story I was 9 years old. I experienced weeks of sleepless nights as a result, and more than one nightmare. Of course, I did have a rocking chair in my bedroom at the time (those of you who remember this story will realise the significance of this). Ever since the DVD format took off I've been hoping for a release of this series. The BFI originally planned to include a couple of episodes of "Beasts" as extras for their release of Nigel Kneale's "The Year Of The Sex Olympics". This plan fell through due to prohibitive costs. Given that so little of Kneale's work now remains unavailable on DVD, perhaps it's time that some enterprising company looked into unleashing "Beasts".
Update as of 20/06/08:
The good news is that, 2 years or so ago, someone decided that there was some mileage to be made out of one of Nigel Kneale's best unreleased works, so "Beasts" finally saw life again on a 2-disc DVD set, with a nice crisp transfer that is at least as good as the original transmission quality. There are some extras, too, including a stills gallery, a few PDFs, a well researched booklet on Kneale's televisual work and, for me, what amounts to the best extra in this mini box set - "Murrain", a one-off TV play that originally screened in 1975 and can in some ways be viewed as a sort of forerunner of the "Beasts" series itself.
Did I enjoy watching "Beasts" again? Yes, I most certainly did. It's held up very well over the years, and doesn't show its age too badly. I now know that I did see more episodes of the series back in 1976 than just "Buddyboy" and "Baby" - I now recall having seen "Special Offer" (with a hilarious performance from Pauline Quirke, of all people) and "The Dummy" (some nice turns from Clive Swift, Bernard Horsfall and Michael Sheard - good Brit character actors all). My second viewing of "Baby" could not possibly hope to stand up to the terror of my original experience - but it's still an effective little chiller which will give most viewers (particularly the more imaginative) an enjoyable frisson of disquiet. The episode "During Barty's Party", which I did not see on its original transmission, is also highly recommended.
"Beasts" is a rediscovered gem of 70s archive television and represents Nigel Kneale doing what he did best. Watch and enjoy.
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