Kneale had a knack for mixing horror with science fiction in a genuinely original and surprising manner.
Beasts is typical of Kneale's work in that you’re never quite sure if there’s a supernatural element of if the stories are science fiction. Or they might possibly be merely the products of overheated imaginations.
Baby is an exercise in folk horror. Peter Gilkes (Simon MacCorkindale) and his wife Jo (Jane Wymark) have just moved to the country. Peter was tired of being a city vet. He wanted to be a real country vet. Jo is a country girl but oddly she seems less happy about the movie. Maybe she’ll feel better when their very rundown cottage is fixed up a bit. Jo is pregnant and she’s anxious since she had a miscarriage a year earlier. Jo’s anxiety will play an important part in the story.
While tearing down a wall Peter and Jo find a huge earthenware jar. It contains a mummified - something. Peter is a vet but he has no idea what it is, although he finds it fascinating. Jo is totally creeped out by it.
Jo hears all sorts of tales, some of which may be true and some of which may be folklore. The tales concern the piece of land on which the cottage stands, and the reason nobody farms this land. She also discovers an interesting fact about the previous tenants. They had no children. This seems significant to Jo.
Buddyboy is wildly original and quirky. Dave (Martin Shaw) is thinking of buying a broken-down dolphinarium. Not for the dolphins. The dolphins are long gone. Dave wants to turn the place into a cinema to show adult films. That’s the business Dave is in. He already owns an adult cinema. Converting this place into a cinema will be easy because a cinema is what it originally was, before it was turned into a dolphinarium.
The guy selling the place, Hubbard (Wolfe Morris), seems extraordinarily jumpy and anxious to sell. He keeps talking about all the trouble he had with Buddyboy, his star dolphin. Buddyboy was a great performer but difficult to handle.
There’s a strange girl, Lucy (Pamela Moiseiwitsch) who is always hanging around the dolphinarium. She’s obsessed with Buddyboy as well. She thought he was the most wonderful animal that ever lived.
Dave is strangely drawn to the odd waif-like Lucy and they gradually become involved. Then there’s the ending (and I have no intention of revealing any spoilers here) which exasperates a lot of people. They feel cheated because there is no obvious supernatural element and they resort to prosaic interpretations which I feel are probably wrong.
The Dummy is another indication of the unconventionality of Kneale’s approach. Clyde Boyd (Bernard Horsfall) is an actor falling apart. His last chance is to play the monster known as the Dummy in yet another low-budget horror flick. The trouble really starts when he spots Peter Wager (Simon Oates) in the studio. Wager is the man who stole Boyd’s wife. Boyd falls apart completely but this shooting has to go ahead and harassed producer 'Bunny' Nettleton (Clive Swift) manages to convince Boyd to complete the scene. The result is mayhem, the police have to be called, there’s a dead man lying on the studio floor and Wager is running around with a shotgun threatening to shoot Boyd.
The clue to what has happened is provided by journalist Joan Eastgate (Lillias Walker) who is on set hoping to interview Boyd. She talks about tribesmen who wear masks in religious ceremonies and how it’s the mask that ends up wearing the man rather than the other way around. That’s more or less what happens here. Boyd’s whole personality disintegrates and he becomes the monster, the Dummy. It’s not just his money problems and his wife leaving him, he also has to face the failure of his career as an actor. The only successful roles he’s ever had having been playing the Dummy, playing the entire part encased in a rubber suit. The Dummy is more real than he is.
This is a serious and tragic story. Don’t be misled by the silliness of the monster costume. That was probably a swipe by Nigel Kneale at Doctor Who, a TV series he despised.
Special Offer is a horror story set in a small supermarket. Noreen (Pauline Quirke) is a socially awkward clumsy teenager who seems to make a mess of everything she does, whether it’s packing shelves or working the checkouts. Accidents seem to happen around her. The story manager, the slimy Mr Grimley (Geoffrey Bateman), is exasperated with her. Even worse, Noreen has a crush on him, while Grimley is pursuing the other checkout operator, glamorous dolly bird Linda. Noreen claims it’s an animal causing all the trouble. A small furry animal that looks quite a bit like the company’s cartoon mascot, Briteway Billy.
Nobody believes her but then things start happening that can’t be blamed on her, and the other staff members can hear a small animal scuttling about in the store. Mr Grimley is out of his depth and calls on the grocery chain’s personnel manager, Mr Liversedge (Wensley Pithey), for help. Mr Liversedge thinks they’re dealing with something akin to a poltergeist although in this case it’s more a paranormal than a supernatural phenomenon. He thinks Noreen is unconsciously making these things happen.
This episode starts out rather whimsically although with an edge of pathos. Very gradually the mood shifts to become more menacing. The terror when it comes is still mixed with whimsy which gives the story an interesting flavour. I like the idea of a small supermarket as a setting for horror, with tins of baked beans and boxes of cereal used as engines of destruction. And of course Mr Liversedge’s theory is that the terror’s starting point is Noreen’s hopeless love for Mr Grimley. 17-year-old Pauline Quirke’s performance is extraordinarily good, subtle but emotionally powerful. Quite a good episode.
In During Barty's Party a middle-aged woman is worried that there may be a rat in the cellar. Possibly two rats. Her husband isn’t too worried at first - his wife is rather nervous. Then it becomes obvious that there are more than two rats. A lot more. His wife is even more worried. She thinks these rats are not just ordinary rats. She thinks they have evolved much greater intelligence.
This is a standard “what if nature turned against us” story, although it’s well executed. This is the least weird episode and for that reason I find it the least interesting.
Beasts is Kneale pushing the boundaries of the genre and giving us monster stories that defy all our expectations about monster stories. A strange offbeat unsettling series. Highly recommended.
Beasts is available on DVD from Network.