CROOKED HOUSE: 2 & 3 - Something Old / The Knocker

Something Old / BBC HD - 23rd December 2008 - 11.00pm
The Knocker / BBC HD - 24th December 2008 - 11.00pm

In Something Old we're whisked back to the 1920s and a masked, costume ball at Geap Manor where petty jealousies threaten to wreck the recent engagement between Felix de Momery and his sweetheart Ruth.

Again, director Damon Thomas works miracles with a minimal budget and creates wonders with the production values, aided by some murky photography from Ian Moss. He also has a rather wonderful cast to work with from lovely Samuel Barnett as Felix's gay friend Billy, who has a sweet crush on him, to the fabulous double act of Jean Marsh and Barbara Kirby as Lady Constance and her companion Miss Adams. This is steeped in the great tradition of the female Gothic, with the story focusing on groups of women; the older pairing of Constance and Adams, the rivalry between the younger Ruth and Katherine (a suitably vampish Anna Madeley) and, of course, the spectral bride as the symbol of the family secret. All simmering away in a spooky old house.

This middle tale does slightly drag, labouring a little to get to its point, perhaps paying a little too much attention to the unrequited love of Billy for Felix or the bitch fight between Ruth and Katherine. Ruth is well positioned as the innocent, virginal one amongst the other female sinners, almost a younger version of Miss Adams. The notion of a cursed wedding is what we're more interested in and it does take a while to get to the denouement. However, the ghastly vision of the ghostly bride's face, minus eyes, more than compensates and adds a genuine shiver to the proceedings.

With The Knocker we are, naturally with portmanteau horror, told the story of the teacher Ben and what happens after his visit to the curator. It begins as a somewhat predictable tale, very similar to the Ian Ogilvy starring story in From Beyond The Grave in which he installs an antique door in his new home and finds that it has properties that allow him into the past and into a crumbling mansion inhabited by a warlock. Here, Ben puts the old knocker on his door and is awoken in the night by someone or something knocking on the door and then finds that he can enter Geap Manor that was.

What Gatiss manages to do is take a hoary old story and give it some contemporary dimensions. Ben is struggling in his relationship with his wife, who is pregnant with his child, and this is slowly and terrifyingly built into the story in a Rosemary's Baby style riff where the curator turns out to be necromancer Dr. Unthank attempting to provide the original owner of Geap Manor with an heir. There's a suitably creepy scene where Ben seems to witness the conjuring to life of some fetid creature before he runs witless out of Geap Manor and back into his own semi-detached. The twists is if there is an heir, the manor will not end up demolished. It's a neat bluff to have the curator turn out to be the villain and the final scenes where Ben's pregnant wife is spirited away back to Geap Manor to provide Sir Roger Widdowson with his heir, a painting depicts the devastating changes and Ben finds the reconstituted Geap Manor in place of his housing estate, are truly hair-raising stuff.

All praise to Lee Ingleby for his sensitive playing of Ben and for capturing the mounting sense of anxiety and desperation and again to director Thomas for cranking up the tension on this one. It reminded me of some of the better Hammer House Of Horror episodes from their 1980s TV show. A great ending to a reasonably successful series of three tales, The Knocker also shows that contemporary horror can be done on a small budget with marvellous style.

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2 Responses to “CROOKED HOUSE: 2 & 3 - Something Old / The Knocker”
  1. Something Old visited one of my favourite periods of history, so I was more than happy to watch, and listen to, the characters. Gatiss dresses dialog in period clothes, which adds a great deal to the mood and feel of his work.

    The Knocker was fun too; I wasn't all that fond of Ben, but his fear at the strangeness suddenly entering his life and his compulsion to get to the bottom of it, to witness the weirdness fully, was compelling. Even if he was a bit of a haddock's bathing costume.

    As a side note, I watched all three in a row; late at night, with only the monitor and the lights from outside, and in a flat that shakes when people move about outside. The effect, when someone walks across the landing outside, is as if someone has crossed the room behind you. More than once, I found myself looking nervously over my shoulder and grinning at my foolishness. But still, more than once.

  2. Yes, I agree that Gatiss is rather good at adding period flourishes to dialogue.

    A suitably creepy trio of tales and I hope BBC4 keep the tradition going for 2009.

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