Beasts: The Complete Series

Beasts: The Complete Series

***

Reviewed by: Sarah Artt

This two DVD set is a collection of seven hour-long, self-contained teleplays all penned by Nigel Kneale - best known as the writer behind Quatermass.

The first six eprisodes: Special Offer, What Big Eyes, During Barty's Party, Baby, Buddyboy and The Dummy were a specially comissioned series, Beasts, first broadcast on ATV in 1975.

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The disk also includes Murrain, a similarly self-contained one hour drama similar in feel to Baby. The IMDB deems these shows part of the horror genre, though they share far more with the gothic, uncanny quality of say, the first two seasons of the X-files than, say, The Hills Have Eyes.

Television, frequently considered the most ephemeral and immersive of media, with its endless, twenty-four flow, often has a longer cultural life than cinema. Television's domestic setting ensures episodes and seasons of favourite shows become inextricably bound up in our memories of particular segments of our lives. Which is why reviewing television shows from an earlier era feels rather like archaeology - as though you are unearthing something that's been largely forgotten.

Beasts and Murrain would have come out when 70s-era Dr Who was at the height of its popularity, perhaps taking advantage of a general fascination with the weird. But while Dr Who has always been much more firmly entrenched in the realms of science fiction, Beasts and Murrain make the most of our fear of the unseen. Each episode feels quite intense for television and time has done nothing to diminish Kneale's ability to create an absorbing narrative.

The third and fourth episodes of Beasts: Barty's Party and Baby are the most frightening, dealing respectively with a 'super-rat' infestation and a strange animal mummy found in a sealed jar, in the wall of an old farmhouse. What Big Eyes finds an RSPCA inspector stumbling upon a mad scientist with a penchant for experiments in lycanthropy, while Special Offer features a dreary shop upset by telekinetic episodes.

Buddyboy, the 6th episode of Beasts is by far the most bizarre, as it involves a girl with a strange connection to the ghost of a highly intelligent dolphin (the Buddyboy of the title) and a porn cinema impresario. The disembodied dolphin squeaks just aren't that sinister (perhaps it's all that childhood exposure to reruns of Flipper) but the creepy air of the dilapidated dolphin emporium, Finnyland, and the impresario's plans to transform it into an exclusive porn cinema club certainly get the skin crawling.

Murrain, the other Kneale-authored drama included on the second disk, involves a rural vetrinarian, retained by his local council, who encounters a group of farmworkers straight out of the Wicker Man, who believe their neighbour to be a witch who has placed a 'murrain' or curse on their pigs and their water supply.

When the vet goes to investigate, he finds nothing but an impoverished old woman, whom he seeks to help. By the end, she demonstrates her terrifying power. Beasts seem to feature two particular themes: hysterical women whose supposed imaginings of strange noises and weird feelings always turn out to be true, while their colleagues or husbands showboat about the place, manfully reassuring them it's all in their heads. Until the rats eat their neighbours or the manager is crushed to death by a landslide of tinned baked beans, of course.

The other theme relates to bad science or strange animals, with vetrinarians featuring in both Baby and Murrain, as the voice of skepticism, defeated by the uncanny in the end. Much like the X-files, Beasts prefers the idea of the unexplained and the occult, to a sensible, rational explanation, which is undoubtedly why these stories retain their power to chill and make you shiver.

Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2006
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Spooky series from the 70s.
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