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Horror From The BBC: “IN THE FLESH” and “THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL” (TV Review)

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The ever-dependable English seem to always deliver quality when it comes to filmed drama—it’s in their blood, after all—and that goes for their unique, atmospheric brand of horror as well. We’ll save you the history lesson, but suffice to say that the British sensibility is so steeped in darkness, in grey, brooding, foreboding gloom and spectral skin chilling, that their genre product is almost always a cut above any other culture’s; two new small screen sculpted releases out October 8th from BBC Home Entertainment exemplify that plain truth.

The first offering is the complete three-episode run of last year’s eerie miniseries  IN THE FLESH.  The show’s concept is not entirely new, owing much to the obscure 2004 French masterpiece LES REVENANTS (aka THEY CAME BACK). Like that far more abstract picture, IN THE FLESH paints a world in which the living dead are a reality and are being slowly re-integrated into their former lives with their battered, suspiciously joyous families and charts the various challenges that arise. Unlike LES REVENANTS, these zombies have spent time as brain dead cannibal ghouls and have committed all manner of murderous atrocities. Though they are drugged to maintain their humanity and prevent further decay, the ghouls are slave to their memories and our hero Kieren (FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY’s Luke Newberry) in particular is weighed heavy by their histories of violence. Surrounding his return to his mother, father and cynical sister is the power struggle of a gang of vigilantes who are fighting the powers that be, resisting the notion that the killer corpses have any place in the land of the living. Of course, both storylines weave in and out of each other with surprising and often tragic results.

IN THE FLESH is a fantastic entertainment, taking its concept seriously but not wasting any time on the impossible science of it all, rather aiming to create a somber character study and musings on death and grief. It’s the same arc that LES REVENANTS—and of course, W.W. Jacobs’ infamous tale THE MONKEY’S PAW and even more profoundly, Bob Clark’s DEATHDREAM—traded in. Namely, that when the dead return it is most difficult for the living, who have long since mourned and moved on and now must embrace a very different version of their loved one. There is a morbid, melancholy aura of despair and barely contained horror here that makes for an unforgettable, richly rewarding experience that will demand multiple viewings.

Suranne Jones in "THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL"

Suranne Jones in “THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL”

The same accolades can be bestowed upon the three part THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL (based on the novel by late horror master James Herbert), though the terror here is more psychological and less overt. In it, a mother (deftly played by CORONATION STREET’s Suranne Jones) falls asleep for a moment at the park, enough time lapsing for her darling toddler son to be kidnapped, never to be found. As she and her family dissolve, husband (Tom Ellis) Gabe aims to pick up the pieces by moving his wounded kin (which includes GAME OF THRONES Maisie Williams as a wide-eyed daughter) to the house of the title, a former safe house school during the second World War where severe abuse and maybe death were the orders of the day. As the audience is treated to both the current tale of domestic misery, we also follow a parallel story of corrupt power and torture inflicted upon the children at the school decades prior by a sadistic brother and sister.  Very soon, slow burning supernatural events occur and the washed out ambience never lets up.

Unlike IN THE FLESH, CRICKLEY HALL doesn’t ever fall back on graphic gore to distill its horror. Rather, it is the state of mind of the mother we fall into, a far more terrifying place then the looming manor itself. Both shows are distinctly British, but easily accessible and extremely elegant, but not overly mannered. And both are infinitely superior to any class of crass American product currently zapping out of your set.

IN THE FLESH is available on DVD October 8. THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL airs on BBC America this October 28

IN THE FLESH: 4_skull

CRICKLEY 3.5_skull

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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