9 Horrors From INSIDE NO.9

Opening the doors to the blackest of humor, killer twists, and scares from the best of British television.

By Rich Johnson · @richpieces · October 17, 2022, 6:00 PM EDT

"Even when the show deals with exaggerated characters — witch hunters, creepy gothic siblings, a nagging ghost mom — it finds a way to explore the weird, relatable bits of humanity that tie us all together." ― Amber Petty, New York Times

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton are certainly no strangers to horror. As part of the League of Gentlemen comedy troupe ― with Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson ― they have all been flexing their muscles with the genre since the mid-'90s from stage to radio and, eventually, The League of Gentlemen television series, specials, film, and live shows. Branching out, Pemberton and Shearsmith wrote and starred in the short-lived Psychoville (2009-2011), once again exploring their deliciously dark sense of humor. Work soon began on the pitch for a new television anthology series that would pay homage to personal favorites Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Tales of the Unexpected, Amicus, and Hammer horror. Along with a multitude of other movie influences, these familiar foundations were infused into a fresh "number nine" premise; perfectly self-contained 30-minute mysteries performed through the multiple guises of its talented creators.

What follows are not all of the horror episodes but at least one from each season [1]. For those new to Inside No.9 [2] I have tried my best not to reveal too much of the plot and certainly not the twist [3]. Tis best to knock blindly at these doors…


"The Harrowing" (2014) season 1, episode 6


Having directed the entirety of season one, David Kerr delivers the first of what has become Inside No. 9's staple horror finale. Set within an old dark house, the episode pulls away from the kitchen sink horror and presents a story steeped in gothic lore and absurdities from the nightmares of Hieronymous Bosch and Edgar Allan Poe to Edward Gorey and the lavish sets of Hammer and Amicus horror. Teenager Katy (Aimeé-Ffion Edwards) arrives at the home of the Moloch siblings Tabitha (Helen McCrory) and Hector (Shearsmith) to house-sit but is really there to also look after their disabled "mischievous" brother. On Tabitha's tour, Katy is introduced to the concept of "The Harrowing of Hell" ― Jesus' descent into the fiery pit ― before questioning whether she is familiar with Poe. "From the Teletubbies?" She responds, completely oblivious. The lines come thick and fast but still don't detract from what it descends into during the final reveal; the bottle-fed old man (in a nappy) is only a hint of what hellish nightmare awaits poor Katy.


"Séance Time" (2015) season 2, episode 6


In this Candid Camera MacGuffin, director Dan Zeff carefully balances the (real) horror and fakery of Pemberton and Shearsmith's double bluff. Once again ― with the hint of terror about to unfold ― razor-sharp observations poke fun, this time at the television industry (and its monstrous egos), humiliating the general public. But things are unraveling for presenter Terry behind the scenes of Scaredy Cam, as he drops his wholesome façade; "It's a hidden camera show not the national fucking theatre!" he shouts at thespian Anne (Alison Steadman), who is more concerned about leaving for her evening performance than keeping up the pretense of playing the medium Madam Talbot. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew attempt to hold it all together for their increasingly irritable host, whose ghosts are about to catch up with him. Trust me, you'll be pissing yourself.


"The Devil of Christmas" (2016) season 3, episode 1


Pemberton and Shearsmith cleverly constructed what is perhaps their darkest No. 9 tale. Through what we believe to be a commentary provided by director Dennis Fulcher (Derek Jacobi) on an unearthed Christmas episode from a '70s television anthology, a large part of the viewing experience comes from how much the audience understands TV production. To achieve such authenticity ― the jargon, dated aesthetic, heightened performances, and clunky set pieces ― director Graeme Harper was hired, a veteran who had been working in British TV productions since the '60s [4]. What begins as cliché ― which we are reminded of constantly by the voiceover ― concludes with a deeply disturbing twist; the contrast between the banality of period television and the darkest taboos of horror revealed during its shocking final moments.


"Private View" (2017) season 3, episode 6


Having directed 14 episodes of Inside No.9 to date, Guillem Morales guides us through a "sharp" look at the pretentious nature of the art scene. Exhibited in an Agatha Christie-inspired Giallo body horror murder mystery, the comedic tone is perfectly "executed" as each of the guests is offed; themselves not quite sure (at least to begin with) whether it's just "part of the installation." Ironically, even though it pokes fun at conceptual art, the set itself still manages to respect and pay homage to the Tate and Saatchi Gallery exhibits ― "Bit derivative of Ron Mueck but I like the idea of a blood mirror." ― while also, in true cinephile mode, shares visual cues to Hitchcock and Argento in full gory glory.


"Tempting Fate" (2018) season 4, episode 6


Another finale melds elements of W.W. Jacobs' supernatural short story "The Monkey's Paw" with the domestic horror of hoarder mentalities so often captured in television documentaries. Council contractors Keith (Pemberton), Nick (Shearsmith), and Maz (Weruche Opia) arrive to clear out the home of the deceased Frank Meggins (Nigel Planer). As they work their way through the "Jenga stacked shit," they discover an ornamental brass hare ― which happens to be hidden in every episode of Inside No. 9 ― accompanied by a videotaped warning. Caught in the warren, tension builds as Keith and Maz are slowly tempted by greed, while Nick's background in folklore leads him to question the curse. Director Jim O'Hanlon does an excellent job in blocking out one of the most claustrophobic set pieces of the series, and only adds to an impending doom the trio has found themselves in.


"Dead Line" (2018) Halloween Special


In this live episode, inspired by the BBC's infamous Ghostwatch (1992), Pemberton and Shearsmith dove headfirst into the meta-realms of horror with director Barbara Wiltshire at the helm [5]. Playing on 28th October 2018, British audiences watched as the broadcast started to go wrong very quickly. At first, problems with the sound persisted before the BBC promptly updated, "We are sorry for the break in this programme and are trying to correct the fault." A repeat episode was aired ― "A Quiet Night In" (series 1, episode 1) ― if not briefly. As the blips and glitches continued, glimpses of ghosts could be seen haunting the screen, accompanied by echoed whispers before we cut to Pemberton and Shearsmith in their dressing room, tweeting live. As the possessed BTS footage hopped from camera to camera, a haunted network spewed up old clips that included a Most Haunted episode from 2005 carrying out a paranormal investigation at Granada Studios, where the Halloween Special was (apparently) being filmed. [6] Not only a masterstroke at the time it went out but still effective on repeat viewing.


"Death Be Not Proud" (2020) season 5, episode 2


In one of the blackest comedy episodes so far, Psychoville director Matt Lipsey returns with a haunted crossover that reintroduces (amongst others [7]) serial killer-obsessed characters Maureen (Shearsmith) and David Sowerbutts (Pemberton). As well as the duo's unhealthy fixation on each other being an obvious reference to Psycho, other cinematic nods include Poltergeist, The Changeling, 10 Rillington Place, and, once David's girlfriend Emily (Sarah Solemani) enters the scene, a cry-out to The Baby. After knocking on the door of his family home, David recounts the relationship with his mother to the new occupier, Beattie (Jenna Coleman), who believes the flat is haunted. In a flashback, we witness the Sowerbutts' obsessions as they play forehead detective; his mother peeling off the Post-it note, "Who was I anyway?..." she snaps with furious curiosity, "Ed Gein! I should have asked, 'Did I dance around in the moonlight with a silver vagina on me face?!'" Beattie, having listened the entire time, responds (fearfully) for us, "She sounds... lovely."


"The Stakeout" (2020) season 5, episode 6


Influenced by cuts in the budget ― alas, reduced with each series ― this is far from a "copout" episode and more an economic little tale playing on the premise of a hidden monster. Some will pick up on this from the offset, the title, dialogue, and chicken tikka masala hinting at lore… and order. The episode begins with dead police officer Varney (Shearsmith), with what appears to be his throat cut. As the story flashes back three nights previously, Varney joins Constable Thompson (Pemberton) on a stakeout at the local cemetery, having discovered his murdered partner's grave has been disturbed, determined to catch the culprit. As ever, the dialogue is full of both witty and, at times, blasé British colloquialisms while Morales, back in the director's chair, makes the most of the enclosed setting right up to the final bloody reveal.


"Wise Owl" (2022) season 7, episode 6


Director Louise Hooper ― who has also recently worked on The Sandman Netflix series ― delivers a genuinely heart-breaking episode that explores the repercussions of mental and physical abuse. Although not as heavy on the folk horror influence as "Mr. King" (season 7, episode 2), there is still a distinctive hauntology throughout that lends a dark and foreboding atmosphere. The sense of unease is elevated all the more with its pseudo-British public (animated) information film that is a mix of Charley Says and original Wise Owl from the Play Safe films (1978) [8]. As Ronnie (Shearsmith) battles what is right and what is wrong, his anxieties cross over into the cartoons, blurring the boundaries between his traumatic past and disturbed present. Although Ronnie's personal horrors are slowly revealed to be true, all British children growing up in the '70s and '80s were haunted by the fear these films instilled in us. As it was back then, keeping children safe was hardly a laughing matter; instead, the horrors inside this episode tap into the insidious nature (and downfall) of broadcast personalities, revealing the most monstrous presence of all.

1.Others include: "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge" (season 2, episode 3), "How Do You Plead?" (season 6, episode 5), and "Last Night of the Proms" (season 6, episode 6). The latter is more of a grotesque family drama about nationalism.
2.With its growing international audience, it was only a matter of time, Amazon's Freevee service picking up the series with Pemberton and Shearsmith involved as executive producers.
3.For a more thorough exploration and the making of each episode make sure you pick Mark Salisbury's The Insider's Guide to Inside No.9 (2021).
4.Harper would eventually go on to direct Doctor Who during its original run (1963-1989) and return (2005-present).
5.Having worked on panel shows over the years Wiltshire's experience on live television and employing multiple cameras was crucial.
6.The plan was to actually film at Granada claiming to have been built on a Victorian graveyard and cursed as a result but was filmed at TVS Studios in Kent.
7.Top it off with another Psychoville cameo from Shearsmith's embittered and alcoholic amputee clown Mr. Jelly ― an obvious choice for a children's entertainer ― the episode is surprisingly touching despite such horrifically twisted and disturbing characters.
8.A sketch of an owl can also be seen in The League of Gentlemen's A Local Book for Local People (2001), in which the idea for the episode grew from.

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