Crooked House (2008 UK)

A BBC Christmas revival of the format that had lain dormant since 1980s US revivals “Creepshow” and “Tales from the Darkside”. Written by actor and writer Mark Gatiss – no slouch when it comes to knowledge of the macabre side of the silver screen as his “History of Horror” documentaries proved – here are 3 tales involving the history of foreboding Geap Manor, relayed by a sinister museum curator (Gatiss) to a schoolteacher (Lee Ingleby).

The first story is set in one of Gatiss’ favourite historical periods (at least going by League of Gentleman sketches and his Doctor Who story “Phantasmagoria”): Georgian Regency England. Philip Jackson plays the vile Bloxham, a mercenary capitalist who gets his comeuppance when his cherished new wainscoting turns out to be made from the wood of Tyburn gibbet, inhabited by the restless souls of hanged men. This story generates a nice period atmosphere, helped by supporting performances from Julian Rhind-Tutt (that name is too gay!) and Andy Nyman. But not very scary despite the best efforts of Jackson and the sound designer – going for a “The Haunting” type approach that sadly fails to come off.

Mark Gatiss is a fanboy of all the old Amicus film horrors and classic gothic authors like M R James, so he has an understanding of the very Englishness of the traditional ghost story. It’s all about the atmosphere and the environment plus the slightly odd/eccentric characters that populate these tales too. Anyway, on with segment number two: “Something Old”, it takes place in 1927, where, at the Manor, a lavish costume ball is being held. During the ball Felix de Momery announces his engagement to Ruth, much to the concern of his grandmother and annoyance of his friends. However, the young couple’s future (and survival) is linked with another tragic wedding day and a ghostly bride who haunts the corridors. I found this to be the weakest and least interesting story as there is too much exposition and I lost interest.

The closing tale of this trilogy of terror is a continuation of the wraparound story, as Ingleby’s character finds his antique doorknocker, (having once adorned the threshold of Geap Manor) has turned the doorway of his suburban Barratt Home into a portal into the past. Ingleby’s growing sense of fear and panic as the tale wears on is almost palpable. And when the horrific abomination appears in his front hall, crouched in the shadows before advancing like a Fuseli nightmare sprung to life, I was genuinely shaken and stirred. The switching between present and past is really well handled while the revelation of the true nature of Gatiss’ “caretaker” character and the twist ending is acceptable. But it is the journey that is important rather than the final destination. A cold collation if you want to chill the cockles at Xmas time. 🙂

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Comments

  1. Excellent review, I agree with you that the last tale is definitely the best of the trio! Overall not a bad effort by Gatiss, I hope he considers doing another horror portmanteau in the future. 😈

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks! 🙂 I would like to see some portmanteau releases on the big screen. Make a change from the usual cinema stuff that gets churned out these days.

    Like

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