‘Psychoville’: Halloween special review

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The lineage of this odd little programme can be traced back to the radio, then television show The League Of Gentlemen, which featured at least two of Psychoville’s inhabitants, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. The reason why we mention it here is to recall possibly the best thing the League produced, and that was the Christmas special. A portmanteau of suitably creepy tales, it played with the established characters, wrung them through a not entirely logical mill, and spat them out at the end.

The (restless) spirit of that Christmas special is resurrected here, in a collection of loosely connected stories that clearly owe a great deal to the old Amicus films, or the macabre comic strips that used to appear at the back of Hammer House Of Horror magazine: these are gleefully odd and weird tales, made more so by the fact that they’re resolutely bound to the real world: many of the scenes occur in homes and streets much like the ones that the episode will be watched in.

The first thing to note about the Psychoville Halloween special is that, amongst the laughs, there are some genuine scares. No spoilers here, but the appearance of a pair of trick or treaters and an inventive way to produce a pumpkin lantern are images that will sit your mind more firmly and unsettlingly than if you’d been force fed a boxset of Saw films.

Comedy horror is notoriously difficult to pull off (usually, it’s neither funny nor horrific), but the gents manage to win on both scores, producing a suburban nightmare that, no doubt, will lead to some restless nights.

Airs at 10pm on Sunday 31st October 2010 on BBC Two.