Mark Kermode’s review of Paranormal Activity the other day included feedback from a lot of people and reviewers who’d been very effected by the film. It got me thinking about horror films I’ve seen that went beyond the normal film horror, into the kind of experiences that stay with you for ever.
I’m a huge fan of what I’d call subtle mind terror, the kind of film or program where the horror is locked in your head, not on the screen, films were you see very little, leaving it up to your brain to fill in the gaps.
Two writers I think stand out in this medium are Nigel Kneale and M.R. James.
I doubt any kid seeing Kneale’s Quatermas and the Pit would ever be the same again, or James’ A Warning to the Curious , both of which excel in mind horror!
But off all the films and TV I’ve seen one stands out by a mile as being the most terrifying, having a very deep psychological effect that has really never gone away - which is saying something as I wasn’t a kid, but a 35 year old adult!
The film is Kneale’s short Baby, part 1 of a six part series for ITV called Beasts aired in 1976 (you can get it on DVD from Amazon here
Here’s a synopsis from Nick Walters
The first story (I’m going by the production order that the DVD follows, as the episodes were shown out of order around the various ITV regions), is Baby, in which a young vet played by Simon “Manimal” McCorkindale and his pregnant wife move to a house in the country, where they discover… something… walled up in the kitchen.
This discovery leads to the gradual revelation of an ancient curse. It’s all done very subtly, with clues dropped here and there, and you are left to piece together exactly what it is that is behind everything, which is even more terrifying as your imagination is allowed free rein. Norman Jones (Hieronymous from Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora) pops up as a comedy yokel, and there’s an excellent cameo by T.P. McKenna as the whiskey-loving senior country vet which provides some much-needed light relief – though even his involvement furthers the plot; there are several twists and turns to the tale which you only appreciate after seeing Baby a couple of times.
Jo Wymark plays the pregnant young wife who is the only one who truly senses the evil at work and it is an amazing performance, you are with her all the way right up until the FUCKING TERRIFYING ENDING. I’ll say no more about it other than the first time I saw it I had to watch 2 episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm to calm me down, and that people who saw it when they were children had nightmares for MONTHSafterwards.
I couldn’t agree more with Nick, and there is a huge number of directors and writers out there working today who were as effected, including Russell T Davies, who said that Baby still the most frightening thing I have ever seen – it’s doom-laden from the start, and the misery and fear escalates until there’s no escape. It’s the most disgusting piece of television I’ve ever seen.
So if you want a real scare this xmas, or want to spoil someone else’s, then get Beasts on DVD, switch off the lights, turn of your mobile phone, and prepare for something very old, and uniquely scary.