Inside No. 9 makes its long-awaited return with a festive special on 27th December, entitled ‘The Devil of Christmas’. Here is Sophie’s non-spoilery preview:
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton like a good seasonal special. The League of Gentlemen got a Christmas outing back in 2000 and Psychoville had a Halloween themed episode in 2010. Both of these hour-long specials were packed full of references and homages to the sort of classic horror films that Shearsmith and Pemberton (and in the case of The League, Gatiss and Dyson too) have always loved. Around a year and a half since the pair’s anthology series Inside No. 9 was last on our screens, they’re now treating us to a dark Christmas special before more new episodes air early next year.
In ‘The Devil of Christmas’ it’s December 1977 and an English family has arrived for a stay at an Austrian alpine chalet. They are shown around by the caretaker Klaus (Shearsmith), who tells them about the local legend of the Krampus – a demonic creature which punishes naughty children. Although Julian (Pemberton) and his mother Celia (Rula Lenska) dismiss the story outright, it begins to trouble young Toby (George Bedford) and particularly his stepmother Kathy (Jessica Raine).
‘The Devil of Christmas’ isn’t just set in the 1970s. If you were flicking through the channels and stumbled across it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it had actually been filmed in the 70s. The whole thing has an authentically retro feel thanks to the use of period cameras and lighting, as well as its 4:3 aspect ratio.
Staying true to the low-budget 70s horror it parodies, and in a similar manner to Acorn Antiques and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (although less OTT), the episode is peppered with ‘mistakes’ such as the actors standing completely still at the beginning of shots, blocking the camera and, in what is possibly my favourite moment, emerging wet from the shower only to be dry a few seconds later. Jessica Raine puts in a particularly entertaining performance full of lip quivering, heavy breathing and overacting.
In typical No. 9 style, the episode isn’t just about laughs and has an uneasy atmosphere throughout, culminating in a conclusion that genuinely disturbs. Without going into much detail (because Inside No. 9 is always best experienced when you watch knowing as little as possible), ‘The Devil of Christmas’ is multilayered – more so than its trailer and other publicity has given away – with jokes and surprises on more than one level.
People tend to watch more live television than usual over the festive period, so here’s hoping that a few non-regular Inside No. 9 viewers will catch the Christmas special, get hooked and want to see more. I know a lot of people who watched and loved The League in the late 90s/early 2000s, but have never seen Psychoville or Inside No. 9, as their viewing habits now involve nothing but ploughing through massive American boxsets. It’s a huge shame, because Shearsmith and Pemberton have really gone from strength to strength as writers and performers; The League was by no means their magnum opus.
So whether you’re already a fan of Inside No. 9 or a complete newbie to it, I recommend you sit yourself down for ‘The Devil of Christmas’ on 27th December. It’s a festive special that I’m certainly going to be repeat-watching for many Christmases to come.