Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Inside No. 9 Live – A chilling, thrilling homage to that other famous live Halloween broadcast

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD (seriously, don’t read this if you haven’t watched the Inside No. 9 live special):

We should have seen it coming.

Given that Inside No. 9 creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton are a) huge horror buffs, b) responsible for some of the most darkly funny episodes in British television, and c) genius writers who refuse to be predictable, it made perfect sense for their live Halloween special Dead Line to be an elaborate homage to that other classic live Halloween broadcast. That’s right: Inside No. 9 went full Ghostwatch, and the results were terrifying.

Inside No 9

The signs were there from the beginning. When Pemberton shuffled in as old Arthur, a kindly old man searching for the owner of a missing mobile phone, something seemed a little creaky. The look was dated, like a parody of Play For Today-style television drama, and the performances felt broad. Could this be Shearsmith and Pemberton rushing out a half-baked thriller just for the rush of broadcasting it live?

Then the sound dropped out.

Then we lost picture.

What was going on?

Like most others watching, I totally bought into it. When the BBC continuity announcer revealed technical difficulties had forced the programme to be cancelled, it felt like a huge disappointment after such build up. The unpredictability of live television meant that anything could happen, even the broadcast failing. After a few awkward moments, the continuity announcer introduced an older episode, Series 1’s magnificent silent comedy A Quiet Night In. What a shame that Shearsmith and Pemberton’s ambitious Halloween television event had ended so abruptly.

Except it hadn’t ended. It had only just begun.

A Quiet Night In started to play, but something was clearly going wrong with the broadcast. The music was running slow, creating an eerie, nightmarish effect. Something was hidden in the background – something that wasn’t present in the original episode. Was the very broadcast itself haunted?

Of course, it was all deliberate. Taking their cues from the classic 1992 Halloween broadcast Ghostwatch – a supposedly-real live documentary in which Michael Parkinson, Craig Charles and Sarah Greene investigated a family haunted by a poltergeist named Pipes – Shearsmith and Pemberton smashed through the fourth wall, telling the story of ghosts haunting the legendary Grenada Studios (where the broadcast was taking place). Merging footage from documentaries like Most Haunted and an interview the creators gave on The One Show with live footage of the ‘actors’ sitting in their dressing rooms complaining about the failed broadcast and found footage-esque shots from Shearsmith’s Go Pro, Dead Line turned out to be an unpredictable, chilling meta freak out.

While perhaps not as hilarious as previous episodes (though sly dig at Black Mirror and Shearsmith’s grumpy real life persona provided big laughs), the scares more than made up for it. Inside No. 9 rarely goes for jump scares, but the brief glimpses of ghostly spectres and slow, eerie CCTV camera footage were perfectly shiver-inducing. If anything, the broadcast could have been much longer. Had Shearsmith and Pemberton been given an hour to play with, the ghostly elements could have been really slow burn, subtly working their way into pure supernatural terror. Then again, you can always have too much of a good thing.

Whether Dead Line will work on repeats is hard to tell, as the interactive elements – the failing sound, the continuity announcer, Reece tweeting live during the show – seemed design to only truly terrify when viewed in the moment. The plot was effective but perhaps too simple, the only real ‘twist’ being the broadcast itself. Given that this was designed as a live special, it can only real be judged on its merits as a live broadcast, in which case it was truly spectacular. Proper event telly, cleverly-planned and perfectly executed to freak out unsuspecting viewers across the UK.

Inside No. 9 is back for its fifth series next year. Don’t miss it.

By Harry J. Ford

 

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