FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Apr 26, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 9

In 1976, Nigel Kneale, the creator behind the sci-fi franchise Quatermass and the superior made-for-TV ghost story The Woman in Black, brought Beasts to Britain's ITV. Beasts- a series comprising six teleplays of...well, man vs. beast stories- was aired only once and has recently become available on DVD in the UK. I, for one, truly believe that We Are the World and thus I own a region-free DVD player which allows me to partake in all manner of goodies from around the globe. I'm like Benetton come to life, you might say.

Today I watched the Beasts episode "During Barty's Party", and it's nothing short of an effective exercise in the philosophy less is more. In a nutshell, middle-class couple Roger and Angela Trescott (Anthony Bate and Elizabeth Sellars) find themselves under attack from a massive swarm of rats who have undergone a sudden evolutionary leap- they're immune to poisons, they're intelligent, and they no longer fear mankind.

Trapped in their home as the rats begin to chew their way through the floorboards, Roger and Angela slowly begin to panic. Angela calls in to the radio program "Barty's Party"- the DJ has been giving regular updates about the aggressive multitudes of rats- to summon help. Before Barty can determine her location, however, the phone line goes dead. Then the electricity goes out and we're left to wonder at the fate of Roger and Angela as the squealing and gnawing of the rats becomes deafening.

What's amazing about "During Barty's Party" is that it manages to be a terrifying animal attack story, but we never see the animals- we only hear them. Early on, there's the sound of one rat gnawing on something underneath the floorboards; while this is a nuisance, it's hardly frightening. By the end of the show, however, it sounds as if thousands of rats are thisclose to chewing their way into the house and subsequently chewing their way into Roger and Angela. The herd follows the panicked couple from room to room and the floor begins to shake, and all Roger and Angela can really do is wait for the inevitable.

Obviously the fantastic sound effects have a huge bearing on the success of "During Barty's Party", but even more so it works because of the performances. Anthony Bate transforms from a calm, in-control businessman to a panicked wreck as the infestation grows- he futilely pounds on the floor to drive the rats away, and it seems that Roger is the prototype for Bart Hughes (Peter Weller) in Of Unknown Origin. Elizabeth Sellars is amazing as well, particularly during her telephone conversations with the DJ.

See how easy it can be? It's a terrifying killer rat story with a rat budget of zero. When you've got great writing and acting, these horror stories practically make themselves. Long live region-free DVD!


Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds cool. Ever read Lovecraft's "Rats in the Walls"? Not as minimalist, but pretty good.'

Also, region-free DVD player? Me wantee.

Also, I'm thinking my word verification, ghhhbq, coulda been a Lovecraft monster.

Anonymous said...

Man, that is something I really want to see.

Joseph Emmerth said...

Good call, Bill. As I was reading Stacey's review, "Rats in the Walls" kept popping into my head. I've always thought that story would make a fascinating story, provided you could find a director who could induce a palpable sense of dread in the audience.

Here in Chicago, if the Union wants to protest a project that hasn't hired union workers, they trot out a ten-foot high inflatable rat as a prop for their protest, which is pretty comical.

Amanda By Night said...

I really want to see this.

I read that this episode is the best of what sounds like an amazing series.

NOBODY does it like the Brits. I really, really think you're going to enjoy Thriller.

Great review. You know, I have NO fear of rats, not even sewer rats. I mean, I'd never try to pet one, but I absolutely love vermin, what can I say? I gots to be me! :)

Erich Kuersten said...

I'm delighted to have found this blog... for I too am weird and love weird films.

I don't know about those rats in the walls, but I'd also like to give a shout out to an old Arch Obler-scripted episode of an old radio show called ESCAPE. The episode name is "Three Skeleton Key" and it's about a lighthouse that gets beseiged by rats who abandon their sinking ship (it crashes on the rocks, all crew dead, the rats are starved and see the light of the lighthouse... I shant spoil the rest.) It's easy enough to find and download off the net I imagine, since all them old radio shows are more or less public domain.

Anonymous said...

i saw nigel kneale's baby as part of the beasts sereies when i was a kid in the seventies - completely freaked me out

gareth said...

beasts is excellent, and barty's party is definitely in the top three episodes, the other two highlights being baby and special offer. special offer is actually my favourite of them all.

it's amazing to see such good stories told on such miniscule budgets, but once you're over giggling about the bad hair, bad sets and cheesy acting (and there is some really hammy stuff in there), they are genuinely chilling.

as an extra treat, there's a short on there, 'murrain', about a village that closes in on an old lady who they think is a witch. it's great, and makes you glad you live in a city!

Chris Cooke said...

Hello there people 'across the pond' (that's a fucking BIG pond), please get yerselves a multi-region DVD player and watch BEASTS... Kneales dead now, but his work can still hurt you - The episode of BEASTS, 'Baby', is truly terrifying and has scared a lot of people who grew up in the UK in the seventies.

Gordon said...

Its a very effective play. I watched it the other day and thought it could even be done as a stage play given that the sets are so simple.

Barbs said...

Hi, my name is Barbs and we have three rats as pets, and they are adorable. Very gothic to be sure, but all are very good people (yes they have distinct personalities and are very intelligent). Still there is something eerie about their cold little feet with little claws and the way they talk to you while sitting on your shoulder...
I saw that 'rats' episode growing up and have never forgotten it.