Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s anthology series has been given a third series, and returns with a Christmas episode, ‘The Devil of Christmas’, with the other episodes to be broadcast sometime in 2017.
As I said when I reviewed the previous series of Inside No. 9, it’s the sort of series that you can’t really talk about without referring to the twist ending each episode has, but if you know it before watching the episode it will affect how you view it, so even though I’ve clearly labelled it at the top, I’ll reiterate that this review CONTAINS SPOILERS.
The episode title is the same as a (fictional) 1977 film which we are watching. The film is set in a ski resort in Austria. It refers to Krampus, a demonic creature that is an often overlooked part of Christmas folklore, but he has been getting more publicity this year, what with this episode and Lacuna Coil’s single ‘Naughty Christmas’. While St. Nicholas rewards the good, Krampus punishes the bad, dragging bad children to Hell.
Admittedly I haven’t seen all that much cult 1970s film and TV, but from what I can see, this episode got the tone spot on. The wobbly sets and hammy acting, and the gaudy coloured costumes and wallpaper, and very obvious stock footage. The episode was filmed using PAL cameras that were used for analogue television. They succeeded, again from my perspective, in making it look like something that would have been made in the 1970s. It was probably an affectionate parody of their influences such as Tales Of The Unexpected.
The plot of the film The Devil Of Christmas is a family – a husband Julian (Steve Pemberton) and his pregnant new wife Kathy (Jessica Raine), Julian’s son Toby (George Bedford) from a previous marriage and the paternal grandmother Celia (Rula Lenska) all are staying in an Alpine chalet for a Christmas holiday. The caretaker Klaus (Reece Shearsmith) tells them of the legend of Krampus.
Then the film is interrupted by voice of the director, Dennis Fulcher (voiced by Derek Jacobi) who asks for the tape to be rewound and points out continuity errors. He does this on occasions throughout the episode, pointing out actors messing their lines and the poor effects. He mentions the actors by name too. Nancy, who plays Celia, Ralph, who plays Klaus, Brian, who plays Julian, and Penny who plays Kathy.
The tape rewind and fast-forwarding increases the retro feel, but it raises the first sign that all is not as it seems.
Why, if this is a DVD Director’s Commentary, are they using a video tape at all? Things like this keep coming up. We see retakes and the crew directing the actors on their lines. Why would this be left in a film that has been released, surely it should have been edited out. A couple of Fulcher’s comments seem slightly odd as well. He makes a point of Kathy being pregnant was his idea as “having something inside Kathy” would make the ending more poignant. He also says that Toby wasn’t the best actor but it was difficult to find “a good child given the subject matter of the film”.
Anyway, the plot of the film goes on. Celia decides to take Toby back home early, leaving Julian and Kathy alone. Krampus turns up that night! The twist in the film is that it turns out all this was an elaborate plan by Kathy to murder Julian. Krampus is Klaus in disguise and he is the father of her baby. Then the twist on the twist in the film is that he is going to kill Kathy too.
Then, we come to the final, horrific twist of the episode. There’s an extra scene which Penny, the actress who had been playing Kathy, wasn’t told about. The reason she wasn’t told is that she is going to be violently murdered for real and they are going to film it. Fulcher comments “Always a strange moment when they realise what’s going on” and “no acting, genuine fear there”. The Krampus actor is replaced and is coming over to attack Penny with a machete. The film cuts out at that point, but it is disturbing enough.
Fulcher says he can’t believe it has resurfaced after all these years, but it was one of the better ones, suggesting he did things like this multiple times. At the end, we find out that what we the audience have been listening to has been a police interview, and the tape is evidence of Fulcher’s crimes.
Watching this episode for the first time, it starts off as amusing, with the laughs at how dated the film is. Then it starts to get strange, as there is clearly something not quite right. Then by the end it is incredibly unsettling and disturbing. I’m not sure whether I ‘like’ this episode as such, but you have admire how well it was put together. Even if you know, given what sort of series this, that there is going to be a twist, I think you expect it to be supernatural given all the focus the film has on Krampus.
One thing I definitely liked about this episode though was Rula Lenska, I’ve long thought she should be cast in TV programmes more often.