Contains mild spoilers for Creeped Out.
“Nods to Spielberg, Zemeckis, Joe Dante, even John Carpenter…” Director Steve Hughes (Doctor Who, Wolfblood) is telling me about the first time he read a script for CBBC anthology series Creeped Out. “I remember begging ‘you have to let me direct this – it’s my dream job!’”
The scripts, Hughes recalls, had a real flavour of Amazing Stories (“one of my favourite TV series from the 80s”) and “were clearly written by people who loved the same films as TV shows as I did.” Those people were Bede Blake and Robert Butler, movie nerds through and through. In pre-production for the eight Creeped Out episodes Hughes directed, the three of them “spent many hours geeking out over all the films we loved from our teenage years.”
The result of all those hours geeking out is an excellent anthology series stuffed with nerdy references. The episodes’ Easter Eggs are all handled with a light touch. There’s no way Creeped Out’s young audience would feel alienated because they’ve never seen, say, Back To The Future, but fingers crossed that reading this might send them in the direction of that and many more nerdy 80s classics…
A chilling story in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ mode, Slapstick is the tale of Jessie, a young girl mortified by her fun, affectionate and, as she sees them, decidedly uncool parents. When Jessie is offered the chance to transform her mum and dad’s behaviour, she jumps at it before realising quite how high a price she’ll have to pay.
Penny Marshall’s 1988 body-swap comedy Big was an influence on Slapstick’s story, with sinister puppet Mr Blackteeth inspired by Zoltar Speaks, the film’s antique fortune telling arcade machine. Listen carefully to the music playing as Jessie approaches Mr Blackteeth’s Punch and Judy stand and you’ll hear a reference to Howard Shore’s fairground score playing as young Josh approaches Zoltar in Big. That was courtesy of Creeped Out composer Joe Kraemer (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher).
Another 80s comedy is referenced in the name of Jessie’s dad (played by Daniel Ryan). He’s called Del, in homage to John Candy’s character Del Griffith from John Hughes 1987 Planes, Trains And Automobiles.
“The episode is about spooky occurrences on an ordinary street, much like Joe Dante’s The Burbs,” says director Steve Hughes. Hence the name of the ordinary street in question – Mayfield Avenue, a nod to The Burbs’ Mayfield Place. There are more nods to “Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score to The Burbs” in composer Joe Kraemer’s work on Cat Food, too.
The work of John Hughes receives another nod here, specifically, 1986 comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Lead character Stu, a cheeky schoolboy who fakes illness to spend the day eating ice cream and watching sci-fi movies in bed, “is very similar to Ferris Bueller,” says Steve Hughes, “and we managed to find a really good young actor called Rhys Gannon, who looked a lot like Matthew Broderick. He wears a similar dressing gown to Ferris too.”
This episode transplants a fearsome fairy tale creature into a modern context. When schoolboy Sam cruelly and anonymously trolls his classmates online, ignoring several warnings to mend his ways, he’s punished in an extremely satisfying way. Trolled is light on movie references, though director Hughes notes that Sam’s transformation is reminiscent of that of Jeff Goldblum’s character Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s 1986 film The Fly (warning for young readers, that one’s an 18 certificate).
Concerned that Sam’s punishment in the episode was too dark, CBBC requested an alternative ending was shot, “but it wasn’t anywhere near as powerful or good!” says Hughes. “In the alternate end for Trolled, Sam ran from the building into the square but stopped before the gargoyle transformation took place. We see him some time later living in the shadows of the school, never being allowed to go out in the sunlight, then we reveal Bill Goat watching him. It wasn’t anywhere near as effective visually or dramatically and felt like we’d really pulled our punches. Sam was horrible and deserved his punishment. The original ending sent out a strong message and I’m so happy we kept it.”
A Boy Called Red
A Boy Called Red uses Atari game Asteroids as a major plot point, which is a nerdy enough start before it was packed with Star Wars references, “though we couldn’t get clearance to see any on screen!” says Hughes. The chief inspiration for this tale of a boy going back in time and befriending his future-father though, is obviously Robert Zemeckis’ Back To The Future.
There’s another musical movie homage in this one from composer Joe Kraemer, who included a motif from Alan Silvestri’s Back To The Future score. That’s in addition to ‘Red’ replying “yeah, much later” to AJ’s “smell you later,” (a line said by Marty to his mother’s family after he gets up from the dinner table to go in search of the Doc), and the shot above, which recreates Marty’s “You’re George McFly” moment with his future father in the diner.
The Call proves that it’s possible to tell an exciting, satisfying superhero origin story in under thirty minutes. It’s the tale of Pearl, a girl who begins to be drawn towards the sea as her birthday approaches, and who discovers a surprising secret about where she comes from.
Now, think of an 80s movie about a mythical sea creature. Are you thinking of Ron Howard’s 1984 comedy Splash starring Tom Hanks? If so, the names of Pearl’s parents, Daryl and Hannah, may ring a bell…
Along with that, there’s a nod to Disney’s The Little Mermaid, (Pearl’s brother Dan’s reference to “singing crabs”), 1989 Kevin Costner movie Field Of Dreams (Dan tells Pearl “people will come” to her birthday party), another Back To The Future hat-tip in Pearl’s mum’s suggestion that she theme her party as an “Enchantment Under The Sea” dance. And finally, there’s a nod to Corey Haim’s line in Joel Schumacher horror The Lost Boys (a 15 certificate, for any kids reading) about his brother Michael’s recent changes in life, in Dan’s “stinking, barnacle-sucking sea monster” line.
Bravery Badge takes the classic horror premise of a camping trip that goes awry and weaves it into a satisfying story about isolation and friendship. When Dent, a reluctant newcomer to the Hedgehog Rangers, is paired up with over-achiever Janie, the two have to join forces to defeat a mysterious creature that’s turning their fellow Rangers into zombies.
This one’s stuffed with cool movie references, starting with the campfire ghost story scene, which references John Houseman’s storytelling opening to John Carpenter’s The Fog (another 15 certificate), a film also referenced by Joe Kraemer’s score. There’s also a play on Star Trek: Wrath Of Khan’s ear-bug scene, and another salute to Back To The Future. Over to writer Robert Butler:
“We directly lifted a line from Back To The Future in [Bravery Badge], where we didn’t say the ‘Libyans’, we called them the ‘Liddluns’ which sounds a bit like the Libyans. We directly quote “I don’t know how, but they found me”, “Who? Who?!”, “The Liddluns!” Little things to make us laugh more than anything.”
And finally, Patrol Leader Paxton? She’s named in homage to the late, great actor and director Bill Paxton.
This wonderful episode about two boys who discover a strange craft in some remote woods is a love-letter to Spielberg and E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. So much so that the two leads are named Henry and Thomas in homage to Henry Thomas, the actor who played Elliott in the 1982 film. There’s even a recreation of E.T. and Elliott’s emotional goodbye forehead-touch.
E.T., though, isn’t the only movie alien referenced in the episode. You’ll see more than a hint of the titular Predator from John McTiernan’s 1987 sci-fi in the episode’s spacesuit design (another 15 certificate, kids!), as well as scripted references to Frank Marshall’s 1993 plane disaster movie Alive, and an unsettling nod to Joe Dante’s segment of 1983 film Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Creeped Out continues tonight on CBBC at 7pm with Kindlesticks. The first five episodes disappear from BBC iPlayer on Tuesday the 30th of January. Catch up before they go!