As the first series of Psychoville demonstrated, writer/performers Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton are unusually good at combining comedy and horror. Through memorable characters such as David and Maureen, blind toy collector Oscar Lomax, and delusional nurse Joy, the series managed to provide laughs, intrigue and unpleasant surprises in equal quantities.
In Psychoville Halloween, its writers have allowed their imaginations to run riot, the occasion providing the perfect reason to demonstrate their knowledge and enthusiasm for the horror genre. Taking the form of an Amicus-style portmanteau horror, the hour-long Halloween special introduces four separate, macabre stories all tied together with a single overarching narrative.
Set in the crumbling halls of the now empty Ravenhill Hospital, the focal point for so much of the first series’ intrigue, Psychoville Halloween introduces Drew (Alex Waldmann), a young man who has dark memories of the institution and its evil warden, Edwina. He’s returned to meet with Phil Walker (Shearsmith) a producer who’s scouting for a suitably atmospheric location for his new TV show, Dale Winton’s Overnight Ghost Hunt.
The two then regale one another with a quartet of spooky stories, each featuring characters familiar from the first series – misanthropic clown Mr Jelly, Lomax, Joy and David and Maureen all make a welcome return.
To describe what happens in each tale would spoil the surprises they contain, but I can say there are some remarkably frightening moments in each of them. Mr Jelly’s brush with the supernatural is particularly unnerving, as are the results of Oscar Lomax’s eye operation, which references Japanese and Korean horror in a way that is both funny and occasionally unnerving.
In fact, every scene is packed full of loving references to classic horror, from An American Werewolf In London to Ring. The Exorcist films are the subject of a cutting exchange in one story, where Mr Jelly pronounces his hatred for John Boorman’s The Exorcist 2 in no uncertain terms.
Psychoville Halloween’s dialogue is superb throughout, and there are several lines I’ll probably end up quoting endlessly during pub conversations. “They’ve put a rat in me Pringles and cockroaches in me chocolates” is just one of them. There’s also lengthy, bewildering discussion about recycling bins that provides the episode’s biggest belly laugh.
Ending on an intriguing note that provides a hint of what we can expect from the next season, Psychoville Halloween works brilliantly as both a stand-alone special and a bridge between the first series and the second, while at the same time providing an ideal primer for anyone foolish enough to have missed the show on its original run.
Psychoville Halloween screens on 31st October. You can read our interview with Reese Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton here.