After The Quatermass trilogy chilled UK audiences on television and worldwide via three Hammer films, Nigel Kneale had quite a master of horror reputation. He didn’t consider himself to be a genre writer, and this entry in his Beasts tv series isn’t supernaturally inclined or science fiction-based, although genre elements are present. The Dummy is a study in a mental breakdown, that of an actor, Clyde Boys (Bernard Horsfall) who is returning to the role of the dummy for an eight film. Wearing the elaborate suit has taken a physical toll, and the film- production around him is threatened by his reliance on alcohol to get him through the day. Producer Bunny (Clive Swift) is on hand to try and steer the production away from the rocks, with Clyde’s wife, her lover, a nosy journalist and all manner of intrusions complicating the set. Kneale certainly knew what kind of shenanigans go on during a film’s production, and the way that Bunny attempts to befriend Clyde while subtly trying to remove him from the film rings true. The Dummy doesn’t deliver much in terms of scares, but it’s an interesting little grace-note from a writer who had plenty of experience of unhappy cinematic collaborations.
Another worthwhile entry in Nigel Kneale’s ITV series from 1976, Special Offer is a very odd tale of telekinesis that seems to reflect on a similar subject matter to Stephen King’s Carrie, but instead of the specific humiliations of a prom and pig’s blood, the ordinary everyday humiliation of working on the checkout of a British supermarket creates a similar result. Pauline Quirke plays Noreen Beale, a naïve and inexperienced girl who starts work on the tills in a store operated by Mr Grimley (Geoffrey Bateman). She’s got a secret love for him that’s unrequited, and soon items are breaking, shelves are clearing themselves and Noreen believes a strange creature is responsible. Kneale isn’t afraid of being silly, but he’s also averse to cliché, and Special Offer never quite settles on a tone, making the climax all the more nightmarish. There’s a keen eye for the unfair male dominance of the working environment, and also the kind of satire of capitalism that marks Kneale’s work, even in his abortive screenplay for Halloween III; Season of the Witch.
Also from the pen of Quatermass scribe Nigel Kneale, the Beasts series on ITV horror drama from the mid 1970’s is rarely seen; not all the episodes have dated well, and the single location, acres of dialogue formula that was due to budget restrictions works against episodes like After Barty’s Party. Baby is probably the best of the bunch, and has a haunting charm that’s well worth seeking out. Jo (Jane Wymark) and her vet husband Peter (Simon MacCorkindale) move into a country house, but during renovations, find an urn buried in the wall, with a mummified creature inside. Neither Peter not his colleague Dick (T.P.Mckenna) can work out what the creature is, but Jo, who is pregnant, doesn’t want it in the house. He wishes are not carried out, and the signs point to witchcraft. Baby goes the extra mile in terms of disturbing details (professional discussions of abortions in cows are juxtaposed with Jo’s body dysmorphia) and the pre-credits sequence sets up the idea of some kind of natural sickness. Baby is something of a legendary status amongst young people who saw it back in 1976, but it still has a lasting impact seen today. Like most of Kneale’s work, it’s due a proper dust-off for streaming.