Behind the Scenes on Inside No. 9’s Most Terrifying Episode

Warning: comprises spoilers for Inside No. 9 ‘The Harrowing’

“It was ‘WTF!? Oh my God! I’m not going to sleep! Why did you do this to me?!’” The second the credit rolled on Inside No. 9’s sequence one finale ‘The Harrowing’, director David Kerr was deluged with messages. “Folks have been very responsive,” he laughs. “We’d gone for one thing daring that was correctly horrible and would hang-out them. There’s not a lot on the market that scares a horror fan as a result of they’ve seen all of it so many occasions. That’s the problem. You wish to hit folks with a visceral, palpable intestine punch that they didn’t see coming.”

Job executed. The ultimate shot of 2014’s ‘The Harrowing’ is actually deserving of the episode’s title. A schoolgirl, stripped, sure to a chair, gagged and anesthetised, whimpers in terror because the filthy curtains surrounding a four-poster mattress start to half. One necrotised cloven foot touches the ground, adopted by one other. A contorted, emaciated determine emerges, bare however for a dirty nappy, with curling fingernails and clouded eyes in a gray pock-marked face. It staggers in direction of the helpless lady, hissing a single world with demonic glee: “Mischief”

Kerr describes the picture as “fairly robust meat” and few would disagree, particularly contemplating that the meat in query was paid for by a comedy funds. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s anthology Inside No. 9 has by no means fitted neatly inside both the stall of comedy or drama. It’s one, the opposite and each on the similar time. “Sadly, there isn’t a channel that has a horror division in the identical means as comedy,” says Kerr. “That’s what we have to get going!”

Inside No. 9 The Harrowing Helen McCrory and Reece Shearsmith
Helen McCrory and Reece Shearsmith (BBC)

Kerr directed each episode of Inside No. 9’s first sequence: six half-hour movies, every with a special setting, forged of characters, and tone. ‘The Harrowing’ is Shearsmith and Pemberton’s tribute to horror cinema classics, a specialist topic. Earlier than beginning work on the sequence, Kerr anticipated being schooled by the pair in obscure 1970s horror and uncommon Giallo films they needed to reference, however that wasn’t the way it went. “’The Harrowing’ was very a lot a full-on style movie, and indebted to the Hammer custom and the Amicus custom of portmanteau horror, and although they’ve a tremendously deep information of all that materials – extra so than me – Reece and Steve have been really very non-prescriptive.”

The script got here to Kerr in an ideal state with loads of element, he remembers, however apart from some particular Vincent Worth nods in costume and make-up, the creators have been open to visible concepts – so far as the money would stretch. “At all times with Inside No. 9, budgetary challenges rear their head. You’re making an attempt to make one thing that appears like a movie, however you’re making an attempt to try this on the funds of an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys”.

It was clear there wouldn’t be the cash for a full-body VFX transformation for the demonically possessed Andras who makes such an impression within the closing scene. Like most limitations in Inside No. 9 although, it turned out to be a artistic blessing, says Kerr. 

Andras is the eldest of the three Moloch siblings, brother to the vampiric-looking Tabitha (Helen McCrory) and Hector (Reece Shearsmith). He lives in an upstairs room of their freezing Gothic mansion, stored tied to the mattress and fed like a child on milk system and Rusks. Fifty years earlier, we’re instructed, Andras was possessed by mischief demon Castiel, an infernal spirit now searching for a brand new dwelling – therefore the anesthetised babysitter, Katy (Aimee-Ffion Edwards). 

“You’re all the time cautious of exhibiting the monster, however we knew that we did need folks to see Andras. A variety of the conversations forward of the shoot have been about what we may do with our restricted pocket of cash to make him correctly scary, however in a means that you would nonetheless really feel that he’s human. He’s proper on the border between a poor, uncared for sibling who’s simply been left to stagnate on this room with a grimy nappy and untrimmed toenails. We needed him to be simply on the outer restrict of the uncared for human, however to not push him into a completely risible demon caricature state.”

Inside No. 9 The Harrowing behind the scenes David Kerr and Sean Buckley
Director David Kerr and actor Sean Buckley (David Kerr)

Casting Sean Buckley within the function was key to retaining a grip on the character’s pathos, says Kerr. He describes Buckley, who sadly handed away in 2016, as a vastly gifted bodily performer. “He had a terrific physique and an incredible face, and he actually understood the sort of contortions that will be helpful for Andras when he was writhing and for his stroll. The primary factor was the bodily tautness that he was going to be feeling when he’s writhing within the mattress in chains. Sean simply acquired it.”

As reference materials for Andras’ look, Kerr and the group went to a variety of sources: The Pale Man from Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Dickensian ghosts and the Pee Pee Demon from Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt’s Angel. The character’s make-up was the work of Lisa Cavalli-Inexperienced, who introduced in expert prosthetics designer Kristyan Mallett to create Andras’ horrific set of enamel. “We went for particulars,” says Kerr. “Planning a shot, it was very a lot about half seeing him by that veil. As ever with horror and comedy, you’re simply holding again the reveal. Once more – testomony to Reece and Steve – they didn’t give Andras tons of dialogue. Much less was positively extra.” 

The alternative utilized to the episode’s Gothic location; in that case, extra was positively extra. Kerr remembers his first have a look at the 19th century Highgate mansion that served because the Moloch home exterior (16 Broadlands Highway, N6, for those who’re planning a go to). “It was an actual ‘we’ve acquired to make use of this’ second. Reece wish to dwell there, by the way, that’s going to be his dwelling sooner or later.”

For the interiors, all of it got here right down to the staircase. Impressed by the grand staircases in movies like The Others, The Orphanage and The Girl in Black, Kerr’s group went searching for comparable. One other reference was extra comic-horror. “For Reece and Steve, the characters of Tabitha and Hector felt slightly bit like Addams Household characters. I discovered one of many unique Charles Addams cartoons with a staircase in it after which discovered Langleybury and the staircase was nearly similar. That was an actual Eureka second.” 

Inside No 9 The Harrowing behind the scenes Addams Family cartoon and Langleybury filming location
Charles Addams cartoon and Langleybury (David Kerr)

The interiors have been filmed in Langleybury, close to Watford, which has additionally been used within the filming of Harlots, a 2011 Nice Expectations and have movie The Little Stranger. The atmospheric, dilapidated inside with a galleried space and a sequence of ante-rooms was excellent for Shearsmith and Pemberton’s script. “You simply felt – what could possibly be behind these closed doorways?”

Taking viewers as much as these closed doorways have been Steadicam pictures by specialist operator Alf Tramontin, whose earlier work contains the Harry Potter movies and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Kerr aimed to attain “a prowling viewpoint” and designed pictures very particularly to attract the attention by the home and provides the impression there have been entire rooms and wings that have been hardly ever used. John Carpenter’s Halloween was an inspiration for the choreography of these pictures. “It’s all concerning the ladies, Katy and Shell (Poppy Rush) creeping up the steps and simply not with the ability to fairly see previous the nook, placing the viewers of their viewpoint when it comes to what may be behind a door, or a lined piece of furnishings beneath a mud sheet.” The dusts sheets protecting the furnishings fed into the unsettling concept that you simply’re not fairly certain what lurks beneath, says Kerr, earlier than including with fun, “that was additionally in order that we may simply put any outdated crap beneath with out having to hire numerous costly props!” 

Customized props have been made for the hellish footage on show within the Moloch corridor. Manufacturing designer Brian Sykes had reproductions fabricated from 15th and 16th century work depicting the Harrowing of Hell. “That was tough, as a result of actually you needed an entire gallery of these items, simply to really feel they have been all over the place, however the flip aspect of that’s if Tabitha and Hector had this beautiful artwork assortment, possibly they wouldn’t dwell in such a ratty home. The actual fact they solely have just a few of these work makes you suppose ‘are they for actual? Is that this all a little bit of a con?’ And that’s what you need the viewers to be asking themselves.”

A vital a part of directing the viewers’s emotions within the episode is the work of Inside No. 9 composer Christian Henson. “He’s so creative and sensible,” says Kerr. “None of these movies sound alike from a rating viewpoint.” For ‘The Harrowing,’ Henson drew inspiration from the Giallo classic synthesizer used within the Goblin rating for Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and as soon as once more, from Carpenter’s well-known Halloween theme.

Inside No. 9 The Harrowing Poppy Rush and Aimee-Ffion Edwards
Poppy Rush and Aimee Ffion-Edwards (BBC)

That’s numerous horror speak for 30 minutes of tv commissioned underneath a comedy banner. The comedy although, may be very a lot there in The Harrowing’, which begins as a fond pastiche of the sort of lurid characters present in Hammer Horror movies equivalent to Roger Corman’s Vincent Worth-starring Home of Usher. Kerr knew that visitor star Helen McCrory had the colors to make Tabitha one thing particular. “Helen simply took to it and had that voice and poise. The character’s this kind of grande dame, bigger than life.” McCrory and Shearsmith’s performances are expertly pitched to riff on the theatricality of these stars of classic horror. 

“A lot of the movie performs in a reasonably camp register. You meet Hector and he’s Vincent Worth-ish, a barely campy eccentric. Tabitha is nearly like a kind of Norma Desmond from Sundown Boulevard, shuttered within the chateau. They’re oddballs, and so they’re humorous and bicker like an outdated couple. By the point Hector pulls out the guitar and is singing Lord of the Dance, you’re considering ‘that is bordering on ludicrous!’, and then it’s about how far can we push that comedy and switch the nook to one thing correctly darkish. The Lord of the Dance silliness takes your guard down, I hope, in order that by the point Aimee-Ffion Edwards’ character is sitting there and Castiel in Andras’ physique is advancing in direction of her, it’s correctly horrifying, and also you’re considering ‘I didn’t see this coming’.

“They’re twins, comedy and horror. They’re each the cinema of sensation, you’re making an attempt to create a visceral response from folks. Concern and laughter are correct bodily reactions in folks, relatively than mental ponderings. You wish to incite these reactions and also you do this by getting forward of the viewers and never letting them get forward of you. And that’s all the time been the genius of a script by Reece and Steve. That’s what they do.”

David Kerr’s festive movie Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse will air this Christmas on Sky One and NOWTV.

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Inside No. 9 is offered to stream now on BBC iPlayer.

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