Unless you’re from the U.K., there’s a good chance this British anthology series has slipped past your notice. It likely doesn’t help that it’s a series more steeped in dark comedy than outright horror. But the dark comedy tends to get really, really dark, and the uncanny talent that series creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have for misdirection ranks right up there with some of the best scares in horror. Each episode is a different story with different characters, starring Shearsmith, Pemberton, or both, and are all self-contained 30-minute episodes. The only thing that links the episodes, aside from the stars/creators, is that each episode takes place inside a No. 9 – a flat, mansion, house, etc. The creators have also snuck a tiny knick-knack into each episode for eagle-eyed fans.
The tone also varies by episode, too, though they’re usually all grounded by extremely dark humor. Some are more gothic, some learn toward slapstick, some are overtly horror, and some get so dark with the humor that it’s demented. Meaning, that even when it’s not a horror-centric episode, Inside No. 9 is genre enough to appeal to horror fans. Shearsmith and Pemberton have mastered the art of the twist, continuing to deliver unexpected turns in the narrative with every episode. Their live Halloween special that aired on BBC Two, “Dead Line,” was nothing short of brilliance in both creativity, technical planning, and execution. Fans of Ghostwatch will definitely want to seek this episode out.
Luckily, you can watch “Dead Line,” and all four seasons with a BritBox streaming subscription if you live outside of the U.K. Hulu currently has the first two seasons, available as well. Because these episodes aren’t connected, you can pick and choose the episodes at whim or watch in order. In addition to “Dead Line,” these five episodes will reel you into the magic of Inside No. 9.
The final episode of season one is a gothic nightmare for Katy, a babysitter hired to look after the disabled brother, Andras, of Hector (Shearsmith) and Helen while they attend an event elsewhere. Their sprawling mansion is kept below freezing for whatever it is that ails Andras, and the walls are adorned with paintings of Hell. Before Hector and Helen leave, they tell Katy not to go upstairs. As if the creepy atmosphere isn’t enough, Katy is further freaked out by Andras’ ringing of his bell from somewhere upstairs after his siblings leave. Something is indeed Hellish and ominous happening, but it still doesn’t go where you’d expect.
The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge
The third episode of season two relies more on dark comedy for most of the runtime as poor Elizabeth Gadge is put on trial for witchcraft in her 17th century village. Shearsmith and Pemberton play the witchfinders that have put her on trial, intending to burn her at the stake if found guilty. Accused by her own daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth’s trial becomes more of a comedy of errors. Until it’s not. This Salem witch trial segues from hilarious to twisted fast, in a great way.
If you enjoyed “The Harrowing,” then you’ll love this one as well. It begins with Tina, a woman arriving at a Victorian house for a séance. It escalates quickly when the séance succeeds at invoking evil spirits, some that have set their sights on Tina. The moment Tina becomes too scared witless, everyone lets her in on a secret; she was set up for a hidden camera prank show Scaredy Cam. The actors and crew reset for their next victim, only it doesn’t go quite so well this time. Once again Shearsmith and Pemberton allows the audience to get comfortable with laughs before pulling the rug out from under them.
The Devil of Christmas
The season four premiere brought one of the best Christmas specials of all time. Styling itself as a ‘70s TV special, this episode sees a family arrive at an Alpine chalet on holiday but are soon under siege by the threatening spirit of Krampus. The voice over narrations soon makes it clear, though, that this is a story within a story. Krampus suddenly seems like a cuddly teddy bear compared to the bleak, demented reveal of what this episode’s true end game is about.
To Have and To Hold
Sometimes the most unsettling horror doesn’t come from the supernatural, but the reality-based horrors lurking in humanity. Most of this season four episode plays out like an emotional, but funny, drama. Pemberton plays Adrian, a man looking to reconnect with his wife Harriet after 20 years of marriage. The dull and milquetoast Adrian doesn’t trust his wife from a fling she had in the past, and she’s determined to revive their sex life. Debt also complicated their marriage. Even still, you root for this couple to make it work, and feel happiness when Harriet seems to bring that spark of love back. Of course, this is Inside No. 9., and the truth behind this couple is one hell of a nasty twist. You can’t convince me this isn’t horror.
For those that have seen Inside No. 9, which episodes are your favorite?