Sunday 24 August 2014

Beyond the Grave written by Aaron Lamont and directed by David Darlington, Darren Gross & Jim Pierson

What's it about: “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise again for the difficulties we’ve been having. If you’ll excuse the expression, it seems we have a ghost in the machine...” Forty years ago, the paranormal television show Beyond the Grave broadcast a very special Halloween episode - live from Collinsport, Maine. Presenters Tom Lacey and Kate Ripperton introduced the nation to the legend of 'Mad Jack,' the local fisherman who had reportedly haunted the town's cemetery for over six decades. The terrifying events that followed have become infamous. Suppressed and denied by the authorities, the episode was thought lost forever... until now. Now, for the first time in forty years, you can hear the true horror of that fateful night in Collinsport...
Standout Performance: A chance for the entire cast (or a large percentage) to show up and expose the formidable pool of talent fronting this range. Steven Kelly and Asta Parry can be added to that list, they have the toughest job here by taking up the lions share of the action. Who impressed me the most? Colin Baker, in his momentary but unforgettable cameo.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'What were you expecting? A few spooky noises and the odd boo?'

Great Ideas: Time for something completely different, dispensing with the usual theme tune and prologue and using the Beyond the Grave intro to kick start this story. Different is healthy for this kind of range, it keeps the audience on their toes and reminds them that the formula can be broken when the need arises. They could do with a little of this in the Doctor Who main range at the moment. I also love found footage stories. They are something of a favourite of mine. If you go looking on the more obscure horror routes of Lovefilm and Netfix you will discover some rather wonderful (if highly melodramatic) found footage films (usually set in an asylum that some wannabe film maker has found to shoot it) that are well worth a look. There have been a number of attempts made on TV too, with Red Dwarf, Supernatural and Star Trek all having a go but so far Big Finish (audio being a medium that you would think would be ideal for this kind of story) has strayed away from the idea. The closest you will find is LIVE 34, which is a story told out news broadcasts. So the writer has started on the right foot by pushing for something completely innovative. The idea of sending a presenter overseas to Collinsport whilst the show is being broadcast in the UK is a wonderful idea for a horror, he is facing everything alone and all the crew (and the audience) can do is try and advise and listen to the hell he is going through. Jack Hutchinson was a fisherman with the local fleet took his wife and three children to the local cemetery and by the morning they were all dead. Frankly anybody who goes on the chase of such a story deserves everything they get, a bit like Alfie and Emma in Beneath the Veil. There is a 10% greater risk of a violent death in Collinsport than in the rest of America - I've barely scratched the surface with this town and I would say that is underselling the position. There is a strong indication of physical manifestation tonight and so the unwise and the exploitative Beyond the Grave team are camping out in the graveyard to see what materialises. You can't help but wish them the best of deaths. The ghost of Mad Jack is an established, if underground, paranormal figure. How glorious to have Tom interviewing the various characters that we have met through the previous handful of storylines, getting their opinion on the wife tales that surround Mad Jack. It is another way of making this a cohesive universe, bringing everybody together in one story without it being intrusively arc based. Carolyn was screaming drunk, of course. Alfie and Emma turn up, before the events in BtV and are just as irritating as ever. There have been extreme examples of malevolent presences at Eaglehill. What was I saying about found footage stories and asylums? Live television is a perfect ingredient of the horror genre...remember Ghostwatch? Experience the horror of the situation in real time. Aaron Lamont would be doing a pretty lousy job if he didn't ape the enforced banter and mockery of the evil spirits that is the bread and butter of the presenters on shows like Most Haunted. It just makes the build up all the more delicious, their mockery will eventually come back to bite them in the butt. The advert breaks are inspired because they allow a dramatic pause in the action, like the cliff-hangers over on Doctor Who. Maggie Evans bursts onto the scene of the broadcast, all portents of doom and disaster, just like Miss Hawthorne in The Daemons. I picked up on the screaming in the distance long before it was pointed out. It's just subtle enough that you might think it is a random background noise and problem with the sound design. This is a horror though...I knew it was a woman screaming. Danielle's appearance is a particular delight because you can hear the devils whisper underneath her natural brogue. I can't wait to find out the fallout from the events of Beneath the Veil. Chaos starts breaking out in town, Tom's visit and digging into its past being the catalyst to the madness that ensues. Have you ever been somewhere that just felt bad and evil? One place that has seen so much death and pain that it actually begins to crave it. I've heard of the theory of a location that is so absorbed with the pain it has experienced that it has taken on a malevolent force...but to crave such feelings, that is a genuinely chilling, original idea. What is this very old and very angry presence that has been unleashed in Collinsport? And if this is found footage from 40 years ago...where the hell is it now? Something that finds the darkest thoughts that you have ever had and makes them grow...brrr. In a tragic conclusion, Jim sacrifices himself to save them all leaving Maggie Evans bereft.

Audio Landscape: Braving the elements, wind and rain, deep breaths, a sinister nursery rhyme. Sorry, I got too caught up in the story to keep track of any more sound effects. Needless to say that it was a skilfully crafted piece of work with some stunning atmospherics. 

Standout Scene: The cut to the house of the couple that have been invaded by Mad Jack. Fuck me, that's scary. How about the scene where elements from so many stories blend (including the song from The Flip Side and the nursery rhyme that keeps making its presence known) in sequence that must have been a nightmare to edit. Too many riches to count, bringing all these stories together.

Result: 'It's going to make us do horrible things, Maggie...' Do not, I repeat, DO NOT listen to this in the dark on your own if you are of a nervous disposition. Beyond the Grave is a terrific culmination of many of the Dark Shadows stories I have listened to so far, a chance to gather all the characters inconspicuously in one narrative and bring their stories together. It also manages to have a smart and original story of its own that exploits the audio medium to its full potential and provides many skincrawling scares. That is a fine achievement. To be honest you can tell, even on a first listen, that this is a script that has been crafted with great care. I make it sound so precise which isn't the case at all whilst listening, Beyond the Grave sports a fun Most Haunted style scenario with a presenter visiting Collinswood and poking his nose into all the sinister goings on...and suffering the consequences of that. Mad Jack (for that is the name assigned) is the most disturbing nasty that this series has come up with yet, a genuinely terrifying presence that I'll probably be seeing in the mirror now. There are elements of the cult classic Ghostwatch in this story and lots of clever narrative jiggery pokery that comes with a found footage tale. There might be three directors helming this tale and they all deserve a round of applause because this much have been an absolute nightmare to put together into a cohesive story. The fact that they manage to put the pieces together in such a riveting fashion and have time for so many chilling atmospherics is worthy of some kudos. Beyond the Grave is genuinely innovative storytelling wrapped up in that insidiously creepy Dark Shadows atmosphere, it breaks my heart to think that thousands are buying Big Finish's less challenging ranges and are ignoring where the treasures lie. If you want to experience something more demanding than a nostalgia rush, pick up this experimental horror: 10/10

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