In 1976, Nigel Kneale, the creator behind the sci-fi franchise Quatermass and the superior made-for-TV ghost story The Woman in Black, brought Beasts to Britain's ITV. Beasts- a series comprising six teleplays of...well, man vs. beast stories- was aired only once and has recently become available on DVD in the UK. I, for one, truly believe that We Are the World and thus I own a region-free DVD player which allows me to partake in all manner of goodies from around the globe. I'm like Benetton come to life, you might say.
Today I watched the Beasts episode "During Barty's Party", and it's nothing short of an effective exercise in the philosophy less is more. In a nutshell, middle-class couple Roger and Angela Trescott (Anthony Bate and Elizabeth Sellars) find themselves under attack from a massive swarm of rats who have undergone a sudden evolutionary leap- they're immune to poisons, they're intelligent, and they no longer fear mankind.
Trapped in their home as the rats begin to chew their way through the floorboards, Roger and Angela slowly begin to panic. Angela calls in to the radio program "Barty's Party"- the DJ has been giving regular updates about the aggressive multitudes of rats- to summon help. Before Barty can determine her location, however, the phone line goes dead. Then the electricity goes out and we're left to wonder at the fate of Roger and Angela as the squealing and gnawing of the rats becomes deafening.
What's amazing about "During Barty's Party" is that it manages to be a terrifying animal attack story, but we never see the animals- we only hear them. Early on, there's the sound of one rat gnawing on something underneath the floorboards; while this is a nuisance, it's hardly frightening. By the end of the show, however, it sounds as if thousands of rats are thisclose to chewing their way into the house and subsequently chewing their way into Roger and Angela. The herd follows the panicked couple from room to room and the floor begins to shake, and all Roger and Angela can really do is wait for the inevitable.
Obviously the fantastic sound effects have a huge bearing on the success of "During Barty's Party", but even more so it works because of the performances. Anthony Bate transforms from a calm, in-control businessman to a panicked wreck as the infestation grows- he futilely pounds on the floor to drive the rats away, and it seems that Roger is the prototype for Bart Hughes (Peter Weller) in Of Unknown Origin. Elizabeth Sellars is amazing as well, particularly during her telephone conversations with the DJ.
See how easy it can be? It's a terrifying killer rat story with a rat budget of zero. When you've got great writing and acting, these horror stories practically make themselves. Long live region-free DVD!