A little while ago, Bafflegab Productions announced the launch of Hammer Chillers, a series of weekly audio horror plays produced in conjunction with Hammer. Each week, a new play – lovingly priced at a mere £2.99 per halfish-hour episode – was released. The authors were pretty impressive, too, with Stephen Gallagher (Eleventh Hour), Stephen Volk (Ghostwatch), Paul Magrs (Vince Cosmos) and comedian Robin Ince in the line-up.
But you know me. Finding the time to listen to all these and write a review of them. Surely that would be impossible?
Well it's not, and now that all six episodes have been made available and are now available to buy en masse as a download or on CD come next Friday, it's time to review all of them: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Follow me after the jump…
The culmination of the Wainfleet Maritime College sea rescue and safety course is a session in The Box, an underwater helicopter escape simulator. The candidates are ex-navy or air force, and The Box should be an easy exercise for such experienced men.
So why are the drop-outs gradually increasing in number? Men are seeing things when they're submerged, and won't talk about them when they come out…
What is the secret of The Box?
Written by STEPHEN GALLAGHER
CON O’NEILL as Sean Dickens
ALEX LOWE as George ‘Buster’ Brown
ZOE LISTER as Kim Lavery
SCOTT BROOKSBANK as Errol Briggs
When Ian Hibbert witnesses a hoodie dumping a bin of rubbish outside his house, he decides enough is enough. He convenes a group of Darwell residents and sets out to clean up the estate, which has been falling to rack and ruin the past few years.
But the Clean Up Darwell group are abused; his daughter is attacked; and finally, one of the committee members disappears.
Ian discovers to his cost that someone – or something – doesn’t want him to clean up Darwell. But why?
Written by MARK MORRIS
MILES JUPP as Ian Hibbert
CAMILLE CODURI as Beth Hibbert
EWAN BAILEY as Malcolm Beglin/DS Bob Sharpe
JACQUELINE KING as Barbara Whitlow
LAUREN KELLEGHER as Sam Hibbert
DANNY HORN as Hoodie
Phil doesn’t need a girlfriend, his overbearing Mummy tells him. His Mummy will look after him forever. She steams open his post, reads his diary and checks under his bed for mucky magazines.
Suspecting that her shy, middle-aged son is seeing a lady, she employs her friend Renee from Friday night bingo to spy on him.
But when Mummy discovers that it’s Renee herself who is carrying on with her darling boy, she exacts a terrible revenge...
Written by PAUL MAGRS
JACQUELINE KING as Mummy
CAMILLE CODURI as Renee
EWAN BAILEY as Phil
Sticks and Stones
Neil Stanley is a nice man. He has a nice house, a nice wife, a nice life. But Neil has a secret. He’s an internet troll, spending every spare moment posting hate-filled messages online.
When he begins trolling talent-show contestant Sam Pinker, his threats begin to come true. Is Neil acting upon his online taunts? Or is something else to blame?
Written by ROBIN INCE
ALEX LOWE as Neil Stanley
ZOE LISTER as Sam Pinker
CON O’NEILL as Gavin Hayes
FROG STONE as Val Stanley
CICELY GIDDINGS as Martine
SCOTT BROOKSBANK as Mitch/Doctor
Horses supplied by MILES JUPP
The Devil in Darkness
Mia never takes the eerie old lift in the St Petersburg International Archive. But one night she leaves late and is forced to break her rule. She’s travelling down with the only other passenger when the lift jams between floors.
Andrei is a Russian electrician, and tries to free them, but he can’t get the doors open. As the days pass their bond grows stronger, while they grow weaker.
But what are those strange noises? Are supernatural forces trapping them in the lift? Or is the truth even more terrifying?
Written by CHRISTOPHER FOWLER
LAUREN KELLEGHER as Mia
DYLAN CHARLES as Andrei
Don't Go There
John and Laura Daulby’s son is lying in a coma in hospital, on a Greek holiday island. But John refuses to believe his son is just another victim of bad drugs.
He enters the hedonistic world of 18-30 clubbers to get to the truth, and meets the enigmatic and beautiful Stheno.
Finding himself increasingly attracted to her - in the same way his son was – he realises that she may just be a Greek myth come to life…
Written by STEPHEN VOLK
TONY GARDNER as John Daulby
LIZZIE ROPER as Laura Daulby
DAPHNE ALEXANDER as Stheno
CHRIS PAVLO as Dr Achilleos
ANGUS KING as Fergus
FROG STONE as Nurse
Are they any good?
Well, it's a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. Thematically, as is appropriate perhaps for Hammer stories, the majority of the plays tie into a certain amount of Englishness – typically, repression but also desire for order and class. However, while in the best case (Don't Go There) this works very well, in other cases, it edges towards pastiche and undermines the horror.
Taking them from the top…
1) The Box
I dealt with this in my initial review.
2) The Fixation
This sees a somewhat middle class Englishman get annoyed with the untidy neighbourhood and decide to do something about it, despite what everyone, including the police, tells him. Naturally, there are tragic consequences.
The story itself is actually pretty good – thematically, order can't survive chaos, and brittle and repressed will eventually break. However, the police side of things veers between the implausible and the ridiculous (who'd call a detective in an emergency rather than 999?), and if the rubbish is so important to the community, how hard would it be for them to explain why when the 'hero' starts messing around? The ending comes as something of a surprise and probably won't be what you're expecting either.
Unfortunately, the cast edge this towards the ridiculous. In particular, Miles Jupp's protagonist feels more like Jerry from The Good Life than a real person – more an idea a writer, disdainful of the ordinary middle class person, might come up with than an actual ordinary person. As a result, you want terrible things to happen to him anyway. Fortunately, the ending is good enough to outweigh this problem.
3) Spanish Ladies
This feels more like something from a slightly comedic Amicus horror anthology written in the 1970s than something Hammer-esque or modern. But then it's by Paul Magrs, so you should have expected that, since I doubt the man could do 'serious' to save his life. Nothing about this feels especially plausible, from plot to characters, and the horror stems from a clingy mother trying to repress her son's sexuality. If you like your horror with more than a touch of comedy, it's just fine. If not, it's easily skippable.
4) Sticks and Stones
Incoherence is this play's biggest problem, with an Internet troll who doesn't like someone famous, sending her abusive note after abusive note. Anyone who's ever had 'fun' with trolls online will appreciate the misery they cause, but unfortunately, when the denouement comes, it's not clear at all exactly what's happening or what's been happening, leaving the listener with a decided 'what?' lingering in their minds. It doesn't help that the plays all employ more or less the same casts, so you're listening to Miles Jupp again as the Internet troll and again, this is more of a pastiche than a real person.
5) The Devil in Darkness
A much superior story, this one avoids the supernatural in favour of claustrophobic horrors, with two people stuck in a lift together. The play does push at plausibility more than a bit, but the effect of it all is distinctly unsettling and sticks with you.
6) Don't Go There
As you might suspect from this play being written by Steven Volk and involving chunks of Greek myth (and even good Greek dialogue), this is by far my favourite play of the series. This actually flips the series theme of repression round, with English repression and following of the rules being all that saves certain characters from doom in the face of the chaos of Greece, Greek myth and emotions. Recommended.
£19.99 for the whole CD should be a snip (given that you're getting six plays and a four-episode Big Finish play was about £14.99 last time I looked), given you get a documentary and the digital versions as well. A digital subscription of £14.99 should be equally worth your while.
But, to be honest, given you can pick and choose which plays you want and they only cost £2.99 to download, you'd have to want five of them before the completely subscription was worth your while. And while The Box, The Devil in Darkness and Don't Go There are all very good, and The Fixation reasonable, I wouldn't necessarily recommend handing over your cash for either Spanish Ladies or Sticks and Stones without good cause.
So the complete set probably doesn't make economic sense to get, unless a few quid here or there doesn't worry you and you fancy encouraging Bafflegab to make some more. And given that there are three good plays in here, that's not an entirely bad idea.