In a nutshell: ‘Not now, Silent Singer, not now…’

Popcorn rating: 5/5

On a grey, miserable northern day, a traditional Victorian Gothic funeral cortege proceeds solemnly to the cemetery.

Only… the Funeral March has been replaced by low-tempo, gloomy circus music. And the mourners are clowns.

Grotesque, garish, dead-eyed clowns.

Hurrah! Welcome to Psychoville.

Comedy thriller Psychoville, created by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, is even more influenced by horror than their previous project, The League of Gentlemen. Psychoville has all the hallmarks of an old low-budget British horror film, including a large cast of deeply unglamorous characters with secrets to hide, an old psychiatric hospital, and more twists than a Turkey Twizzler.

However, you couldn’t really call it a spoof. There are plenty of laughs, and plenty of subverted horror clichés. But it’s genuinely eerie and frequently gory, and it never exploits splatter for laughs. Shearsmith and Pemberton, even rendered unrecognisable by make-up, are good enough actors to play it straight when necessary, and the supporting cast includes reliable stalwarts like Dawn French, David Bamber and Imelda Staunton.

The first series of Psychoville revolved around the former inmates of Ravenhill psychiatric hospital receiving sinister letters saying ‘I know what you did’. Among these misfits were Mr Jelly, the embittered one-handed children’s entertainer, slackjawed David, whose mother tests him on his favourite serial killers while picking the eczema off his back, and Lomax, a wart-faced millionaire who sold his own eyes to Siamese twins for a rare Beanie Baby. As if these weren’t bizarre enough, there are plenty of others. I haven’t even mentioned the evil telekinetic dwarf.

Now, the letters have started again, and the mysterious Detective Inspector Finney is keen to find out what happened at Ravenhill. Not all the characters appear to have survived (although since this is Psychoville, they could be reaching Carrie-style from the grave as we speak) but there are some welcome additions. Reece Shearsmith’s Jeremy Goode is a particular gem: a meticulous librarian who, after the maddening non-return of 50 Great Coastal Walks of the British Isles, is tortured by visions of the monstrous Silent Singer.

Ah yes, the Silent Singer. This hideous, snaggle-toothed apparition in pigtails appears to Jeremy for reasons which, I suspect, might just turn out to be ‘because it’s dead scary’. And really, that reason is quite good enough. The Silent Singer, like The League of Gentlemen’s Papa Lazarou (‘Hello Daaaaaave?’) is funny because it’s terrifying. It’s like something you see in one of your weirder nightmares but can laugh about when you wake up… while inwardly praying you won’t see it again.

The Silent Singer just about epitomises Psychoville. Bafflingly weird, funny enough for the occasional belly-laugh, but gleefully creepy enough to make you sleep with the lights on.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

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