To celebrate horror on television, I’m looking back at 31 tales from various anthology series. They’re the ones I vividly remember or respond to the most. No matter what, though, they are proof that horror and suspense aren’t limited to the big screen.
Famed screenwriter Nigel Kneale achieved fame through seminal British genre classics like The Stone Tape. He entered the anthology arena with Beasts, a six-part 1976 series where every entry centers around an animal. Each eldritch tale emphasized the potentially precarious relationship between man and creature.
The second episode “During Barty’s Party” takes its name from a radio program the main characters listen to at home. Before then, their night of terror starts with the husband, Roger Truscott (Anthony Bate), coming home from work to find his wife, Angie (Elizabeth Sellars), frazzled and disoriented. She’s obsessing over the growing rodent infestation happening right below their feet, but Roger won’t hear of it. He is unapologetically incensed by every thing and person around him — be it his spouse going on about their rat problem that he certainly cannot solve, or his business partner chewing at his nerves, Roger is a bomb waiting to explode. Meanwhile, Angie’s overdue need for emotional support is undeniable as she calls the episode’s namesake, a goofy radio show whose host (Colin Bell) eventually sets his humor aside as he detects the growing panic in his caller’s voice.
In due time, Roger comes undone while in his desperate pursuit of quelling the madness scurrying beneath the floorboards. Angie pauses her own meltdown to comfort her husband during his breakdown. By the episode’s end, we start to suspect that maybe everything happening is imaginary. Perhaps the couple has simply been plagued by their own isolation that they created the idea of rats amassing in the basement. This seems to be the case when the overbearing din dies down as the neighbors return from their trip away. The Truscotts are relieved to see them until they are suddenly consumed off screen by the rats they thought to be notional.
“During Barty’s Party” is minimalist horror as its finest. Never once do we see the rats; we only witness their destruction, which is largely emotional. There is a curious scene at the beginning — screams are heard among a radio commercial as an empty car with a dangling key in the ignition sits idly somewhere — that suggests there is a larger story at hand. Maybe the rats have indeed spread beyond their territory and are behind mankind’s doom.
Beasts successfully illustrates the potential dread that comes from predator-prey relationships. Something like “During Barty’s Party” showcases the show’s ability to haunt its viewers well after the screaming stops.