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The League Of Gentlemen Xmas Special (2000)

There are lots of people who don't get it, but I'd always thought there was something special about The League Of Gentlemen. However, even I didn't realise just how special it was until Christmas 2000.

As a comedy series, it's hardly Are You Being Served?. Comparisons have been made to the Carry Ons and Monty Python, but it's far, far darker than any of these. Most of the "jokes" aren't really jokes at all - for example an obviously distraut woman bringing some unused baby clothes into a charity shop, only to break down in tears as they are pawed at and commented on by the vicious elderly women who work behind the counter. Yet even this grim scene (it's made very obvious why the items have never been used) still elicits laughter. Why I have no idea.

For those of you who don't know, The League Of Gentlemen is a BBC TV show set in the fictional North Of England town of Royston Vasey. Seemingly cut off from the rest of the world by the forebidding moors of the Peak District, the town seems normal - until you scratch the surface.

The series began with the arrival of Ben, an outsider who was supposed to be visiting his friend there and staying with his aunt and uncle. But his friend never arrives, and Ben finds that his relatives are far from normal.

This, however, is just one strand of the show, which explores a wide variety of characters (mostly played by the same three men - Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith).

Many of the characters in the series could have come straight from a horror film - Pop, a vicious Greek businessman who terrifies his family and tenants alike; Ben's aunt and uncle, who keep him locked up and drugged in his bedroom; Papa Lazarous, who runs a travelling circus and kidnaps housewives; and most famously, Edward and Tubbs, the owners of the "Local Shop" who kill every customer they have.

There are millions of sites dedicated to the show on-line, and as much as I'd like to list every catchphrase or famous scene, someone's already done that so I won't bother.

What I will say (and this is the reason for its inclusion on this site) is that the TV series only had horrific elements to it, with only sad people like me speculating whether old Brit horror films had been an influence. On that snowy Christmas night, the Christmas special was shown - confirming everything I'd suspected and wearing its references proudly on its sleeve. It was also a work of comic genius, and gorgeous to look at.

For a start it has the look of an Amicus portmanteau film, complete with framing device and three seperate stories of terror. Then you have the other references - Hammer's Curse Of Frankenstein, The Witches, Dracula and Vampire Circus, Tyburn's The Ghoul, the list goes on and on. It's even got Hammer stalwart Freddie Jones in it.

The linking tale concerns Royston Vasey's lady vicar, the acerbic Bernice - who greets and deals with all her parishioners with the same venomous contempt. Example: "Are you the vicar?"

"No, I'm the fucking gardener."

Alone in her church on Christmas eve, she is visited by three men, each with their own tale to tell and wanting advice.

The first is a long-suffering husband who is plagued by a recurring dream where his wife uses voodoo magic to ruin his life, before coming to a sticky end herself.

The second is the local vet, who's life (and career) has been ruined by a curse placed on a distant relative during Victorian times. For this we are treated to a fantastic flashback sequence involving the Victorian vet (the resemblance to Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein is unmistakable) as he makes his way to turn-of-the-century Royston Vasey and his destiny. Every Victorian cliche in the book is thrown in (a la Doctor Jekyll And Sister Hyde), and it even manages a dig at The Railway Children for good measure.

The last (and most horrific) tale involves a young man who travels to the German town of Duisberg, where he encounters the predatory Herr Lipp and a load of vampires (references to everything from Salem's Lot to the dream sequences in An American Werewolf In London).

Finally, we return to the church, where there's a twist ending involving Bernice herself.

If you love Brit Horror, you'd do worse than to catch the show. But if you want a real taste of how the late 60s/early 70s stuff from Amicus and Hammer could be updated for a modern audience, you must grab yourself a copy of the Christmas special.

Okay, so it's not a film, per se... But it's nearer to the stuff we love than anything else that's been created in the past 20 years...

Last updated: February 24, 2010

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All photos, posters, sounds and videos are reproduced in good faith with the sole intention of promoting these films. Why should I be the only one to suffer watching them? If any film makers feel particularly strongly about abuse of copyright on the site, they obviously haven't got anything better to do. You could try Watchdog, but frankly, I think they've got bigger fish to fry...