Manage episode 340346889 series 2399987
In this episode we talked about season two of Creeped Out, co-created by Bede Blake and Robert Butler, first broadcast in 2019.
If you want to follow us on instagram we are stillscaredpodcast, and our email address is email@example.com. Intro music is by Maki Yamazaki, and you can find her work at her website, and new music on her bandcamp. Outro music is by Joe Kelly, and you can find their music under the name Wendy Miasma on bandcamp. Artwork is by Letty Wilson, find their work at toadlett.com
Ren Welcome to Still Scared: Talking Children’s Horror a podcast about creepy, spooky and disturbing children’s books, films and TV. I’m Ren Wednesday, my co-host is Adam Whybray and today we’re talking about series 2 of Creeped Out, co-created by Robert Butler and Bede Blake. Enjoy!
(Intro music plays)
Ren Hi Adam!
Adam Hello, I’m just going to have a refreshing glass of water!
Ren Sounds good! The awkward bit where we start the conversation again when we’ve already been chatting for half an hour — hello!
Adam Hello, yes, I haven’t spoken to you in 30 seconds.
Ren So, in our children’s horror… oh god, I slept really badly so if I’m a bit spacey that’s why.
Adam (keenly) Did you have horrifying dreams? Sorry, I sounded a bit too keen there. Did you have horrifying dreams? A suitably concerned voice.
Ren No, I just could not sleep.
Adam The weather’s been really muggy.
Ren It has been incredibly muggy. But let’s pretend I had horrifying dreams because that provides a segue into the topic —
Adam Of the relatively horrifying anthology show Creeped Out, which returned for a second season available on Netflix. It’s a co-production between CBBC and DHX — so it’s a UK and Canadian co-production but Netflix took an interest and it was released as a Netflix original series in the US.
Ren So we talked about series one back in 2018, series two came out in 2019 so it has been a while, but did it come on Netflix more recently?
Adam Yes, I believe it came on Netflix a bit more recently. It was shown on CBBC first. So hopefully it is still relatively new for listeners, or a nice surprise for listeners who don’t know it, because I think both of us are pretty keen.
Ren Yes, I’d say so.
Adam So it’s created by Bede Blake and Robert Butler, with inspiration from Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories anthology series. We as ‘90s kids grew up with Are You Afraid of the Dark and Goosebumps, so this is for me at least very much in that kind of vein.
Ren Yeah, definitely. It’s a ten episode series, an anthology series so it’s all different stories and in season two half of the episodes have Canadian or American actors, and half of them have British actors. And the running order that they were originally shown in as completely different from how they are ordered on Netflix — which puts the five North American episodes first and then the five British episodes.
Adam I didn’t notice that, that’s really interesting!
Ren Yeah, so that’s how I watched it and then looked at the original running order and it was entirely different.
Adam Yes, so I started watching this series when it came out, so just before the pandemic. So I split my viewing, pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, though I re-watched it all. But I like the split of locations, it keeps things varied.
Ren Yes, and they are very varied in this series.
Adam That’s definitely the change for series one, because it very much continues in the same vein with this mix of children’s horror and science fiction, with some episodes leaning more into the sci-fi than others. There are times where it’s a bit like a kids’ version of Black Mirror.
Ren Yes, there’s definitely a strand of technology horror — there’s three episodes with that focus in season two.
Adam Some of which I think work better than others. I know you have four episodes that you want to talk about in particular, but I do want to briefly cover all of them. So I guess the technology episode that adheres most closely to a Black Mirror formula is Help, with a rogue AI very clearly modelled on Alexa, and the idea is that the kids take Alexa for granted and get her to do all the chores and speak very rudely to her.
She wants to teach them a lesson, not so much in respecting her but respecting each other, bringing the two siblings back together. It feels a bit rote at this point, we’ve seen a lot of rogue AI stories, going all the way back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so it doesn’t feel totally new, I would say.
Ren Yeah. I’d agree, and I would say that some of the technology episodes have a more subtle message and this one hammers it home a bit more.
Adam I mean, I agree with some of its criticisms of convenience culture. One of the most self-destructive impulses — certainly in Western modernity is ‘Convenience or Death’ or ‘Convenience to Death’ — it doesn’t matter if it’s making the world a worse place or stripping natural resources or meaning other humans are treated in a really bad way — if it’s convenient it’s better! So I do agree with those criticisms, I just thought the plot was a bit Philip K. Dick by the numbers. But it was well-paced, it escalates nicely and it had a really nice ending shot of The Curious playing in the sprinklers. So The Curious is the masked child who bookends the episodes — so possibly this inter-dimensional child who wears a stony mask.
Ren Yeah, and is very playful and you see him in the vignettes at the beginning and the end, and he’s playing or investigating in the settings of the episodes.
Adam Like his name implies, he’s curious about things. And at the end of this one he’s playing in the garden sprinklers. Suggesting a more friendly relationship with technology. And it was just a nice shot of a kid playing in the sprinklers! So not bad, but not particularly memorable.
Another episode that I don’t think works so well, but it is more high concept, is Itchy.
Ren Yeah. Head-lice horror definitely seems like a great idea for children’s horror because they are a plague among children and most kids will have it at some point, or their school will have an outbreak.
Adam It’s a proper B-movie siege movie, this.
Ren And this one has a fairly interesting setting. It’s one of the British ones, and it’s on an island and these kids are at a military school, I think?
Adam Yes, I thought it was a military academy.
Ren Which is particular.
Adam There’s these gestures towards world-building in that these head lice have launched campaigns in the past, so I don’t know if this society has had to militarise in response to head lice, and kids are being trained up specifically to combat this.
Ren Huh, interesting!
Adam I really like how dynamic the filming and editing in this one is. Gareth Tunley’s direction is particularly lucid, and it’s quite funny because there’s quite a lot of orange and teal colour correction, which makes it look more like a high-budget action movie —
Ren — Shutter Island.
Adam Yeah, yeah. But it’s such an inherently silly idea that it’s hard to make creepy.
Ren It loses steam, I think, this one. It starts off creepy when you just have a glimpse of a kid manically scratching in the nurse’s office and then the door closes, but once a whole auditorium of people are going: ‘Argh, oh no!’
Adam ‘It itches! It itches!’
Ren It does feel a little silly.
Adam I appreciate that it is played completely straight, despite how silly the premise is. But I think it is a hard one to escalate, because it’s hard to know what their game plan is. The head lice make people itch a lot — but then what? They’re not sucking blood, they’re just going to temporarily incapacitate people and then what? It’s hard to say what their plan is. And these are meant to be very intelligent head lice, the main character can hear them chittering away, so they are meant to have some kind of plan, but it’s hard to work out precisely what it is. They do sabotage all of the head lice shampoo.
Ren They do. That’s quite a texture.
Adam Mmm. The really gloopy —
Ren — Gloopy orange shampoo with lots of little bite marks all leaking out over the shelves.
Adam I did think that was a contender. It wasn’t quite my Texture of the Week, but it was a good one. But yeah, it’s fun and oddly reminiscent of the Demon Headmaster reboot, in style.
Ren Mmhmm, yep.
Adam I don’t know if that’s just because of the militaristic activities. Well, because we’ve mentioned it I’ll say where my Texture of the Week comes from.
Wait a second, I’ll see if this makes any noise. (Rustling, clinking noises)
Ren and Adam Texture! Texture! Texture of the Week!
Ren That was me knocking two little cardboard boxes of soap together.
Adam That was me rattling a tin money box, with a woodpecker whose head comes out and takes the coin from you.
Ren Nice, that’s a texture in its own right!
Adam So my Texture of the Week is Splinta Claws’s face. So Splinta Claws is the Christmas episode of this season, about a malfunctioning santa robot called Splinta Claws who wants to punish the nice kids, not the naughty kids. And it’s basically one long Five Nights at Freddy’s tribute. Possibly a bit self-consciously, I do wonder if this was an attempt to ride the coattails of the Five Nights at Freddy’s kids craze, to be honest.
And the design of Splinta Claws is pretty great, actually. He’s a very rink-a-dink Santa Claus animatronic with this horrible plastic-y mask with these wild, sunken robotic eyes behind it. Which then gets ripped off to reveal the metal exo-skeleton beneath. So yes, Splinta Claws’s face is my Texture of the Week. I did think this was quite a fun episode. The rhythms are bit incoherent, it’s a bit messy, but it’s a lot of fun. I actually thought the characters of Lawrence and Mike were a bit like if we’d got stuck in a shopping centre when we were kids. You’ve got Mike, who’s like me worrying about minor moral indiscretions in a situation where really he should be trying to save his life, and Lawrence who has this cockney strut and flat cap, and is very claim-making.
Ren I mean, I’ll take it. I was also a very anxious child.
Adam This is me mythologising you into a more confident child than I’m sure you were.
Ren Yeah, but I like that! I’ll claim to be a strutting cockney lad.
Adam What did you think of that episode?
Adam It’s alright.
Ren It was quite fun! I liked how ramshackle and awful the animatronic was, that was quite fun.
Adam Yeah, it was a pretty awful-looking animatronic, that would have scared a few kids.
Ren I was thinking about his claws as a Texture of the Week, that was a contender. The shop assistant explains that this animatronic short-circuited at some point, several years back and his plastic hands melted into metal claws and then they just stuck mittens over them to hide them.
Adam I like that idea that they didn’t bother repairing it, just stuck mittens over the hands.
Ren It’ll be fine!
Adam So what was your texture?
Ren I went with a texture that will come up, because it’s a plot texture, which is pressing all of the buttons in the lift in The Many Place.
Adam Did you ever do that as a kid? I think I would have felt too guilty.
Ren Yeah, I don’t think so. But I do remember staying in a hotel as a kid and like spending a while playing around in the lifts, and me and my sibling being in the lifts next to each other and trying to catch each other. So this lift has all these old-fashioned round buttons and the protagonist Max reaches up and runs her hands down, and all the buttons light up. But as it turns out this is a forbidden texture — it’s such a good texture that you are severely punished for enjoying it.
Adam Forbidden Texture. I mean, this episode seems to have become a minor YouTube sensation. So there’s a very popular explainer channel called ‘Mystery Recapped’ that has the rather deceptive episode title of ‘Little girl trapped in 38 floor five star hotel’.
Adam And that clickbait-y title seems to have worked because it’s got over 2 million views. So I expect that more young people have watched the ‘explained’ video, which is almost half the length of the entire episode, than the episode itself. But I think that’s ever the way now, people watching YouTube explainers rather than the episode itself.
Ren What does the episode do?
Adam Well, like a lot of these explainer videos, it just recaps the plot! You might as well just watch the episode!
Ren Huh. Okay.
Adam So this is one of your top four episodes, right?
Ren Yes. And yours too?
Adam Yeah, I’ll go through my rankings at the end but I put this as my third favourite episode. It’s really nicely constructed and it gets a lot done in its running time.
Ren Yeah, it’s a really good one!
A British family on holiday in Australia, arrive at their hotel and the youngest daughter, Max, gets warned by the boiler man not to press all the buttons on the lift or the ‘quinkan’ will come for her. She does it anyway, when she’s in the lift with her two siblings, and they end up on an anonymous floor of the hotel that they soon realise is going round in circles, with no sign of the lift. They hear the footsteps of this monster, and Max gets separated from her siblings, Nita and Jett.
The older siblings find a lift and go back to their room, but instead of their parents there are strangers staying there, and the receptionist has no record of their family staying in the hotel. The boiler man turns up and tells them that they were in the many place, a hotel multiverse, and behind each door is a different strand, so they have to go back down and retrace their steps to find their own universe.
Back in the many place they hear Max’s voice round a corner, and she tells them to close their eyes because she’s with the quinkan, and she says that the quinkan will eat their eyes if they look at him, but if they keep them closed he will lead them back to their correct lift. So, a helpful monster with unhelpful instincts.
Adam Yes, and nicely you never fully see the quinkan — you see its feet, which are shaggy and have curled toenails and you hear it, but you never fully see it, which I think is quite effective for children’s horror.
Ren They do as she says, and get back to the right universe. When Nita asks Max how she knew to close her eyes, she says that the blind boiler man told her how. Nita says, ‘but he wasn’t blind’ and then they also realises that Max is wearing red shoes, not her lucky black ones, and that this Max’s grandmother isn’t dead. They get back to the hotel room and find the original Max talking to their parents, and she’s like ‘Can we keep her!’ about the parallel universe Max.
Adam Which is all very well for our protagonists, but now our parallel universe protagonists are missing out on a little sister.
Ren Yeah, exactly.
Adam So it is a bit of a bittersweet ending when you think about it. But yes, I wonder if part of the reason for this episode’s success on YouTube is the backrooms creepypasta.
Ren Oh right?
Adam So some of the comments on YouTube say: ‘From the elevator to the endless hallways and alternate realities’ — this from spacegamer76 ‘It all just reminded me so much of the backrooms’. And Billy says ‘Basically what it feels like stuck in the backrooms as a kid’. So, the backrooms is a creepypasta that is still pretty popular, it was popular a few months ago, and as with other creepypastas like slenderman, there’s now lots of game developers trying to make a quick buck making quick-and-dirty indie games off the back of this. So if you look up ‘backrooms’ on Steam, there’s loads of backrooms games now. So the backrooms is basically… let’s see if I can find the description on Wikipedia. So it’s an urban legend and creepypasta, ‘describing an endless maze of randomly generated office rooms and other environments. It’s characterised by the smell of wet carpet, walls with a monochromatic tone of yellow and buzzing fluorescent lights. Internet user have expanded upon this concept by creating different levels of the backrooms, and different entities that inhabit them.’ It originally came, as most memes do, from 4chan — albeit a fairly inoffensive 4chan post asking for unsettling images, and someone posted an image of this strange liminal hallway space and it grew from there.
I guess, really, we haven’t talked much about creepypasta before but I think in many ways creepypasta and the indie games that come out of them are the main kid’s horror of today, or where most children encounter children’s horror now. I’m not saying we should do a whole Five Nights at Freddy’s episode because I’ve completed the first game and that’s enough, frankly, I’m not playing anymore, I can’t cope with jump scares.
Ren Yeah, I wouldn’t survive. I would expire in my chair.
Adam But yeah, it does remind me of hearing things about, say, The Blair Witch Project, on the school bus as a kid, and how the actors in it actually died! And thinking that probably wasn’t true, but not knowing for sure. And when I looked up the backrooms, with google auto-search filling in the results — they were things like ‘Are the backrooms real?’, ‘How do you get to level one of the backrooms?’, ‘How do you escape the backrooms?’. So I think there are probably quite a lot of kids who know on some level that the backrooms aren’t real, but also fear that they might be.
Ren It definitely sounds like a very compelling setting — the buzz of fluorescent lights and smell of wet carpet.
Adam So the Many Place is like the Wood Between the Worlds in Narnia —
Ren — Yes! That did come to mind.
Adam — One of these liminal, joining spaces. But it did also seem related to the backrooms. I think this probably pre-dates the backrooms, just about, so I think it’s a neat co-incidence, rather than as I said with Splinta Claws where I thought it was trying to ride the coattails of Five Nights at Freddy’s. I don’t think there’s anything deliberate here, I think it’s a happy co-incidence that this episode has a similarity to a creepypasta. But I think that shows that the writers, Bede Blake in this case, have their finger on the pulse somewhat of children’s horror.
Ren It definitely feels, a bit like Coraline, like it’s a kind of myth that has been around a long time but that is actually just expressed here in this way.
Adam Yes, I guess it’s a bit like The Shining — this hotel of endless corridors. But it works really well here, and it’s the episode that is most nicely balanced between science fiction and horror. Though another one that I thought got the balance right was No Filter — was that one of your top ones?
Ren It was.
Adam Yeah, I really liked No Filter, it was my second favourite, and I think it’s probably the scariest or the creepiest of all the episodes.
Ren It’s pretty creepy! So No Filter is about a pair of teenage sisters who work at their Dad’s diner. Marcy is the responsible one, and Kiera is the one who is mostly interested in taking the perfect selfie. She downloads a new app called Flaw Fader to help in this quest. Before long, however, her vision is going blurry and at her next work shift a child screams on seeing her face. She runs to the bathroom and through her blurry vision she sees that her features have become blank.
She been getting notifications from Flaw Fader saying that there are bids on her photos, and Marcy finds out where its located. They go there and find this empty warehouse, with massive images of close-up’s of people’s faces hanging from beams, including Kiera’s. A creepy hologram man appears and tells them he collects faces for sale through his apps.
Adam Yeah, they’re basically NFTs!
Ren Oh yeah!
Adam I don’t know if that’s deliberate or not, but they are basically NFTs.
Ren Marcy threatens to hack into the app and drain the money, so he agrees to give Kiera’s face back. It’s only the next day when Marcy realises that the terms and conditions of the deal mean that both she and Marcy can never appear in a photo ever again. She tries to stop her Dad taking a photo for the diner, but it is too late.
Adam They last less than a day. And these are very unfair terms and conditions, because there’s no way you’re going to live a whole life not being caught in someone’s photo. I like that it has the guts to have a downbeat ending, and fitting that it has a slightly more mature teen drama aesthetic for this episode. The sisters are slightly older than some of our other protagonists and I thought it was really nicely balanced between these two sisters, the sibling dynamic felt very convincing to me, and it’s a really creepy concept!
I loved — I don’t know quite how to explain it — I’ve written in my notes ‘blurred sight’ and then a two way arrow ‘blurred face’. I loved the fact that her sight is blurry, and then she looks in the mirror and her face is blurred. It’s not because her sight is blurry, her face is blurry. There’s a really weird dislocation between the senses there that is quite hard to explain. Because here face is blurry, it’s made her sight blurry — and that’s quite weird.
Ren It is quite weird!
Adam It’s not fully explained or thought-through, but I just really like the uncanny idea. There’s something really wrong about that. And this is the second episode, there’s two episodes this season directed by Simon Hynd, and they’re both the most ambitious in terms of their direction. I hope that if there’s a third season, which I very much hope there is, I hope he’s still on board for more direction because I thought they were both particularly well-directed.
Ren And I liked that the message of this is a bit more sophisticated than it might seem at first. It’s not just: ‘don’t spend all your time being vain and taking selfies!’ it’s more like ‘be aware of where you are putting your image because there are bad actors out there.’
Adam Which is an important message for anyone, but particularly for kids. And I thought that it wasn’t being shaming about that, it was just advising caution.
Ren And also you should probably check the Trustpilot reviews of an app before you download it, to make sure people aren’t saying: ‘It stole my face.’
Adam Yeah, when she checks the reviews of the app it’s all like ‘It stole my face! Do not use this app!’ I really like that idea that there are all these poor, faceless people leaving bad reviews: 1 star! Worst app ever!
Ren Would this be a good point to talk about One More Minute as well, as it’s the other technology one?
Adam Yes, so One More Minute is basically the episode aimed at gamers. So it’s the episode I should probably go back in time and show my younger brother before it’s too late — I think it’s definitely too late now. So it’s named after the phrase that the protagonist keeps saying whenever he’s asked to turn off the video games. Which isn’t the same as what my brother used to say as a lot, which was ‘You made me die’, which I remember my parents threatening was going to be put on his gravestone, for the number of times he would angrily say that when someone would walk through a room and he’d die on his game.
So this is about a kid called Jack who loves to play video games.
Ren Mm. Specifically he’s playing an MMO called Kingdom of Tevan. He’s playing with his friends, but then he keeps getting suckered in for ‘one more minute’ by a player who he doesn’t know, who calls himself The Palladin. And as the episode goes on he starts losing days to the game and can’t remember what happened, and then weeks and then eventually years as he logs off to find that he’s now a senior in high school, and his mother’s remarried and his little brother is now a sassy teenager. Which is kind of fun, I quite enjoyed that.
Adam Yes, I thought Tomason Sanelli who played Jack gave one of the best performances of the series, he really anchored the episode. He’s great as a kid who is just trying to get his mother to get video game addiction seriously. And I noticed this was broadcasted in April 2019, back when I was 32, and I have to say the gap between 32 and 35 — I don’t know if it’s the pandemic but it feels massive. The psychological dimensions of time, the sensation of time skipping forward too fast is nicely captured by this episode.
Ren Yeah, I’m definitely having more of these moments now. Finding some food in a cupboard that’s dated for 2017 and thinking that wasn’t that long ago. That was five years ago! Oh, okay.
Adam I’d say this is just the experience of being in one’s thirties, but everyone older says it just speeds up, so who knows, maybe I start this sentence now and when I finish it I’m 60-something. But yes, what happens is that he gets sucked into this game and he doesn’t realise that time is passing, so he’s playing this game when he’s thirteen, fourteen and suddenly he’s eighteen, nineteen, and he’s taking his final school exam and secondary school has passed him by.
And it’s genuinely chilling in a way, because you have these shots of him who he sees himself, as a kid, and then switches to shots of how he’s being seen, how he is, a young adult. So there’s times when he’s shouting as a young kid, and it seems like he’s just a kid but then it switches to him as quite a tall, bulky eighteen, nineteen year-old and he seems genuinely threatening because he’s now a young adult, and he doesn’t know how he’s going to come across. So his voice changing and coming out as an adult voice and him feeling — I guess dysphoria, I suppose, that felt quite effective. So it’s not a brilliant brilliant episode but it’s neatly done.
Ren It definitely has its moments!
Adam So, we’ve discussed Itchy, One More Minute, Help, The Many Place, No Filter — we haven’t discussed The Unfortunate Five, which is effective in parts. It’s kind of like The Breakfast Club, but with mindfulness. These kids how have been put on detention are forced to undergo this sinister mindfulness, basically, and it’s revealed that this meditation instructor actually feeds of negative energy, which is a bit like garmonbozia in Twin Peaks. But instead of creamed corn as it is in Twin Peaks, it’s a kind of black gunk that this mindfulness instructor monster feeds off.
Ren Yes, and when one of the kids sees her in her true form in the bathroom, when she’s still a woman but on all fours and crouched and feral with black gunk dripping from her mouth.
Adam She later gets an elongated, very Resident Evil style mouth effect.
Ren Oh yeah!
Adam And I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with mindfulness, and if anyone wants to look up my wordpress — adamwhybray.wordpress.com which is creepy stories by Adam Whybray, the top story which I wrote a couple of years ago, possibly after watching this episode — is about sinister mindfulness. So it’s a theme that I enjoy, but not all of the episode is compelling, I think.
Ren It does feel like a bit more of a filler one.
Adam Which is similar to Only Child, which again I like a lot in part. It’s a pretty straightforward story about a girl whose mum has got together with a new guy, she’s got a step-dad, and she’s a bit jealous. And the baby turns out to be a bit like Damian in The Omen!
Ren Yeah, you know, it’s a classic creepy baby.
Adam The stakes are genuinely high, it is a really bad baby. But the stakes are also high because our protagonist realises the baby’s evil but it’s still a baby, and a very cute baby at that.
Ren It is a cute baby.
Adam So inevitably you’re like, well, I know it’s an evil baby but come on, don’t hurt the baby.
Ren Yeah, she basically ends up having to sacrifice her life to the baby to fulfil its every whim.
Adam Subjugate herself to the baby. Hopefully the baby’s desires will remain in the realm of ‘bring me my bricks!’ and ‘I want milk!’ That wouldn’t be too terrible, I suppose. I guess the idea there is that that’s kind of true of babies anyway? Really, is this baby any different to any other baby?
Ren I mean, it actually has better communication skills than any other baby because it can spin the wooden blocks around to spell things out.
Adam Yes, so maybe it’s actually just like having any other baby, except you can actually work out why they’re crying!
Ren Yeah, a little bit of possession sometimes comes in handy!
Adam One funny thing about Creeped Out is the variety in the messages. Because some of the messages seem really useful to kids, like we were saying with No Filter, being careful with where your pictures are going and reading terms and conditions, that seems like good internet safety, I’m fine with that being communicated to kids. The message of The Many Place seems to be ‘don’t press all the elevator buttons’ and I guess that’s a bit of a jerky thing to do, so I guess don’t do that, sure. But I don’t really get what this one is — I guess it’s maybe ‘don’t be jealous of your sibling’, but she has good reason to be and the sibling is evil at the end, so I don’t really know. ‘If your sibling turns out to be the spawn of satan, you’ve just got to go along with it’?
Ren Well yeah, you’ve either got to go along with it or break your mother’s heart, so. It’s a tough one!
Adam So talking about episodes with confusing or possibly non-existent messages, shall we talk about The Takedown?
Ren Yes, I think I liked it a bit more than you did.
Adam It is a very odd episode.
Ren It is.
Adam But do you want to describe what it’s about?
Ren Sure. So this one is about a girl called Alexa who is the only girl on her high school wrestling team, and gets a chain text from someone with erratic capitalisation called ‘Iamtrudi’ that says she can ask for a gift, and it will be taken from someone else. She asks for extra strength so she can get to the wrestling finals, but obviously it ends up backfiring as the strength is taken from her best friend, and something is taken from her as well, her mental skill in outmanoeuvring stronger opponents in wrestling so she ends up losing.
She texts the Iamtrudi number, and says she wants to undo her wish, even this will undo everyone’s wishes in the chain. The last scene is her talking with her dad after her wrestling loss, having a heart-to-heart and her saying that she wanted to make him proud because he always wanted a boy. And he says, ‘I didn’t want a boy, I even got this weird message and I wished for a daughter’. This sinks in for a moment and then in the last shot, we cut back to Alexa, but in her seat is a teenage boy.
Adam I mean, so it’s filmed in this intimate vérité style, so it has this shaky camerawork that did make me feel a bit queasy, actually, but I got used to. Is it set in Canada or in Alaska?
Ren Well, yeah. It has this very specific setting and atmosphere and I was trying to google where it was set but nothing was coming up, so I think it might be the Canadian Rockies, because you can see the Northern Lights there and you see them in the background at one point in this episode.
Adam Yeah, that makes sense, being a Canadian co-production.
Ren But yeah, it’s really dark and cold and has a very different atmosphere from the other episodes.
Adam It does, and minor digression but I’ve just got round to playing Never Alone, which was the game partly developed in collaboration with a group of Iñupiaq indigenous people from I think that area of Canada. So I’ve been playing a game with that kind of snowy environment, and it’s lovely, I would recommend it. Not really scary at all.
And I didn’t really find this episode scary, actually. Which is partly why I didn’t rate it higher. I found it intense and anxiety-provoking rather than scary, but I think that’s partly because wrestling is intense and anxiety-provoking, right? I mean, competing in wrestling in high school sounds like hell to me.
Ren It seems horrible. Particularly being one girl competing against all these boys. Sounds horrible.
Adam I don’t know if it’s even worth talking about this, because I don’t think it’s doing this, but I had a moment of thinking is this whatsoever meant to be a commentary on trans issues in sport? And then I thought, nah, it’s not doing that. And then it had the line where she opens the locker and says: ‘Where’s my binder?’ and I’m not going to lie, that threw me for a second!
Ren Yes, it did!
Adam But yeah, I think it meant ring binder.
Ren Yes. For those who don’t know, a binder is a compression top used particularly by trans-masculine people to flatten the chest.
Adam But I guess the twist does rely on girls and boys and men and women being a literal opposite.
Ren Yeah, yeah.
Adam So if you undo the spell that means she’s a girl, automatically that means she’s a boy now! And I thought that was a bit daft.
Ren It was a bit daft, but I found it effective still.
Adam But yeah, it’s an interesting episode and it definitely feels very different to the other episodes. I don’t know if you’re right, that the location is a large part of that. I’ve also written that it’s like a non-gloopy version of The Fly. Because at first ultimate strength sounds great, but then you start accidentally injuring people. It goes to your head.
Ren Yeah, yeah. I thought Imogen Tear who plays Alexa in this was very good. It also feels quite out of time, I thought. I was wondering for a moment if it was set in like, the early 2000s or something.
Adam That’s interesting, why do you say that?
Ren Well, I don’t think it is, but the technology in it is a chain text and that’s something that could have existed twenty years ago.
Adam That’s interesting, I wonder if, Emma Campbell was the episode writer for this one, and she also wrote The Unfortunate Five. And I feel that both of those are the most millennial episodes. Because the critique of wellness culture in The Unfortunate Five is something I’ve mostly seen from millennials, because they’re often the ones who try to get into wellness culture and then are dissatisfied, or have it forced on them at work places, and also because it felt very John Hughes indebted, which I think is something that people our age probably watched when they were young. And also the chainmail and being scared of chainmail was very much something I remember from childhood, and I’m not sure if that happens now.
Ren Yeah, I feel like it’s not so much a pressing issue of our time, chain mail.
Adam Probably not, but it’s only really using that as a device.
Ren Yeah, it’s fine, it doesn’t have to be, I just thought it was less tied to the present moment than some of the others. And that might be the setting as well — it’s in this small town so it’s more old-fashioned, and a bit isolated.
Adam Okay, maybe I’ll move it up my list a bit. It’s not one of my favourites but I’ll move it up a bit. I don’t think it’s scary per-se, but it is intense and unsettling.
Ren Yep. Okay, so I think we’re onto Tilly-Bone.
Adam We’re onto Tilly-Bone, which I think both of us agree is one of the best episodes, and definitely the most formally ambitious.
Ren Absolutely, yes. So, Tilly Bone is an interesting one because of its experimental framing — it’s told backwards, through video footage filmed by the protagonist Cass, beginning with her father coming downstairs to the wreckage of a sleepover that Cass had had the night before, but the place is a total mess and only Cass is left.
Over the course of the episode we go backwards through the sleepover, where creepy things are happening to the group of friends — one being menaced by a ‘peekaboo’ doll, one is having to smash apart the birthday cake to stop an invisible hand pinching him, and it’s centred around this object, a kind of clay pipe called a Tilly Bone, owned by the new girl in school, Junebug. So we get this narrative told backwards, but eventually it turns out that Cass’s friends had played a prank on her, and Junebug had offered to help her get revenge with this tilly bone, but she’d said there was an ‘undo powder’, so if it gets too intense they can just use that, but that was a lie.
I’m not sure I fully understand the whole sequence of events, to be honest. It gets quite complicated — Cass finds a doll in her locker, and Junebug turns into a doll at the end—
Adam Okay, I think I understand it, but I might be wrong.
Adam Oh yeah, Junebug does turn into a doll, that is quite confusing actually. Right, well, this is definitely linked to the fact that Cass watches this television show that she’s been criticising online. She’s an influential blogger and she’s been speaking out against the prequels of this show, and saying they’re no good and insulting the creator. And this is where the new kid starts at the school, Junebug. So I assumed that Junebug had been sent by the creator of this show to punish Cass. At first I thought that Junebug was the creator of the show, but I don’t think that’s right, I think Junebug is just like a supernatural device, she’s like the tilly bone itself come to life, and has been sent out to Cass to punish her and set the sequence of events in motion. I don’t think Junebug is a real person, she’s just this doll that has been given life to punish Cass in this slightly convoluted way.
Ren That makes sense, yeah.
Adam I mean, I watched this one late at night and it was genuinely disorientating.
Ren Yeah, I don’t really mind that I don’t fully grasp the whole sequence of events because it was an experience.
Adam It was a really wild ride! I think one of the neat things about the structure, and it being told in these chunks of reverse time is that all the startling ways that her friends are got, as you said one of them is in a maniacal fight with a cake, and desperately eating the cake to stop it hurting him, and another one’s being terrorised by a little peekaboo doll, and Junebug herself gets sucked into a rug — she says something about the ground opening up and swallowing her, and then she gets swallowed by this rug which is a really neat effect.
But you see all these things before you get the explanation, so all these weird visuals are especially startling because you’re given no context for them — you only get the explanation afterwards. I thought that was quite effective, actually.
Ren Yeah, I think it’s a really bold move to make it this confusing! I admire it. Particularly as it’s created a whole folklore object whole cloth, in this tilly bone, there is apparently something called a tilly bone which is a fossil, but it’s not an established magical item.
Adam It’s got a lot going on! I really like this episode. And I definitely think if you’re a listener who has dismissed Creeped Out as being too much for kids, and I can understand that, it was shown on CBBC and I can see that for older listeners they might skip this one, I do recommend giving at least Tilly Bone a watch. Because it’s very ambitious and really bold to do this, I think.
So do you want to say what your top four were, and then I’ll do my reverse order ranking?
Ren Okay, I think my top four were in reverse order: The Takedown, No Filter, The Many Place and Tilly Bone.
Adam Awesome. My top place ones are very similar. My top four are: The Unfortunate Five — because I do think it’s very creepy in places and also I’m a bit of a sucker for wellness culture critiques so I was positively inclined towards that anyway — and then, The Many Place, No Filter and Tilly Bone. So, I hope there’s another series.
Ren Yeah! I don’t know if there are any plans for one at the moment, but I would hope so.
Adam I hope so, and I hope that if Bede Blake or Robert Butler have listened to this episode I hope they’ve enjoyed our appraisal, because I do think the show deserves more attention than it gets.
Ren Yes, it’s a very good addition to modern children’s horror.
Cool, well, I think we’ve covered it! And next time we might, we just might, branch into a genre we’ve never done before. We’ll see!
Adam Oh yeah, that would be interesting!
Ren If you want to contact us we are on twitter @stillscaredpod, instagram at stillscaredpodcast and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have a sign-off for us, Adam?
Adam I do. Be good or the Quinkan will get you, creepy kids, but be naughty or Splinta Claws will get you!
Ren Yeah! Good luck with that one. Bye!
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