A quick Googling suggests that many people think this is one of the weaker episodes. Me, I thought it was excellent.
I like the title, incidentally. It's lyrical. That little girl singing a hymn in the pre-credits sequence had me wondering if they might be tackling religion, for instance, like Children of the Corn. However twenty seconds later I'd reactivated my brain and... yup, it's a werewolf story.
Werewolves are an odd one. They're the red-headed stepchildren of modern horror, too high-profile to ignore but never getting the screen time of vampires or zombies. There are good werewolf movies, but try to cite a few and you'll run out of examples pretty quickly. I like the Lon Chaney Jr films, obviously, while the Ginger Snaps
series is good. The most original one to date I'd guess is Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves, which came out four years after this episode although the original Angela Carter anthology was published in 1979. Incidentally if you squint hard enough you can read a Red Riding Hood connection here too, since despite the series's usual modern-day setting, it has a woodcutter.
It doesn't help that they usually look rubbish, of course. This one looks even sillier than most, although he's good in his half-transformed form.
However as it happens, I also think this is a fair competitor for the most interesting werewolf story I've ever seen. It's actually thinking about the concept. The first half is excellent, but then the plot in the second half goes off in a new direction and I was fascinated. Admittedly this is less frightening, but it makes the story far richer.
We begin with a couple on their belated honeymoon. They're looking forward to it and happy to be together, but the subtext is that the husband (Christopher Cazenove) isn't spending enough time with his wife (Celia Gregory). You'd do well to keep in mind. "When you get the partnership, will you be able to be with me more?" However when the car goes crazy, they end up taking shelter at a house in the middle of nowhere, in which lives Diana Dors and eight children.
Dors is the episode's biggest selling point. It's hard to believe that she used to be even attractive, let alone "the English Marilyn Monroe," but she's why that first half works so well. She's generous, helpful and maternally indulgent towards her children. She answers all our heroes' questions and is never anything but friendly. However there's also clearly something weird going on and Dors nails that side of her character too. She's likeable and yet creepy. She's menacing without appearing to be so. I thought she was great and I'd be ready to see more Diana Dors any day. It's another strong performance from an actress who was usually better than the roles she ended up taking.
I also approve of Dors's decision not to be foreign. The script says these people are Hungarian and the dialogue suggests a non-native English speaker, e.g. not knowing phrases like "green fingers". Dors ignores that, though. There's nothing even remotely foreign about that accent, which makes the scenario far subtler than the Bela Lugosi cliche that the scriptwriter apparently had in mind. I've nothing against nods to the classics, mind you. This episode's choice of Hungary might even be a deliberate reference, since Lugosi played the original werewolf that bit Lon Chaney Jr back in 1941. However the whole point of werewolves is that they're the enemy inside, representing our struggle with our inner beast, so I think it would have been cliched and counter-productive to have a subtext of "look, foreigners". Diana Dors bulldozes all that and thus makes it better, although it's a shame they didn't tweak that non-native dialogue to match her performance.
I'd have been delighted had everything been like that first half. It's subtle, playful and teasing us with possibilities. Nothing's been spelled out yet and we don't know exactly what's going on, but it does seem likely that Cazenove and Gregory are in big (but friendly, jovial) trouble.
However then the episode gets into its plot developments, continuing way past the point where you might have been expecting end credits. It's exploring its werewolf concept. There's revisiting of themes and, as in all the best Buffy, the supernatural reflects the characters' inner lives. However at the same time, believe it or not, there's also a look at werewolf customs and family life. This is cool. In fact it's throwing up so many interesting ideas that I slightly lost track, so for instance I must have missed the relevance of "I think part of me expected to be here." It must be important because they even underline it later with a flashback, but what do they mean by it? Read literally, I don't think it works. I don't think we're meant to be believing that Celia Gregory is a long-lost relative of Diana Dors and co, if only because your brain will break if you start thinking about the implications of that being true. No, I think it's another aspect of the supernatural plot reflecting the themes.
Christopher Cazenove isn't the cleverest lawyer you'll ever see, though. Don't climb out of that window!
Surprisingly for this show, none of these actors have ever been in Doctor Who. None of the children went on to make it big. They have a few other credits, like random episodes of Grange Hill or Press Gang, but the nearest any of them will get to fame is having the same name as Victoria Wood. Cazenove would later play Ben Carrington in Dynasty, Robert Urquhart had been Paul Krempe in Hammer's original 1957 The Curse of Frankenstein
and Jacob Witkin (Woodcutter) I last saw in Full Moon Entertainment's Dr. Moreau's House of Pain
. I'd have never recognised him, for what it's worth.
My Hammer House of Horror Nudity Rule is still holding true, by the way. There's no nudity and it's a good episode.
In summary: excellent. Don't listen to the nay-sayers. It's clearly one of the richest and most interesting scripts in this series, then in addition there's Diana Dors. I quite like this series, but it can sometimes feel slightly pointless. You watch an episode and then afterwards wonder why, even when it wasn't bad. This story though has a fascinating script and a memorable setting that's not as drab and anonymous as this show can sometimes be. Horror children. You can't go far wrong with horror children, can you?