Watching ITV’s Demons, starring Philip Glenister with a dodgy accent, it quickly becomes clear that it is the most original story ever told. No other story has ever had the vision to deal with a lone teenager who learns they are destined to fight the forces of darkness, no other story has ever had a mysterious mentor figure, a secret library, a vampire-killing gun, a blind woman who is a seer, a devoted best friend who is secretly in love with the main character, sinister villains in long coats and wide brimmed hats… So there’s this teenager, he’s the last heir of Van Helsing, who was real, and he’s being assisted by a Mina Harker, who was real too, and an unconvincing American named Rupert who looks just like Gene Hunt. There are demons. There’s destiny. There’s teenage angst. There’s wisecracking. It’s not just a riff on Buffy, though Buffy is clearly its main TV inspiration, but a synthesis of every teen-with-secret-powers story ever told. It’s also really, really dull.
Crooked House, filling the BBC’s traditional ‘M.R.James ghost story before Christmas’ slot on three consecutive nights, is hardly any more original but still hugely superior. It consists of three new half hour ghost stories set in cursed Geap Manor in various time periods, with a framing sequence in which writer Mark Gatiss plays storyteller with exactly the right amount of morbid relish. The first is an 18th century morality tale about a guilty merchant that’s just a little too clever in its parallels to modern banking. The second is a 1920s tale of high society and ghostly brides that’s just a little too pastiched. They both evoke a very specific kind of mild nostalgic horror. The third story, however, is one of the creepiest things I’ve seen in years, finding a present day teacher stumbling into a very sinister past. Every Halloween I look for something that hits me just right to send a shiver of dread down my spine, but I rarely find it. This may have been at Christmas, but it did the trick.