Not Going Out: Halloween Special
Image: BBC/Avalon/Mark Johnson

Not Going Out: Halloween Special review

Despite the popularity of Halloween over here, it’s weird to think that there aren’t many UK Halloween specials at all. So, what better time for Lee Mack to return with his fantastic family sitcom and step into the gap.

The Not Going Out Halloween special sees a spot of trick-or-treating go horribly wrong, and it’s an effective piece of TV that dials up the horror at the cost of a few of the laughs, but still fits nicely in the bizarre world of our favourite slacker.

An effective piece of TV that dials up the horror at the cost of a few of the laughs

Lee (Lee Mack) and Lucy (Sally Bretton) are out for Halloween with the kids, and they wind up at a terrifying Victorian house with an owner who is not at all keen on answering. Lee is glad to get out there to the safety of his home – until he realises that his phone is missing, and there’s only one place that it could be. Coerced into returning, Lee, clad as a zombie with removeable arm, soon finds himself trapped inside and hiding from the owner. Can he escape before he’s discovered – and what is his dad Frank (Bobby Ball), dressed as Dracula, doing on the premises too?

The first ten minutes or so, as Lee first enters the house, are straight out of a horror film, completely with a terrifying threat and shots that could come right out of a slasher. It’s this scene, rather than the minute of trick-or-treating, that really sets the tone for the special. A shift to a suitably eerie house and a horror soundtrack complete the illusion, particularly in some of its darker moments – there’s one near the end which makes you think Lee is genuinely in danger, and that’s an impressive feat from what is essentially a family sitcom.

That’s not to say that there are no laughs, and they come mainly courtesy of Lee and Frank. Mack sells the terror of the situation, but it’s balanced nicely with a chunk of responsibility and attempts to do the right thing. It’s a nice bit of character development if you’re a regular viewer of Not Going Out, a far cry from the Lee of episodes like ‘Mugging’ who attempts to bribe his way into looking brave. Ball (whose character’s role in essentially to make things worse) amps up the comedy when he arrives, and there’s one scene of black comedy, linked to a dead lady, that is simply brilliant.

An impressive feat from what is essentially a family sitcom

The main casualties here are Bretton, who doesn’t get much to do at all (which is a shame), and the kids (the same situation, but less of a shame). There are some minor characters, too, who get little screen time, and a couple of jokes that really don’t land as they should. Given their relative sparsity throughout the episode, it’s more noticeable than usual.

Not Going Out is one of the BBC’s funniest sitcoms and it strikes me as unusual that this special was hidden in the schedules with little advertising or promotion – it was easy to miss, as I very nearly did. But I recommend that you seek it out – it’s certainly not the funniest episode of the show, but it doesn’t try to be. It ramps up the tension, rendering it as effective piece of horror-comedy that plays on the tropes of your favourite scary movies and delivering a chuckle or two as well.

Related article: ‘Not Going Out’ live episode review 

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